When parents are trying to select a name for their new baby, there's a number of factors that they usually consider: what does a potential name sounds like when paired with the baby's last name, for instance? Do 5 million other children already have the same name? Will friends and family approve? Is it going to be a pain in the a*s to spell? There's already a lot to consider, and according to one economist, there's one more surprising factor that could be influencing baby name choice: the stock market.
Alan Hall, a senior analyst at the Socionomics Institute, recently looked at both trends in baby names and stock market data over the past 70 years, and found that parents tend to name their children differently depending on the collective social mood at the time. Essentially, when the stock market is doing well and people feel secure and positive, they tend to give their kids more unique names that stand out. When the stock market is down and the social mood is suffering, parents are more likely to stick to traditional names for their newborn children.
Hall and his colleagues charted the correlation by looking at the yearly percentage of children given that era's most popular baby names, as well as the percentage of new names noted in each year's birth census. They found that the trends followed the stock market's ups and downs.
As a society, we've grown more and more comfortable with unique names, but in times of trepidation, it seems like we revert back to old habits. "What you see is that from about 1880 to 2007, parents increasingly gave their children less common names, which suggests a growing interest in uniqueness and individualism," Hall said in a recent interview with The John and Heidi Show. He continued:
But this increase in unique names is not a straight line. It fluctuates. ... Baby naming tendencies fluctuate in sync with the inflation-adjusted stock market, which reflects the aggregate levels of optimism and pessimism in a society.
Research has already shown that anxiety actually has a big impact on individuals' decision-making, with people generally placing a premium on reducing risk when they're under stress. In the same vein, Hall's research shows that the collective mood throughout the country — whether optimistic or pessimistic — can influence something as specific as deciding on a child's name.
The next question, of course, is just why parents behave like this. While there's no tried-and-true explanation, Hall has a theory: essentially, parents are just trying to prepare their kids for the world they expect them to live in. They're trying to protect them and give them the best starting point possible.
"We think that tendency to choose ordinary names during [low] markets reflects an evolutionary survival tactic, which is to blend in with the herd in times of fear and uncertainty," Hall told The John and Heidi Show. "Parents unconsciously fear that an unusual name might hurt their children's future job prospects, or make them get picked on at school, or make them have trouble fitting in."
When things are looking more positive, however, parents might assume that an unusual name would help their children stand out in a way that benefits them.
Overall, the theory makes sense, and it's pretty damn fascinating. We're all a bit more inclined to take risks when we're feeling secure and positive, and it's easy to retreat into safer spaces when the overall mood is uneasy. I just had no idea that something like the economy could influence whether someone chooses to name their children Sophia and Jackson versus Alessia and Alec.
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