Using Brand Labels in Baby Names

Using Brand Labels in Baby Names

by Michelle Kaminsky, Esq., December 2009

Forget that baby name book. Just take a look around at your car, your suit label, your perfume, or even your canned vegetables if you need a name for your new little commodity, er, bundle of joy. So is the philosophy of an increasing numbers of American parents who are shunning "Michael" and "Emily" in favor of even more widely recognized names like "Armani" and "Del Monte."

Perhaps inspired by his own first name, Cleveland Evans, a psychology professor at BellevueUniversity and member of the American Name Society, has been studying baby names for 25 years. When the Social Security Administration released a list of names registered in 2000, Evans noticed an interesting trend. Americans are turning to their favorite brand names to brand their children—with names, that is.

What are the main sources of names? Well, for starters, Americans love their cars. This is clear by children's names like Infiniti, Celica, Acura, Corvette, Camry, and Chevy. However, the clear winner in this race is Lexus. This name appeared about 1800 times, with various spellings, in Social Security records from 2000. At this rate, little girls named Lexus, Lexxus, and Lexis will outnumber familiar favorites like Jennifer and Hannah in no time.

Of course, looking at names on a list doesn't tell us why parents chose certain names. Harley may or may not refer to Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and Jameson can honor Irish whiskey, an Irish grandfather, neither, or both.

Clothing designers have also proved they rule more than just the runways. Now, you can find famous brands on playgrounds near you. In addition to Armani, you may encounter a child-sized Halston, Dior, Nautica, or Timberland. Staying in the sounding-good-means-looking-good department, parents have also turned to beauty products like L'Oreal and Breck. Perfumes are another product source for names: Chanel, Eternity, and Chloe.

Many of the new names have an aura of exclusivity. But other names simply advertise parents' more banal choices like preferred airline (Delta), furniture store (Ikea), bottled water (Evian), hotel (Hyatt), car rental (Avis), and even television station (ESPN). There were actually two ESPNs, both boys, listed in the records.

The liquor cabinet and the tap are also sources of inspirations, with babies named Hennessy, Killian, and Ronrico.

Of course, looking at names on a list doesn't tell us why parents chose certain names. Harley may or may not refer to Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and Jameson can honor Irish whiskey, an Irish grandfather, neither, or both.

But how do we explain the trend toward product labels as baby names? Evans cites two major reasons. The first one is just to be different. Parents want their children to stand out, and this, they believe, starts from their children's names. The McDaniels in Duluth, Minnesota followed this theory in naming their daughter, Meridian. Wanting their daughter "to be a real individual," the McDaniels took company loyalty to an extreme. They named their daughter for office phone products sold by Nortel Networks, Meridian's father's employer.

The second reason, according to Evans, is that parents are pinning their hopes on their children by giving them designer birth certificates. That is to say, if you've always wanted a Porsche and you happen to have a child on the way—wish granted! Evans notes this is "no different from the 19th century when parents named their children Ruby or reflects their aspirations."

Just as Evans says, parents have been creatively generating children's names for years. Mercedes, for instance, has been a fairly popular girls' name for decades. Basketball player Elgin Baylor was reportedly named after his father's favorite watch brand. And as early as 1900, one little girl, whose father was a local representative of the New York Life Insurance Company, was named "Nylic." Get it?

The turn toward products is only one of a few naming trends in recent years. Other naming trends have parents naming their newborns after places, popular culture figures and fictional characters. Also, parents are creating new names or altering the spelling of traditional names.

Business branding expert Lucian Jones keenly observes the problem in using product labels for baby naming, though: the child becomes associated with the brand, scandals and all. Jones quips, "I'd hate to think that somebody named their kid Enron four years ago."

Now, a quick quiz based on what you've read: You're at a party and need a drink. Is it safe to assume that you will receive cognac when you do your P. Diddy impression and ask someone to "Pass the Courvoisier?"

The answer, of course, is a resounding "no." There are at least six little boys who may end up in your waiting arms instead.