How many times have you heard the parent of a small child say something like this: “We didn’t realize Isaiah was getting so popular!”

“I really hope Ruby doesn’t take off! I hated being one of three Jennifers in my class.”

Or even: “I chose Ava for a girl and then my neighbor/co-worker/sister-in-law stole it!”

My theory is this: the more we hear a name, the more likely we are to consider it for our own children. It’s why names like Damien and Regan can pop even after they’re used for children that we hope ours won’t emulate. Ditto name elements – Miley owes some of her success to Billy Ray’s Disney daughter, but more to her similarity to Riley and Kylie.

You and I hear parents’ laments about Ava and Ruby and Isaiah and think: names embraced by celebs/last popular 100 years back/borrowed from the Bible are likely to rise. We’re not surprised. But hey, if you’re here, you’re probably more into names than the average person naming a baby right now.

Which is why I think you’ll be pleased as punch to know that NYU psych professor Todd Gureckis and Indiana U’s psych/brain sciences professor Robert Goldstone have researched this very topic. Their results can be read in the scholarly journalTopics in Cognitive Science.

Read the summary here: Recent ‘momentum’ influences choices of baby names, NYU, Indiana psychology professors find.

I haven’t read the original article – and I’m not sure I have the academic chops to completely digest it – but their finding is this: at least since the 1980s, parents have shown a preference for names that are rising. Therefore, those names rise. And so parents continue to show a preference for the rising names. And so they continue to rise …

It isn’t the whole picture, of course, but it’s an interesting piece.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. I agree. Ruby has been at the top of our list for baby girl #2 but now I am realizing how it may likely hit the top 25 list by the time my baby girl is in school. It is only at #113 now but is rising fast. So bummed…I love the name but now I feel that I have to pass it up because we try to avoid overly popular names. 🙁

  2. Fascinating article, I’d be interested in tracking down the original. I wonder why/how that shift in naming patterns happened?

    (My husband laughed at me when he discovered what I was reading.)