Todays hi-tech parents can now do what corporations have done for years: hire a consultant to devise a name to capture the essence of their latest product. There's a growing number of nameologists on line and in print intent on selling prospective parents the perfect baby name.
Choosing children’s names can be daunting. Mothers- and fathers-to-be may find themselves fighting over naming rights, not to mention the relative merits of names both common and obscure (does the world need another Charles? another Galatea?). They may face pressure from their own parents (You need to name her after your great aunt Bessie. Don’t you think Ronald is a nice name?). And they may still be working through their own life-long resentment of the names that those same parents gave to them (Why couldn’t I be Annie, like all the other kids? I always saw myself as Percival, not Tom).
Until recently, parents looking for baby-naming help had few resources: family and friends, or ethnic and religious traditions. Or they could turn to books like the 1930s classic, What shall we name the baby? and a raft of imitators, print resources which list names for boys and girls, and sometimes suggest what the names might mean.
Parents who were still undecided could pick names of historical figures like George Washington or Queen Victoria. Parents have even been known to name their children after movie stars, entertainers, characters on soap operas, or more recently, the instant celebrities of reality TV shows, though these names typically lose their zing by the time the baby thinks to ask, “Why did you name me that?” And sometimes people make up names, like Nevaeh, which is supposed to be heaven spelled backwards, though names with no clear pronunciations or derivations aren’t always heaven to those who bear them.
But now that the name consultants are on the case, promising to reduce the stress of baby naming and turn a process fraught with tension into a rational, easy-to-follow recipe, finding the perfect baby name is as easy as microwaving dinner. Because consultants earn their fee by telling other people what to do, parents who can’t make up their minds about names will no longer have to take their baby home from the hospital with a birth certificate reading “Baby.”
To make things even easier, name consultants are as near as the click of a mouse. thebabynamewizard.com offers a free interactive web utility that lets you track the relative popularity of the top 1,000 names over the past 120 years. For example, my own name has apparently plummeted in popularity since I got saddled with it. And for only $12.95 (plus shipping and handling), parents who need more guidance can order The Baby Name Wizard, a book that “uses ground-breaking research and computer models to pinpoint each name’s image and suggest other promising ideas.”
But wait, there’s more. A pair of California writers, Whitney Walker and Eric Reyes, have gone into business as baby name-brokers, using scientific rigor – or what passes for it – to come up with the perfect naming formula.
The Walker Reyes’ perfectly-named book, The Perfect Baby Name, available for $10.95 (plus s&h) on their perfectly-named website, theperfectbabyname.com, promises expectant mothers and fathers the first “systematic process for choosing a first name that sounds good with your last name.”
Their formula relies on “the most basic rules of phonetics and poetry … to ‘break down’ a surname by consonants and vowel sounds, number of syllables, and accents,” though it’s not clear why phonetics can help you find the right name, since pronunciation varies from person to person and region to region. Nor is it obvious that parents will take their cue for a perfect baby name from poetry slams or the Petrarchan sonnet.
For parents who are too busy earning enough to pay for their new family member to actually read the book they’ve just bought with what little discretionary income they have left, every section of The Perfect Baby Name ends with “a little box … like Cliff's Notes.”
And parents who have no time to read these end-of-chapter baby-naming cheat sheets can just pay the authors $50 for an individual consult that will produce the perfect baby name for them, something that both sets of grandparents would gladly do for free.
By the way, the Walker Reyes aren’t just presidents of their naming company, they’re also customers, having used their formula to develop perfect names for their own offspring, Gabriel Rush Walker Reyes and Jasper James Walker Reyes. I’m sure Gabriel and Jasper are great kids, but it seems to me that their names could have been thought up the old fashioned way, without resorting to a phonetic-poetic formula.
The Wall Street Journal thinks that baby-name consulting has career potential, but name consultants already have a mixed record in the corporate sphere – someone earned big bucks branding “the new Coke,” though that money would have been better spent developing a drink that consumers were actually going to buy. Even though the professional baby namers don’t charge much, it’s not clear how many parents want to outsource so personal a decision as a baby’s name.
But for some expectant parents, bright and shiny store-bought names, like Henry Moore-inspired mobiles and strollers that double as cappucino machines for when baby gets older, may seem more attractive than humbler home-made ones. Plus, buying baby names is hardly as bad as buying clothing made in third-world countries by exploited child laborers, most of whom can’t even afford one name, let alone two or three.
And while name consultants might appeal to the same sorts of people who hire others to organize their closets, walk their dogs, devise personal horoscopes, or buy birthday presents for their closest friends and relatives, most people will probably continue to make baby names the same way they make babies, on their own.