Quick hits: Baby Name Pool, and BNW2!

Apr 10th 2009

We'll get back to our scheduled discussion of recession naming in a moment, but first, a few notes...

- The revised 2nd Edition of The Baby Name Wizard has a due date: July 7, in a bookstore near you! (Confusingly, Amazon and BN.com already have the 2nd edition cover image up -- it has an extra pink circle -- and don't seem to distinguish between the two editions. I'll see what I can do about that.)

- Don't forget to enter the Baby Name Pool contest! Just 5 naming days to go.

Recession-era baby naming, part 1

Apr 2nd 2009

(For real, this time!)

Perhaps you've heard, the economy's taken a bit of a stumble lately? As families cut back and surveys reveal a bleak mood, the natural question in these parts is how the downturn will play out in baby names.

The popular idea in the press and the blogosphere is that parents will retreat to the reliable comfort of classic names. A few reporters have tried to pry this prediction out of me. (One was particularly eager for me to forecast a comeback for Faith and Hope. I had to break it to him that it's too late, they're already back.) In fact, some news reports have claimed that the return to tradition has already begun. Take the Reuters article titled "Parents get serious about baby names in tough year," with its bold opening statment: "Most parents have abandoned unusual names for their children..."

The idea sounds plausible, because many choices do work this way in economic downturns. In the world of investing, it's called the "flight to quality." The idea is that in uncertain times, people make the safest possible bets and aim for lasting value. Consumers, similarly, drop luxury in favor of utility.

Yet there are also good reasons to expect name trends to behave differently from investments or consumer goods.  The most basic is that baby names are free. In a time of belt-tightening, why not indulge in a cost-free extravagance? Anastasia won't set you back a penny more than Ann. In fact, lower-income parents are more likely to try unusual, eye-catching and newly-introduced names -- quite different from, say, food purchasing patterns.

A second reason is found in the motivations of modern baby namers. Many parents who seek the unusual are convinced that distinctive names will give their kids an advantage in life. Think of it like a creatively packaged product standing out on a store shelf. The tougher the competitive landscape, the more this perceived advantage should matter to parents.

Finally, there's the fact that the movement away from tradition has been accelerating for years. An immediate surge of traditional naming would be the fashion equivalent of a runaway freight train suddenly backing back up a mountain.

So where do the claims of reversal come from? If you read the Reuters article closely, you'll see they (and may others) were inspired by a press release from the online parenting community BabyCenter.com. In the release, the BabyCenter folks note the rise of certain specific traditional names among their users. But is there a consistent pattern?

In fact, if you look at the BabyCenter popularity lists from the last several years, 2008 looks like more of the same. The bellwether traditional classics like John, James and William continued their steady descent down the rankings. And if you tally up the top 20 for boys and girls, as a group the 2008 names were much less popular a century ago than the 2006 names. In other words, no "flight to quality" has been spotted so far (and don't believe everything you read in the paper).

So let's toss out our preconceptions and return to the question: what effect will the recession have on naming patterns? To form a hypothesis, we can look to historical precedent. Did baby naming change during the Great Depression? And if so, was there the retreat to strength and safety that so many observers expect today?

To be continued...

Recession Naming Guide: Make Your Letters Go Further!

Apr 1st 2009

Looking to cut back on your baby name budget this year? You're not alone. With trendy letters like Z and Q commanding 10 points a piece, parents across the country are rethinking their naming expenditures. If you're looking to maximize style but minimize points, try these tips for cool, cost-effective baby-names:

Make savvy substitutions

If a 10-point letter like Q isn't in your budget, trying substituting an economical C in names like Cuentin and Cuincy. But beware so-called "lite" combos like like Kw- that pile on almost as many points as the originals!

Cut out waste
Think twice before spending on costly middle names you know you'll never use. One expert trick: to achieve that middle name style for a fraction of the letters, pull a Harry S. Truman and just use the initial.

Dress up your vowels
Inexpensive vowels don't have to be drab. Take your cue from the double-A punch of Aaron to create Aadam and Aanna, or add zest by reversing your i-before-e, even when it's not after c!

Reuse, recycle

You might be surprised how much value is hiding in your own family tree. Hand-me-downs like Jr. and III are still the best bargain in naming. And don't forget those family surnames, which can be packed with high-value letters and prep-school style.