The famous line in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” suggests names don’t tell us much about individuals. However, when the time comes to choose baby names, parents either quickly pull out a book, choose a family name, or base it off pop culture. Nameberry.com, a baby names database, has revealed the top 100 baby names of 2014 (so far), but what makes some of these names more popular than others and gender specific?
“The 2014 popular baby names list is based on the number of views each name attracted on Nameberry, out of a total of more than 100 million page views, for the first half of the year,” wrote Pamela Redmond Satran, Nameberry co-founder, in a blog post. Unlike official popularity lists from the U.S. and other countries, Nameberry’s list focuses on what names parents are most interested in for babies due within the next upcoming months. Other sites measure what people have named their babies in the past.
Both names Imogen and Asher, girl and boy name, respectively, have managed to hold onto the Top No. 1 spots they claimed in 2013 again. Although Imogen — a Shakespearean name popular in England — has never been in the U.S. Top 1,000, since only 131 baby girls were given the name in 2013, it had the most amount of views. Asher – a biblical name meaning fortunate or happy — has increased in U.S. popularity, almost breaking into the official Top 100. The name got 150,000 views on Nameberry from January through June 2014.
“This is our first official tally since we separated unisex names into individual listings for each gender, and so we have a more accurate count of how many parents are looking at the girls’ versus boys’ entries for names such as Harper and Rowan,” Redmond Satran wrote. What parents look for in a name may be rooted in a psychological phenomenon of size-sex difference in language, known as “sound symbolism.” Larger-sounding boy names may reflect a parent's desire for a larger, masculine son, whereas smaller-sounding girl names may showcase a desire among parents to have more feminine daughters.
Sound symbolism derives from phonemes, which are known to differ in male and female names, according to Psychology Today. For example, the “e” in the boy’s name Eli is longer than the “e” in the popular girl’s name Emily. Therefore, the “e” vowel sounds larger in Eli than it does in Emily.
Baby names also derive from pop culture references, such as new entries in the top 100, including Khaleesi from Game of Thrones, and Elsa from Frozen. Recently, names like Katniss from the Hunger Games and Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars, rank high in 2014, showing the significant influence celebrities and overall media has on our life decisions. These names may seem unusual to those who do not understand the reference or relevance.
Several studies have shown children with unusual names tended to fare worse academically and were less popular than their other classmates in elementary school, The New York Times reported. In college, these kids were more likely to flunk out or become “psychoneurotic.” For employment, prospective bosses spurned their resume.
Names only hold a significant influence when it is the only thing you know about the person. “Add a picture, and the impact of the name recedes,” Dr. Ford, a developmental psychologist at George Mason University, told The Times. “Add information about personality, motivation and ability, and the impact of the name shrinks to minimal significance.”
Remember, when it’s time to pick baby names, whether you pick a common or unusual one, it doesn’t make a difference in a child’s success later in life. It’s all about individuality. So, like Juliet asked, “What’s in a name?” A lot and very little.
Click here to see the complete Top 100 baby names in 2014.