When I arrived in this world in late 1953, my parents proudly assigned me the name “Stephen,” which at the time was quite well-liked in the western hemisphere.
“Stephen” ranked among the 20 most popular names for U.S. male children, according to the Social Security Administration.
Well, times have changed.
“Stephen” has steadily dropped in the baby-name popularity polls, to the point it barely cracks the top 400. I’m currently sitting at No. 396 in 2021, according to BabyCenter.com.
What causes the rise — and most assuredly, an ensuing decline — in the popularity of baby names?
Before we try and answer that, take a look at the most popular baby names for boys and girls so far in 2021, according to BabyCenter.com:
“(Baby names) rise in popularity, enjoy a period of dominance, and then fall,” writes Clive Thompson for JSTOR Daily, an online publication that specializes in contextualizing current events. “Emma and Liam will be hot for awhile, until suddenly … they’re not.
“But why? What makes a name suddenly pop — and then die?”
Many experts in this field point to the influence of pop culture. Many parents tend to hop on the bandwagons tied to favorite celebrities, characters in best-selling books or popular films and, of course, pop music.
Michelle Napierski-Prancl is an assistant professor at Russell Sage College for Women in Troy, N.Y., where she teaches courses in both sociology and women’s studies. She has studied the correlation between hit songs and the names of children from the eras that produced those songs.
Napierski-Prancl pointed to the rises in popularity of names like Joanna, Rosanna Windy and Candida — all the titles of hit songs, and all popular baby names during the period when those songs dominated radio play.
Not surprisingly, Napierski-Prancl found the popularity of those types of names generally faded not long after those songs exited the pop music charts.
“Today, someone named Windy or Candida would be thought of as having an unusual name,” Napierski-Prancl wrote.
And then there is this train of thought, provided by Laura Wattenberg, founder of the baby-naming site Baby Name Wizard.
“I think in past generations, parents were much more concerned about their kids’ names fitting in,” she wrote. “But in the past 20 years, the focus has been 100 percent on standing out. Parents are really, really worried about their kids being ordinary.”
I guess my parents played it safe. They could have named me Shaq, Skizzo, Ducky or Apollo.
Instead, however, they chose “Stephen,” which, of course, morphed into Steve during my early years.
That’s me, Steve. And that’s all I’ll ever be. Boring old No. 392, Steve.