This is what I've learned about choosing baby names: we are inspired by the Bible, travel, and peer pressure.
I recently discovered a story in USA Today that examined the most popular baby names by decade since 1890. As someone who had to pick first and middle names for his two children, I understand the fascination. One name my wife and I had loved since college (Jackson), one was lifted from a friend's random anecdote (Tanner), one was picked from a baby name book (Tate) and the last one came in a deperate attempt to choose before the water broke (Owen).
In reviewing the names listed by decade, it becomes obvious where they come from. Considering that John and Mary were the most popular names from 1890-1920, it's clear that simple, status quo names were the thing. We also relied on the Good Book for ideas, a trend that continues today (Paul, Thomas, Jonah, Ruth, Joseph, Carl). During the 90s, Mary got kicked to the curb, and we became enamored with all the girls that signed my yearbook with circles over their i's (Christina, Jennifer, Stephanie, Melissa). And now with this millennium, we are inspired by places we've been (Austin, Sydney, Brooklyn) and places we know we're headed to (Destiny).
Parents-to-be in search of that perfect munchkin moniker should check the baby name section on Parenting.com. Beyond the standard A-Z list, you can review the themed lists (like action heroes? Learn about the origins of names like Indiana, Conan,and Maverick) and pick based on any cultural and ethnic heritage you can think of (from Aboriginal to Zimbabwean).
While some of us opt for an out-of-the-box name, we are largely creatures of habit and victims of trends. "Parents in the United States are increasingly sensitive to the change in frequency of a name in recent time," states the USA Today article. It will be interesting to see the name chart in another 10 years, and if there are more Baracks and less Georges.