Sunday, July 14, 2024

What Is a Baby Name Consultant? Interview With Naming Bebe

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Baby names have always been an important consideration for parents, but it feels as though there’s more pressure than ever to pick the “perfect” one right now. As influencers enthusiastically share their discarded name ideas, an entire industry is popping up, with baby name consultants making careers out of nomenclature.

Colleen Slagen, who’s known as Naming Bebe online, is a mom of three who made the career switch from nurse to name consultant a little over year ago. Slagen says she’s always loved baby names — long before they became a TikTok trend — and it’s not just a hobby, it’s an “obsession,” she tells PS.

As a child, Slagen would carefully scan all the names in her yearbooks and school phone books. “I can still remember what one of my fourth-grade teachers named her baby, and what the chemistry teacher named hers,” she says. Coming up with baby names was even a favorite activity of hers and her cousins growing up. “I had a whole diary full of baby names.”

Where does that fascination come from? Slagen thinks it started out as just childlike daydreaming about her future family. “You name your dolls and it’s fun, and then that evolves,” she says. “When ‘The Sims’ came out I was obsessed with that.” Slagen used to joke that if she could name babies for work, she would. “I never actually thought it would be a real thing.”

Slagen started to help name babies in an unofficial capacity once her friends started having kids. She received positive feedback, and during her own maternity leave in 2021, she started attracting some clients through a mom Facebook group. Once she began posting to TikTok, however, business boomed. She quit her job in 2023 to do name consultations full-time. “I wanted to take that leap and just go for it,” Slagen adds.

Slagen currently schedules about 15 consultations per month, although that number fluctuates based on the demands of her personal life, and consultations range in price from $250 to $400 depending on the package. But what does a consultation entail exactly? Slagen shares below.

PS: Walk me through a typical consultation.
Colleen Slagen: For the most part we’re interacting via email. I started doing some face-to-face, video consultations right before I had my third baby in March, but I’ve put those on hold for now because they’re just too difficult to schedule.

First, I send parents a questionnaire and it’s pretty detailed. I want to know mainly how they would describe their name style. The biggest clues for me are: what names do they like, are there any siblings and what are their names? Also, what are top contenders, and what are top names they like but can’t use for some reason?

That gives me a pretty good sense of their style, but we get into a lot of nuances: Are there certain sounds that are off limits? For a lot of people, if their last name ends in a long “e” sound, they don’t want the first name to end the same way. Are there family names they wanna incorporate in some way? Is a name’s meaning important to them?

I recently had somebody give me three spreadsheets in response to the questionnaire. It was a lot to sift through. Narrowing down the options is part of it, but some people are stuck and don’t have any ideas, or two partners can’t agree.

PS: How do you navigate that?
CS: In the recommendations for a couple like that, I try to give a couple ideas that I think are geared toward each partner’s style and then a couple ideas that could appeal to both. So, maybe that’s a formal name that’s a little traditional, like “Harrison” for example, but with a nickname like “Sonny” that’s a little more kind of vintagey-modern.

I do find a huge portion of the consult is really people wanting feedback on their list. Usually they have a name that they like, but they have some holdup with it and they want an objective opinion.

There’s a little more anxiety around baby names these days with social media. You announce it to a world that’s way bigger than just your family and your close friends. People don’t wanna get it wrong.

PS: What are clients leaving the consultation with? How many options do you land on?
CS: They receive a PDF and they’re welcome to then email me with follow-up questions or if they need further narrowing it down when the time comes. Most people aren’t reading through the list and then instantly agreeing on a name. Names aren’t usually love at first sight — you have to sit with it.

I’ve been changing things around to figure out a system where I can take on more because I’m having to turn some people down right now, but previously, I offered a 10, 15, or 30-name package. Each name has a blurb about how popular it is, what the style is, possible nicknames, and why I think it would be a good fit for them. They also get a list of honorable mentions, so names that I considered but didn’t make the top cut.

PS: What does your process look like? Where are you going for inspiration, and how do you organize all your name ideas and favorites?
CS: I use a couple different naming websites, like Nameberry, and then I just go down rabbit holes on Google. I just did a consultation for somebody who wanted a name that has a relation to San Francisco. So, I just went down rabbit holes on Wikipedia, looking at street names and names of landmarks.

As far as cataloging, I have all my consultations saved, so if I have a consultation, I might look at a similar prior one. I have my own baby name dictionary of name lists by category that I keep, and I reference that a lot.

PS: What do you make of the baby name lists going viral on TikTok? Why are baby names having such a moment?
CS: It all ties back to social media. I think social media has given names a whole new platform and importance as part of one’s personal brand, which sounds a little bit callous. It is a reflection of you and your style. There’s also this industry that has taken off: wooden name signs and onesies with your baby’s name across it or their initials on a knit hat. That’s all taken off as well, and it’s made baby naming this very fun aesthetic process.

I also think it’s following a cultural trend towards celebrating individuality, whereas when we grew up, having an unusual name was seen as “weird” and might’ve been hard. Now, it’s cool to have an uncommon name.

PS: Let’s say someone pulls a Kylie Jenner and doesn’t like the name they chose for their baby. Is it worth changing?
CS: It’s much more common than you think. I think every situation is nuanced and it depends, but I’ve come to believe that it is worth changing if it’s not too late.

PS: What are some of the names that are really popular right now?
CS: “Scottie” for girls is a big one. People are loving gender neutral names for girls, as well as cutesy names, so nicknames as given names. It’s sort of the new “Charlie” for girls, which is now very popular, but I think “Scottie” feels a little more undiscovered. “Esti” could have a moment — it’s still very uncommon, it’s outside the top 1,000, but it falls in line with other trends and Chrissy Teigen used it. She definitely had an influence on “Luna” becoming a top-ten name.

A big trend is vintage comeback names, like “Millie” has gotten really big. “Lottie” would be an example of that. “Daphne” is one that’s not overly common, but I think is a good alternative for classic-sounding girl names that are a little edgier. People are kind of freaking out about the name “Margot,” which is huge. “Rowan” for girls is another gender neutral name that’s definitely on the rise.

For boys, a big trend is surnames as first names. Some of the ones that are more popular would be “Miles” and “Brooks.” One that’s still uncommon, but is gonna be hot is “Rhodes.” “Callahan” and “Banks” are other trendy ones we’re hearing more. Then, we also have these Kardashian names where it’s a word or noun being used as a name: the fastest rising boy name from 2023 is “Chosen.” Modern cowboy names are also pretty big, like “Beau,” “Dutton,” and “Shepherd.”

PS: Which names and trends are on their way out?
CS: I think the sort of “invented” names that end in ly — names like “Everly.” Those names are feeling a little 2010.

PS: Are there any celebrity baby names that you’re particularly fond of?
CS: Sofia Richie just used the name “Eloise Samantha,” and I think it’s refreshing coming from a celebrity. It’s super normal. I really like it. And I’m sorry for people who have “Eloise” on their list.

Hilary Duff just had a girl named “Townes,” and she’s been known to be a little bit of a trendsetter, so we’re gonna have to see what happens with that. She used “Banks” for another one of her daughters, and she has a daughter named “Mae.” I think that’s more my style.

PS: Thoughts on alliteration — yea or nay?
CS: Love.

PS: What is your best piece of advice for parents who might be struggling to decide?
CS: Think about it, but don’t overthink it.

You can’t go in completely unprepared because that causes a lot of the name regret I see, so definitely think about it, but there’s so much overanalyzing now with baby names. I think you need to just get a gut check from somebody. I do recommend sharing. If you don’t wanna tell everybody, just tell one trusted friend or family member.

PS: But what if someone has a strong negative reaction about a name you love? Then you’re always going to know they didn’t love that name.
CS: That’s true, but you’re probably gonna get that reaction regardless. If you have thick skin and you’re fully committed to using a weird name, you just need to be prepared that obviously not everyone’s gonna like it. If you’re somebody who’s very anxious about that and cares about other people’s opinions, then don’t do that.

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