The Wall Street Journal has a report on baby naming, which has apparently developed into a fairly robust niche market for both publishers and consultants.
About 80 baby-name books have been published in the last three years, according to Bowker, a publishing database — compared with just 50 such titles between 1990 and 1996. More than 100 specialty Web sites have popped up offering everything from searchable databases and online snap polls to private consultations.
The WSJ report also claims that information overload is driving the market, with anxious parents-to-be agonizing over choosing the right name. That’s a spurious claim, since the availability of new books and baby-naming consultants could simply be following the trend, but no matter. What the WSJ has right, in my view, is that we live in a marketing-oriented society and that parents have become desperate to choose a name that makes their kid stand out from the crowd. Getting suckered into that thinking means that parents consider the name a sort of brand marker for little Johnny or little Suzie.
Every child’s uniqueness must now be enshrined in her name or else risk dreaded Google search results that point to dozens or even hundreds of people with the identical name. Who hasn’t by now tried Googling his own name to see what information is out there? My name (withheld, obviously) is too common to narrow down to me without a couple other keywords. I’m just fine with that, but it’s now a sort of curse to be mixed in with the
… there’s been a demonstrable shift in the way people name children. In 1880, Social Security Administration data show that the 10 most popular baby names were given to 41% of boys and 23% of girls. But in 2006, just 9.5% of boys and roughly 8% of girls were given one of the year’s 10 most popular names — a combined decline of about 33% from the averages in the 1990s …
The strangest thing to me is that parents are willing to pay consultants to help choose a name. What they’re really paying for is probably false authority (really — an authority on baby naming?) to quell anxiety or referee the decision. Some people really have too much money and not enough good sense if they’re willing to pay for such services. And how can anyone offer such services with a straight face? Lump them in with the reiki, feng shui, and iridology practioners (among others), I guess.
I also find the baby branding trend ultimately self-defeating. The culture has long since moved on from the inadvisability of naming one’s kid Moon Unit or Dweezil (or Ahmet or Diva) to practically insisting on such unusual names. It’s not the kid’s fault, of course, but it practically screams “look at me, look at me!” It also ironically signals “I’m different — just like everybody else ….”