Naming Nicole

Why has naming a child become so difficult for parents?

A whole industry has been built on the indecision of adults who seem to find the task of naming baby so completely beyond them. Sociologists and name researchers say they are seeing unprecedented levels of angst among parents trying to choose names for their children.

This week came the news of a husband and wife who have turned to Facebook to help choose a name for their unborn daughter.

Lindsey Meske of Crystal Lake, Illinois likes McKenna. Her husband Dave prefers Madelyn.

To break the deadlock they have set up a poll to let the public vote. Namemychild.info will take you to the Facebook page to choose from a shortlist of names – McKenna, Madelyn, Emily and Addilyne.

The Meskes are not alone in their torment. Some parents are checking Social Security data to make sure their choices aren’t too trendy, while others are fussing over every consonant like corporate branding experts. They’re also pulling ideas from books, Web sites and software programs, and in some cases, hiring professional baby-name consultants.

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.

Celebrities are helping to drive up the pressure.

“Children have always been objects of enhancement, but with celebrities and names now, there is a total objectification,” says Dr. Michael Brody, a chair at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “People see celebrities having or adopting more and more children, and giving them names that attract even more attention to them, and there is the sense that they should do the same for their own kids.”

Dr. Brody must have had celebrity baby names in mind like Banjo, Pilot Inspektor, Moxie CrimeFighter, Audio Science and Prince Michael II.

“We live in a marketing-oriented society,” counters Bruce Lansky, a former advertising executive and author of eight books on baby names, including “100,000 + Baby Names.” “People who understand branding know that when you pick the right name, you’re giving your child a head start.”

Has naming a child really come down to a marketing and branding exercise?

In all these deliberations there is one thing that tends to be overlooked: there’s another person involved.

Before our daughter was born in 1998 we had hopes and dreams and guesses at what she might be like, and in the end we called our bundle of abstractions Nicole. Why? It was the one name on which my wife and I could agree wholeheartedly. Now, at the age thirteen, Nicole has given her name a rich, complex and beautiful meaning simply by wearing it.

And that’ s the truth of the matter with all names. Regardless of any inherent meaning in a name, the Theory of Reverse Association will always apply: the bearer of the name will determine its ultimate meaning. Just like Elvis, Adolf, Enron, Google, Barack…and Nicole.

A final thought for the Meskes: If, at the end of your elaborate exercise you still can’t make up your minds, you could follow the example of the Egyptian man who named his first born daughter in tribute to the role an online service played in the Egyptian revolution earlier this year.

Her name is Facebook.

Further reading:

Is your name your destiny?

Facebook, the father (and child) of a revolution

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