The Search For The Perfect Baby Name Is Out Of Control And Inducing ‘Baby Name Anxiety’

shutterstock_139708273The search for the perfect baby name has gone to extremes I could never have imagined. In a recent navel-gazing New York Times piece, the stakes appear to be life or death to some of these parents.

What’s in a name? What isn’t, these days? Baby naming has become an industry — with paid consultants, books, Web sites brimming with trend data, and academic studies exploring correlations between baby names and future success. The once-simple task of coming up with a monogram for the baby blanket has evolved into a high-stakes exercise in personal “branding.”

Listen, I love baby names. I know a lot of people love baby names. I could talk about them all day long, debating my own preferences and yours.  But I like talking about names – meanings, spellings, bad experiences you’ve had with someone of the same name or griping about reasons I can’t use a name I loved since I was little. This piece however, reads more like a novel, with mounting tensions at every turn.

And so many prospective parents feel paralyzed, trying to find the elusive name that is exotic yet not bizarre, classic yet not pompous, on trend but not trendy.

“All this evaluation is not just overwhelming, it’s contagious,” said Page Rockwell, 34, a freelance project manager in San Francisco.

ZOMG what are we going to do if we don’t name the baby the PERFECT name?????? The author blames everything under the sun as the reason parents are sending themselves into a tizzy over the ideal utopian baby name.  Most of the culprits (baby naming websites, the SSA baby registry, Pottery Barn) involve the internets, because let’s face it everything bad is originated, ends, or is perpetuated on the world wide web.

Another reason cited is smaller families, which means MORE PRESSURE.

Now, most urban professionals I know limit themselves to one or two, which perhaps adds to the pressure to make every name count. Many of us are also starting families at a later age, with perhaps more time to consider the potential long-term consequences of a child’s name (thanks, “Freakonomics”). One friend struck “Kaydence” from her list when it failed the future-Supreme-Court-justice test.

He doesn’t, however, simply call out insane parental delusion and unhealthy competition.

Another friend, who works on Wall Street, is so conscious of overlap with other parents that he has broken down the list of possible names for his forthcoming baby into trader-speak categories like “momentum stock,” “oversold” or a “value play.”

Looking beyond the [Social Security Administration] Top 1000 was not enough for Jenn Lewis-Gordon, a waitress in Lakewood, N.J. She and her husband crossed off any name that had been used more than 100 times in the entire country in the last year. This left “Ptolemy,” “Bombay,” “Thursday” and “Ocean,” as well as “Atlas,” their ultimate choice. “I feel as though he’ll be less likely to be a follower if he starts out from the beginning being different,” Ms. Lewis-Gordon, 35, explained.

I get it to some extent. Having grown up with a name that none of my U.S. peers share (it’s spelled Carinn, but pronounced Corinne), I know first-hand the advantages and disadvantages of having a unique name that isn’t bizarre. I never minded that people call me “Karen” upon our first meeting or that even good friends spell it incorrectly at times. I always liked my name and I liked that no one else had it. However, I would never be this extreme about it.

My parents struck gold with their perfect balance, but their success was inadvertent. They simply named me after a little girl my mom babysat when she met my father. This was the root of the factors we used in naming our children — we picked something we both loved and had meaning to us. If you follow those simple rules, I don’t think you could possibly go wrong.

(photo: Andrew Scherbackov/Shutterstock)

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  • Blueathena623

    Apparently atlas’s mom is in my birth group on baby center, because she linked to this article and said she was quoted (and that her kids name is atlas). I don’t know what to make of the baby-name trend. I do think its wrong to be automatically biased against a person for a name (like in freakonomics), but on the other hand I think people are deluded if they think a kid is going to have some super advantage because they have a unique name. Then again, I don’t understand our current emphasis on being unique. Everyone is unique in the sense that no two people are ever the same, but to be truly unique (like president or a really famous person) depends so much more on the family than the name.

    • once upon a time

      I don’t think anything of people giving their children unique names – I don’t think it’s bad, don’t think it’s good, it just is – but it drives me CRAAAAAZY when a parent gives their child a unique spelling and then constantly bitches that everyone spells it wrong.

    • Blueathena623

      Agreed. Although for me, it also bothers me when its a crazy spelling and the parent acts like I’m an idiot when I don’t know how to pronounce it. I’m sorry — if you haven’t followed the basic rules of phonics, I might have difficulty the first time knowing that little Xiane is pronounced Ian (eee-an)

    • once upon a time

      My first post seems to have disappeared, so sorry if this comes up twice:

      Yes, I hate that as well! Go ahead and give your child a unique name, I really don’t care, but understand that you and your child will be spelling it out and pronouncing it out for the rest of his or her life.

    • Psych Student

      I agree completely! My name is Corissa – easy to pronouce, often misspelled (frequently spelled with two “r”s and one “s. My nickname is Cori – again, easy to say, hard to spell. But I don’t get mad at people who can’t spell my name. It’s ok! They aren’t insulting me with their misspellings or misprounciations. It’s not person you wackos! People are insane. *rolls eyes*

  • Emmali Lucia

    Can I just say this? Look at my user name, that’s my real first name. Emmali. Yes, it’s pronounced Emily (If you want to get into semantics it’s pronounced “Emma-Lee” whereas Emily is pronounced “Em-ill-lee” but whatever)

    Kids are notoriously cruel. I was made fun of all through elementary school for my “Unique” name, and it’s not even unique! So the parents that are naming their children Atlas, or Arya (I’m convinced it’s like a pirate saying yes, “ARR!-ya”) are setting their kids up for a freaking lifetime of bullying.

    Whatever happened to Thomas? Or Brittany? Especially if you have a really common last name, you’re child will never be found in a google-search. Which means that perspective employers won’t be able to easily find the nudes they sent out in high school or any trouble they got into.

    • Blueathena623

      Haha, totally. I love that my name is so generic that its pointless to google me.

    • Abendwind

      Save the yoonique names for kittens and puppies.

  • Alex Lee


    • chickadee


    • Emmali Lucia

      Is that like Hubert’s pubic region?

  • Guest

    I grew up with an unusual name

    • G.E. Phillips

      This was me at my first attempt at writing my post, and I thought I had deleted it, but now it’s showing up as a “guest” post? Why is that?

  • Guest


  • G.E. Phillips

    I grew up with an unusual name (Greer) which, in my opinion, hit the trifecta of Reasons Your Name Could Be Bad: It was difficult for some to pronounce/spell, many people thought it was a boy’s name, and it rhymed with a myriad of other words that made it difficult for even the nicest kid on the playground not to tease me (Greer drinks beer out of her ear was one of the better phrases I heard growing up.) I have always loved baby names, too, but when it came to my own child, I wanted to spare him as much as possible. His name is Owen, a top 50 name with only one possible spelling and pronunciation. Will he possibly be one of two or more in his class? Perhaps. But at least, then, he won’t be the only one one has to hear, “Owen Owen, your underwear is showin’.”

    • Carinn Jade

      But I love the name Greer! Do you like it any better as an adult?

    • G.E. Phillips

      I’ve grown into it, but I am adamant that my life would have been at least marginally easier if my parents had named me something like Amy or Elizabeth (my dad’s choices.)

    • Emmali Lucia

      Greer for a girl’s name?

      That’s very interesting. Is it a family name?

    • G.E. Phillips

      No, my mom just wanted to be different. And she liked Greer Garson.

    • Emmali Lucia

      It could be worse. Have you read STFUparents? She has a section devoted just to “Yooneek” names

    • G.E. Phillips

      Yes. Other people seem to like my name more than I do….and I do feel that it’s a “real” name. So there’s that.

    • Simone

      I LOVE your name. I wish I was named Greer.
      It’s also a character in a kick-ass novel called The Hawkline Monster.

    • G.E. Phillips

      Thanks, Simone. I love the name Simone!!! So pretty. I’ll definitely check out the book, too!

  • outlaw mama

    Jesus. Why can’t parents just lead with love and let the rest shake out as it must?

    • whiteroses

      Because for some people parenting is about one-upping the random person on the street who you’ll never see again. My husband and I named our son something we loved, an extremely popular first name that has something like 145 variants (the classic spelling, though, so that’s important). His middle name is after my grandfather, which seven other people in my extended family have.

      Honestly, if the only thing that would ever make my son unique was his name, then DH and I didn’t parent him properly.

  • Anne Cordelia

    I grew up with a common name, and it was HELL. However, I knew that if I tried to name my son something “yoonique,” that he’d be on a website thirty years from now talking about how hellacious it was to have a name nobody else had. You can’t win. Just choose a name that you truly love and let the chips fall where they may. There’s always going to be some little hardship that your kids are going to blame on you anyway, so why stress over it??

  • Michelle

    I have a two week old and DH and I picked a name that was somewhat popular yet not a top 10…just like my name was in the 80s. What’s funny is just yesterday I saw a post on facebook by a friend who’s sister just had a baby that they named the same first name and virtually the same middle name. From the things I’ve seen on STFU, parents and other articles this would upset some parents but I was just happy that someone else thought the name was pretty enough to name their daughter as well!

    • Psych Student

      Thank you for being sane enough to recognize someone using the same name as a compliment (even if they didn’t know the name of your daughter). You both clearly have good tastes in names, which rocks.

  • Abendwind

    If these parents are so neurotic about the baby’s name, just imagine how anxious and stressed they’ll be when little Cznoaphlaykke gets her first B on her report card.

  • SusannahJoy

    My parents totally lucked out on my name. I love it. Everyone can pronounce it (well, almost everyone, for some reason a nurse at my OB insists on saying “Shoshanna” and then acts like she’s never heard the name Susannah before), but there was only one other person in my entire high school with it, and she was two years ahead of me. No one spells it right, but that’s ok. For my son we just flipped through physics books until we found a name we liked, and we hope it’s the same for him. Although then Jessica Simpson named her daughter Maxwell, which we thought was weird, but who really copies her anyway?

  • Shelly Lloyd

    I was named after a Merle Haggard song. *sigh* You just can not get more red-neck than that.

  • Sarah

    I grew up with possibly the most common female name. (In that whole time frame, at least.) However, my name was and is special in the sense that it was my older brother who picked it, and not either of my parents. My mother gave him a few name choices and asked which on he liked best, and voila I had a name. And I wouldn’t change it for anything.

    • Dulcie

      That’s really sweet. On the other hand, I voted to call my little brother Spinach, so sometimes a parental veto is required ; )

    • BigBlue

      When my younger cousin was born, her older brother was almost 3 and was ADAMANT that the new baby be named Big Bird. He was furious when they went with Leslie instead and refused to call her that for several months after she was born. He would say “Mommy, Big Bird is crying again!” Spinach has a nice ring to it though!

  • Saby

    My parents gave me a traditional Italian name, to go with my Italian last name. I like it now, but I kind of wish they’d gone with something a little more recognizable, like Vittoria or Giulia. (Even as an adult, I get “Can you repeat that? What was that again? I’ve never heard that name before! Were is it from? You’re Italian! But you don’t look Italian!) Then again, I could have ended up with Amabile or Assunta, so I’m not going to complain too much…

  • Rachelle

    I grew up with what you would think would be considered a pretty normal name. But for some reason when we lived in NJ as a kid NO ONE could pronounce it correctly. It’s. Not. That. Hard. But nope: Rochelle, Michelle, Ray-chel, Ruh-shelley (yes, my principal notoriously called me that). So my daughter was FO SHO going to get a very simple, no way you can #$%?& it up first name, in both French and English. Zoé. Boom. Simple. Her cousins have the honor of having unique names, she gets the easy one to spell. The “uniqueness” lives in the accent on the E and that’s it that’s all.

    *drops mic, exit stage right*

    • Rachelle

      How did that merit a “down”?! lolllllll

    • Emmali Lucia

      They’re from New Joysee

    • Rachelle

      Touché. lol

  • LiteBrite

    “This left “Ptolemy,” “Bombay,” “Thursday” and “Ocean,” as well as
    “Atlas,” their ultimate choice. “I feel as though he’ll be less likely
    to be a follower if he starts out from the beginning being different,”
    Ms. Lewis-Gordon, 35, explained.”

    Or it could be that he decides the name Atlas is ridiculous and decides to go by “Al” (Note: I’m not saying the name IS ridiculous, just saying the kid might decide it is.) Ahmet Zappa (youngest son of Frank Zappa) briefly changed his name to – wait for it – “Rick” in school.

    Boys and men have a tendency to refer to each other by last name anyways, so it’s entirely possibly he won’t be known by Atlas by instead by “Hey [insert last name]!”

    • Psych Student

      Good point. The division of leaders, followers, and rebels is 20, 80, 20 and I think a lot of it just has to do with personality. It may not make a bit of difference what name the child gets.

  • BigBlue

    I admit that I struggled with coming up with a name for my son. I have had a girl’s name picked out forever, so when I found out it was a boy I was stumped. It just seems that boys’ names have stayed so static over time that no matter what we came up with, my husband and I both knew someone we didn’t like with that name! We ended up giving my son my maiden name as his first name, and my late FIL’s name as his middle name. I’ve had several people tell me they didn’t like it – my boss even asked me how my son would feel with an “old man’s name.” I didn’t ask her how she felt having an old lady’s face…
    I don’t think a person’s name influences their future as much as these people apparently do. Name your son John or Atlas, it’s not going to matter as much in the long run as how you raise him.

    • once upon a time

      Wow, you know some really rude people!

    • whiteroses

      People gave me crap for my son’s middle name. It’s a common male name (at least it was in a previous generation) off one letter. But it’s a family name, so whatever. People have told me that they don’t like my son’s name. My response is now and always has been- “Well, it’s a good thing you don’t have to raise him then!”

      I figure that if someone has an issue with my son’s name, then they can kindly STFU. Either that, or raise their own child and name it what they want.

    • Psych Student

      I think the combination you choose is super sweet and a great way to honor the people in your life!