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How the internet changed baby naming

How the internet changed baby naming
Latest posts by Keith Lindner (see all)

Before the internet, life was a wild frontier, devoid of endless scrolling and viral challenges. Here’s a playful glimpse into that bygone era, American style:

  • Information was sought after by venturing into mysterious buildings known as “libraries,” where ancient scrolls called books lay waiting to be read. 
  • Socializing involved navigating treacherous terrains known as “parties” or “gathering places,” where people engaged in actual conversations, shared anecdotes, and showcased their dance moves without resorting to filtered selfies or clever hashtags.
  • Finding a long-lost friend or crush required feats of investigation worthy of a detective novel. People had to rely on memory and handwritten address books, leaving messages on answering machines and hoping for callbacks rather than sliding into DMs or swiping right.
  • Discovering new music involved hanging out at record stores, chatting with music aficionados, and browsing through stacks of CDs or vinyl, rather than relying on algorithm-curated playlists or viral TikTok tunes.
  • If you wanted to share your thoughts, you had to put pen to paper or rely on the ancient art of telephony, where you actually dialed a number on a phone with physical buttons and had genuine conversations instead of engaging in endless text exchanges or swiping left and right.
  • And finding a list of names to consider for your baby meant relying on your friends and family maybe a little too much or flipping through newspaper birth announcements rather than crowdsourcing your baby’s name on Instagram from your incredibly loyal followers. 

Ah yes, life before the internet was a wild adventure, a land where boredom roamed free, and patience was a virtue we had no choice but to master.

But then the 90’s arrived and the interwebs became more accessible to everyday people. Moving into the 2000’s, the internet boom was truly underway and everything we knew about naming started to change.

Where did parents get name inspiration before the internet?

Social circles and cultural traditions

This has been the main method of naming around the world for thousands of years. For a long time, only the upper echelons of society could really choose their own names. They then set the rules and norms for naming in their local regions which was followed by everyone else. 

Over time, populations grew and people traveled more. They traded with other cultures and eventually needed a way to tell the difference between people with the same name. Last names started as a way to separate one “John” from another “John.” This is when more people around the world started having more freedom to choose their own names. 

Since the MIddle Ages, many aspects of naming have changed but finding inspiration from your social circles and local cultures never really did. Parents would look to their family, their friends, their church, their local community and choose from that limited naming pool.

Radio and TV pop culture

The 1920’s – 1950’s is widely considered to be the Golden Age of Radio. This was really our first form of mass communication. And during this time people were exposed to all sorts of new things, one of which was names from different places and different cultures.

With the invention of the TV in the 1950’s, people were exposed to an even wider set of names. There weren’t huge movements in naming trends or conventions immediately after these two important moments in time, but you can tell they started having an impact slowly as more diverse names started creeping into the data collected by the Social Security Administration

Newspapers and then eventually name books

Some people would announce the birth of their child in the local newspaper, back when they were a thing. And during this time, one of the godfathers of baby naming, Bruce Lanksy, used to collect those newspapers, comb through them and hand tabulate the names that were being used. 

This was our first glimpse of what names were trending. There were certain demographics where announcing your birth was not culturally significant and other people that simply couldn’t afford it, so even though this was a herculean effort and was amazing data at the time, it was always a bit skewed. 

Bruce ended up writing some of the more famous baby name books of the previous generation (which are still updated regularly). These books were very popular and used by countless parents as they searched for the perfect name to choose for their baby

What did the internet change?

Exposure to a global set of names, preferences, and meanings

The internet connected parents to different people, places, and cultures they had never had exposure to before. They were able to discover names from all over the world that they would have never considered. 

And not only were they able to see the names, they started to understand the meaning, the history and the preferences of others from around the world. This kickstarted a massive change in the way parents chose a name for their baby.

Get feedback from outside your social circle 

For the first time in human history, you could get a meaningful amount of feedback from outside your social circle. Posting in online forums was the first way to do this. 

And it’s now gotten to the stage where parents are letting their social media followers vote to choose the name for their unborn baby. 

Real time trending data

The first name databases came online around 1996, including the Social Security Administrations lists of the most popular names. 

And when this data was open-sourced, you better believe that lots of very smart people began to analyze it like never before. We very quickly had a number of private online communities and businesses pop up that were focused squarely on names and naming trends. 

Over time, these private communities began to amass their own unique datasets that provide an even more real time insight into naming trends that have become more widely available. 

A voice and community

The internet has bestowed a voice, community, and empowerment upon marginalized and underrepresented groups, leading to a profound transformation of our culture

It fostered an environment where embracing diversity and celebrating differences has become increasingly accepted. In the past, individuals who belonged to underrepresented and marginalized classes, such as “geeks” or “freaks” or really anyone that was the victim of bullying, often felt isolated. But the internet changed that. 

Through this newfound connectivity, they found compassion and empathy from others in similar situations. 

Over time, diversity has evolved into something to be proud of and to strive for. And that desire has led to major shifts in naming trends over the last 20-30 years. 

What is the latest technology parents are using?

There are a plethora of websites and mobile apps that many parents are now starting their naming journey with. Most are free to use and provide an almost overwhelming amount of data and information. 

Based on our conversations with lots of parents that have recently gone through the naming process, these tools were almost always involved and were typically involved early on in the process. 

The other tool people are using more and more is Google. If you read our guide on how to choose the perfect name, you will see a few of the things we recommend you use Google for once you’re in the final stages of creating your name list. 

I explored using ChatGPT recently and didn’t find the right solution for what I was looking for but I know this experience will only get better in the coming years and may bring another big shift into how we name our kids in the digital age. 

To wrap things up, I just want to say that whatever path you decide to go down when choosing a name for your little one, we hope it’s an enjoyable one. We know it might be a tricky process for anyone but this is one of those moments you should try to really enjoy. 

Remember, names can be just like a song you might not have really liked at first, but then after you heard 5 more times, you decide that you actually love it. 

So put some effort into thinking about how you (and anyone else involved in the decision) can work together to have some fun and eventually come out the other side with a name that everyone loves. 


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