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This Is The Biggest Influence On Baby Names (And It's Not Celebrities)

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Pop culture pervades our lives these days and many expectant parents are understandably influenced by it when naming their babies. This explains the rise in popularity of names like Mila and Margot in recent years, for example.

But the baby-naming process isn't actually as simple as us watching the hottest new Netflix series and naming our kids after the lead actor. Instead, most people take their inspiration from a little closer to home.

According to Neil Burdess, author of new book Hello, My Name Is … The Remarkable Story of Personal Names, we take more inspiration from rich parents that live nearby than celebrities when choosing baby names.

While once name-giving was governed by custom and most babies were given one of just a few names that were passed down the generations, writes Burdess in BBC Magazine, parents these days are increasingly opting for unusual names.

Take these eye-opening statistics: In the late 18th century, more than 50% of all boys in Britain were called William, John or Thomas, and the same proportion of girls were named either Elizabeth, Mary or Anne.

In 2015, by contrast, there were more than 60,000 different names registered in Britain, according to the Office for National Statistics, and 50,000 of these were given to only one or two children. Furthermore, the percentage of babies given the most popular names has also dropped.

Around 60% of girls and 70% of boys were given one of the 100 most popular names two decades ago, but now it's just 40% of girls and 50% of boys, Burdess writes.

Celebrities do have a big influence on many parents though, he admits. The popularity of the name Keira (with non-traditional spelling) skyrocketed from 2004 when Keira Knightley's career took off and peaked in 2007 in line with her career and has since declined. More recently, the name Zayn has also risen up the ranks since Zayn Malik found fame with One Direction.

But Burdess says most parents' baby-name decisions are shaped by affluent, highly educated families who live near them, rather than prominent figures in pop culture. (While the name Zayn has become more popular recently, for example, there were still just 255 babies given the name in 2015.)

"Poorer parents may believe they can give their children a better chance of success in life by giving them names popular in richer areas," Burdess writes.

He cites research conducted in California in the 1960s, which found that names adopted by high-income, highly educated parents are soon embraced by those lower down the socioeconomic ladder.

However, according to researchers Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, "as a high-end name is adopted en masse, high-end parents begin to abandon it. Eventually, it is considered so common that even lower-end parents may not want it, whereby it falls out of the rotation entirely."

To forecast the baby-name trends of the future then, Burdess says, it might be worth checking out today's birth announcements in The Times.
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