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.
This is an extraordinary day for me, as BabyNameWizard.com and NameCandy.com join the CafeMom website family. It's a little like watching a child graduate from high school: proud of what they've grown to be, and excited at the potential of how much more they can now become.
The first huge example of this potential is already reality. Our Expert Tool Suite is now freely available to the public! I'm incredibly excited to be able to introduce tools like the Expert version of the NameVoyager and the mind-reading Name MatchMaker to a wider audience.
Amidst this excitement, I hope you'll indulge me in a little nostalgia about my "baby's" growth. For years, BabyNameWizard.com has served tens of thousands of pages of information to a community of millions of users. Up until now, though, the company behind it has consisted of two women working out of their homes.
My partner Jennie Baird and I — with the assistance of a wonderful group of freelance writers and programmers — have been the entire staff. That means designing tools, writing articles, choosing server platforms, balancing the books, answering support email, you name it. The two of us set out to create the very best name-choosing resource that had ever been, and I like to think that we succeeded.
Now imagine what we could do with a full team behind us.
I've joined forces with CafeMom for the chance to build something even greater. Their team understands BNW and appreciates what makes this site and this community special. And with their resources and talents on board, I'll have the chance to focus on what I do best, and love best: names.
There's good stuff ahead.
It's hard to catch baby name lightning in a bottle. Even celebrity names don't always strike where you'd expect.
Last year the name that made the most headlines was Katniss, from The Hunger Games — a name which turned out to go nowhere at all with parents. (Katniss still ranks down around #7,000 among American girls' names, tied with the likes of and Jood and Treazure.) Meanwhile the fastest-rising name of the year, Daleyza, came from a supporting player on the Spanish-language reality show Larrymania.
Clearly, the recipe for name success calls for not just a stylish sound and social spark, but a little bit of magic, too. So I'm going out on a limb when I say that one new name in the headlines seems destined for baby name success.
Australian singer Sia has been writing and recording music since the '90s, but her hit single "Chandelier" has brought her name from Down Under to a new level of global attention. And oh, what a name.
Sia is a perfect mashup of the current #1 girl's name, Sophia, and #6, Mia. Meanwhile Ava, another three-letter name ending in -a, sits at #5. They're the first three-letter pair ever to grace the top 10 at the same time.
In short, the name Sia is hitting the spotlight at the perfect moment. If this name doesn't take off, we'll know that the pinch of magic in the recipe must be even bigger than we imagined.