How Two Cognitive Scientists Named Their Babies

I found an extremely intelligent and well-written article in the form of an NPR blog by Tania Lombrozo that discusses the process two cognitive scientists used to name their two children. Since she is one of the scientists and her husband is other, she writes with conviction and confidence about a process she claims worked effectively and efficiently for the purpose intended.

I was impressed by the large number of comments written by readers of this particular blog post. Most of them were upset that Lombrozo referred to her two children as Baby #1 and Baby #2 instead of disclosing the names she and her spouse came up with. But a few commenters realized that the whole point of the article was that the “Lombrozo Baby Naming Method” will produce different results for different people, so it doesn’t matter if you like or dislike the two names they came up with for their children. What matters is that the method she followed worked well for her because it was based on criteria that were important for Lombrozo and her husband.

In this post I’m going to summarize their process so you can consider taking a similar approach. I trust you won’t be angry at me because Lombrozo chose not to disclose the names she and her spouse chose for their children. With me as a buffer, you can focus on her process and her claim that both parents are pleased with the names they selected.

The First Step of Data Collection:
-Peruse lists of baby names on websites.
-Investigate meanings and origins.
-Look up name frequencies.
-Pick favorites and solicit feedback from family members (to check for cultural associations or meanings in other languages).

Second Step of Data Collection:
-Browse academic research to find out how names affect bearers.
-Use a crowdsourcing platform to discover whether a few dozen strangers have strong feelings about any of the names tested and to discover what respondents imagine to be the personality and the nationality, ethnic or religious background of people with each name tested.

The Final Stage of Data Collection:
-Each spouse rates the couples’ favorite names based on how well they think each name would fit or work for:
-a Nobel laureate in science
-a rock star
-the secretary general of the United Nations
-a CEO
…using those ratings to calculate a career potential index for each name.

Most parents aren’t quite so well organized about the baby-naming process. The Lombrozos are to be commended for coming up with a data-collection process likely to yield useful results.

Here are some of the ideas I like best:

1. They verbalized the importance of coming up with names that would “open doors” rather than “close doors” for their children.

2. They took steps to determine the cultural associations family members and strangers had with the names they liked best—using an open-ended approach (e.g., “How would you describe a person who has this name _____?”. And they asked whether any of their respondents had strong feelings about any of the names (as a way of looking for strong positives or negatives). That way, they could avoid names which might not be appropriate for their children and which had strong negatives associated with them.

3. They selected a few possible careers for their children and tried to imagine how the names might work for each career path. Not knowing whether their child might be a CEO, a diplomat, a scientist or a rock star, they tried to imagine how their favorite names might work for each of those possibilities.

Most of the readers who commented about their article were upset that Lombrozo didn’t share the names they came up with by using this process. Precisely what they named their children is irrelevant because if you use the same process, you will undoubtedly come up with different names because you and your spouse are probably not cognitive scientists and probably don’t have the same ethnic/national/religious background as Lombrozo and her spouse.

For example, you would undoubtedly pick different “favorite names” to investigate during the “first step of data collection.” Hence crowd sourcing during the “second step of data collection” would produce different results. And, the “final step of data collection” would undoubtedly consider a different group of names for a different group of careers.

This summary, as well as the link to Lombrozo’s article, will help you think about the process of selecting a name for your baby in an intelligent manner—whether you follow the same approach I’ve outlined or come up with your own unique approach.

P.S. I wouldn’t have found this article if it hadn’t been for Tina Ray @raytinamu  who just started following me on Twitter. I decided to find out more about her and clicked on an article she sent me about baby naming–which I liked enough to write about Thanks Tina.      

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