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Freakonomics in Action: Name That Baby

A friend writes:

What you should know about me: I’m a neurotic Manhattan mom. I swore I wouldn’t become one of those, but lo and behold, the kid comes out and you have absolutely no choice. How does this play out? As an example, when my eldest child was applying to pre-school, I had my mother’s cousin, a prominent child psychiatrist, write a letter of reference for my 2-year old daughter!

I was very excited to purchase and read “Freakonomics” when it came out earlier this year. I was an economics major in college and had never seen economic theory being put into practice in quite this way. I was also delighted to read the parenting chapter (oh well, nothing I can do but be grateful I had my children post-30) and the one on baby names. I was pregnant at the time (just gave birth on June 10th) and my husband and I were fascinated to read about the cycle of popularity of kids’ names.

Imagine our horror to find out that the middle name we had chosen — Faith — ranked so low on parent education. Again, being neurotic NY parents, we just couldn’t let that go. We had to choose a new name, but had limited options, since we were naming our daughter for a grandmother whose name started with the letter F. (Her name was Faige, which is Yiddish for bird.)

I shared our plight with Stephen Dubner (our children attend the same nursery school) and he was kind enough to forward a complete list of thousands of names (only a handful made it into the book) so we could choose from a bigger sample. My husband Marshall and I pored over the lists. Faye/Fay ranked high, but Marshall didn’t care for the name. He suggested Tori, which is Hebrew for turtledove, but I couldn’t bear it (couldn’t get away from Tori Spelling — not a role model I’m shooting for). And so it went for the last few weeks of my pregnancy – we just couldn’t agree on a middle name.

With only a day or two to go until delivery, we settled on Robin. It didn’t rank that high either, but we figured we made up for it with her first name, Ilana, which scored quite high.

The story doesn’t end just yet. On the morning of the 10th, I went into labor and my husband and I rushed to Mt. Sinai hospital on the upper east side. We sat in an examining room for hours while the residents tried to figure out if I was actually in labor and would deliver that day. While we sat there, we heard the couple in the next bed batting around boys’ names. They were cutting it closer to the wire than we had!

After eavesdropping for a few minutes, Marshall got up to go to the bathroom. He came back with a big smile on this face. Turns out they were reading names out of a book – “Freakonomics”! I wonder if the authors knew when they sat down to write it that this book would serve a very important purpose for neurotic pregnant parents.

Beth Balsam