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The Great Name Debate


“What is in a name? That which we call a rose; By any other name would smell as sweet”.

– Romeo and Juliet

While Juliet’s theory does have some logic to it, there is also the Freakonomics (Levitt and Dubner, 2005) review of the socioeconomic patterns of naming children to consider in our modern world. So what is in a name? It is our identifier, though Social Security Numbers have essentially replaced our name as our legal/medical/bureaucratic identification.

Some people I have discussed this with (albeit under the context of changing one’s last name for marriage), feel very strongly that their name is their identity as a person, but how can that be true? Some people choose their baby’s name based on a person or family member for which they have a high regard, some people use the meaning of the name, and still others simply select a name that they think sounds nice. How can this random selection of a name – typically before we are even born – really define the people we are? Will you be just like your great-uncle Joe if your parents named you after him? Not likely. Will you be very feminine if your name is Annmarie? Or masculine if your name is Wayne? Maybe, but it probably won’t have much to do with your name.

So how do you go about choosing a name for your little bundle of joy? There are countless books on the subject and still more websites, but the one we found most helpful is called As a bit of a statistics hound, I actually started playing around with this website well before we even discussed having a baby when a coworker shared it with me. It has amazing graphs showing the popularity of different names over time, the gender rates for each name (i.e., are there more male or female Taylor’s out there?), a name mapper by US state showing the rank of the name in each state, and the socioeconomic and political statistics of each name (is the name Jennifer preferred in red states or blue states over time? by the wealthy or the less wealthy by year?). In addition to graphs, there is a really helpful search feature where your search preferences can be by: first name letter (wants and dislikes), sequence of letters (I love names that end in “an” and “am”), number of syllables (min and max), contemporary/traditional/ethnic, etc. Once you click on a name, it shows you not only the meaning and origin of the name, but also let’s you rate the name for perception-based qualities like intelligence and strength and shows you the results of those surveyed. One search result feature we found really helpful was the sibling names of the names we had selected because sometimes we liked the name, but thought it was over-used or just not exactly right, but close. Often times the sibling names for that name lead us to another name that was closer to what we wanted.

Just remember when you go to choose a name, that you’re not the only one who has to live with it, that little bundle of joy will have it for the next 70-90 years if they are lucky!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 08/05/2011 15:04

    It is so hard to choose a name. I can’t believe how hard it has been. Some people seem to come up with names very easily! I am not one of those.


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