Baby Name Jury: Give your thumbs up or thumbs down

Mar 27th 2009

In the five short months since we launched Namipedia, it has become an incredible living world of names. Go to almost any name page and you'll find a fascinating collection of real-life siblings. (Sibs for Sinead? Try Aoife, Eimear, Darragh or Senan. Ernesto? How about Armando, Claudio, Oswaldo and Lidia.)  I've also learned a lot from the reader commentary, and I'm often surprised by the ratings the community gives names.

The most amazing contribution, though, is the names themselves. I launched Namipedia with over 6000 names, and users have since added thousands more. From the Albanian name Besnik to the feline-inspired Lynx, the name list grows richer every day.

There are limits, though. We ask users to consider whether a name will really contribute to the quality of the site, based on criteria like cultural significance, popular appeal, and the quality of supporting information offered. We try to be inclusive, especially when the name in question is clearly borne by real people. Sometimes, though, it's a tough call.

Take, for instance, Bree'undra. From the description, the name was custom-constructed to honor two relatives. It exists in the real world, but does it have relevance outside of that family? Or Mako, which would be straightforward enough if it had been submitted as a Japanese name...but it was submitted as a type of shark. Should they stay or should they go?

It strikes me that this kind of decision would be a lot more fun to make with friends. So from time to time, I'm going to put borderline names up for vote on Twitter. Stay or go, you be the judge! Remember, though, you're not voting on whether you LIKE the name, just whether it deserves a place as one of thousands in Namipedia search results. The feed to follow on Twitter:

To vote on a name, just reply with @BabyNameWizard [name] stays  or  @BabyNameWizard [name] goes.


p.s. Yes, I realize that the internet is divided into two kinds of people: those who use Twitter and those who wish everybody would just shut up about Twitter already. If you fall into the second category, just think of it like this. Twitter is like social networking minus commitment and minus self-revelation. Want to be private and anonymous? No problem. Twitter doesn't care about your age or your education or whether your relationship is "complicated." It just wants you to find interesting comments to read, and maybe write some back if you feel like it. Very low-stress, I promise.

Now vote!

Compounds, Splices & Frankennames

Mar 19th 2009

What do these names have in common?


They're all compound names, grafted together from two familiar roots. Some, like Ruthann and Johnpaul, simply conjoin two full names with a little magic name glue. Others are portmanteaus, splicing the names together at a point of overlap: Ale-(X)-avier.

At their best, compound names preserve the virtues of both original names in a form that feels fresh but rooted. At their worst they turn out as Frankennames, misbegotten collections of parts better left buried. What makes a successful compound name tick? For tips, let's turn to a land where compound names run rampant. It's not the land of people, but of commerce.

Back in the '90s, the computer industry convention of mixed-case compound names (WordPerfect, LaserJet) started to infiltrate other industries. Spaces and conjunctions seemed embarassingly old-school. Radio Shack became RadioShack, and the venerable Bank of Boston updated itself to the oh-so-hip BankBoston. Mergers were no longer greeted by ampersands but by compounds like HarperCollins, DaimlerChrysler, and the classic Frankenname PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"Spliced" partial compounds got a boost, too. At one time splicing was the province of the cute, like the candy fruit company Applicious. But once corporate titans renamed themselves Accenture and Verizon, the floodgates were officially open.

That means that the name experts who know the ins and outs of compounding best are brand name experts. (There are far more professional brand namers than professional baby namers, probably because making a living is a factor in career decisions.) One of those brand namers, "The Name Inspector," recently addressed the art of name splicing in his excellent blog. What I call Frankennames, he terms awkwordplay, and he offers some general principles. Take stress patterns:

"Consider the name Teensurance, for an insurance program for parents with teen drivers. Whenever you have a single-syllable word like teen in a blend, you’re going to want to give it some emphasis, especially when it expresses a distinguishing characteristic of something, as teen does in Teensurance. Yet in this name, teen replaces the first syllable of insurance, which isn’t emphasized. "

Next, he points to the transition between the two source words. Coinages like Mapufacture and Syncplicity failed on that score. Try saying Mapufacture out loud a few times; the "pyoo" sound takes over the whole word in a slightly gag-inducing way.

For baby names, I'll suggest a third principle: two names are most likely to combine comfortably into a coherent whole when their individual styles are compatible. Compare, say, Kailynne vs. Helynne.

With those ideas in mind, here are two compound names recently added to Namipedia by users. Do they work? Try to look past whether you like the style, and just focus on the compositions. And remember that these are real people's names, so be gentle:


Elizabella's mom wrote that she formed the name from Elizabeth+Isabella. (That's a nifty mindbender for etymology buffs, since Isabella is a form of Elizabeth to begin with.) To me, this creation seems to pass all our tests. The sounds and syllables get along, and Eliza and Bella could easily be sisters.

In the case of Diamondnique, everything comes down to the central d. If you pronounce the d clearly, it's like a speedbump in a name that's all about sleekness. My immediate instinct is to splice more smoothly into Diamonique, but a quick web search reveals that's a trademark for fake gemstones. Which suggests a final rule of thumb for compound baby naming: if you build your name from ingredients found in the dictionary, prepare for a competitive marketplace.


p.s. The Baby Name Pool contest is underway! Don't forget to enter!

Enter the 2008 Baby Name Pool!

Mar 12th 2009

Just when you were getting all comfortable with the idea of 2009, it's time to look back at the year that was. What names broke through in 2008 in movies, music, world events? Where were styles heading? What were the baby names that defined the times -- and the names the times left behind?

The annual Baby Name Pool is your chance to test your baby name acumen against hundreds of your name-loving peers. Just pick three names you think rose in popularity in 2008, and three you think fell. When the U.S. government releases its official name stats in May, I'll tally the results and present the top scorers to the world for fawning acclaim! Or at least a quiet round of internet applause.

If you haven't played before, you can read more details and check out some of the past names that made for winning entries (2007, 2006, 2005) to get a sense of how name fashions operate. Then convince your friends and coworkers to enter with you, to secure local bragging rights. This is an equal-opportunity contest, by the way; we've had male and female winners.

All entries must be received by April 15. Think of it as a fun antidote to tax filing.

Fill out your ballot now!