The Science Behind Being A Baby Namer

Ever wondered who creates the yearly list of the most popular baby names? Or who helps celebrities come up with those wacky kids' names?

Meet the baby name expert -- or baby namer -- whose job is to rank the year's most popular names; compile a list of baby names by gender and their meanings; and help guide parents in their name-selection process.

But don't think it's all about personal whim and popularity. In fact, there is a real science behind this business. It is not opinion-based, but science-based.

Two well-known baby name experts actually had backgrounds in mathematics and computers:

Laura Wattenberg, author of the Baby Name Wizard guide (Broadway, 2005) and creator of, was a Ph.D with experience in research and statistical analysis. She says she approached the questions of why certain names were more popular than others and why certain names were local "as a data problem. I spent years building a database of baby names."

And Jennifer Moss, founder of, was a computer programmer who created a software program that outlined a list of baby names and their meanings, which eventually became an encyclopedia.

How do baby name experts become experts?

For both Wattenberg and Moss, becoming a baby name expert just sort of happened -- almost by accident.

Wattenberg made her career in high tech and computer-related positions at Fortune 500 companies. After her first child was born, Wattenberg was struck by the number of kids that had the same name in her New York City neighborhood. "I was a mom and met a lot of other moms at the park, and I noticed that many of the names were not only the same, but were local and specific to my area."

Because traditional baby name dictionaries didn't explain WHY certain names were so popular, Wattenberg focused on that, and her career was born. What set her book apart was her approach to baby names: She not only listed them, but also added a graph beside each name in her book that is a visual representation of that specific name and its role in our culture.

Wattenberg's approach was holistic and anthropological. After the success of her book, Wattenberg built a website and a blog, which continue to flourish today. She knows she has found her calling in life, and is confident that she will have work for years to come because, "there is always more to say and do because there are always new names. There is a new audience each year with each new generation having babies, and names are everywhere. They are ingrained in every part of our culture."

Moss also became interested in the process of naming babies after becoming a mother. After creating her encyclopedia, she transferred it to her website, Once the site went live, Moss says, people kept on writing in requesting help with naming their baby. Now the site enjoys one and a half million unique viewers each month, and is considered to be one of the most authoritative resources for baby names in the world.

The site's success helped Moss move in a more personal direction. "After a number of television and radio appearances, I started a personal consultant business where I interview families and help them resolve their name conflict so that they can select a name for their baby," she said.

The popularity of baby naming

Baby naming really took off in the mid-1990s, thanks to two major developments. First, the Social Security Administration began compiling lists of baby names from birth certificates. The lists effectively became popularity statistics, creating a competition over baby names, says Wattenberg: The public became more aware of what the most favored names were, and a "Jones effect" was created.

But it was the explosion of the Internet that had the biggest impact on the baby naming industry. Suddenly, people had quick and easy access to tons of information -- baby names included. Moss says that her website really helped launch the popularity of her baby name encyclopedia. "We started the BabyName website with a message board and the baby encyclopedia. The message board is what made the site popular because it drew input from other people not in your immediate circle. All of a sudden, parents could get baby name advice from tons of different people."

Surprising facts about the baby naming industry

What most surprised Moss was the fact that people really want to fit in: "They tend to choose names that are really popular. They really want that No. 1 name. I thought that more people would want to be unique."

Also, because of the effects of the Internet and pop culture, trends in baby names have really sped up. The popular names used to change every 10 years, whereas now they change every three to four years. For example, all of the characters from the Twilight series have very old names (Edward, Esme) -- and Moss says that they are definitely gaining in popularity and emerging as "fan favorites." That constant flow of information keeps everything fresh.

One of the biggest trends in baby naming now is to use family names or surnames, such as Jackson or Harrison, as a first name, Moss notes.

How do you get a job as a baby namer?

Wattenberg's advice is simple and is not just applicable to this field: "You have to think about what it is you do best, because there is no single formula for this job."

Moss cautions against thinking that just because you like names, you can do the job. Remember that science is behind the ranking of baby names, the trends of baby names, and the meaning of names. "I spent 10 years in the trenches, doing research before my site went online," she notes.

According to Moss, if you want to become a baby naming expert, you can:

1. Study onomastics (the origins of names) and linguistics.

2. Do a lot of research on your own.

3. Compile and organize all the information you come across.

Above all else, Moss recommends "keeping your day job, because baby naming is a great hobby, but it won't make you rich."

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Caira John

Parents can also participate in baby photo contest.

many other informations available for women.

October 31 2013 at 7:20 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Caira John

Think hundred times before decide a name for your new born baby. When I was brainstorming for names with nice meaning, I found a nice website which have hundred of thousands names with meaning and etymology.

October 31 2013 at 7:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Amanda Waters

Hi Gwen,

There are many more Baby Names experts out there, people who love researching name meanings and their origin. For example, at we curate lists of Baby Names selecting names very carefuly and grouping them in meaningful (and fun) lists in order to help parents get ideas and quick results!

September 10 2013 at 8:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
selma (sally)Burkhart-Haddad

To S321 Saint. Dear Saint, I did not pass on my maiden name to my two children. They are not depressed about MY hyphenated name. Neither are my grandchildren , nor my husband.

May 18 2010 at 3:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Picking a baby name is a very personal thing, influenced by a variety of factors, including family history, personal preferences, and currently popular names and naming practices. Oddly enough, the name choice has almost nothing to do with the person who will bear the chosen name for the rest of his/her life.

Many of us pick our children's names before we ever meet them. Our parents did the same. Thus, we got the names our parents liked at the time, for whatever reason, whether or not that name particularly suited us. Our children also get the names we like the most, and they have to live with our choices for the rest of their lives.

A really bizarre name will certainly make your child stand out from the rest of the elementary school crowd in 3rd grade and on the playground (for all the wrong reasons), but is that what you really want to do?

Eventually, this child will go on to middle school, high school, college, and a career, so it's probably a good idea not to saddle him/her with a weird name that no one can spell or pronounce.

On the other hand, this is America, and you have the right to name your kid anything you want. You can name your kid Willow Tree Leaf Fig Harvest Samson/Delilah Moss and homeschool him/her until the cows come home...which is probably not a bad idea.

April 28 2010 at 3:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
James Sorrell

SUICIDE VACCINE is like won't use it on yourself, but can
save somebody's life when the crisis begins because you now know how.~

Subject: ~RED ALERT**URGENT 2009 [CDC::"girl's suicide rate
'skyrockets' 76%".....WHAT is causing this?!? and, help STOP this!]~

{Re: CDC quote---76% 'skyrocket' rise is real danger
all across The Planet, [internet incited]
if girls commit suicide in an "epidemic",
like the 1986 youth suicide epidemic in Omaha, NE that SUICIDE
VACCINE stopped~}

This is NOT "religion", this is Reality, objective reality!

------->"Suicidal thoughts, up since Katrina, PTSD
survey says........"
------->>WASHINGTON (AP)----"Using anti-depressants
Increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior
among young people"----
---[[CDC quote]]---->>>"Suicide rate among girls skyrockets 76%,
says Centers for
Disease Control & Prevention"

April 27 2010 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree Seraphena, this is how stupid the society had become.Some people just want everything done for them,even naming their kids...........That's sad.

April 27 2010 at 10:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are A LOT of women named Linda who are about 58--66 after a movie star named Linda _______ ( forgot her last name)
And there are a LOT of Judys---named after Judy Garland , who are about from age 62---70.
And so on, ad nauseum .. and that's how babies get their names.

April 27 2010 at 2:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Why do they have to hire someone and pay them alot to tell us why certain names are popular. Babys are named after whichever celeb happens to be popular at the time. Hence the name ---Britney , which is spelled wrong, by the way....prob b/c Britney Spears mom didn't know how to spell it.
Also, babies are named after characters on soap operas---like " Harley" or "Kendall "
A baby in my family was recently named Jude ---after Jude Law. I think that's going to be a popular name.
The reason there are so many kids named Ryan, is b/c no one ever heard of that name untill Ryan O'Neil first came into stardom in the 1970 drama, " Love Story "
Young people today don't know about that movie, but they're still naming their sons Ryan. Some people are naming their daughters that too.
"Love Story."

April 27 2010 at 2:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What gives you the right to post such horse apples?

April 27 2010 at 2:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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