Geographic Influence on Names

Where we live has a big influence on a lot of different aspects of our lives, and this includes the names that we choose for our children. There are many factors that determine the most popular names across the world, but some of the most important are cultural and geographic influences on names.

Oftentimes, the most popular baby names vary substantially from one country to another. This is especially the case in countries that have vast cultural, religious and linguistic differences. For example, the most popular names in the United States are very different from those that are most popular in South Africa or China.  

Cultural Influences on Names

There are constantly cultural changes that influence names as well. For example, in the United States, the most popular baby names are typically influenced by pop culture. Anything from celebrity names and the names celebrities use for their babies to names found in popular books and movies has become popular. Even the names that are used in popular video games or songs tend to increase in popularity as well.

For instance, many names were influenced by the “Twilight effect” that started when the Twilight books written by author Stephanie Meyer were released and turned into movies. The names of two of the main characters, Isabella (Bella) and Jacob, dramatically rose in popularity. In fact, Isabella was the top girls’ name for the years 2009 and 2010, right around the time when the movies were released.

Also, many parents take cues from their favorite celebrities when naming their children as well. When famous celebrities choose a particular name for their child, that name frequently rises in popularity. For example, the name Elijah was quite unpopular in the 20th century until singer Cher chose it for her son in 1976. It dramatically increased in popularity and is currently in the list of the top 10 most popular baby boy names in the United States.

Religious Influences on Names

Another notable factor that can influence popular baby names in a country is the predominant religion in the country. Although countries typically have a vast number of religions, some countries have only one or two with a high percentage of the population practice.

Based on a study of the United States Census Bureau in 2008, approximately 75 percent of Americans consider themselves Christians. This certainly has a large influence on baby names in the U.S. as many of them are biblical in origin.

The most popular names in the early 1900s were John and Mary. Currently, the top 10 most popular boy’s names in the United States include biblical names like Noah, James, Benjamin or Elijah. Mary is considered the all-time most popular name for females, and current favorites include Abigail.  

Throughout U.S. history, many of the most popular names have been inspired by Christianity. This differs from countries like England, where a British Social Attitudes survey found that over 50 percent of adults have no religious affiliation. This can explain why there are notably less biblical baby names that are popular in England.  

Although England has fewer religious adults when compared to the United States, religion still has a big influence on the most popular baby boy’s name in England and Wales: Muhammad.

Muhammad has many different spelling variations including Mohamed, Mohammed, and Muhammed. When the spellings are combined, the number of babies with that name totals more than any other name. The reasoning behind this is likely because of the increasing Muslim population, which is currently at approximately 5 percent.   

Ethnic Influences on Names

Ethnicity also has a big influence on the names a country chooses for its newest members of the population. This is because people that belong to different ethnic groups and cultures have different methods for giving and choosing names.

For instance, in China, names are typically selected in order to signify a particular attribute, such as beauty or strength. The names are chosen very deliberately from words in the Chinese language that have an obvious meaning. This is because names are believed to reflect the character of the person.

Currently, the most popular boy’s name is Zhang Wei, which means great. One of the most popular girls’ names is Wang Xiu Ying, which means elegant and brave.

Also, in many parts of the African continent, names may be given based on events that occurred surrounding the birth. For instance, a name like Ayodele is unisex, it means joy has come home and is used frequently in Nigeria. There are also names that are chosen by different ethnic groups in Africa based on:

  • the birth order of the baby
  • the emotions the family was experiencing at the time of the birth,
  • the day of the week the baby was born

Name Similarities and Differences Across the World

While all countries have different lists of popular names, there are some similarities between the names chosen by certain countries. For instance, many of the popular names in the United States are also popular in the UK, Australia and Canada. This is likely because English is the predominant language in these countries. Therefore, many of the names are English or Hebrew in origin. Also, the cultures in each country are typically similar, which leads to more of the same names.

There are a lot of factors that influence the names that parents in each region of the world choose. This includes religion, culture, ethnicity and language.

Countries that have vastly different languages and cultures are likely to have very different names in their popular lists. This leads to a variety of different beautiful names across the world.