The Wall Street Journal has finally noticed that baby naming--or, more precisely, baby branding--is big business, and devotes 2,500 words to the phenomenon in today's Weekend Journal section. The lede of the article by Alexandra Alter, predictably, is "What's in a name?"--really, folks, there ought to be a moratorium on that sentence in all articles about naming--and the answer is pithy:
Today's anxious parents not only want their offspring not only to be fed, clothed, educated, and reasonably happy but also branded for success in the marketplace of life. And as we marketeers know, it ain't easy. No longer can Mom and Dad simply look up into the family tree and pluck a name from the branches--darling Aunt Matilda or kindly Grandpa Louie--to bestow upon the newest generation. No, today's baby must have a name that's stylish, highly ranked on search engines, and, of course, unique (or Youneeke).
So daunting is the task that some parents are paying strangers to name their children.
A few choice snippets:
- "Denise McCombie, 37, a California mother of two who's expecting a daughter this fall, spent $475 to have a numerologist test her favorite name, Leah Marie, to see if it had positive associations. (It did.)"
- "One site, BabyNames.com, says it draws about 1.2 million unique visitors a month, a 50% increase in five years -- and 3,000 people have used its customized naming service, which provides 12 names for $35. Just this month, the site began offering half-hour phone consulting sessions for $95."
- "Madeline Dziallo, 36, a beautician and mother of two in LaGrange, Ill., turned to a consultant when naming both of her children, Ross, 3, and Natalie, eight months. That consultant, Maryanna Korwitts, a self-described nameologist based in Downers Grove, Ill., charges up to $350 for a package including three half-hour phone calls and a personalized manual describing the name's history, linguistic origins and personality traits. 'She was an objective person for me to obsess about it with rather than driving my husband crazy,' says Mrs. Dziallo."
"Lisa and Jon Stone of Lynnwood, Wash., turned to a name consultant because they didn't want their son to be 'one of five Ashtons in the class,' says Mrs. Stone, 36, a graphic designer. For Mr. Stone, 37, a production director for a nonprofit arts organization, the challenge was to find a "cool" name that would help his son stand out ... At first they considered a family name, Greene, but thought Greene Stone sounded like 'some New Age holistic product.' Mr. Stone liked Finn Stone and Flynn Stone, but thought both sounded too much like the name of a cartoon family from the Stone Age. After reading through eight baby-name books, the Stones contacted Laura Wattenberg, author of 'The Baby Name Wizard,' for advice. She suggested they avoid names that ended in 's,' given their last name, or names that seemed to create phrases."
Then there's the Las Vegas couple who wanted a "strong-sounding" name for their son "that would look good on a marquee or a political banner." I'm not sure what depresses me more about that statement: the equation of theater and politics or the delusions of grandeur.
Professional experience appears to be no guarantee of baby-naming confidence. Burt Alper, a founder of Catchword here in Oakland (and with whom I am slightly acquainted), is quoted in the article. He said he and his wife, who also works in marketing, felt "tons of pressure" when they named their son and daughter.
Although Mr. Alper typically gives clients a list of 2,000 names to mull over, he says he kept the list of baby names to 500, for simplicity. In the end, they named their daughter Sheridan, a family name Mr. Alper liked because of its "nice crisp syllables." They chose Beckett for their six-month-old son, a name the Alpers thought sounded reliable and stable.
"That C-K sound is very well regarded in corporate circles," Mr. Alper says, giving Kodak and Coca-Cola as examples. "The hard stop forces you to accentuate the syllable in a way that draws attention to it."
Cameras, soft drinks, babies: hey, a product's a product, right?
Reporter Alter warns parents to be wary of a perennial pitfall in branding: flawed or inadequate research.
Some advisers could use a good fact-checker. A few baby-name Web sites, including babynamescountry.com, classify Strom as derived from the Greek word for bed, when in fact it comes from the German word for stream. (The site's founder says names are submitted by users and are not researched.) On others, Megan is described as a derivation of the Greek word for "great," but it actually originated in Wales as a pet form of Margaret.