Many defining characteristics set each generation apart. But researchers have noted some common names persist like continuous threads through the years. Certain names remain consistently popular across the generations. And multiple studies since the 1940s have helped to explain why we all know so many Johns, Mikes, Marys, and Emmas.
Religion Meets Tradition
Particular religions also influence traditional naming choices in the same way as family identity. Ubiquitous names like Mary Smith happen when family and religious traditions unite. With this double reinforcement, seemingly simple names like Mary, John, or James carry additional associations.
These associations are like signals to each other and the world. To the rest of the family, these names say that the next generation is continuing the traditions. To the outside world, these names serve as potential markers that the bearers have some things in common with us, like similar beliefs.
We Love What We Know
People tend to gravitate toward things with which they are familiar. This tendency applies to how children get their names. Many have preferred routes to drive, food brands, and morning routines based solely on what is most familiar to them. While the choice may not always be conscious, this familiarity bias can apply to choosing traditional names.
Connection to family members with whom we share habits or features or a desire to connect to the children we produce can also drive our name choices. Implicit egotism describes how we seek things that are like us or remind us of ourselves. Like our preference for the familiar, implicit egotism can affect our name choices subconsciously.
The Trend to Stand Out Is New
There’s a lot of focus on name originality in the younger generations. But older generations valued fitting in with their preferred networks. And many previous generations of immigrants chose common, traditional American names to nurture a sense of belonging for their children. Some experts believe the recent strong push for original names stems partly from social media and the internet. It’s much easier now for parents to search for names and gauge their originality in a world that can feel crowded to some.
We Equate Simple With Trustworthy
Most traditional names are simple and easy to pronounce. They’re one or two syllables, and studies show we like and trust simple names more. In fact, we often decide a person is more believable even with no other information besides their traditional, pronounceable name. Interestingly, people also tend to associate simpler and traditional names with less riskiness and even less danger.
For Many, Tradition Will Always Be a Choice
We often associate family members’ names with positive emotions and memories. Sharing a name with a favorite uncle, beloved cousin, or venerated grandparent can serve as an additional link. Passing traditional names down through families can also help to reinforce a sense of belonging to the family network. Human beings love some individuality but tend to thrive when they feel connected to others within social and cultural networks.