Can You Really Crowdsource Baby Naming?
This week's hot baby name news was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer crowdsourcing a name for her newborn son. In this case, "crowdsourcing" was probably a misnomer. By all reports, Mayer simply wrote "suggestions welcome!" on a birth announcement email to family and friends. But true crowdsourcing -- turning over a job, in part or whole, to an unspecified, distributed public -- is unquestionably on the rise in the baby name world. As name anxiety rises, more and more parents are seeking guidance from the faceless masses.
Does it work? Can the crowd lead you to the perfect name, saving you hours of list making and research, not to mention testy debates with your partner?
Unfortunately, the nature of most name decisions just doesn't fit crowdsourcing's strengths. To explain why, I'm going to to break down the possible crowd contributions into the two phases of name choice: ideas and decisions.
The anonymous internet can offer a bonanza when you're looking for fresh ideas. Let's say you're making dinner, and you're in a rut. You've made that same lemon chicken a dozen times; isn't there something new you can do with the ingredients in the fridge? Voila! The crowd gives you fresh options, and you say goodbye to the rut. Why wouldn't it work the same for baby names?
A couple of reasons. The first is that, to put it in food terms, we don't know the "ingredients" we want in our baby names.
While we all have strong opinions on names, we're not very good at identifying what makes particular names appeal to us. No matter whether you named your daughter Ryleigh or Eleanor, you'd probably describe your choice as "strong" and "distinctive." Asking for suggestions of "strong" names is about as precise as searching for a recipe that's "tasty."
There's an even more fundamental difference between the search for meal ideas and name ideas. Unlike frazzled home cooks, baby namers generally aren't in a rut. ("I've already named three sons Joshua, I'm ready to try something new!") For the vast majority of parents, the problem isn't too few name ideas; it's too many.
I discussed this at length in my post, "Why Your Baby Name Choice Is Making You Miserable." (If you haven't read it, may I humbly suggest that it's worth a click?) Parents today are experiencing an epidemic of name anxiety, decision paralysis and regret, spurred in large part by an overabundance of options. Asking the whole world for ideas, then, is likely to make your name choice harder rather than easier.
Suppose you already have your list of ideas, and you're having trouble with the final choice. Couldn't the crowd help with that? Their collective wisdom should point you toward the name that's most broadly liked and likeable.
If that's your thinking, I can save you some time. Here's a ranking of the 1,000 most popular names for boys and girls, and what direction they're heading in. National popularity stats, the ultimate "crowdsourced" opinion data! Just choose whichever name ranks higher.
Let me guess: that isn't what you're looking for. You'd prefer a name that's a little more uncommon, not just one of many. Well then, forget crowdsourcing your decision. What the crowd offers is consensus, not distinctiveness. It finds the common denominators, much as the popularity charts do.
A truly unusual, distinctive name won't appeal to everybody. That means it will never win a poll of a thousand random strangers from across the country. In fact, the most likely result of that poll is to expose you to rude negative comments, bruising your feelings and souring you on all of your choices.
So What IS Crowdsourcing Good for In Nameland?
I think the crowd's best contribution to baby naming is something that happens every day here in the Baby Name Wizard forums: taking advantage of the different life experiences and knowledge bases of a million users.
That can mean finding a particular kind of expertise:
"Does anybody know whether the name Graziella sounds old-fashioned in Italy?"
Or seeking solutions to highly specific dilemmas:
"My husband wants a 'cowboy name,' my family insists on a saint's name! Can you think of any names that are BOTH?"
Or getting a reality check:
"I'm Irish and considering the name Dáithí. Could you Americans tell me how YOU would pronounce that?"
In other words, turn to the crowd for its breadth of knowledge. But stick to voices you know and trust when it comes to taste.