What is in a name?
For many people, a name can provide important information about the person and the times we live in.
Recently, the United States Social Security Administration released a list of the most popular U.S. baby names in 2018.
“Emma” was the most popular name in states on the U.S. West Coast, while “Liam” was the top choice in the Midwest. But in the southeastern part of the country, parents were more likely to name a boy “William,” while “Ava” was a popular name for girls.
The Social Security Administration said that “Liam” has been at the top of the list for boys nationwide in each of the past two years. “Emma” was the most popular name for girls for the fifth year.
Naming a child might feel like one of the most personal decisions a parent can make. However, outside forces often heavily influence that choice.
Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He told VOA in an email that “names say more about the parents than the kids. How unique parents want to be, where in the country they were when the child was born, and what influences around them shape their lives.”
Thanks to technology, new parents have more baby names to choose from than ever before. That might be influenced by television (TV) personalities or characters from movies.
For example, the name “Arya,” a character on the TV show "Game of Thrones," was the 119th most popular girls’ name on the new list. That is higher than more traditional names, like “Angela” (264) or “Jennifer” (345).
“Khaleesi,” another character from “Game of Thrones,” was the 549th most popular name for girls. It appeared higher on the list than names like “Anne” (599), “Lisa” (891) and “Christine” (926).
Jane Pilcher is a sociologist at Nottingham Trent University in England.
Pilcher told VOA in an email that she likens names to “workhorses” because they can help identify important information about a person. But she adds that names can also lead to discrimination and inequality.
A 2012 study found that when scientists were given identical applications for a laboratory manager position, they rated job candidates named “John” more highly than those named “Jennifer.”
A person’s name often points toward their culture. It is a marker of when and where they lived, and of things that are popular at the time of their birth.
Berger found that names starting with “K” became more popular after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005. Americans heard the name of the storm in the news so often that its sound became more familiar and appealing.
Berger says “names are more likely to become popular when other, similar names have been popular recently.”
He adds that, “hearing a name more often makes people like it more, but if something is too popular, people avoid it.”
American-born Meghan Markle and her husband, Britain’s Prince Harry, recently named their son Archie. That name was the 992nd most popular boy’s name in the United States last year. It remains to be seen if the name Archie will increase in popularity in 2019.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Dora Mekouar wrote this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
applications – n. formal and usually written requests for something such as a job, admission to a school, a loan, etc.
characters – n. persons who appear in a story, book, play, movie, or television show
kids – n. children
unique – adj. used to say that something or someone is unlike anything or anyone else