Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What to name the baby

If it had been up to me, I would never have named myself Maureen.

It’s not the ethnic-ness that bothers me. If I’d had children, I might well have gone the ethnic-naming route (only mine would have been more au-tentic). It’s probably the “een-i-ness” of the name. Who wants a name that’s a perpetual diminutive, Maureen being Irish for “little Mary”? Not to mention that, while Maureen as a name has gone the way of Bertha and Ethel, it was very popular in my time and place. I was one of 6 or 8 Maureen’s in my high school class. Everyone else was pretty much named Kathleen (which is my sister’s name; my other sister avoided the direct “een” hit – her middle name, however, is Eileen).

But, hey, my parents’ kids were theirs to name.

I do think that figuring out what to name the baby must be one of the most fun things that expectant parents do. Oh, I’m sure that the task has its ups and downs, not to mention all the arm chair quarterbacks with their own suggestions. Still, it must be a great pleasure to name that little tune of yours.

But apparently for some parents, it’s a lot more difficult than googling baby names and trying on names that go with your last name. Not to mention making sure the initials aren’t an obscenity, etc. These folks turn to professionals for help.

They can consult the work of Albert Mehrabian, a UCLA professor emeritus of psychology who’s come up with a method for scoring names along a number of dimensions, based on how people would rate someone when only their name and gender were known.

  • Ethical-Caring (e.g., trustworthy, loyal, sincere, kind, generous, respectful, warm, patient, responsible)
  • Popular-Fun (e.g., playful, humorous, cheerful, outgoing, good-looking, adventurous, athletic, healthy)
  • Successful (e.g., ambitious, intelligent, independent, confident, assertive, creative)
  • Masculine-Feminine
  • Overall Attractiveness (a statistical combination of the first three dimensions)   


I don’t know how Maureen would fare here. And in fact I don’t want to know. But I will note that, according to this scheme, a John would be deemed more successful – 9 times more successful, in fact – than a Knut. (Whaaaa? Did they leave Knute Rockne out?) And will further note that the names that achieved a perfect score were Elizabeth, James, and Steven. Perhaps that is why I would always have preferred to be named Elizabeth, which is my middle name, rather than Maureen. (I did choose my husband well, good name-wise. He was a James.)

If you don’t want to trust your own instincts, or to futz with books and survey results, you can hire a professional naming service to help you out for a fee.

Last year, Marc Hauser, who runs the Switzerland-based naming agency Erfolgswelle, went from solely serving brands to also branding children. His firm charges over $29,000 for every baby it names, devoting two to three weeks and around 100 hours of work to the process. (Source: Bloomberg)

First off, I don’t know if I’d be entrusting someone with a company called “Erfolgswelle” to name – errrr, brand – my child. Yes, it does translate from the German into ‘wave of success.’ Still…

Though Hauser thinks that approaches rating baby names strictly by data (and not emotion) are “overrated,” his firm does check to ensure that a baby name has not already been trademarked. “If it’s a little close to an existing brand name, it will not survive,” he said.

Trademarked? Trademarked? Huh? Let me three-peat myself here: Trademarked?

Who trademarks their kids’ names, I must ask.

And then the answer came to me: Jay-Z and Beyoncé, of course.

I don’t know if that means you can’t name your little darling Blue Ivy without paying Mr. and Mrs. -Z a fee, or whether it just means you can’t come out with a line of cute-kid clothing called Blue Ivy. Need to know basis only, I suppose.

Historians also vet the name to ensure it goes not have “an aggravating past.”

Hey, maybe I could be a historic name checker. Just say no to Caligula and Adolph. (Sorry, Adolph Menjou.) And Typhoid Mary’s been taken.

You don’t have to spend $29K, of course. Sherri Suzanne – a name I would rate high on Feminine and Popular with the boys – will help you out for a few hundred bucks.

“While some criteria, like name popularity, can be measured and ranked objectively, I find that other qualities, like morality of a name or likelihood for success, are very subjective and vary from person to person, community to community and particularly generation to generation,” said Suzanne. She often works with cultural experts to ensure that a proposed name suits the family’s background.

What, pray tell, is the morality of a name. I would think that most folks would realize that Liar, Bestiality and Skanky-Ho are not good choices.

Professor Mehrabian is a big believer that it’s worth paying someone to help you out. “Believe me, you don’t want to name a child with an unattractive name and have them go through life and suffer the consequences.” But something tells me that the folks who give their kids rotten names – remember those clowns who named their kids after Nazis? The ones who later lost custody for being abusive? – aren’t going to pay for someone to tell them different.

Anyway, back to the “wave of success” folks.

It turns out they’re all about originality (a la Blue Ivy).

Would you like to find a unique name for your unborn child? A wonderful first name that sounds so good that it just had to be invented? A brand-new name with an exciting derivation and unmistakable history?

We will create one for you - and for your child. (Source: Erfolgswelle)

They make sure it sounds good. That it looks good, and has a good font associated with it. (Does that mean a special font designed just for you?) That it’s in harmony with your last name. That it passes the bad word check in multiple languages. They’ll even test it out by putting a few different selections before a “large test audience.”

And – my favorite part -

We develop a credible new history and mythology around the new name.

And my other favorite part:

You receive a scientific certificate from the naming center of the University of Leipzig

While Bloomberg pegs the fee at $29K, the website states $31K. Maybe that’s with the “scientific certificate.”

So far, it doesn’t appear that they’ve actually done any pricey naming. Sure, they’ve “received many inquiries.” But, “up to now, all families want to keep the new name secret as long as possible, which we understand.”

Hmmm. Are these weasel words for ‘we haven’t actually gotten beyond an inquiry, but if you bite and let us advertise it, it’s free.”

They’re looking for an American. (I think lots of European countries have laws about what to name the baby.) And the baby has to arrive by June 10, 2016.

Forget all you single ladies, how about you all pregnant ladies.

If you like it, then you gotta put a birth certificate on it. Or it on a birth certificate.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking of renaming myself.

I don’t want to start from scratch.

How about Mauritzila, which was what my Uncle Charlie dubbed me. (Was he channeling his inner Yiddishe goy or what?)

Sure, it sounds a little like Bridezillla, but I’m going for mythology here. Mauritzila, like Rapunzel, lived in a castle. She had long blond hair. Along came a handsome prince, with the perfect name of James. And he told her that, according to his survey – which he didn’t charge $29K or $31K for – Mauritzila got a perfect score on ethical-caring, popular-fun, successful, feminine, and overall attractiveness.

Now I just need to find the right font…

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