Trendy Baby Names a Sign of Group Think?

In the future, names like Dick, Jane and Mary may sound exotic to the ears of the little Emmas, Ethans and Madisons who are just starting kindergarten now.

Since the 1960s, whole sets of names seem to rise and then burst in popularity bubbles faster than the stock market. Many parents are surprised to find out that the seemingly unique name they picked for their child is shared by what seems like half the kindergarten class.

According to the Social Security Administration, differed in popularity, many of the new names were virtually unheard of 15 years ago -- many were not even in the top 1,000 baby names.

VIDEO: Baby Naming Tips and Trends
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New York City just released its top 10 names of 2008 this week and they were, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:

GIRLS: Sophia, Isabella, Emily, Olivia, Sarah, Madison, Ashley, Mia, Samantha and Emma.

BOYS: Jayden, Daniel, Michael, Matthew, David, Joshua, Justin, Anthony, Christopher, Ethan and Ryan (tie).

Names differed in popularity by ethnicity -- for example, among Asian Americans in New York, Sophia was the most popular name, among Hispanic parents, Ashley was number one, for black parents, it was Madison and white parents chose either Olivia or Esther.

For a list of the most popular names nationwide, visit the Social Security Administration Web site.

The trend makes for an interesting time in preschool, but psychologists, economists and authors who study names say parents should beware -- picking the wrong name can seriously hurt your child from teasing in childhood to hurting job prospects as adults.

"Really, it's been emerging over the last century, but in the past 50 and 60 years … there's been a shift… from names being a tradition or accustomed to, to being 'anything goes,'" said Todd M. Gureckis who co-authored a study "How You Named Your Child: Understanding the Relationship Between Individual Decision Making and Collective Outcomes" with professor Robert Goldstone in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science this October.

Gureckis researched how these trends in baby names develop. He found that in the early 1800s, the United States baby names fluctuated up and down year to year. The collection of names stayed relatively static, however, because names were considered traditional.

How Do Baby Name Trends Begin?

"Certain names were popular and certain names were less popular," said Gureckis. But, "they would pass their name down from their grandfathers."

By the 1960s, Gureckis found naming traditions slowly started to change, and by the 1980s, people were naming children according to which names had "momentum."

So, while Opal was popular in 1885, chances are that it would be less popular in 1886, and bounce back in 1887. But if Kimberly was popular in 1983, chances were that it was going to get more popular in 1984, and in 1985, in 1986 and so on.

Moreover, many parents who think they are being individualistic in their choice of a name are unaware of how they are influenced by society when they set out to pick a unique name, researchers say.

The difference, Gureckis theorizes, is that, without tradition, people start to take their naming cues from others around them -- even if it's an unconscious process.

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