IT is the decision prospective parents will find themselves mulling over the most, and one which their child will likely have to deal with for the rest of their lives.

Picking a baby name is the one thing all new mum's and dads want to get right, and the search for something which will suit their little one can be long and arduous.

But now researchers have found that picking a distinctive monicker is becoming harder and harder with greater media access, improved global communications and rising immigration increasing people’s exposure to different names and also ensuring they become common more quickly.

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Jack or Oliver? Picking a name is hard work for parents

Some parents have turned to the use of hyphens in their quest for originality, while others adopt unusual spellings. But once there is one Amelia-Rose or Rebekah on a birth certificate, a group from the University of Edinburgh found, there is soon to be another.

Using a tool originally created for understanding how genes behave, the researchers from the University of Edinburgh analysed trends in the names given to more than 22 million babies born in the UK over almost 180 years, between 1838 and 2016.

The experts found that naming trends change hugely over time, with those popular in the first half of the 20th century all but disappearing at the turn of the Millennium.

And being inspired by celebrities is far from a new phenomenon, with parents being influenced by stars of the silver screen for as long as cinema has been around, and also those who appeared in the public eye for more noble reasons.

Stephen J Bush, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute who led the study, said: “Collectively, shifting patterns of name choice provide a fascinating insight into changes in societal values, personal tastes and ethnic and cultural diversity from the Victorian era to the present day.

"The speed with which modern name choices fall in and out of favour reflects their increased exposure and people’s ongoing desire for distinctiveness.”

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The appearance of Shirley Temple led to a rise in Shirleys

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, name choices remained relatively stable and were dominated by names familiar from the bible.

The name Joseph accounted for almost 3 per cent of all new babies registered in 1840, but had fallen to 0.12% by 1968. Similarly, more than 8% of girls were named Mary in the mid-19th century, dropping to less than one in a hundred by 1946.

Meanwhile, the name John, once one of the most popular for boys, almost completely fell out of favour by the 1990s, while other names popular in Victorian-era households such as Elizabeth, Thomas, William and Sarah have also seen their popularity collapse.

The 20th century saw parents becoming enamoured with film stars, and tastes in names began to change. Most strikingly, the name Shirley was almost unheard of the UK until the 1930s, when child star Shirley Temple made her cinema debut at the age of three.

But by 1935 more than 1.5% of all the girls in the records were named Shirley.

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Audrey Munson

There is also a huge spike in parents naming their children Audrey - but it is not in honour of Audrey Hepburn. The use of the name takes a dramatic upturn from 1915 on, following the appearance of the 'first supermodel' Audrey Manson.

Ms Manson, from New York, was the muse for dozens of artists in the early half of the 20th century, and also appeared in silent films - including the first nude scene ever filmed in America.

While her name stayed popular, however, she fell out of favour and succumbed to mental illness, spending the rest of her life in an asylum until she died aged 104.

It's not only film stars who made an impact, but their fictional characters too. Despite its biblical connections, the name Luke was never popular in the UK until then end of the 1970s when it suddenly became the name of choice for thousands after entering the public consciousness via the medium of Star Wars and Luke Skywalker.

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Luke Skywalker aka actor Mark Hamill, with Carrie Fisher

Over the years, records begin to show the influx of migrants after the Second World War - with the appearance of names of Polish, Italian and Indian origin.

However, names with peak popularity between the 1940s and the 1970s remained resolutely British, with Paul, Andrew, Mark, Julie, Sarah and Stephen making up the top six.

The last twenty years has seen the appearance of Rhianna, Jayden and Logan in the records as tastes become more diverse, with fewer names dominating.

Anna Powell-Smith of Flourish, who compiled the data into an online database, said: "Nowadays, no names account for anything like 2% of babies. The most popular single boy’s name, Oliver, makes up less than 1% of births."

The research is published in the journal PLoS One.