As part of our research on trends and how ideas catch on, my colleagues and I analyzed more than 125 years of data on the popularity of baby names. Many, many Jessicas, Jacobs, Rivers and even Maxxes.
We found that names that begin with K increased 9 percent after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. And names that start with A were 7 percent more common after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It wasn’t that people named their babies after the storms. (In fact, fewer people named their children Katrina and Andrew after each respective hurricane.) Rather, it was similar sounding names that spiked after particular storms. Predicting cultural trends is of great interest to companies, consumers and cultural critics. Will a new song be a hit or a flop? Will turquoise be the new black? Will a particular public policy idea catch on or fizzle fast? There are big stakes — big rewards — in being able to accurately forecast cultural trends…
Are people so easily influenced? Apparently. We like what we know or what looks and sounds similar to what we know. Modern art might seem grating the first time we see it, but after you’ve seen a couple of Picassos, Kandinskys are more pleasing to the eye. The same is true for names. Sandy brings to mind negative thoughts at the moment, but hearing it over and over again should make names that start with an S sound better. Even if we have no idea that the hurricane is what made them sound so appealing.
The lure of the familiar has evolutionary benefits.