Counterculture Con HQ

February 25, 2010

Changing Culture, Changing Names

To make a big deal out of this would make me sound lunatic.  So I won’t.  I’ll just say one thing though: where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

PARENTS CHOOSING MORE UNUSUAL NAMES NOW

Celebrities aren’t the only ones giving their babies unusual names. Compared with decades ago, parents are choosing less common names for kids, which could suggest an emphasis on uniqueness and individualism, according to new research.  Essentially, today’s kids (and later adults) will stand out from classmates. For instance, in the 1950s, the average first-grade class of 30 children would have had at least one boy named James (top name in 1950), while in 2013, six classes will be necessary to find only one Jacob, even though that was the most common boys’ name in 2007.

The researchers suspect the uptick of unusual baby names could be a sign of a change in culture from one that applauded fitting in to today’s emphasis on being unique and standing out. When taken too far, however, this individualism could also lead to narcissism, according to study researcher Jean Twenge, of San Diego State University.

Results showed parents were less likely to choose those popular names as time went on. For instance, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, about 5 percent of babies were named the top common name, while more recently that dropped to 1 percent.

The results held even when the researchers accounted for immigration rates and increasing Latino populations, which could bring relatively less common names into the mix.

“The most compelling explanation left is this idea that parents are much more focused on their children standing out,” Twenge told LiveScience. “There’s been this cultural shift toward focusing on the individual, toward standing out and being unique as opposed to fitting in with the group and following the rules.”

The positive side of individualism, Twenge said, is that there is less prejudice and more tolerance for minority groups. But she warns that when individualism is taken too far, the result is narcissism.  “I think it is an indication of our culture becoming more narcissistic,” Twenge said.

Past research has shown that back in the 1950s parents placed a lot of importance on a child being obedient, which has gone way down. “Parenting has become more permissive and more child-focused and [parents] are much more reluctant to be authority figures,” Twenge said.  As for whether these unusually named kids will have personalities to match is not known.

“It remains to be seen whether having a unique name necessarily leads to narcissism later in life,” Twenge said. “If that unique name is part of a parent’s overall philosophy that their child is special and needs to stand out and that fitting in is a bad thing, then that could lead to those personality traits.”

The rest, here.

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