A Google-Wrinkle in the Name Game

Here’s a new twist to our ongoing discussion of child-naming: The Wall Street Journal reports that new parents may be choosing more “unique” names for their children in the interest of making them more prominent in Google searches. While a name like “Jason Smith” is easily swallowed up in the search-engine depths, a first name like “Kohler” or “Stella” is more likely to land your kid on the front search page.

It’s true that “Google-ability” can be valuable in everything from dating to job hunting to marketing your brand or product. But, just as women with “distinctively black” names wound up just as well off as women with more traditional names, will a “Kohler” really have much of an advantage (beyond working in a kitchen-and-bath store, of course) over a “Jason”? If so, then we’re going to see a revolution in the power of Google to influence a life. Either way, it should be interesting to see what names tech-savvy parents come up with over the next decade or so.


deckard1982

I would have thought that people would have wanted to make Google searches of their kids' names more difficult.

egretman

The egretman is not worried. His chicks are unplugged. Incongnito. Un-chipped. Unwired in every sense of the word.

toner

Even better than google is the baby name wizard.
http://babynamewizard.com/namevoyager/lnv0105.html

hunterwalk

I've got a unique name (Hunter Walk) but not so hot when it comes to search engines given that it's comprised of two common words. Thus I advertise against my name as a query in order to ensure folks can find me.

I've also talked with parents who think this Google phenomena is a perfect reason to select an amazingly nondescript Google name so their kid won't be at the top of the rankings. My guess is there are three strategies here:
a) generic name: John Smith
b) famous name (since you'll never have more Google juice than a celeb): Cameron Diaz
c) strange name comprised of actual words: Brick House

ep702

Isn't unique identification what last names are for? I have a traditional first name, a dictionary word as the middle name and my unique German family name last. That makes me no. 1 in Google searches anytime. If anything I'd prefer to pick a classic firstname and if my last name was Smith maybe change it to something awesome and unique...

furiousball

Perhaps I shouldn't have named my son after myself then, Van Kapeghian is totally a high Googleable..ity..ness...itude name.

bertine

I am not sure how helpful having a really "Google-able" name is. I have a very unique name, both first name and last name. If you put my first name into Google I am about half of the results on the first page and if my last name is added it all the results are me.

Now, I have been on the internet for years and when I was younger I didn't think about aliases at all and I have a really easily findable history on the web. I am lucky, I didn't write anything that is embarrassing but that isn't because I was careful.

The big advantages to having a unique first name is that I rarely have to worry about my preferred username being taken and my secondary one is never taken. However, being in the habit of using your first name for a user name means that everything is tracked right back to you.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I agree with hunterwalk and would think about naming my child a little less uniquely so they don't end up so high in search rankings.

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mjturtell

I wonder if someone has already named their kid Google, "Google Smith." It wouldn't help searchability, but it'd cement Google's profound influence on our culture.

meomaxy

My high school class is planning a reunion, and I am helping locate classmates primarily through Google. For some classmates, the search takes two seconds. Sometimes it takes a little creativity adding a city, college or profession. Others have names so common that there is almost no chance of success. It's also fun reporting back to the class, here is the current address for such-and-such, and by the way, here is her marathon time from 1995.

mattykremer

I would argue the trend towards "unique" names for new children IS impacted by Google, et. al, but not in the manner suggested.

The reason new parents are choosing unique names for their children is the easy availability to find the "Top 10" and other rankings of current baby names. 10-20 years ago, a Top 10 Baby Name list would be announced once a year in the mass media - today, one can find this information from a variety of sources, 24 hours a day.

10 years ago, parents didn't know that millions of other parents were naming their children Michael and Emily. Today, new parents (like myself) can know full well that their child will be one of millions of Jacobs and Emmas in their graduating class.

711buddha

A completely Freakonomics based post, devoid of any political influence.

Sweet!

Interesting too.

jyb

Saw this the other day:

http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2068023,00.html

Essentially, girls with more feminine names are less likely to pursue math.

egretman

A completely Freakonomics based post, devoid of any political influence.

Are you kidding? All the red-necked nascar names are totally on the outs this year.

scottso

Actually, I think this is part of a broader pattern seen in the WSJ lately. They write articles about "trends" that have absolutely no data to back them up.

I suspect a reporter has a friend who tells him about something the reporter finds interesting, and it gets extrapolated to an full-length story. And really there's nothing newsworthy contained within.

Is there any proof that parents beyond the one couple noted in the story are Google'ing for baby names?

bens

then again, one could sniff that 'search' is a brutish means of identifying any intellectual object of one's desire, and that Google's crude 'gimmickry' will be obsolete inside of a generation anyway.

CivilianJones

Well, I'm going to name my daughter Podkayne because I'm a Heinlein fan. I'd give her a normal middle name she could use, if she wanted to.

The first step, of course, is finding a fertile female who would be willing to have sex with me and name our daughter "Podkayne".

Taed

My name is pretty freakin' unique and I'm just so positive that I'm the only one in the world. I belive I'm one of only 5 or so "Taed"s in the US, and I also believe that we're the only family with the last name Wynnell. My last name was invented when me and my wife merged our last names when we got married, however it turns out that it's a semi-common Irish female first name. Our son also has an invented name (Keb), but we discovered later that it's a not-uncommon name in Ethiopia. (And yes, Keb' Mo', but he also invented his name; his real name is Kevin Moore.)

I like having a unique, but not "wacky", name because I like the uniqueness and it's memorable. On the other hand, both my first and last names get mis-spelled a lot!

I seriously wanted to give my son the middle name "Danger" -- so that he could say "Danger is my middle name" -- but sadly, my wife vetoed it.

And "Ender" also made the short list for first names, but she was worried he'd be called "RearEnder" in school.

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Laurie

Yes, I think giving a child a less distinctive name could be a real gift in the Internet-search world; s/he might appreciate the increased privacy it affords, later in life. I graduated from high school in 1994, and I am grateful that my years on high school newspaper were just barely pre-Internet. I would not like everyone in the world to be able to pull up all my HS opinion columns online for the rest of my life.

My name in HS was not particularly distinctive--any HS friends who Google me might be surprised to find that I became a math professor, among other possibilities with the same name--but when I married my husband and I hyphenated our last names, so that now we, and our young daughter, have unique names. Since my husband's a journalist and mentions our daughter in his writing, she already has quite a Google record. I hope she does not resent this later in life when her classmates are looking her up in the school library.

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jaylake

Google-ability can be a real issue. I'm a science fiction and fantasy author, and have a name which very easy to hear, remember, and spell, but still fairly unusual -- there are less than ten other people with my name who turn up in Google searches at all. I also have a Google footprint thousands of hits wide, due to my active role in my literary field, as well as my prolific blogging. This effectively disappears all the other Jay Lakes out there, but it makes it easy for fans, critics, friends and (yes) potential dates to find me.

So you could say I have First Mover Advantage in Google-ability for my particular name.

xnonymous

If Google has the same influence in 18 years that it has now, we're all gonna be in trouble.