3 Mistakes Parents Make When Googling Baby Names

Aug 14th 2014

The 21st Century is the Age of the Search Engine. Whatever we want to know about, our first instinct is to Google it. In the world of baby names, that's a perilous temptation. The warped funhouse mirror of search results can scare you away from a name you truly love — or obscure the name's real place in our culture.

Before you start typing your favorite names into Google, keep in mind:

1: A search hit doesn't mean the name is "taken."

Baby names aren't usernames. They don't have to be unique in the global network. Most of us share our name with others around the world and it just doesn't matter to us.

Think of it this way: if you have a common surname, then demanding a unique full name means restricting your choices to names that thousands of other parents have already rejected. Day to day, having an appealing name matters more than being the world's one and only.

2: Tear your eyes away from image results.

Photo search results seem like they're worth a thousand text links. The messages they send are likely to be garbled, though, especially when it comes to girls' names.

To be blunt: scantily clad women dominate image results. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is often referred to as the most powerful woman in the world, but if you type the name Angela into an uncensored image search, she's an afterthought. Instead, you'll see a parade of unknown and seriously underdressed young women.

Image searches tend to be quirky, too, and each search engine has its own personality. That can leave you with very, very different impressions of a name. I typed Heidi into Bing Images and got a full screen of fashion model Heidi Klum. Then I tried the same search on Google Images and found myself with a screenful of the 1970s anime series "Heidi, Girl of the Alps."

If you can't resist the lure of image results, make sure you at least turn on safe search. Filtering out explicit results gives you a more balanced picture.

3: Don't Hit "Submit"

Some of the most revealing search results appear before you ever hit your "enter" key. Start typing a name into a Google search box and you'll see a drop-down list of suggestions to complete your phrase. These auto-completions reflect what other web users are asking about — not just who looks good in skimpy clothes.

If you type "Heidi," chances are Google will suggest completing the name with Klum, Montag and Fleiss, plus a blank completion for the one-word title of Johanna Spyri's classic tale. Try the same technique in Bing or even Wikipedia and your results should be similar. There's your pocket-sized guide to the name's place in the world.


August 20, 2014 11:05 PM

I made this mistake when pregnant with my first child. I loved the name Azalea thanks to the Louis Armstrong strong, but when I googled it (5 years ago!) other than the flower, the song that came up was about a woman named Azalea and it was not flattering at all. So, a song drove me to the name and, later, away from the name. Now when I google Azalea all that comes up is about the singer Iggy Azalea. Interesting that there are so many connections to music. I didn't wind up using the name, but I do still love it.