Popular Baby Names: An overlooked perk in the Digital Age
My pregnant friend had settled on a name—Olive. And then she saw a baby announcement two weeks ago: “Meet Olive Louise,” it read. The announcement came from Facebook, and from a “friend” she has only seen once in 14 years, but she’s decided against the name for fear it will be too common, and is back to searching the Social Security lists for the year’s top baby names, and scouring the name blogs.
The web has opened our eyes to world-wide naming trends, and my generation of Jennifers, Laurens and Ashleys, who were disappointed to be one of five in our classrooms, feel a new sort of power: Our children will not suffer the same fate. I watch my friends register their children’s twitter handles and create their Gmail accounts before they’re born, and part of the naming process is considering whether the name’s domain is still available on GoDaddy.
Nameberry’s own Linda Rosenkrantz once said: “In the past, people didn’t really know just how popular names were except possibly in their own limited geographical area—now there is almost no way of not knowing, which has engendered a frenzy of avoiding names in the Top 10, or Top 20—all the way to the Top 1000.”
No matter what your naming style, this trend—finding a unique moniker—is finally cutting across all social barriers and educational backgrounds. Those who laugh at Blue Ivy, or mock North West, still scoff at the parents who give their children a name we think is too common. It makes me wonder if this trend is harmful.
Why, in an age of digital bullying, Google search, NSA privacy concerns, and over-sharing on social media, do we feel it’s wise to give our children a name that no one else has? I don’t think we’re considering the consequences.
As much as we like to imagine our little guy as valedictorian, or as his high school soccer star, we ought to be honest with ourselves: Benedyct (with that “Y” that makes him more special) might one day find himself with a DUI, and perhaps even [gasp] a mug shot. A study published last January in the Journal of Crime and Delinquency shows that 38% of white men, and nearly half of black men are arrested before the age of 23. If a mug shot still feels unlikely: sexting, bullying, and times we’d like to forget, but accidently uploaded onto YouTube, are pretty much life today. If there is one thing we have learned by 2015, it’s that Google search results are not always kind. The web is a digital Scarlet Letter for many. By giving our children these wonderful, undiscovered, one-of-kind names, I believe we are threatening their privacy.
In this digital age, we are not just our child’s parents; we are also their publicists. Our children’s photos will end up online. One day soon, Persephone–Ambrose will want a social media account. You won’t always see what she posts. Changing schools is easy compared to erasing what we put online, and her unique name won’t make the process any easier.
A common name is less searchable. With a name like William, web results are easier to manage. I personally shudder to think of what regrets I’d have if I’d used Instagram or Facebook at age 12, during a time when my thoughts and ideas were forming, and my mind developing. I think about what I’d never be able to take back.
We are raising a generation facing this reality, and because it’s so very real, I say to my pregnant friend: It’s time to consider Elizabeth or Emma. If it were a boy, John and Jacob are lovely. Finding your future child’s name at the top of the Social Security list isn’t such a bad thing, and there is no need to change the spelling. If your little Jackson does want to become a reality star who owns the web, he can change his own name to Jaxzon, but please, don’t do it for him.
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on January 14th, 2015 at 6:44 am
I actually have considered both sides of this and I think moderation is key. If you get on the wrong side of the law or have a reckless phase while you’re young, you may not want to be *the* Blue Mountain Jazz Smith. But as a historian, it is hard when I’m trying to research someone who lived in 1750 and was named William Smith. Even when I’m looking for a modern historian, it can be hard to wade through the 10 different Ann Johnsons that come up as first author. I like names that can simultaneously be distinct and work as camouflage.
That’s why I cringe when people give no thought to using “filler” middles, especially with popular firsts. If you want to name your baby Emma, go for it, but maybe Grace in the middle isn’t the best choice.
on January 14th, 2015 at 1:00 pm
I agree. I was certainly raised with this mentality and I think it is extremely valid. No matter what, it is our job as parents to protect our children – because if we don’t, no one else will, or at least not in the same way. It’s a scary world out there
on January 14th, 2015 at 2:32 pm
I both agree and don’t agree with this. My name is Jessica, but my last name is very uncommon. When you google my name, results about me are the ONLY results that come up. The google image results are ALL pictures of me or pictures I have put on various social media accounts. All this despite the fact that my name was the most popular on the SSA list the year I was born. So, sometimes giving the common name won’t make much difference.
That said, sometimes I think it is very beneficial for my results to be the only ones that come up. I am very cognizant of this and careful about what I put online. My social media accounts are often another resource for advertising myself, especially because I know potential employers are googling me. I can put more information online for employers to see than I can on a simple resume. If I weren’t married, the same might go for potential dates. So having unique results can be a plus in that way.
At the same time, if I had a criminal history or embarassing past, I certainly would not like being the only results.
I think the key as a parent is less to give your child a common name so they blend into google results, but instead to monitor your child’s online presence, googling them as necessary and teaching them the importance of having a responsible and appropriate online presence.
on January 14th, 2015 at 2:35 pm
On the flip side, I remember an article about how it is easier to steal identities when the name is common. There’s likely tons of women named Jennifer Ann Green of different ages, races, locations, professions, and etc. If you look somewhat like any one of them then you can pass yourself off as her. But most likely there’s only one Juniper Andromeda Green and it would be harder to pretend you are her.
on January 14th, 2015 at 11:58 pm
THANK YOU. It is so wonderful to “hear” this opinion in the 21st century, when everyone has the pathological need to be a special snowflake. Popular and common names give a person anonymity, which I feel is a great gift in the digital age. And you know what? Names like Elizabeth and John ARE unique and “out there” in the kid-world of Jaydens and Kaylees today. Look no further.
on January 15th, 2015 at 1:08 am
Agree, it depends on last name too. My maiden name was one of the most common names. I knew several other people with same first and last, even one with same first, middle, last. Yet my married name is so unique, anyone who has it is definitely family.
on January 15th, 2015 at 10:59 am
I went from a relatively uncommon maiden name to a popular married name so I’ve realized I will no longer be the only one with “my” name. Hell, my husband’s uncle is dating a girl with the same first name as me so if they get married the only difference will be our middle names.
For my hypothetical children I like to google the combos as FN/LN and as FN/MN/LN. As the FN/LN they generally don’t pull anything related to what I post on sites like this. Or if they do its a second page result. First, middle and last my name posts are at the top of the page. I find that to be an okay compromise as they can blend into the crowd or stand out if they want.
on January 15th, 2015 at 2:49 pm
Interesting article. While some of these points may be worth considering, I don’t particularly agree. We need to be teaching our children internet and social media safety whether the name is Sophia Grace or Guinevere Jacinta; it’s no different than teaching them how to safely cross a street in this day and age. If someone really wants to find one particular individual, I doubt that having a top ten name is going to be a fix-all. As another poster said – it’s about teaching moderation and wise decisions. Throwing a universe of beautiful and unique names out the window is not the answer.
on January 17th, 2015 at 9:58 am
I agree strongly with Jesslyn’s words:
“-I think the key as a parent is less to give your child a common name so they blend into google results, but instead to monitor your child’s online presence, googling them as necessary and teaching them the importance of having a responsible and appropriate online presence.”
on January 17th, 2015 at 3:44 pm
I have to disagree with this article. As a teenager myself, anyone can be found on Google, Instagram, Twitter, or any other social media. Just because your name is more common than others (lets use the name John Williams), doesn’t mean someone can’t find you, it just means they’ll have to look a little harder. Of course, someone named Andromeda Song will probably be more easy to search, but most people overlook the obvious fact. On social media, you have to create a username for yourself to identify who you are. A girl named Andromeda Song could use the username @andromedasong or @androsong, but they might not even pick a username applicable to their name (i.e @songandmusic or @song99). By planning out as a parent how your child will use social media that may not even be popular anymore is preposterous. Also, regulating your child’s social media, in my opinion, is wrong. Of course as a parent you’re going to tell your child not to make an Instagram or Twitter in the fear that they will do something stupid, when in reality they will make one, whether with your knowledge or not. Older parents today are afraid children will go on chatrooms and sneak out to meet older guys, when really most kids just talk to their friends. People need to stop assuming children will do the worst thing possible when given the freedom. Of course, a parent has the right to know the general idea of what their child is doing on the Internet, but not so much that they’re dictating over everyone their child does.
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