Stanley Lieberson’s “A Matter of Taste” looked at the way trends spread by examining baby names. He wanted to avoid the impact of marketing and advertising – the point was not to figure out how to create, perpetuate, or stop a trend, but to see if there is such a thing as a trend in the first place. Nobody is in the business of promoting baby names, and yet there are patterns. Lieberson looked for these patterns in the US. French sociologist Baptiste Coulmont has also looked at the way baby naming trends move across space and change in popularity over time.

The graph below shows how the final syllable of female names has changed over time. The -ette ending waned in popularity while the -ine and -a or -ah endings have increased in popularity. Graphically, I love that this diagram looks like sound intensity diagrams.

Female name endings in France - courtesy of Baptiste Coulmont
Female name endings in France - courtesy of Baptiste Coulmont

More interesting yet, Coulmont also animated a map to show how the name Loic spread from Brittany across the entire country over the course of about 60 years. I like this because it takes a static map and makes it dynamic. Sure, you could have lined up maps to march across a page at five or ten year intervals and cognitively filled in the blank spots. But here, his animations do the cognitive heavy lifting for you, revealing the pattern instantly.

Here’s what Coulmont had to say about the map graphic:

“As to my animation : there is no yet an accompanying sociological argument. I was struck by the spatial mobility of “Loic” from 1945 until 2005 : it seems to be a steady eastward shift [nowadays, Loic is one of the 20 top names for boys in francophone Switzerland : the eastward movement jumped the frontier!

How to explain this movement ? It seems that “Loic” moved from one district to another by means of personal interactions : some people knew some “Loic” living in the west, chose this name for their baby boy, and the movement continued eastward. “Loic” is not alone : especially during the nineties and now, names from Brittany are somewhat fashionable (“Celtic names”) : it could be the unforseen consequence of a strong nationalist movement in Brittany during the seventies. Those independantists fought for the right to name their children with “real” Celtic names… and the names spread in other regions.”

French provinces (note where Brittany/Bretagne is way to the west)
French provinces (note where Brittany is way to the west)

Relevant Resources

Coulmont, Baptiste. (2009) Prénoms typiques.

A Matter of Taste - Stanley Lieberson
A Matter of Taste - Stanley Lieberson
Lieberson, Stanley. (2000) A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change New Haven: Yale University Press.