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Collateral storm damage: Baby names plunge in popularity

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Newborn Harvey Rodriguez cannot even crawl yet, but already he may be bucking a trend.

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Once-hot baby names such as Katrina, Sandy and Andrew immediately lost favor in the United States after they were attached to hurricanes and storms that caused death and destruction, according to the Social Security Administration.

As Hurricane Harvey barreled down on Corpus Christi Medical Center in Texas on Aug. 25, new mother Irma Rodriguez was still searching for the perfect name for her 7-pound bundle of joy. When a nurse suggested Harvey, “the mom agreed it was perfect,” the hospital said.

Only time will tell if the name Harvey will face a grim fate in the wake of the hurricane that slammed the Gulf Coast, killed dozens of people and caused record damage.

In recent years, the name had been gaining momentum slowly and was most popular in 2016, when parents chose it for 770 babies. But at least one expert thinks the storm will put an end to that trend.

“Harvey will tank,” Jonah Berger, author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” and marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, predicted on Friday.

History supports the idea that Harvey Rodriguez may be in rare company.

Katrina had its heyday in 1982, when 3,323 baby girls cooed to that moniker, said the Social Security Administration, which tracks the 1,000 most popular names annually.

The name nose-dived after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Since then, it has all but disappeared from nurseries, dropping from 1,327 baby girls called Katrina in 2005 to just 190 last year.

Sandy was most popular as a girl’s name in 1960, when it was the choice for 3,648 newborns. After the huge storm hit the East Coast in the fall of 2012, the number dropped from 138 babies in that year to 86 in 2016.

There can be a comeback, as the name Andrew has proved.

It was the fifth most-popular name for U.S. newborns when Hurricane Andrew blasted ashore in Miami in 1992, but it immediately dropped to 10th place in 1993, then 11th in 1995. Then it climbed back to fifth place in 2003, when 22,148 newborn boys, the most ever, burbled to the name.

While Berger expects the name Harvey to take a deep dive in popularity, others that start with “H” should become more common.

“Names that begin with ‘K’ increased 9 percent after Hurricane Katrina,” Berger said. “The more you hear a sound, the more you like it.”

Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Von Ahn