Sofia has taken over the world — and not just one Sofia. Lots of them.
A new analysis of baby name statistics from naming expert Laura Wattenberg finds that Sofia (along with its variants) is the top baby name in nine countries — nations as far-flung as Mexico, Italy and Russia. Meanwhile, the name is the number two or three choice for parents in a whopping 20 countries, including the United States, where "Sophia" is currently the third-most-popular name for girls.
Sofia's popularity transcends borders, she discovered.
"It just blew me away that so many different languages and cultures would arrive at the same sound at the same time," Wattenberg told Live Science. "I guess that really says something about the way culture is transmitted today." [Sophia's Secret: The 10 Most Popular Baby Names]
Sofia's popularity may be even more widespread than Wattenberg's analysis suggests. Many countries don't keep baby-naming stats, including large nations like Brazil. There's no single celebrity or fictional character who can account for the name's runaway popularity.
Sofia does have some innate factors that make it a good candidate for international popularity, Wattenberg said. It means "wisdom." It's pronounceable in a variety of tongues, for one thing. But Sofia's inherent charms failed to place it on the radar a generation ago. Two decades in the past, Sofia/Sophia and its variants weren't top names anywhere, Wattenberg said.
"I can point to qualities that would seem to make this name desirable," she said. "The hard part is saying why it wasn't just as desirable a generation ago."
Certainly, a more individualistic naming style has swept the world. The old cross-cultural names of Mary, John and their local variations (e.g. Maria and Ivan) were religiously based, as is, indeed, the reigning most-popular boy's name in the world today, Mohamed. Now, Wattenberg said, parents choose names based on style. And though parents are leaning toward fresh, unique-sounding names for their little ones, she said, tastes are remarkably trend-driven. Once people throw off the limitations of religious and family tradition, they tend to gravitate toward similar sounds, suggesting perhaps that everyone's always shared a taste for trendy names, Wattenberg said.
"It's actually a little unnerving to discover that the name that happens to sound nice to you also sounds nice to the entire Western world," Wattenberg said.
With so many Sofias and Sophias running around so many countries, will the name start to feel boring? It's possible that Sofia could soon peak, Wattenberg said.
"Just the fact of tracking what the top 100 baby names are makes people competitive," she said. "Everyone is trying to avoid the number-one name, because they think that's too ordinary, so names rise and fall faster than they used to."
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.