Sometimes it’s obvious why a certain baby name becomes a trend, and it’s usually because a celebrity chose the name and everyone else followed suit. But other names aren’t quite as obvious. I was always one of three Amandas throughout my grade school years, but these days I don’t meet many people with a baby named Amanda. What was it about the name Amanda in the ’80s? A study at the University of Pennsylvania sought to figure out this phenomenon of social norms and came to some interesting, if confusing, conclusions.


While many assume that social norms, like baby names or choosing the word “pop” over “soda,” emerge because of widespread media, this study actually found that it can depend on simple social interactions. To figure this out, researchers created the “Name Game,” a web-based game that was set up like a social network. The participants were paired up, shown a photograph of a face and tasked with giving him or her a name. When the partners came up with the same name, they won money. If not, they lost money and then found out what their partner suggested. The game would then continue for up to 40 rounds, with researchers subtly shifting the networks of who could interact with whom.

Their findings were shocking; they found that when networks were limited and people interacted with the same partners over and over, they couldn’t agree on any one name. But when their interactions were given free reign and they randomly partnered with other people, they actually all agreed on a single name more often. But why did this happen? It all has to do with physics and a concept known as “symmetry breaking.” The researchers used this concept to see how small changes in network structure can influence social norms, finding that random mixing has a better chance of consensus.

Okay, so that was a lot of information. Basically, they found that our social interactions influence what we decide are social norms, and that something as random as meeting a new person can influence how we choose a baby name. It seems that why baby names become trends is a just a phenomenon of physics. Who knew?

What do you think is an emerging baby name trend? Let us know in the comments, and let’s see if we all agree!

(Feature Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images)