Two years ago, I had a baby and named her Emily. We didn’t know that “Emily” had been the number one name in 2007, or that it also ranked high in 2008 and 2009. We liked the name because it was simple, hard to mispronounce or misspell, and sounded like the name of a nice girl. I’ve never known a mean Emily.
But maybe I missed something. I hadn’t even considered names like Apple (Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter’s name) or Bristol, Piper or Willow (Sarah Palin’s daughters’ names). What does it say about me that I picked one of the most popular girl names and didn’t have the creativity to summon a name like “Moxie CrimeFighter” (Penn Jillette’s daughter’s name)?
A recent study shows that increasingly, parents are choosing unusual names for their children. And while the obvious explanation for this is the ambition for your kids to stand out, the studies suggest esoteric names may say something less desirable about you – and possibly even predict your child’s personality.
San Diego State University researchers analyzed 325 million baby names recorded by the Social Security Administration from 1880 to 2007 and figured out the percentage of babies given the most popular names among the 10, 20 or 50 most popular for that year. They found a steady move away from common names, with surges in odd names when the baby boomers had kids and again in the 1990s. (The Social Security Administration website lets you see which names were popular when.)
According to researcher Jean Twenge, this could signify a cultural shift from applauding fitting in to rewarding uniqueness. Parents may believe an unusual name will help their child stand out in a crowded classroom, and a world where children’s names are diverse may ultimately mean a more tolerant world.
On the other hand, she said, "I think it is an indication of our culture becoming more narcissistic.” Though it remains to be seen whether there’s a causal relationship between strange names and narcissism, Twenge says, "If that unique name is part of a parent's overall philosophy that their child is special and needs to stand out and that fitting in is a bad thing, then that could lead to those personality traits."
What do you think? Are unique baby names a celebration of individuality or a sign of narcissism?