As The Economy Gets Worse, American Baby Names Get Weirder

Photographed By Erin Yamagata.
According to psychologists, more and more Americans are coming up with unusual and sometimes unique baby names, and the reason may not be what you expected (hint: it’s not the influence of pop culture). They think it’s tied to, of all things, the economy.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found ties between a tough economic climate and a surge in uncommon baby names. The psychologists who authored the study analyzed millions of first names of Americans born since 2004. Their theory is that, essentially, an increasing feeling of individualism during financial difficulty inspires new parents to choose names that stand out from the crowd.

A focus of the study was the 2008 Recession’s impact on baby naming. American parents were “less likely to give their children common names during the years of the Great Recession compared to the years immediately before it,” the authors of the study wrote.

The psychologists, who teach at San Diego State University and the University of Georgia, shot down the theory that parents choose common names during tough times in an act of solidarity with the community. Instead, their research supports the idea that more people will give their children unique, unusual names during an economic downturn, perhaps as a way of giving their kids a better shot at standing out in a tough economy.

This totally fits the feedback in other baby-naming reports we’ve heard. In a September 2016 poll, 25% of new British mothers who regretted the names they chose for their kids said “it was because the name was too common and another 11% answered that it was ‘not distinctive enough.’ According to The Guardian, the survey's respondents most regretted the names Charlotte, Amelia, Anne, Daniel, Jacob, James, and Thomas.” Seems like it’s not just American parents these days who want their kids to stand out.

Although pretty traditional (even biblical) names like Noah, Emma, Olivia, and Liam are still the most common American baby names, out-of-the-box first names are becoming more widespread. The jury’s still out on whether all these baby Norths, Apples, and Pilots are a product of economic downturn or plain old millennial hipsterdom.
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