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Trendy Baby Names Tend to Fade Fast

Study Charts the Rise and Fall of Celebrity-Inspired Baby Names

By Kelli Miller Stacy
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

May 4, 2009 -- Naming your newborn after a rising star may make you coddle and coo, yet such "monikers of the moment" fade a lot faster than they appear. Names deep rooted in culture, however, stick around much longer.

So say Jonah Berger and Gael Le Mens, who sifted through more than 100 years of information regarding the choice of baby first names in the U.S. and France. The researchers wanted to examine the ebb and flow of cultural tastes and practices, and found baby names provided good evidence of this phenomenon.

They also asked parents-to-be what names they considered for their children. Parents also ranked a list of sample names according to how likely they would be to give them to their child.

The combination of historical and survey data revealed that baby names that surge to popularity are abandoned as fast as they come along, while those that are less trendy seem to have better staying power.

Names were considered "abandoned" when the number of children given the name at birth dropped below 10% of its highest number in the past.

The more quickly a baby name rose to popularity, the faster it faded away.

Furthermore, the researchers learned that parents-to-be were actually more hesitant to choose a name that had recently become sharply popular. The researchers say their findings extend beyond brief fascinations with celebrities, but rather apply to all cultural items.

"Fads are perceived negatively, so people avoid identity-relevant items with sharply increasing popularity because they believe that they will be short lived," Berger and Le Mens write in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

So perhaps we'll see a surge of little ones named Miley or even Twilight (the wildly popular book and movie) in the coming year. But chances may be good that their spot on the list of popular favorites will disappear faster than a handful of cookies in a child's hand.

SOURCES: Berger, J. and Le Mens, G. PNAS Early Edition, May 4, 2008.

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