There’s a group of people out there setting baby-naming trends. The names they’re picking right now are the ones that everyone will want to call their babies in a few years’ time. But they probably don’t even realise what trendsetters they are.
It’s called “elite naming”, and it’s been going on for a very long time.
“Elite parents in urban areas lean toward very fashion-forward and sophisticated names,” Nameberry.com co-founder Pamela Redmond Satran tells The Hollywood Reporter. “They are attracted to quirky, not-so-easy-to-like names that are more difficult to embrace.”
What happens next is that everyone else sees those names and copies them. Suddenly, they’re everywhere, and they quickly lose their edginess.
Satran gives Penelope as an example. It was used by both Kourtney Kardashian and Tina Fey for their babies.
“Now Penelope feels too popular, too common – and we’re not hearing much about it anymore,” she adds.
Satran and naming blogger Abby Sandel have come up with a list of names currently popular with elites in three US cities, each of which have a different vibe:
New York (trendy, literary): Dashiell, Sophie, Matilda, Ophelia.
Los Angeles (playful, unisex): Zen, River, Story, James (for girls).
Washington, D.C. (classic, conservative): Sam, Charlotte, Jack, Lily.
The idea of “elite naming” is nothing new. Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, in their 2005 book Freakonomics, explain how names work their way down the socio-economic ladder.
Using naming data from California, they show that names that start out as popular among high-income white families go on to become popular among low-income white families. Lauren and Madison are two examples from the 1990s, going from “high-end” to widely popular within the space of a decade. Amber, Heather and Stephanie are other names that started out as “high-end”.
There’s a pattern to it. Once a name becomes widely popular, high-end parents abandon it. Eventually, other parents turn off it too.
Levitt and Dubner say in their book that most families don’t shop for baby names in Hollywood.
“They look to the family just a few blocks over, the one with the bigger house and newer car,” they explain. “Many parents, whether they realise it or not, like the sound of names that sound ‘successful’.”
Monique Bowley and Bec Judd talk all things babies on the Hello Bump podcast (post continues after audio).
Levitt and Dubner, back in 2005, bravely predicted which names would be widely popular in the US in 2015, based on the names that highly educated parents were giving their babies. They hit the nail on the head with some of their predictions, including Avery, Ava, Ella and Grace for girls and Oliver, Jackson and Carter for boys.
But they also missed the mark with a lot of their guesses. Here are some of the names they tipped for big things that didn’t quite live up to expectations:
Girls: Ansley, Aviva, Flannery, Linden, Marie-Claire, Waverly.
Boys: Aldo, Ansel, Keyon, McGregor, Sander, Sumner.
The point is – and it’s a pretty obvious one – no parents will give their child a name they don’t actually like. They might, subconsciously, want to give their child a “rich and successful” name, in the hope that their child will become rich and successful, but the name has to appeal to them too.
Aldo and Flannery didn’t appeal. Who knows whether Zen and Story will?
Personally, I hope that the “elite names” shortlisted by Satran and Sandel don’t all take off. The name of one of my children is on the list, and it’s currently not very common. I wouldn’t describe my tastes as fashion-forward or sophisticated, but I do like names that are a bit different. If there were hordes of kids with the same name as my child, it would lose a teensy bit of its charm. But what can you do?
What do you think of 'elite' baby names?