New Study: Naming Trends Change More Often For Girls Than Boys

October 29, 1998

Much like women's fashions, popular female names shift from trendy to tired in a matter of a few years, while many male names remain as eternal as the necktie, a new Ohio University study suggests.

"Some of the most popular men's names haven't changed much, but favorite female names seem to change noticeably all the time," says James Bruning, a professor of psychology at Ohio University who has researched how names have changed in popularity during the past 27 years.

In this recent study, a follow-up of a similar project Bruning led in 1971, nearly 500 Ohio University students ranging in age from 18 to 20 rated their preferences for 660 male and 660 female names.

The top 10 most-liked male names in the 1998 study were Justin, Austin, Jason, Nathan, David, Matt, Brad, Taylor, Eric and Dave. Of these names, three -- David, Dave and Eric -- also were among the top 10 picks in 1971.

The top 10 female names were Kylie, Paige, Adrienne, Alexandra, Dakota, Hallie, Jennifer, Madison, Jessica and Mia. Only one of these -- Jennifer -- is a repeat from 1971.

Bruning isn't sure why popular names have changed more for females than males during the past three decades, but suspects it may relate to women being more comfortable with change in general.

"I think change in all aspects of women's lives is more accepted and expected," he says.

For example, many women are used to changing their last names when they marry. In addition, women tend to change their clothing style and physical appearance more often than men, he says.

Despite the lack of dynamic shifts in male names that Bruning has charted, men's names in recent years have begun to show some variation, he says. Two of the most highly ranked names in his recent study, Justin and Austin, are examples.

"I'm not sure what it means, but men's names have started to change in a way consistent with the change rate in women's names," he says.

Although trends in popular names come and go, it seems that old stereotypes associated with names still exist. In a separate, unpublished study, Bruning examined the connotative meanings of names by asking study participants to predict the job success rates of people based on their names.

Study participants attached success to feminine names matched with stereotypical female jobs and masculine names with stereotypical masculine jobs. For example, the highest likelihood of success was expected for a woman named Marta who was planning to become a manicurist and a man named Bruno who was planning to become a plumber. The lowest rates of success were given to examples that challenged traditional stereotypes, such as a man named Garrett who planned to become a daycare center director.

"I was somewhat surprised at the results," Bruning says. "I thought in this day and age when there's so much watching out for stereotypes that this wouldn't happen."

Bruning's research on popular names was published in a recent issue of the journal Psychological Reports and was co-authored by Ohio University psychology graduate students Natale Polinko and Justin Buckingham. Bruning holds an appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences.
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Contact: James Bruning, (740) 593-2553; bruning@ohio.edu
Written by Melissa Rake, (740) 593-1891; rake@ohio.edu
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Ohio University

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