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Whether our lives are the sum of a million minor decisions or mapped out for us in the stars, our names are the banner under which we first set sail. While babies are the product of biology, baby names are essentially the product of one very long, wild conversation full of surprising emotions, intense negotiation, family pressure, and, above all, the powerful desire to give a child their first individual asset: a name that will carry them through life as safely, successfully and happily as possible. Choosing a baby’s name is, in many ways, our first act of parenting a new child.

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But How Much Is Really Riding on the Baby Name You Choose?

No matter how smoothly the name-choosing goes or how right — or regretful — a baby’s name may ultimately feel, it’s a serious business: To vet a baby name, parents have to contemplate a whole range of future experiences, from the grand — how will it sound prepended by “Dr.” — to the worrisome — just how bully-proof is this name? While there are studies suggesting a correlation between baby names and everything from wealth and longevity to political orientation, names are less a matter of destiny and more a demonstration of the parental willingness to consider everything when it comes to kids. For some parents that means finding strength in tradition, whether that’s rooted in family, history, or global universal appeal. For others, it’s all about differentiation: choosing a name that’s unconventional and ideally unique, a name by which future Google results will deliver only one.

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The New Science of Baby Naming

Over the past few years, sophisticated, algorithm-driven baby-name generators have entered the baby-naming game — these run the gamut from free, data-driven tools to subscription-based services like Nameclouds. In theory, they shepherd parents toward the best names by analyzing everything from data on name popularity from the Social Security Administration to name meaning, possible acronyms, syllable count, and even the risks of alliteration.

Should we outsource important life decisions to algorithms? No. But they can be useful tools that help us to feel our way toward the best name for a new person in the world. In short, choosing a baby name is the perfect onramp to parenthood: full of hope, excitement, anxiety, joy, dread, and unsolicited advice. Baby-name trends come and go, but one thing holds true: Selecting a baby’s name is nothing more and nothing less than an expression of love.

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