Ep 126: Choosing Your Baby’s Name with Jennifer Moss of BabyNames.com

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This is a really fun episode all about choosing your baby’s name. Jennifer Moss is the founder & CEO of BabyNames.com, author of The Baby Names workbook, and co-host of The Baby Names podcast with her sister Mallory. In the past 25 years since the launch of BabyNames.com Jennifer has worked with thousands of parents to find their perfect name and has been featured on CNN, The Today Show, The List, and in hundreds of top media outlets as the go-to expert on names and naming. BabyNames.com is the #1 names site with over 2 million visitors a month.

In this Episode, You’ll Learn About:

  • Which baby names are popular right now
  • What influences trends in baby names
  • How to approach choosing the right a name
  • What are some do’s and dont’s of baby naming
  • How to work through common types of naming conflict
  • How to change your baby’s name and whether or not you should

Links Mentioned in the Episode

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Ep 126: Choosing Your Baby’s Name with Jennifer Moss of BabyNames.com

p>Nicole: This is a really fun episode, all about choosing your baby's name.

Nicole: Welcome to the All About Pregnancy & Birth podcast. I'm Dr. Nicole Calloway Rankins, a board certified OB GYN who's been in practice for nearly 15 years. I've had the privilege of helping over 1000 babies into this world, and I'm here to help you be calm, confident, and empowered to have a beautiful pregnancy and birth. Quick note, this podcast is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. Check out the full disclaimer at drnicolerankins.com/disclaimer. Now let's get to it.

Nicole: Well hey, hey hey. Welcome to another episode of the podcast. This is episode number 126. Thank you for being here with me today. On today's episode of the podcast, we have Jennifer Moss. Jennifer is the founder and CEO of a babynames.com. She's the author of the baby names workbook, and cohost of the Baby Names Podcast with her sister Mallory. In the past 25 years, since the launch of babynames.com, Jennifer has worked with thousands of parents to find their perfect name. She's been featured on CNN, the Today show, the List and in hundreds of top media outlets as a go-to expert on names and naming. Babynames.com is the number one name site with over 2 million visitors a month. We have a fun conversation about current trends in baby names, what influences trends in baby names, tips for choosing your baby's name, what to do when there's a conflict over your baby's name.

Nicole: And I share how we came up with our daughters' names. It's probably not what you would expect. This is a great and fun conversation, and I know you will enjoy it. Now, before we get into the episode, a listener shout out, this is from LEP. She left me this review in Apple Podcast and the title of the review says great podcast for expecting parents. And the review says, I can't recall how I found this podcast, but I'm so glad I did. I'm a first time mom and listening to the topics Dr. Rankins covers in her soothing voice is helping me feel more prepared for so many aspects of pregnancy. Thanks for making this show. Well, you are so welcome LEP, and I hope I'm saying that correctly. I so appreciate you taking the time to leave me that lovely review. Now she mentioned that she is a first time mom and I also have first-time moms in mind when I created the Birth Preparation Course. The Birth Preparation Course is my signature online childbirth class that gets you calm, confident, and empowered to have a beautiful birth, teaches you how to have a calm and peaceful mind, how understand your body labor and birth as well as the postpartum period. And it also teaches you how to confidently advocate for yourself and things that you want for your birth. That's really important when you're giving birth in a system in our US healthcare system that isn't always designed to support you. The value in this course is unmatched. You can check out all the details at drnicolerankins.com/enroll. I had over a thousand mamas joined the course. I've had the privilege of serving them there, and I would love to serve you too. So check it out again at drnicolerankins.com/enroll. All right, let's get into the episode with Jennifer Moss from babynames.com. All right. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for agreeing to come onto the podcast. I'm so excited to have you here. We are talking about baby names is something that people always love to talk about. So I'm super excited.

Jennifer: I'm excited too. Thank you for having me .

Nicole: Yeah so why don't start off by telling us a bit about yourself and your work and even your family, if you'd like.

Jennifer: Sure, sure. I grew up in the Chicago area and I actually got my degree in music, but while I was in college, this thing called the personal computer came out onto the market and I was just so enamored. I like, I glommed onto it and I learned how to program. And when I graduated, I just went right into technology. It was like a no-brainer either that, or be a starving musician. Right, right. So I went right into technology and I did a lot of software development. And when the internet came about for public use, I was like, oh, I totally want to learn this platform. And I had this, uh, software program I created, which was like a digital baby book in which I included a database of names and meanings because I've always been fascinated with names and naming my whole life. And I had just had a child. So I had just gone through the process. And so I was like, I'm just going to put this database online and just practice. And what I found was tons of people started coming to my website and that was before I even registered the domain babynames.com. So when I did that, then it like, the rest is history and that was back in 1996. So we've been online now for 25 years.

Nicole: Wow. Wow. Wow. I just love how you were able to like put all of these things together that you enjoy. And also being a woman in the tech space was maybe a little bit new as well, but I think that's just a great story.

Jennifer: Thank you. Yeah. I was one of the first, pretty much first, uh, females in the internet industry was actually in on the tech end. Yeah. Yeah. I love it.

Nicole: Love it. So, um, you started babynames.com. It's been around for 25 years. You said, so let's talk about some, so obviously you've learned a lot in that time about baby names. So, so let's get into it.

Jennifer: Yeah. And it, like, it grew so much, then I needed help with it. So I recruited the smartest people I knew, and that was my mom and my sisters to help me with this site. And we all became involved in, it became a family business.

Nicole: Love it, love it. That is. So I love that story. I always thought those things it's like, when things come together, they come together. Right? Yeah. So why don't we dive into, what are some of the current trends that we see?

Jennifer: It's so fascinating. I love well, cause I'm a data person. So I just love diving into the data from our website and looking at the trends. Um, this year we're seeing, um, a trend of on the girls' side of nature and flower names. We're seeing like Iris, Daisy, Magnolia, and Dalia, those are holding steady. They kind of came onto the charts in the past couple of years. Um, but nature names are really big for girls. On the boys side, I see this new trend of like Brit names, like Allister and Tobias and Simon and names that had never really been on the U S charts. Um, so that interested me. And then there is this what I call kind of the pandemic names. So I believe that COVID really affected baby names and that people are trying to choose names with power and hope associated with them. Um, like, uh, Queen, Legend, Royal, and then God and goddess names like Persephone and Apollo are big and then names of power like Justice and Gunner and Hunter. Um, so those have just popped onto the charts in the last year or so. And I'm like, I wonder if that's just a reaction to kind of feeling powerless in what was going on in the world.

Nicole: Really interesting observation. And probably so when you think about it, cause it's, you know, having a baby, it's a hopeful thing and you want to like infuse some of that into the, into the child's name. Sure. So what, what are some things that you've noticed over time that really influence trends and baby names?

Jennifer: Well, yeah, before the internet, it was mainly like family names. That was one of the biggest influencer and um, what parents really looked towards in naming their children, a family names and maybe some pop culture trends, but I've seen that since like the mid nineties and, and through the two thousands pop culture really has had a huge influence on baby naming. So that would include like celebrities, celebrity babies, beloved characters in both literature and television and movies have had a big influence and, you know, world events, like I said, the pandemic or politics.

Nicole: Huh. In in a way that kinda makes me sad that we're so influenced by like celebrity culture and names. But I guess it's just a reflection of our time.

Jennifer: It is. And it like, you know, the name Chloe, for example, was never spelled with a K. It was always spelled with a C and that's the traditional Greek spelling. But then, you know, the Kardashians came into our zeitgeists and then suddenly babies were being named Chloe with a K. So you can see direct correlations like that

Nicole: Yeah. Yeah. I'm sure I'm sure. All right. So what are some suggestions that you have, and we can do at least three, but maybe more if you have any, um, for how folks should approach choosing their baby's name?

Jennifer: Well, one is, don't make your child's name a joke. You know, we've seen that all before and, um, you know, like if your last name is Ball, don't name your daughter, Crystal, because you don't understand what they're going to have to go through their entire lives when people laugh at them when they introduce themselves. I mean, imagine that taking a toll, um, and you know, the most important piece of advice I can give is just look at the name from the perspective of the child, because they're going to have to bear it. And is it going to be a blessing or is it going to be a burden for, you know, are they gonna have to spell it for people their entire lives, or people can laugh at them or will people like, oh, that's a cool name. You know? And we put in, we have a book called, um, the baby names work book, and we have a couple little tests to try out names. And one of those tests is the coffee shop test. So go to the coffee shop with a name that you're considering and give the name to the barista and see how they react to that, you know, do, can they spell it? Do they laugh? Do they react at all and see what happens?

Nicole: Yeah, I think that's that always like when I see names like that, cause I've seen lots of names, of course, that are sorta like that jokey sorta. It's like, well, how would you do that to the child? I also, I agree. I love the perspective of like, think about being the person that has to walk around carrying this name and with that, what that means for them. That's a really, really good piece of advice. So what are some other things that folks should, I love that coffee shop test by the way. Cause you can get any type of name, you want, feel comfortable doing it, then don't make your child do it. Now. What about some other suggestions for how to approach a name?

Jennifer: Another one is to introduce yourself as if you're your child. And usually when you introduce yourself, you use the first and last name, like the middle name really doesn't matter as much as you think it does because rarely are they going to introduce themselves by all three names. Right. Usually only put your first and last name on, you know, resumes and stuff like that. So how does it sound out loud and is it, you know, rhythmic and does it sound good and feel good with your last name? Um, sometimes just saying it is so different than seeing it on paper. So that's another test that, you know, just say, hi, my name is and see how it sounds. And then another one is, and this is really fun, is to ask the opinion of a six year old.

Nicole: We got, gotta hear more about this. Okay.

Jennifer: Because that's how kids are going to react to the name, you know, see how they react at, you know, if you have older children, um, ask them how they feel about the name. And if you don't ask your nieces or nephews or friends' kids and see how they react because that's how your kid is going to have to deal with their classmates in school.

Nicole: Nice, nice. Love it. Love it. Love it. Um, what should parents do when there is a conflict about choosing the baby's name?

Jennifer: Yeah. They, you know, there can be so many conflicts and we've dealt with thousands and thousands of parents who come to us with conflicts, but I'll tell you the most common conflict is what I call the veto dynamic. And that's when one parent is responsible for coming up with names and they keep throwing them out and throwing them out, throwing them out and the other parent's like, no, no, no, no, no. And that rarely works because you can't read the other parent's mind. Right. And then it just gets into some vicious circle and both of them get frustrated. So what we recommend is that you both make lists on your own. You can do it on your own and come up with names, but both participate in the process. If there are two parents and then come together and make us a specific time to talk about names and then share your ideas with each other.

Jennifer: And so it's an equitable type of process and you know, your partner might come up with names that you just never thought of ever. But, um, but then there's always going to be names where, you know, are automatic no's, like, you know, ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends, and there's no way to know that unless you communicate right here. So yeah, just set aside time to talk about the names. Don't do it while you're working out or while other things are going on and make sure it's an equitable process where both parents are coming to the table with names.

Nicole: That makes a lot of sense. And then when should people start working on that whole naming process?

Jennifer: It's funny because I've heard like me, you know, people creating lists when they were children or teenagers, just collecting favorite names. And um, it's usually more women than men who do that. Right. Um, forward thinking and plus we're the childbearers but, um, yeah, and I don't think it's ever too early to start collecting names. You know, I have a notes on my phone where I collect names and I'm not even of baby-making age anymore, but that's my business, but I just love collecting names. You might see a street name that you love, or you might think of again, a beloved character that you think, oh, that would make a cool baby name. And it can even be before you're even expecting. I know with my daughter's name, um, she's Miranda. And that was my husband's mother's maiden name, you know, like Lin Manuel. And, um, as soon as I said, what was your mother's maiden name? And he told me Miranda, I wasn't even pregnant yet. We weren't even married yet. And I was like, okay, that's going to be our daughter's name. Oh, wow. Looked at me. And he's like, oh, jumping on the gun. But it turned out that was our daughter's name.

Nicole: Love it. Love it, love it. So I do think people probably shouldn't wait until the last minute though.

Jennifer: No, no. Cause that can create a lot of stress. Yeah, definitely. You've got enough to worry about, you know, in the last month or so. So don't wait till the last minute. Yeah, for sure.

Nicole: Yeah. Or at least have some options that definitely see people come and they have like maybe two or three options and then they want to see the child first before they pick the name, which I can kind of see, but like, don't, don't have like 12 options just narrow it down to like two or three and then you can decide. Yeah. And so what are your thoughts on when to reveal baby's name to like family and friends? Um, either like during pregnancy versus waiting until the baby's here,

Jennifer: You know, I don't think there's a right answer to that. I think it all depends on, you know, your preferences. Um, the parent's preferences. Some people want to get input as much as they can. Some people just don't want to reveal it because you know, it's a lot easier to reveal a baby's name after the baby's born because less people are going to criticize it. Like obviously once the baby's here, right. All the focus is going to be on the baby itself. Um, and they're not going to say, well, that name sucks. They're more likely to say that before the baby's born. So some parents choose to wait, but some parents do want input. So it's a personal preference.

Nicole: Yeah. For both of our girls, we didn't tell them, tell anybody the names until after they were born. And that's primarily because we fell into the camp of, we don't want anybody else's opinion so we can like, wait babies here. And like, this is the name and you just have to accept it.

Jennifer: What are their names?

Nicole: My older is Sienna who I like that. And my younger one is Alaina. I love that. Yeah. Thank you. And interestingly, they came from, uh, this is crazy story, but my husband Falcon, his name is Falcon. So like I have the most boring name in the family. He is a, uh, um, a massive like formula one race car driver. And his favorite driver was someone named Ayrton Senna who was from Brazil. So he's like, I really want a daughter named Sienna. And I was like, okay, fine. Whatever. So her first name is Sienna and her middle name is a family name. And then the younger one is another driver. They were like his biggest rival, but also like they were friends with Alan Prost, who's French and the French version of Alon is Alaina. So that's how we came up with our names. Weird, weird story. Like, yes, our children love the formula one race, car drivers. So anyway,

Jennifer: Yeah it's very unique. Never heard that before.

Nicole: And then her name is her middle name is also a family name. Yeah. Okay. So, um, what happens if you want to change?

Jennifer: That's a great question. Um, people have written to us saying, you know, I just don't feel right about it. He doesn't seem like a Simon or something like that. And I'd say, you know, if it's before a year, it's okay, go ahead and change it. I mean, there are reasons to change a child's name. Like what if you had, you know, 10 years ago chosen Jeffrey Epstein, for example, you know, like if somebody comes out and there's a really negative connotation to the name, you might want to think about changing it or having them go by their real name. Um, but then after a year, you know, I would say consult a child psychologist because you know, the message you're sending is that their, you know, the name is so tied to identity that you're rejecting them in some way. So, you know, I'm not a psychologist, but I'd say be careful with older children, if you want to change their names and consult somebody before you do so. So you can investigate why you feel the need to change it.

Nicole: That's really, really, really good advice. And then I guess I'm legally, is it complex? Is it depending on where you are? Like how legally complex is it to change your baby's name?

Jennifer: It depends on the state. You know, we have a section on our website about changing your name, no matter how old you are. And it depends on the state and they just pretty much want to make sure that you're not doing it for nefarious reasons that you're not trying to evade the law or, or a warrant or something to that effect. But you know, it costs a little money, but it, it all has to do with, I think the secretary of state where you live here in the states.

Nicole: Okay. Okay. Okay. So let's talk about some baby names that you've come across. I don't know if I sent this to you in the question, but let's start with, what are your three favorite baby names? Do you have three favorites or some favorites that you like?

Jennifer: Ooh. I don't know. You know, cause I don't really collect them for myself anymore. Of course I love my daughter's name Miranda. Um, and I also like a very similar name. That's a French kind of version of a Mireille. M I R E I L L E. And um, for boys, I tend to like longer traditional names for boys like Jonathan or Alexander. I like her maybe, and she doesn't really want to do that. Um, but I would say, and I like, um, like kind of classic names, like Errol E R R O L, things like that. Um, so that's my naming style, but I wouldn't put that on anyone who asks us to come up with names for that. That's really hard anyway. Yeah.

Nicole: Do people ask you to come up with names?

Jennifer: Oh yeah. And, um, it's, that's really hard because it's so personal, you know, it's like asking somebody some stranger to pick out an outfit for you, you know, but that outfit you're going to have to wear the rest of your life. So, you know, it's really hard to come up with names for other people.

Nicole: Yeah. I'm sure. I'm sure. So what are then some of the most unusual baby names that you've come across?

Jennifer: Well, of course unusual is subjective. Uh, what might seem unusual to us might be a common name in another country or culture. Um, but I, uh, you know, there's one that just really kind of stays in my memory. And there is a, a child in New Zealand who was actually, uh, taken custody by a judge because the parents named her Tallulah does the hula from Hawaii. Like that was her name, her first name and a judge deemed that to be abuse or, you know, not acceptable. So he took custody of the child. Well, like within a couple hours, obviously until the parents came up with a new name for this girl, but things like that, that sounds like a joke to me. Um, so anything like that is just bizarre. Um, I also think it's kind of silly to name a child after a well-known brand, you know, like Facebook was a name of a child. Um, but even something like Bentley or Ruger, like why attach to that particular brand, your child. Right. And not let them to choose whether they like it or not. Um, I mean, you know, I'm sure there were beer lovers that named their children Corona and you know, well, good luck with that. Talking about name changes.

Nicole: Right. So I guess why would you name your child Facebook? Like it's always perplexing to me. Yeah.

Jennifer: So to me that's unusual and ridiculous. Yeah.

Nicole: Yeah. Okay. So as we wrap up, then what would you say is one of the most frustrating parts of what you do in your work?

Jennifer: Well, I think we touched on it and that's when parents think then I can come up with the perfect name for their baby. Um, and I think only the parents can do that because it's all about you. It's about your experiences. It should be about the people you admire and who have influenced your life or the literature. I mean, it's just so personal. And um, I also teach a writing class and one thing I say about naming a character is you have to consider the character's parents, where are they? Where did they grow up? Um, what kind of personality do they have? Are they conservative or are they wild? Are they hippies? You know, cause all that goes into naming a baby, what's the culture. Um, so, so there's so much that goes into it. Even just like minutia that I don't think another person, especially a stranger can do that for you.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. And then on the flip side, what's the most rewarding part I can guess, but the most rewarding part?

Jennifer: Well, because our site's been around for 25 years, you know, sometimes I forget that it's a household name. So when I meet someone and they've heard of our site or used it and that is just so fun for me. And they're like, oh yeah, I know that I've been to that to help me name my baby. And that is extremely rewarding. And because it's been around for 25 years, the babies who were born then are now having babies. So we're now into our second generation. And to me, that's just so cool.

Nicole: That is so cool. That is so cool. Yeah. I was going to say, yeah, I guess that it was rewarding when people are like, I used your site and I found my, my baby's name and things like that. So yeah. Love it. Love it, love it. So what is your favorite piece of advice that you would give to expectant families?

Jennifer: I had to say start early so you don't have to stress about it, but the name is one of the most important things that you're going to be bestowing upon your child, more important than the crib or the layette or how you decorate the nursery. And remember you're not just naming a baby. You're also naming an adult.

Nicole: That is true. That is very, very, very true. All right. So where can people find you?

Jennifer: Well, you can always come to our website, babynames.com and my sister and I have a podcast we're currently in our fourth season and it's called the Baby Names Podcast and you don't have to be expecting to enjoy it. It's all about names and we go into one name subject every episode and we report on celebrity baby name news, and then take questions from our list.

Nicole: That's so cool. So cool. So cool. All right. And you said the website is babynames.com of course. Right. Okay. And I'm sure that the podcasts and all the other links and things are there as well.

Jennifer: On all the major players.

Nicole: All right. Perfect. Well, thank you so much for coming on. This was a fun episode. I know folks are going to find it very useful.

Jennifer: Thanks Nicole. Thanks for having me. This has been fun.

Nicole: All right. Wasn't that a fun conversation. I really enjoyed talking about choosing your baby's name. Now, after every episode, when I have a guest on, you know, I do something called Nicole's Notes where I talk about my top three or four takeaways from the conversation. And here are my Nicole's Notes with Jennifer. Number one, I want to say a quick note about cultural names. So there is a difference between names that are jokey and names that are culturally different than what may quote unquote be typically seen in the U S. Don't be afraid to name your child something that's culturally meaningful to you. Okay. People can and should learn how to pronounce it. So don't shy away from names that are meaningful to you, just because they may be different than like Smith or Williams or, you know, more common quote unquote American names. Number two, if you encounter someone and their name or their first or last name is quote unquote difficult or challenging to pronounce because it's something you're not familiar with.

Nicole: And you say something like, you know, do you have a nickname or something that I can use, or I can just never pronounce that ,those types of things are rude and disrespectful. You can ask how to pronounce someone's name. You can make an effort to pronounce it. It's not that hard. And if you butcher it, then you can just apologize, try again and ask again how to make it work. Don't be dismissive of other people's names just because it's, that is challenging for you to pronounce. And then the final thing I want to say about names is when you're choosing your baby's name, have fun. This isn't something that should be stressful. This is one of the most like enjoyable parts of your pregnancy and in welcoming a new baby. So have fun with the process. It definitely should not be stressful. All right. So there you have it.

Nicole: Be sure to subscribe to the podcast in Apple Podcast, wherever you're listening to me right now, Spotify, Google Play or whatever myriad of podcast players are out there right now. And I always love it when you leave a review in Apple Podcast in particular, it helps other women to find the show helps the show to grow. And I do shout outs from those reviews from time to time. Also, don't forget to check out all the details of the Birth Preparation Course at drnicolerankins.com/enroll. Childbirth education is so, so important. I highly encourage, even if for some reason you don't choose the Birth Preparation Course, but I don't know why you wouldn't choose the Birth Preparation Course. For some reason you don't and then choose something for childbirth education, because it is so important. And it's not something that you can skip. So that's it for this episode do come on back next week. And until then, I wish you a beautiful pregnancy and birth. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the All About Pregnancy & Birth podcast, head to my website, drnicolerankins.com to get even more great information, including free downloadable resources on how to manage pain and labor and warning signs to look out for after birth. You'll also find information on my free online class, on How To Make A Birth Plan That Works as well as everything you need to know about my signature online childbirth education class, the Birth Preparation Course. Again, that's drnicolerankins.com and I will see you next week.