How baby names can help marketers predict the next big thing

After using a statistical model to study more than 100 years of first names and doing a natural experiment using the names of hurricanes, the researchers found that the popularity of a particular moniker is impacted by how widely the sounds in that name were used previously. In other words, a first grade class filled with Karens is likely to be followed by a wave of six-year-olds with names that use similar sounds, or phonemes, such as “Katie” or “Karl” — or even “Darren” or “Warren.”

“But we think this is a lot bigger than baby names,” Berger says. “We were interested in whether we could predict what’s going to become popular by looking at what’s popular now, thinking about the similarities between different things — whether it’s songs, baby names or cars — and using that to understand what’s going to be popular next.”

Baby names are a good place to start because, unlike movies, cars or consumer goods, it’s a decision that is mostly driven by the individual. “Certain names don’t cost more than other names, and certain names aren’t advertised more,” Berger says. “It’s more about what people like, which makes it a good way to see how social influence drives popularity.”