There's something about Molly and Martha - but nothing about Mary
These days, names are still drawn from family or tradition, but they are just as likely to be aspirational (Achilles or Blaize); literary (Beckett or Harper); inspired by popular culture (the BabyCenter.comwebsite cites a boom in Fifty Shades-inspired names, like Ana and Grey, in 2012).
Meanwhile, surveys reveal that the numbers choosing even the most popular names are falling year on year, so the real trend is for individuality. Come January, I always seize on the list of the names popular with parents who announce their child’s birth in The Irish Times, and am constantly surprised by how much variation there is between it and the CSO list.
So it may just be that Mary’s popularity is conspiring against it now, making it simply too obvious. (Sorry Mary – but hey, my own name is deemed so dull it inspired an entire book on the subject, Beyond Jason and Jennifer.)
In all this hankering after individuality, however, we still end up tagging along with the herd. There were a lot of Sharons and Kevins born in the 1970s; Jordans are probably children of the 90s; while Betty and Maisie were most likely born 100 years ago, or last week.
My daughter was born in 2006. I called her a name I’d loved for years, a name I’d never encountered in real life. It ends in “a”. According to BabyCenter.com, in 2012 every single one of top five girls’ names in the United States ends in “a”. So much for individuality.
According the authors of Freakonomics, Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, there are socioeconomic factors behind name trends. “It isn’t famous people who drive the name game. It is the family just a few blocks over, the one with the bigger house and the newer car . . . Parents are reluctant to poach a name from someone too near, but many parents, whether they realise it or not, like the sound of names that sound “successful’.”
In other words,10 years ago, “a-ending” names were elite, and slightly posh. Once they’re broken in by cool, early-adopting parents, these names become more pervasive, until suddenly they’re everywhere. At which point, what Levitt and Dubner call the “high-end” parents start looking for the next name with the right blend of novelty and tradition.
In Ireland many of the current most popular baby names – Grace, Lily, Jack and Daniel – seem to have migrated over from England. By that measure, if the Mumsnet baby name board is anything to go by, in the next few years we’re set for an explosion of Mabels, Harriets, Ashers and Wolfs. But if you really want to be different, I’ve got just the name for you.