Baby Names in the Digital Age
How to pick a Facebook and Google-friendly name.
by Jen Genova
The recipe for a baby name used to go something like this: Compile a list of your favorites, size them up against your last name, check for potential limericks, keep it a secret from family and friends (or tell them and hope they approve), have child, sign the certificate and embark on the rest of your lives. But now with Google, Facebook and Twitter, technology has become part of the process, too. In fact, Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, just hypothesized that kids of the next generation might well all change their names when they become adults to hide from the digital records of their childhoods!
We’re pretty sure that it won’t be as bad as all that, but here are a few things parents should keep in mind when naming their babies in the digital age:
1. Domain names
Technology is only going to become more important in the coming years, so what better way to set your child up than to give them the gift of digital real estate? Ready to book the url now? Not so fast: in the age of virtual identity, if you want yourkidsname.com, unless you have a last name like Yzielburlar, you might have to compensate with a distinctive first name (or take out another mortgage to buy debbiejohnson.com). So even if you hate spelling variations, if your last name is Jones and you want a personalized domain name for your child, you still might consider Madyssin over Madison.
2. Privacy vs. Searchability
Will your child be an extrovert or an introvert, someone who likes all the attention or someone who’d like to blend into the wallpaper?
If your daughter turns out shy, she’ll be safe in the anonymous halls of Karen Smith. But if you opt for Caryn Smith instead, anyone doing an online search should be able to narrow down her Facebooked exploits without too much trouble.
A unique name (especially when coupled with a domain) can make finding someone downright simple, meaning that everything you post and gets posted about you can be found – for good and for bad (many employers, for example, have admitted to shelving job candidates because of something as simple as a MySpace photo). So while Pilot Inspektor (son of actor Jason Lee) may have the most interesting name of his graduating college class, he also needs to make sure he has the least damaging information online. When my parents named me, there was no thought that 23 years later the world would be such a hotbed of social networking and google google google.
3. Famous friends
Our world is saturated with celebrity news, so any name picked by someone famous won’t stay under the radar for long. For example, a choice with an old-fashioned ring like Vivienne might have been perfect for someone who wanted something uncommon – until celeb mom Angelina Jolie gave it to her daughter. Now the previously obscure name is catapulting up baby name lists, along with other underused favorites like Violet and Ava, upsetting parents who feel the names they love have been “ruined” by celebrities. While some parents think it’s flattering to have a child with the same name as a celebrity, others imagine their child will be sick of hearing, “Oh, were you named for (insert famous person here)?” by their fifth birthday.
So with that in mind, it probably makes sense for you to do a little research on Babble on what celebs named their kids in 2009 – that way you can either synch yours up or steer clear, whatever you prefer.
How to proceed
So: conventionality and relative obscurity or uniqueness and find-ability? If you use a common name, little Jacob will have to use his last initial at all times (or at least until he graduates high school). Then again, if you think Cullen sounds cool and different, don’t be surprised if there are two others in his kindergarten class (as well as a few Twilight-inspired Bellas as well). And with the cyclical nature of the baby names, you can never guarantee that even really old-school names like Edith and Gottfried won’t be the hottest name of tomorrow.
I grew up with a very common first name, but when my parents named me, the digital age was nothing more than a recently-developed Hewlett Packard desktop for those who could afford it. There was definitely no thought that 23 years later the world would be such a hotbed of social networking activity and google google google. I went from kindergarten to college as “Jen G.,” but because my last name is uncommon, I’ve had it relatively easy in terms of searchability. Googling my name will pull up a few articles I have written, as well as the Facebook and LinkedIn pages of other Jennifer Genovas across the United States (there are others, and one actually lives in the same small northern New Jersey city I do!), but so far nothing to mar my reputation.
But maybe soon none of this will even matter; maybe 23 years from now, every John Smith or Jen G will be D’Noogle-able by GPS gene tracking. As fast as technology is moving, there’s no way to predict.