A Matter of Taste Summary By Stanley Lieberson

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A Matter of Taste offers readers a unique look at something that affects us all: why and how people’s likes and dislikes change over time.

This book explores what is truly behind the ever-evolving trends in items like baby names, music and fashion, and more.

With an eye on the history of changing tastes, A Matter of Taste asks questions about why certain things become popular while others disappear from our collective consciousness.

This book examines how these changes impact society, from the way we view beauty and success to the biases we hold about different groups.

As it dives into these topics, A Matter of Taste encourages readers to reconsider their own views about trends, societal norms and individual preferences.

A Matter of Taste

Book Name: A Matter of Taste (How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change)

Author(s): Stanley Lieberson

Rating: 4/5

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Categories: Society & Culture

Author Bio

Stanley Lieberson is an esteemed Canadian sociologist and research professor at Harvard University.

He is one of the most prolific authors on analysing cultural dynamics and trends, including first names, fashions, language conflicts as well as race and ethnic relations.

His work focuses on comparing different societies through their social evolution and developement, enriching our understanding of the diversity between them.

Through his many books such as A Matter of Taste, Stanley Lieberson has taught us that it is indeed a matter of taste that influences how we live and interact with others.

Discover How Social Norms Influence Unique Expression: The Role of Fashion, Names and Freak Shows


Have you ever wondered why and how fashions change over time? We live in an individualistic age, where we all want to express our own personality, but what we like or dislike isn’t solely a product of our particular tastes.

A Matter of Taste Book explains why these shifts in fashion occur.

From this book, one can learn why many would not name their son Joshua if they are Mexican-American, why Donald Duck is still relevant as a fashionista and why freak shows aren’t fashionable anymore.

Furthermore, readers will gain insight into how we are not the masters of our own taste, but instead reflections of the larger society within which we find ourselves.

So if you’re looking to gain insight into why and how trends come and go over time, then pick up this book and get ready to explore.

We Cannot Confuse Fashions, Customs and Aesthetic Enhancements: Understanding How Fashion Changes Over Time

When it comes to fashion, what sets it apart from customs is the regular change in styles for the sake of novelty.

With a custom, it may be something unique but it doesn’t really change.

Think of an everyday traditional dress like the kimono – it has been the same for a very long period and doesn’t change regularly.

However, if at some point there is a regular change in styles when the kimono makes a comeback among Japanese designers, we would consider this to be fashion.

Fashion is also different from something that might objectively enhance or alter an object or concept; instead changes in fashion usually happen purely for novelty’s sake and not because there is some bigger purpose or goal attached to them.

This can extend beyond material items too – think of hairdos or music from the early 20th century no longer having the same impact today!

That’s fashion for you; embracing ever-changing trends and rejecting anything seen as too old fashioned.

How Social Influences Impact the Development of Fashions

Development of Fashions

The development of fashion is driven by both external and internal social influences on a large scale.

External influences come in many forms, like the democratization of a society or the invention of technology, while internal influences involve more specific imitations by certain classes.

For example, looking at how our entertainment has changed over time reflects how external influences shape fashions.

Freak shows were once a norm in Western countries, but with increased pressure for human rights this fashion has become an unfathomable thought today.

Internal social influences involving class imitation also define certain trends: the upper-class may lead with certain tastes that then become more widely accepted, until they move onto something new to set themselves apart again.

An example of this is the use of ‘Jr’ suffix for names – originally only used by wealthy classes to indicate status until it became popularised and spread across other demographics.

In conclusion, fashions are determined by both external and internal effects from wider society that continuously evolves depending on the changing times.

First names are particularly useful when studying fashion developments because they offer a clear picture of general trends that everyone can understand.

This is because they are not subject to intentional promotion, which means the conclusions you draw from them will remain unchanged.

Additionally, unlike fashion items such as clothing or cars, they are not influenced by social restrictions regarding affordability, as everyone has the ability to bestow a name regardless of their financial status.

Also, when naming their children, most people have some flexibility in terms of choice – even those adhering to religious rules when deciding on a name for their baby still have a wide range of options.

All in all, first names make it possible for everyone to study fashion changes without any filter and with minimum bias.

The Evolution of Name-Giving: How Custom and Fashion Have Influenced the Way We Name Our Children

Name Our Children

When societies transitioned from traditional to modern, the process of choosing a child’s name changed with it.

Traditionally, family and religion played a larger role in this decision-making.

Children were named after certain family members or ancestors in many cultures.

In Greek villages, the first-born male typically received the name of their paternal grandfather.

But nowadays, education and urbanization have infiltrated people’s lives and widened the possibilities when it comes to names.

As more and more people leave their small communities behind and settle into bigger cities, they are exposed to different tastes and a far greater variety of potential names for their baby.

Thus began a trend where names became a matter of fashion instead of custom.

In fact, between 1980-1990 in France, an average of 2.5 out of the top 10 names dropped off each year which clearly demonstrates just how quickly baby naming fashions come and go!

All the more reason why parents should put extra care into deciding on the right one for their bundle of joy.

External Events Only Shape Name Fashions to a Certain Extent

It’s clear from the information in the book that to a certain extent, social changes can affect naming fashions.

This can be seen in the example of when Franklin Roosevelt became president and his name suddenly started becoming more popular.

In addition, the civil rights movement had an observable impact on African American parents when it came to naming their babies.

During this time, there was a much higher percentage of invented names given to black children compared to those given to white children.

However, it’s also important to note that although external events influence naming fashions, they don’t have too much power over them.

For example, other significant social events like World Wars or the Depression did not cause drastic changes in the concentration of popular names as one might expect.

The Internal Mechanisms of Fashion and Names: Why We Can Easily Recognize the Era When a Picture was Taken

Mechanisms of Fashion

When it comes to fashion, there are certain internal mechanisms that govern how it changes over time.

These mechanisms ensure that fashions develop gradually and in one direction, instead of just randomly changing from one day to the next.

One such mechanism is that new tastes are always based on previously existing tastes.

We tend to find “modest variants on existing tastes” most appealing rather than extreme changes – just imagine if today’s clothing trends were suddenly introduced in 1850!

This allows us to distinguish between current and older fashion trends more easily.

Another internal mechanism at play is that fashion runs in one continuous direction, instead of fluctuating back and forth.

For example, if the overall length of dresses had been fluctuating every few years, they would look outdated quickly.

But by changing slowly yet steadily in one direction will result in the resulting fashions looking brand new at all times.

Finally, even names follow the same pattern; variations of popular name endings tend to become more popular over time before waning play again a few decades later – we can clearly see this phenomenon with girl names ending in ‘a’.

All this shows how powerful these internal mechanisms are in fashion and beyond.

Tastes in names are marked by more conservative shifts than mainstream fashion, existing within an internal system of gradual change.

For example, dresses moved from ankle-length to knee-length over the course of several years in centimeter by centimeter increments.

Similarly, popular names like Jennifer and Jessica incrementally replaced Jennie and Joan – having djeh sound at the beginnings – throughout the twentieth century.

More recently invented names such as Latonya sincerely adhere to these internal rules with affixes similar to those already popular among name choices for parents.

Thus, tastes in names evolve gradually through incremental differences, emphasizing a continuity rather than drastic departures from what was once fashionable or popular.

The Power of Names: How Symbols Attached to Them Can Enhance or Taint Their Significance

It is undeniable that the symbolism associated with a name can influence its attractiveness.

Take, for instance, the name “Tiffany” – prior to its association with famous jewelry store Tiffany & Co., it was an ordinary name, not particularly popular.

But when the eponymous movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s came out in 1961 and made famous the image of glamorous New York luxury embraced by Audrey Hepburn, the attraction of this name soared.

On the flip side, having an undesirable symbolic meaning or connotation attached to a name can also take away from its appeal.

The name Donald was growing in popularity in California between 1905 and 1933 until 1934 when Donald Duck first appeared as a comic figure who famously never wore trousers.

This connection had such an impact that popularity of this name suddenly plummeted after that year.

Ultimately, each person will have his or her own preferences on which symbolic attributes do and do not appeal to them when it comes to picking out names for their children.

Research has found even among different parts of society, some features or images are more important than others for certain subgroups – for example parents with lower education levels more often opt for boys’ names associated with strength like Alexander or Arthur as they may be looking to foster those qualities in their child.

The Power of Collective Action: How Others Influence Our Style, Names and Choices

Fashions in names, just like fashions in clothing, depend heavily on collective action.

People choose names for their children according to how they believe others will evaluate the name, or conversely, may try and select an uncommon name in order to make sure their child is “unique”.

But parents can’t always predict what names will be popular- even if a parent chooses a name that they think is unusual, other parents may have chosen the same name as well.

This happened to the author of ‘A Matter of Taste’: They chose the name Rebecca for their daughter, only to find out later that it had become a fashionable choice at the time.

This shows that our attitude towards certain names can change drastically depending on how it’s embraced by society at large- through collective action and behavior, certain styles of names become trendy while others fall out of favor.

No matter what we want personally, collective taste often ends up dictating fashion choices!

Immigration Brings Changes to Name Fashions as External and Internal Factors Influence Choices

 Influence Choices

Immigrants coming to the United States often choose their fashions, including names, based on a logic of assimilation.

This is why the most popular names given to white children in California in the mid-1980s were also popular among immigrants from China, Japan and South Korea.

However, internal mechanisms also play an important role when it comes to choosing a name.

New tastes can be influenced by old tastes, such as among Mexican-Americans, who are still influenced by Spanish naming traditions despite having assimilated into Anglo culture.

Additionally, immigrant groups may return to names connected to their origin once they become accepted in society and no longer need to fit in with the majority.

This is what happened with Irish names; when they first migrated to the US they were looked down upon but now that they’ve gained acceptance and respect Irish names like Kelly have become more prominent.

The changing name tastes of immigrants show how both external and internal mechanisms influence our choices.

External events such as immigrants’ roles in society can shape name choice — as well as subtler influences like historic patterns or cultural associations — making these changes an interesting insight into how identities can shift over time and across cultures.

It’s easy to assume that popular culture plays a big role in influencing names, but it’s not as simple as that.

It’s true that certain celebrities or fictional characters can have an effect on the way people choose a name, though the impact of entertainment may be more connected to existing trends than creating new ones.

For example, while Gary Cooper helped propel the name “Gary” into fashion, Humphrey Bogart had no such effect with his name “Humphrey”.

This is likely because “Gary” was already becoming popular for other reasons before Cooper became famous, and so the added influence of his fame brought it over the edge in terms of trendiness.

Likewise, Marilyn Monroe chose her first name based on its popularity – it was already fashionable prior to her notoriety and thus fit the trend of its time.

The fact that it remained popular after she gained fame only serves as further evidence that this kind of influence works best when the names are already favored by current trends.

It’s also difficult to measure how much impact entertainment has on name choices long-term.

This is due to many factors such as timing – a movie or novel aimed at younger generations may not reach its peak in popularity until years later when those same people are having babies and will be picking out potential baby names for their little ones.

And if a movie appeals to those who have already procreated, its impact will be limited since there won’t be any newborns entering the naming statistics from it later on down the line.

All in all, popular culture undoubtedly has some kind of effect on naming trends; however, this influence is highest when individuals choose names that fit with existing fashions, rather than leading them according to new standards set by celebrities or fiction stories.

Wrap Up

A Matter of Taste is a thought-provoking book that takes a look at the influences that shape our tastes and fashions.

The main takeaway from this book is that external events like media trends and pop culture can influence fashion, but there are also other internal factors operating independently of those external events.

This means that our tastes can change over time, even in the absence of any media or popular culture influence.

The book gives readers a few pieces of actionable advice on this subject – the most important one being to do your research before making decisions about things like naming your child.

If you take the time to really research upcoming name trends, you can be sure that you won’t be caught off guard when you find out that your ‘uncommon’ choice is actually more common than anticipated!

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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