Dear Bruce: How does “branding” affect the selection of a name for your baby?

Dear Bruce, 

You’ve been quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying: “We live in a marketing-oriented society. People who understand branding know that when you pick the right name, you’re giving your child a head start.” How does “branding” affect the selection of a name for your baby?


Bruce: Some names identify your child to people in a positive way; some names identify your child to people in a negative way. Mention the name Bertha, and many people instantly think “Big Bertha”—to some extent because of Callaway’s Big Bertha drivers. Mention Tiffany, and many people instantly think of elegance and good taste—to a large extent due to the image and reputation of Tiffany & Co. From these two examples, you can see that a product name and/or corporate name may or may not produce a strong name for babies.

For example, most people would agree that selecting a name like iPod, ESPN, IBM, General Electric, or FedEx would not be a good choice for either a boy or girl. On the other hand, Lauren may remind people of Ralph Lauren, which projects the image of an attractive, well dressed person with good (and expensive) taste. Ditto for Ashley, which projects a similar image based on the Laura Ashley brand of clothing.

But there’s more to “branding” than associating your child with a commercial product or company name. When you select a name for your child, you are associating your child with the current image of that name—an image that often is influenced by a famous celebrity or newsmaker or historical figure. For example, the name Bridget may call to mind fictional character Bridget Jones, a lovable, if neurotic, “singleton.” Elvis may call to mind Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll who was also known for excesses toward the end of his life. Same goes for Britney, a name that’s strongly associated with Britney Spears, whose image has gone downhill in recent years, thanks to her well-publicized lack of self-control.

In other words, you can choose a name that’s associated with a commercial product or corporation, a name that’s associated with a famous individual, a name that’s associated with a place (e.g., the name Paris is associated both with a charming city in France and yet another out-of-control celebrity whose adventures have landed her in jail), a name that’s associated with nature (e.g., Crystal), or a name associated with a value (e.g., Grace or Joy).When people learn the name of your child, the first thing they’ll think about are their own associations, thoughts, and/or feelings about that name.

Of course, there are lots of other factors parents need to consider when naming their child: how the name fits with their last name, what nicknames are likely to be used, what the initials will be, whether the name can be easily spelled and pronounced, whether the name’s gender association is clear or confusing, and so on. But after considering these and other factors, the ultimate choice should be based on the best interest of the child.

To find a name for your child that will give him or her a head start in life, parents need to know how the names they’re considering come across to others. Marketing people depend on this knowledge when they select names for new products and new companies they’re launching—and so should parents.

If you’d like to submit a question, please leave it in the comments section here.  

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

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