In a time when actual people are naming their children Legendary and Sadman and Lux (after the Instagram filter), that should perhaps come as no surprise. But in the new study, published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, researchers wanted to figure out if the trend was more than anecdotal.
Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of the book Generation Me, and research assistant Lauren Dawson analyzed the first names of 358 million babies in a U.S. Social Security Administration database. By doing so, they saw that parents were increasingly shying away from typical names.
Between 2004 and 2006, 66% of boys and 76% of girls had a name that wasn’t one of the 50 most common names of that time period. By contrast, in 2011-2015, 72% of boys and 79% of girls had names that were not in the top 50 most popular. In the top 10 for 2015 in the U.S. were Harper, Liam, Mason, Isabella, Olivia, Ava, and Mia. Brooklyn was ranked 31st most popular for girls across the U.S. (though not for girls in New York, where the name didn’t rank in the top 100).
“The tendency to want your kids to stand out is even more pronounced now than it was 10 years ago,” says Twenge, who credits the rise of stranger names on our increasingly individualistic culture: one that focuses on the self and is less concerned with social rules. Millennials grew up steeped in this kind of thinking. “They were raised with phrases like, you shouldn’t care what anyone else thinks of you, you can be anything you want to be, it’s good to be different, you have to love yourself first before you love anyone else,” says Twenge.
Researchers were also intrigued that the gender gap narrowed. “Boys are still more likely to get a common name than girls,” she says. “But parents are now more willing to give boys unique names as well.”
Our obsession with celebrities—and their strangely monikered children, from Sage Moonblood to Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson—is also a hallmark of individualism. “People are interested in fame and celebrity and these types of values instead of, for example, getting involved in the community,” Twenge says.
But there’s another, brighter side to our self-and-selfie-focused culture. In research this summer, Twenge found that Millennials are much more accepting of same-sex relationships and experiences. “What we’re seeing is this movement toward more sexual freedom,” Twenge told TIME. “There’s more freedom for people to do what they want without following the traditional, often now seen as outdated, social rules about who you’re supposed to have sex with and when.”
- Mickey Guyton Is TIME's 2022 Breakthrough Artist of the Year
- The 10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2022
- Column: What Elon Musk Gets Wrong About Free Speech
- The Forgotten Story of One of the First U.S. Soldiers Killed Overseas After Pearl Harbor
- Why You're More Likely to Get Sick in the Winter, According to New Research
- Column: What the Protests Tell Us About China's Future
- 18 Last-Minute Gifts for Everyone on Your List
- Despite World Cup Heartbreak, the Future Looks Bright for Men's Soccer in the U.S.