Why do baby names go in and out of fashion? We ask an expert

Britain’s top baby names have been revealed, with many historic names such as Theodore, Oscar and Evelyn making a comeback. But why do we choose the same names as our peers? I asked Jane Pilcher, a sociologist who specializes in naming.

Every time I open Instagram there is a picture of a newborn and a caption that: “Welcome to the world [enter Edwardian-sounding name here].“Why are old-fashioned names on the rise?
Some names seem to last forever in terms of popularity, such as Jack. But generally, if we don’t know someone with that name, it becomes attractive.

I guess it’s impossible to know which name is rarely. Fifteen years ago the only time i heard the name Coco was if someone yelled at their dog. Now I see it everywhere.
It’s like getting a certain car in your head and seeing it everywhere. With baby names, you make your choices under the same socio-cultural influence as your peers, because you have babies at the same time. We think we make ourselves different, but so does everyone else. We end up making similar choices.

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It reminds me of being a teenager and arguing with Mom. I would have said: “I am an individual!“And she would say: Just like everyone else.But why do we only choose names that are a few hundred years old? I don’t hear anyone naming their child Beowulf or Galahad.
It depends on your social positioning. I imagine an MP in the 1800s didn’t give their children common names, and perhaps your social positioning might encourage you to look back and beyond for names that…

Annunziata Rees-Mogg. One in 10 British parents have regrets give their child a name that worked cool or smart. Is this feeling of being above your station particularly British?
Social class makes a difference to name choices everywhere. Names are about parental identity as much as anything else. I think of it like there are pots of names that people draw from. The first move is based on whether it is a boy or a girl. Then there is social class and ethnicity, then cultural and social influence.

You mentioned ethnicity – what is the trend there?
Research in the United States suggests that it is more important for boys to have a name that indicates their ethnic heritage, because boys are seen as carriers of the family. For example, Muhammad is a top boy’s name in the UK, but there is not a corresponding top girl’s name indicating South Asian Muslim heritage. Although the big trend at the moment is generally gender neutral names.

I am fascinated by the name Evelyn. It was used for men and is now predominant a female name. Same for Laurel.
Studies show that with names like Evelyn or Vivian, if too many girls get that name, it stops being chosen for boys. We know our societies consider being a girl a bad thing, so you get a mass exodus from that as a choice for boys.

Maybe gender neutral names can help?
The more gender-neutral names become a thing, the less serious the exodus becomes. We’re really talking about fluid gender identities, and I hope that, despite what’s happening in some parts of the world, that trend is going to continue.

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