More than a decade ago, I took up the unlikely occupation of "Baby Name Wizard." I've seen plenty of changes in name trends since that time, as an American girl is now more likely to be named Cherish or Skyla than Christine or Susan.
One of the biggest developments, though, isn't about the names themselves but about the way we talk about them -- or rather, how much we talk about them. Name talk is everywhere. My peculiar obsession with names doesn't seem so peculiar any more.
Do you find yourself discussing celebrity baby names more these days? Do you notice more articles about the top names of the year, or hear more friends agonizing over whether Amelia and Atticus have become "too popular"? And do you find all the talk hard to resist? It's not your imagination, and it's not just you. Baby names are taking new prominence in our culture.
Allow me to take you on a tour. First stop: the New York Times archives. The phrase "baby names" has appeared in 78 Times newspaper articles in the past three years. Looking twenty years earlier, that number was just 7. "Baby naming" shows similar growth, while other baby phrases like "baby clothes" and "baby strollers" have held steady.
Next stop: Google's Ngram viewer, which allows historical searches of a massive collection of books. Check out the Ngram graph of the rate of occurrence of "baby names" and "baby naming" in English-language books in the 20th Century. A surge in both phrases started around 1980 and kept on growing. And their data only goes up to the year 2000. Anybody think that curve has gone anywhere but up since?
If you're actually in the market for a baby name, the clamor is even louder. The number of baby-naming books has skyrocketed, and they're pushing ever-larger menus of options. ("100,000 BEST Names for Baby!")
It makes sense that names are a hotter topic than ever before. After all, they're more diverse and more meaningful than ever before. But isn't it nice to know, for sure, that you're in good company? Welcome to the obsession, everyone.