It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out why parents love baby names such as Britney and Miley one year, then shun them the next.
But it turns out there is a subtle science to baby names, and that economic, geographic and other influences join with pop culture in explaining their rise and fall.
Minnesota stood out in 2014 as the only state where Henry was most popular for boys, according to the latest Social Security Administration data. Henry made the top five in Wisconsin and Nebraska, though, and that jived with research published this month showing that Minnesota’s naming habits have converged with those of other Northern Plains states.
Economics appears as influential as location. A 2010 study compared the Dow Jones industrial average with the percent of babies receiving one of the 50 most popular names in a given year.
Amid bear markets, parents tended to choose more common or conforming names — a herd mentality in tough times. But when American business was booming, parents were more likely to select unusual names — presumably to make their children stand out.
Studies also show a flameout effect: The faster a fad name rises in popularity from year to year, the faster parents tire of it. Xavi and Bentley, for example, dropped sharply last year after gaining steam in 2010, when the former was a famous soccer player and the latter was a reality TV baby.
Henry isn’t losing steam anytime soon. The 10th most popular boy name in 1900, it fell out of the top 100 by 1969 but slowly re-emerged after 2000. Nationally, it ranked 33rd last year.
Why is a state of Swedes so fond of a name with English roots? Context is important: Even Minnesota’s most popular name was conferred on only 1 percent of boys last year.
But Minnesota may be a trendsetter. Mason is now one of the country’s most popular boy names. Guess which state was first to make it the most popular in 2009?