YAKIMA, Wash. — Sophia and Mason were the two most popular names for babies born in Washington in 2011, the latest year data is available from the state Department of Health.
There were 453 Sophias and 446 Masons born that year in the state.
It’s possible that the parents of a little Sophia or little Mason somewhere could be Jessica and Michael — the two most popular names in Washington a generation ago in 1986.
Grandparents? Perhaps Michael and Mary, the two trendiest names in 1961, according to Social Security Administration records.
And the most popular names a century ago? John and Mary. In fact, Mary topped the list of most popular girls names for the better part of 80 years, before finally giving way to Lisa in the 1960s, according to Social Security records.
Statistics on names are not available on a city or county level in Washington. But baby names are growing more unusual both in Washington and across the country as more parents shied away from the most popular names, according to Social Security data.
Washington babies are far less likely to have one of the 100 most popular names for children born the same year as they were 20 or 30 years ago. In 2011, 31 percent of female babies had one of the 100 most common names. In 1980, it was 53 percent. As for boys, that figure has fallen from 73 percent to 42 percent.
That trend could be harming kids, especially ones who end up with uncommon names that are difficult to pronounce, according to social science research.
Naming children has consequences, said Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic.
Research by Twenge and others indicate that there are correlations between first names and how people feel about themselves, how others feel about them, behavior in school, income levels and the likelihood of getting called for a job interview.
People who like their names are more likely to feel good about themselves. But your sense of self-worth is also affected by how much other people like your name, Twenge said. “People like names that are more common.”
That isn’t good news for the 926 people in the United States who are named Unique. Only eight Uniques lived in Washington as of February 2011, according to WhitePages.com, which used Social Security Administration data for its analysis.
“What you see is a cultural shift,” Twenge said. “It’s gone from ‘give him a name so he fits in’ to ‘let’s give her a name so she stands out.’ ”
“Naming a kid is really hard. It’s a huge responsibility,” Twenge said. “None of my daughters had a name until they were a day old.”
Countless websites, books and even consultants offer advice on naming offspring. For just under $30, one site will suggest names based on a variety of user preferences, such as alliteration, ethnicity and name type, which includes categories like “Trendy,” “Traditional” and “Nature.” At the bottom of the page, the site babynames.com cautions: “We do not guarantee that you will like or choose any of the names that we suggest. Ultimately the decision is between you and your partner.”
In making that decision, Twenge recommends that parents consider the kid who has to live with the name.
Parents should think about how the full name — first and last — will sound when the child is grown up, she said. “Imagine them walking into a business meeting, and saying, ‘Hello, I’m —.’ If it sounds good, go for it. If not, you might want to rethink it.”
Also, initials can matter, especially when they have bad connotations. Research indicates that people with initials forming negative acronyms such as FAT or DUMB are more likely to have trouble with depression, Twenge said.
Last, if parents opt for an uncommon name, at least make it easy to spell and pronounce, she said. “And maybe something that used to be popular.”