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What’s In A Name?

(Part 2, Three-Part Series)

As I noted in yesterday’s post — the first of three about names and branding — your name can make a difference in your professional life. First names can imply race, age, religion and more. And this “name-signaling” is often how people judge others. Studies show that names impact career success and likeability. 

One such study conducted by LinkedIn, which analyzed 100 million user profiles, can tell you if your baby is CEO worthy. You are more likely to be CEO if you have a name like “Peter” or “Deborah” — those are the two most common male and female chief executive names, according to the study. LinkedIn also pointed out that the men favored shortened nicknames like Bob or Rick — indicating that male CEOs like to appear friendly and open — while women tend to use their full names in an effort to appear more professional.

The effects of name-signaling begin long before entering the workforce. Dr. David Figlio, Northwestern University professor and researcher, contends that names impact everything from a child’s self-confidence to grades. Women with gender-neutral names may be at an advantage in male-dominated fields such as engineering. On the flip side, think twice before bestowing a feminine-sounding name on your son: Figlio found that boys with names most commonly given to girls (like Madison or Ashley) tended to have more behavioral issues in middle school than their peers with distinctly male-sounding names.

Today, the digital era has brought much more complexity to the name: You’ll be much easier to find on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. That’s a plus, right? When my business partner was seven-months pregnant with her first son, I reminded her to make sure the URL was available before they selected the final name. The trick is to find a name easy enough to spell, but distinctive enough to stand out on Google. Trust me — building an online presence is growing more important each day. 

Baby naming has become an industry, from name consultants to name generators. For further naming wisdom, I turned to these experts. Sherri Suzanne, a naming expert and the founder of My Name for Life, says: “I have conducted telephone interviews on speakerphone while moms were laboring.”

Another prominent baby naming expert is Laura Wattenberg, creator of Babyname Wizard, a self-proclaimed “name nerd,” and author of best-seller “The Baby Name Wizard.” Her name analysis tools and database reflect cultural associations and linguistic origins. Statistic-lovers can refine their search with 30-plus variables including name origins, minimum and maximum length, syllables, and more.

Wattenberg contends that “There’s a tremendous amount of pressure on expectant parents to pick the perfect name, and they place a premium on having their children’s name be original and stand out. We are moving more toward the branding experience, style and sound have become more popular than ever before.”

She continues, “Parents are becoming savvy consumers based on name rankings. Today, everybody is looking at the rankings and doesn’t want to be the top 10 — not even the top 1,000.”

With nearly 4 million babies born yearly in the U.S., the name you select will likely not be an original. Besides, with so many spelling variations for popular names, it’s hard to determine which names should really be in the top 10. Wattenberg continues: “Parents should not be scared off of a name based on popularity. Even a name which does not fall on the top 100 list can be spelled differently to create uniqueness.”

Wattenberg’s number one piece of advice is process-related: “There is an unlimited menu of names which makes it harder to choose. If you select 10 names and start ruling them out by finding fault — which is a common practice — you set yourself up with doubt, which can lead you astray.” She suggests reversing the process and considering what you love best about your finalists and why you came to this choice. 

One of my many name interview highlights was Skyping with Marc Hauser, founder of Erfolgswelle, a Switzerland-based boutique branding agency that moved into the baby naming arena in 2015. In addition to working with corporate clients, Erfolgswelle creates unique baby names largely for well-known, jet-setting families. The hefty price tag of $28,000 may not be in your budget, but his elite clients are lining up. The agency’s baby-naming process takes approximately three weeks and produces seven to eight unique names for parents to select from. His staff consists of naming experts, translators, historians, and trademark attorneys.

According to Marc, “the two most important baby naming considerations are to create a name for the long-term (e.g., think of your baby as a grown-up) and ensure the new name is not in conflict with a trademark — parents don’t want their kid to bear the name of a product.”  

Feel a bit overwhelmed at the number of do’s, don’ts, and the enormity of the decision? Suzanne offers a few parting words on picking a name that your child will appreciate, not just you. Says Suzanne: “Names that are deliberately provocative, have strong associations, form puns or rhymes, or are not pronounced or spelled in a manageable and intuitive way make life more challenging. Parents can still be daring, creative and original — they just need to remember to be kind.” 

Be sure to check out tomorrow’s third and final post which provides a curated list of online tools to help you find the perfect name.

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