Monday, April 21, 2008

Baby Branding (aka baby names)

Somewhere between cooing over ultrasound images and registering for a bottle warmer or Diaper Genie, the baby name debate begins.

Emily or Ethan? Christopher or Chloe?

Relatives lobby for old family names. Expectant parents flip through books, checking into the old Irish meaning of the name Liam.

It used to be easier than this. But many of today's parents are planners. They track their baby's expected weekly progress in the womb through books and Web sites, and are enrolled in parenting classes by the second trimester. Coupled with the weight placed on first names in modern America -- your neighbor isn't Mrs. Johnston, but Shirley; a cashier looks at your credit card and calls you Doug rather than Mr. Smith -- choosing a name can be one of the most stressful prenatal tasks.

"I felt pressure. You just think about, 'Will it fit their personality?' and stuff like that. I didn't feel like I'd ruin my kid or something, (but) I did want good names," say Amy Daley, the mother of 14-month-old triplets Emma, Madison and Michael, who along with her husband, Michael, had the daunting task of selecting six names (middle names included).

Worrying about it

Standing out as an individual means so much in today's world that parents worry more about what to name their children than ever before, says Linda Rosenkrantz, who co-authored more than a half-dozen baby name books, including "Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now" and "The Baby Name Bible."

"People want unique names. They want to establish a certain image for their child," she says. "They're almost branding their babies. Some are literally naming them Lexus and Armani, but we won't talk about those."

Celebrity culture also strongly influences naming trends, Rosenkrantz says. We've become obsessed with celebrity pregnancies. Tabloids out the latest starlet to sport a baby bump, and celebrity pregnancies are covered almost as thoroughly as the presidential race.

Ava, an old-fashioned name, catapulted into the top 10 most popular girl names after Academy Award-winner Reese Witherspoon chose the name for her daughter. Apple, Gwyneth Paltrow's selected name for her child, was often talked about, but never quite caught on. (There was, however, at least one Apple born in the Capital Region in 2007).

Like a river

Amy and Michael Daley started discussing baby names a month into Amy's pregnancy. Michael was insistent about Madison right from the start, not because it's made the top 10 most popular list in the past, but because the Madison River is his favorite fishing spot.

"At first, I was like, 'You're not naming our daughter after a river,' Amy Daley says. "And after a while, I was like, 'Fine, let me choose the other two.'

After all, what is wrong with naming a child after something you loved so much, she figured. Emma's name was inspired by beloved family members with E names and by some of middle school teacher Amy's all-time favorite students.

"It also goes the other way with teachers," says Amy Daley, whose husband is also an educator. "There are some names that you would never, ever dream of naming your own children."

Emma, Madison and Michael. Daley says choosing the names early helped her better connect with her babies while they were still in the womb. And even the ultrasound technicians, who are used to labeling multiples with just letters -- Baby A, Baby B, Baby C -- soon began calling the triplets by their names.

The couple thought the names also had a good flow together, which was important given they'd so often be said in tandem.

"They're toddlers now, so we're using first and middle names," Amy Daley says.

Name game

Like the Daleys, most expectant parents have settled the name debate by the time Susan Alberts, a registered nurse in the newborn and special care nurseries at Bellevue Woman's Care Center, greets them in the delivery room.

Occasionally, she gets brought into the selection process.

"Some people will say, 'Well, what do you think? These are my choices,' Alberts says. "A lot of times what you find is they're looking for a neutral party, because the father wants one name and the mother wants another. The bulk of the time, the husbands defer to the mother. ... They will say, 'Well, you did all the work.'

Other parents delay their decision because they want to wait until that tiny, wailing raisin is laid in their arms, hoping to match a name with a face.

Only 3 percent of parents recently surveyed by, an online resource for parents, say they regret the name they selected, primarily because it became too popular, is often mispronounced or doesn't fit their child's personality.


Most babies head from the delivery room to the hospital nursery with a first and middle name in place, Alberts says, although it is possible to leave the hospital with a blank space on the birth certificate. Those parents -- just a few, considering Bellevue's 2,000 deliveries each year -- call the hospital within a couple days with their final decision.

"People understand the significance of a name," she says. "It's something that stays with you forever, and they want to chose a name that will reflect who they are and what their baby will be."

Right now, names that start with vowels -- namely E, A and O -- are hot, Rosenkrantz says. Certain letters tend to fall in and out of fashion -- J's rating high during the Jennifer and Jason era -- and one name can spur offshoots. When Emily became all too common, she says, it inspired Emmas and Ellas. Now, E-names are on their way out, and O-names, such as Oliver, Owen, Olivia and Oscar, are rising to the top of the charts.

"That sound gets into the atmosphere," she says. "O has a lot of energy, compared to E."

Latest trends

Other trends include Irish and Italian names, particularly Irish surnames like Riley, Brady and Sullivan being used as first names; one-syllable names such as Gage and Cade; spiritual names like Nevaeh (heaven spelled backward); and nickname-style names that haven't been popular since the 1960s, such as Gracie, Charlie, Josie and Ellie.

Alternative spellings -- Abigail versus Abagail versus Abbygale -- became trendy in the last 20 years, making teachers' class rosters a lot more complicated than the days when they were filled with Marys and Annes, Johnathans and Matthews.

And because of the added pressure of naming a child today, once parents decide on a name they often keep it to themselves until their new family member emerges from the womb.

"That's because of the pressure they feel to come out with perfect names," Rosenkrantz says. "They're so likely to get some disapproving remark from grandparents, parents-in-law, that they just don't want to risk it. They're bound to get negative comments with any name."

Jennifer Gish can be reached at 454-5089 or by e-mail at Born in the 1970s, she was so used to being in a classroom with a half-dozen other Jennifers that she will not turn her head when she hears her name called in a crowd. She and her husband, Jason, are avoiding trends when choosing names for the twins they're expecting in the fall.