The Unpredictability of Baby Names

Because we had a chapter in our book about the socioeconomic impact of baby names, we’ve blogged many times about baby names in the past, including just the other day.

One question that rarely arises, however, is this: How possible is it to predict which names will become more popular in time, and which ones will fall? We did make a run at predicting some of the boy and girl names that might become popular in ten years’ time, based on the observation that the masses tend to choose names that first become popular among high-education, high-income parents. But trends, including naming trends, tend to march to a drummer that isn’t always audible.

If you had to pick one name in the past of couple years, however, that you were sure would be abandoned, it would probably be wise to pick Katrina. Who on earth would name their baby after a hurricane that nearly wiped out an entire city?

And indeed, according to this A.P. report, the name did slump in the 12 months following Hurricane Katrina, with only 850 namings in the U.S., slipping on the list of popular girl’s names from No. 247 to No. 382. That’s a pretty big drop, though perhaps not as big as you might think. Why wasn’t the drop even steeper?

You might think it’s because parents far from the affected areas weren’t all that tuned in to the hurricane and its destruction. And if so, you would be wrong.

In the two states most severely affected by Hurricane Katrina, the name actually received more action in the 12 months following the storm than in the 12 months previous. In Louisiana, the name increased from 8 incidences to 15, while in Mississippi, it spiked from 7 to 24. And I am guessing that the rate of Katrina namings increased even more, since there were lots of displaced people from both states who gave birth to their babies — maybe their Katrinas — elsewhere.

Maybe parents who live in Louisiana named their baby girls Katrina as affirmation that they’d lived through the storm — a kind of hair-of-the-dog naming treatment. Maybe they named their girls Katrina to commemorate friends or relatives who lost their homes or even their lives. But one thing’s for sure: I don’t know of anyone who would have predicted that there would be more Katrinas in Louisiana and Mississippi after the hurricane. Which says at least as much about our incessant desire to predict as it says about the people who had babies last year.

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  1. prosa says:

    A schoolmate of mine had an older brother named “Adolph,” who must’ve been born in the middle to late 1950′s, in other words after the name should have become nearly taboo in America even with the slightly different spelling. Interestingly, Adolph was a feared streetfighter, no doubt a living example of the Boy Named Sue phenomenon.

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  2. prosa says:

    A schoolmate of mine had an older brother named “Adolph,” who must’ve been born in the middle to late 1950′s, in other words after the name should have become nearly taboo in America even with the slightly different spelling. Interestingly, Adolph was a feared streetfighter, no doubt a living example of the Boy Named Sue phenomenon.

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  3. phalkon says:

    I know several people who have named their children based on where they were conceived (e.g. a romantic trip to Savannah, GA yields a child named Savannah). Perhaps a few of those displaced or without electricity found romantic ways to pass the time and named their offspring accordingly.

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  4. phalkon says:

    I know several people who have named their children based on where they were conceived (e.g. a romantic trip to Savannah, GA yields a child named Savannah). Perhaps a few of those displaced or without electricity found romantic ways to pass the time and named their offspring accordingly.

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  5. RandyfromCanada says:

    l call my EX wife katrina

    she was wet and wild when she came . took the house when she left ………

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  6. RandyfromCanada says:

    l call my EX wife katrina

    she was wet and wild when she came . took the house when she left ………

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  7. PaddyDwyer says:

    I’ve a friend who is a massive Green Bay Packers fan (is there any other kind) and we got around to talking about kids names. I asked him if he wanted to name his son Brett after Brett Favre to which he replied he lost that battle. This got us talking about how popular the name is in green bay. We were disappointed to see it’s not in the top 100. Then we checked for the year 1996 or 97 and it went from 80th one year to something like 30th the year they won the super bowl.

    I don’t think there are that many places in the world that could see such a strong increase in the amount of babies with that name.

    I just thought that was funny.

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  8. PaddyDwyer says:

    I’ve a friend who is a massive Green Bay Packers fan (is there any other kind) and we got around to talking about kids names. I asked him if he wanted to name his son Brett after Brett Favre to which he replied he lost that battle. This got us talking about how popular the name is in green bay. We were disappointed to see it’s not in the top 100. Then we checked for the year 1996 or 97 and it went from 80th one year to something like 30th the year they won the super bowl.

    I don’t think there are that many places in the world that could see such a strong increase in the amount of babies with that name.

    I just thought that was funny.

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