Before a baby is born, the most challenging thing about said baby is naming it. If you’re a parent, you know how stressful the naming process can be. Not only do you need to choose a name you and your partner agree on, but the name you choose must also be unique. But not too unique. Or at least unique enough to stand out in a world filled with Charlottes and Noahs. And you also have to like the name and hope that your child will, too (and won’t end up changing it at 18).
If it seems like naming a baby is more stressful these days, it probably is — only because everything seems so stressful these days. TikTok doesn’t help either, thanks to myriad videos on everything from “old money” baby names to names mothers-to-be sadly didn’t use. A number of creators have made baby naming trends a full-time job, literally, including Naming Bebe’s Colleen Slagen.
Slagen tells Scary Mommy she started her baby naming consulting business because she’s been extremely passionate about baby names for as long as she can remember. “I love reading the annual census data; I love analyzing the trends, predicting the future, and more than anything else, helping people feel good about a very exciting but permanent decision,” she says.
But Slagen and the other TikTok baby name consultants aren’t actually the first in their field — that honor most likely goes to Sherri Suzanne, founder of My Name for Life, which she started in the ’90s.
While Suzanne says she always had a life-long love affair with onomastics (study of names) and conceived the idea of a naming consultancy many years before she embarked on it, it wasn’t until many years later when she was working as a magazine editor in New York City that it became a reality, accidentally.
“[At the time] I assisted a pregnant co-worker who was expecting a little boy [with the naming process],” she tells Scary Mommy. She told another mom-to-be in our office building, who told another. “I helped moms by word of mouth this way throughout the ’90s.” But it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that she went full-time with her name consulting business.
The demand for baby naming consulting has definitely increased since then. Slagen reports that since she started Naming Bebe at the beginning of 2023, she’s massed more than 50,000 followers on TikTok and has had to turn down consultations due to volume.
If you’re expecting a little one, you might be struggling to find a name. But do you need a baby consultant? Here’s what you need to know.
Why might you work with a baby name consultant?
Anyone can watch TikTok baby name videos or pick up a baby name book — or read a list of baby names from your *ahem* favorite site. So, why work with a baby name consultant?
For the expecting parents, Slagen says the most common scenarios include:
- They love their first child’s name so much and are having trouble coming up with a name for baby No. 2 that feels just as special.
- The parents want to incorporate significance/meaning into their child’s name (either through honoring a family member or other values/places that are special to them as a couple).
- They have very specific criteria (number of syllables, specific letters, specific theme like Game of Thrones vibe).
- The parents need a name that works across multiple different languages.
As for why you might hire a consultant, Slagen says the naming process can be complicated when you discuss it with family and friends and get 20 different opinions. “A name consultant can give you a more in-depth analysis of names, and it’s honestly fun to have someone analyze your style/preferences in this way and come up with a curated list that reflects that,” she explains.
Suzanne says she’s had clients from all walks of life: professionals, entrepreneurs, CEOs, artists, stay-at-home parents. “Parents reach out for a variety of reasons. Often, they simply cannot agree on a name with their partner,” she says. “Frequently, there is a challenge to overcome — a parent with a speech difficulty is struggling to find a name without challenging sounds. A couple in America needs a name that can be pronounced by family in Brazil. On the other hand, some parents are simply excited by the idea of discovering new names and sharing the adventure with someone with expertise in name selection.”
How often do people choose a name from a baby consultant?
According to Suzanne, very often! “Their child needs a name, and my services are an investment in finding it,” she says. “The exception is when parents have name candidates picked out and come to me for decision-making assistance. The other exception is when parents arrive with a name and undergo consultation just to ensure there’s nothing else ‘out there.’ I’m happy to help in both those situations, but most of the time, I work with parents to find ‘the’ name.”
While Slagen says she doesn’t have a specific number, she says it’s common for people to use one of the names she suggests. “I also have clients who end up choosing their initial top contender after we discuss the pros and cons (usually, parents are worried their top name is too popular, and we discuss what popular really means today).”
What does Slagen recommend for parents who are anxious about naming their baby?
Baby naming isn’t just big business; it’s a worry for many parents. No one wants their kid to be a Jessica or a Michael.
“I always tell parents to pick a name they like to say because they’ll be saying it a lot,” says Suzanne. “Start by listening to the names of others and see what’s appealing. Does a familiar name feel comfortable? Does an unusual name feel exciting? Don’t fret over name popularity. A child can thrive with either a popular or uncommon name. Be more concerned about a name that is flattering and ‘user friendly.'”
She also suggests practicing saying the name out loud as if it were your own. “Could you introduce yourself with this name and feel confident?” she asks. “Finally, don’t expect everyone to admire your choice. It just creates needless anxiety. My constant refrain is that names are like art; it’s not possible for all of us to love the same movies, books, paintings, etc. Your loved ones will embrace the name as they embrace the child.”
Is baby naming consulting a fad?
“It doesn’t feel like a fad to me — it feels like a new market has been unlocked for people,” Slagen says. “Online baby name lists and generators kind of lulled the market to sleep these past 10 years, and I’m just so happy people are finding the value and fun in name consultants. I think the demand has also been fueled by social media. There is a lot of buzz out there about name popularity, name styles, etc., and people are just putting more thought into this big decision!”
As Suzanne puts it: “In an organized society, we don’t use numbers or impersonal phrases to identify one another; we use names, making them a very special, intimate, and artistic part of language. Every business and personal relationship we have in life will begin with our name. We must be able to introduce ourselves with confidence. So parents have an important job — to find a useful name that also represents their child well.”