No Liams Noahs Olivers Please
I Hired A TikTok Baby Name Consultant
I love names! I’ve kept a list since I can remember. So why did my partner and I need help with what to call our son?
Once the TikTok algorithm determined that I was pregnant, my feed was flooded with videos titled “Things No One Told Me About Pregnancy.” I watched every single one, ready as I was to invite horror into my anxious brain. But it turns out I was already well prepared. I don’t know if it’s because I had asked my friends a lot of intrusive questions, or the nature of the internet, or my lifelong obsession with becoming a mother, but nothing about pregnancy really caught me by surprise. Not lightening crotch (it feels like it sounds), not the 50% extra blood pumping through my arteries, not acting like a dead beetle when I needed to roll over or sit up in bed. The experiences were new, but not exactly surprising.
Here’s what astonished me: how difficult it was to decide on a baby name.
I love names. I pay so much attention to names! Name trends have always fascinated me, and it’s so special when a name has satisfying alliteration, comes with a story, or has generations-long significance. Since I was a teenager, I’ve kept a mental list of names I loved, adding to it over the years.
What I had forgotten in the decades hence is that there would be a partner involved in choosing a name for an actual, non-hypothetical baby. Someone who got to weigh in, and have veto power, whose opinion I value over all others, and who might disagree with me. When it came time to share my list with my husband, it felt not unlike discussing our finances back when our relationship got serious: unbearably vulnerable and strangely embarrassing.
We learned he didn’t like any of my names, and I didn’t like any of his.
I became more attuned to the ebb and flow of name fads than ever before, learning that every preschool will soon be overrun with boys named Rhodes, Hayes, Silas, and Rowan.
I had truly never considered this possibility, and didn’t know how to handle it. We tried coming at it from a few different avenues: identifying common “values” around a name, agreeing on a vibe and level of trendiness, and deciding that it would have to pass the “future president or CEO?” test of seriousness. Once we learned we were expecting a boy, we went through the Social Security Administration’s top 1,500 most popular boy names one by one, noting monikers we agreed on, and arriving at… three.
What a wild and thorny responsibility it is to choose a name. Something special, meaningful, interesting, pleasant-sounding, which our son will bear for his entire life (or until he’s old enough to go to a courthouse).
Amid these distinctly emotional discussions, I started noticing another TikTok phenomenon: baby name experts. The same bright-eyed, Midwestern-seeming, Hermione-vibing “experts” and consultants would appear again and again, offering up lists of “ethereal girl names” or “cowboy boy names,” names out of the top 2,000, and names from Spain and Denmark, as well as ideas for sibling pairs. They would lay out both sides of the debate over purposefully choosing outdated names, and lay out warnings about “boy names you may not know are trendy.”
I became more attuned to the ebb and flow of name fads than ever before, learning that every preschool will soon be overrun with boys named Rhodes, Hayes, Silas, and Rowan and that Freya is the name every millennial woman thinks they dreamt up personally. I have known for months that Wren is about to skyrocket, so it was no surprise to me when Chrissy Teigen chose it for her fourth in June.
These expert women (and it’s all women) with the biggest followings could all be hired for a personal baby name consultation, typically for around $150 to $250. At a time when I was routinely dropping money for items I didn’t understand but was told I needed — a sterilizer, bottle warmer, nipple pads? — the price seemed unexpectedly reasonable, especially if it might help me solve the issue that had consumed my unconscious brain and search history for the last six months. It’s about the same amount I routinely pay for a therapy session.
I reached out to a few of these people semi-ironically. Ha ha ha, a TikTok baby name consultant. But also, please help me.
The first step in the process quickly disabused me of the notion that I might be a singular neurotic, and that these experts were anything to joke about. I contacted the first in mid-May for my early July due date, and a standard warning on her questionnaire alerted me that I was likely too late; she had a six- to eight-week turnaround time and didn’t release her next avails until the first of the month, like a hot restaurant with impossible reservations. I spent an hour filling out the questionnaire but still haven’t heard from her. With another, I contacted her business manager (yes, business manager) and was told she’d reach out if she had availability. Still waiting for her, too.
Despite my warning her that I genuinely didn’t think it was possible to suggest a name I hadn’t considered, her 10 suggestions included several delights.
Finally, I was granted mercy in the form of Colleen, also known as Naming Bebe. Her turnaround time is also roughly a month, but she agreed to take me on as a rush, nine days before my due date. Filling out her questionnaire was a truly soothing exercise that also made me realize how far off the deep end I’d gone: Over the course of a mere 1,413 words, I told her the name needed to be two or more syllables, to balance my husband’s short surname; that it couldn’t be a noun or adjective, since his surname is a noun; that it shouldn’t be too Judeo-Christian; that I dislike the rock-star vibes of Jagger, Axel, Maddox, and the brigade of Brayden, Jaden, Caden, and Jaxson; that alliteration, assonance, and consonance with the surname was important; that it should have a cool etymology or be related to an inspiring historical figure; that it shouldn’t be too cutesy or childish; that my son should sound like a “poetic, kind gentleman you can trust, and a solid person and friend.” Bonus points for good nickname potential.
I sent off this utter inanity to poor Colleen, who observed that she might have met her match in terms of obsession. But the day before my due date, she sent a five-page consultation that I received with a Christmas-morning thrill. First, she listed all my requirements and our vetoes. Then, she provided a paragraph of analysis for each of our top five names, discussing their trendiness levels, since that was so important to me. Next came a long section explaining how name popularity has changed: There is significantly more variety of names these days, so even the most common ones of recent years (your Lunas and Liams, Olivers and Olivias) aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as Jennifer was in the 1970s, say. Colleen then suggested 10 names for us, with bullet points alerting us to which requirements they ticked off, and a paragraph of explanation for why she further felt it a good fit. It ended with a bonus page of names in categories she’d deduced we desired, like creative/literary (Atticus, Ambrose, Tristan, Malcolm, Winslow, Soren) and vintage charm (Dean, Winston, Thatcher).
Despite my warning her that I genuinely didn’t think it was possible to suggest a name I hadn’t considered, her 10 suggestions included several delights: Davis, because of its Davey nickname potential, old-school vibes, and steady popularity outside the top 300. Nelson, because he sounded like a cool cat and offered internal alliteration with my husband’s surname. Hugo, for its “universally familiar but not overly common” quality and because it sounded so soft and literary. Merrick, because it was refined and worldly, though I couldn’t have my son associated with Merrick Garland never making it to the Supreme Court.
My husband and I sat with these well-researched, carefully chosen new selections, talking through their merits but ultimately rejecting them all. The most powerful part of Colleen’s presentation was actually her point about name popularity in this day and age, her reminder that boys’ names tend to be less trend-driven than girls’, and her suggestion to choose a name that was simply consistent over time so it wouldn’t be too “timestamped” in our era.
In other words, what Colleen gave us — OK, perhaps just me — was peace of mind. When our baby arrived just one day after her PDF had, we selected the name we had ranked first in our list of favorites to her, the one we had been using consistently when we spoke aloud to my abdomen: Logan. The one that was in our hearts all along, even as I fretted about looking at more, more, more. A sweet but solid-sounding name, it has the charming etymology of “small hollow,” a satisfying rhythm with my husband’s surname, and a Gaelic-Scottish origin that my towering Irish grandfather would have adored. Logan sounds like a handsome, easygoing, friendly guy. And so far, he is.
Kaitlin Menza is a freelance writer who often covers women’s issues, politics, and pop culture. She has written for the New York Times, the Guardian, New York magazine, Marie Claire, Vogue, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and many more. After living in New York for 13 years, she moved to Taipei in 2022. You can read more of her work at kaitlinmenza.com.