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I'm a baby name consultant. Here's how I help new parents choose the perfect names

I've been obsessed with baby names since I was a kid — now, it's turned into a profession.

I have been completely obsessed with baby names for as long as I can remember. When I was 8 or 9, my sister and I would write in our diaries, but instead of writing about feelings or crushes, we wrote down ... lists and lists of baby names we liked.

Now, I make everybody talk with me about baby names. I think about names when I’m going to bed — call it my version of meditation. We do a beach family reunion every year, and every year, it’s like, “OK, who’s pregnant? Let’s talk baby names.”

A few years ago, I began to see articles here and there about baby name consultants. I couldn’t believe it was a real job — I used to list it as my dream job in the game MASH. I’d already done some unofficial consultations for friends, which allowed me to put my years of baby name knowledge to use, and I got some really good feedback.

I decided to launch my own business, Naming Bebe, around January 2022, when I was on maternity leave with my daughter. It started pretty small, as a fun hobby alongside my job as a nurse practitioner when I returned to work. But then I started sharing consultations on TikTok. And this year? Oh my gosh, I can’t keep up. I haven’t watered my plants in months.

What’s in a baby name?

People feel immense pressure to choose the right name these days. The generation of people having babies now — let’s say they were born in the '80s and '90s, for the most part, and that was when you had a lot of duplicates and even triplets in the same class, like the Jennifers and Matthews. A lot of people don’t want their kid to have the same name as two or three other kids in class.

I talk to people a lot about popularity — that’s a big concern. But I give them the numbers and explain that popular names aren’t used with the same frequency as they used to be. And I think that settles people’s fears.

Colleen Slagen, baby namer
In addition to being a baby name consultant, Colleen Slagen is a nurse practitioner and a mom of two in the Boston area.Courtesy Colleen Slagen

People feel like the name they choose starts their child’s reputation, almost like it could be predictive of who they could become, so I think that’s part of the pressure, too. And nobody wants their kid to be made fun of for their name, so that’s another component.

Culturally, there’s more emphasis on being unique and standing out than there used to be. A lot of parents identify with that, and that’s why unique names have become more popular. It makes me think of the personalization of the wedding industry — you have to choose just the right bridesmaid gifts, get the customized welcome sign. It’s a reflection of your style. Just like how you decorate your home, and how you dress. Names come with a vibe and an aesthetic and people want that aesthetic to match their own personal style.

Names come with a vibe and an aesthetic and people want that aesthetic to match their own personal style.

And now, with social media, a lot of people are announcing their baby’s name to more people than they would have prior to social media, when it would have just been your inner circle of friends and family. So there’s a desire to put forward this beautiful name that stands out, that you haven’t seen a million times on your feed. And, I don’t want to say it’s like you’re branding a baby, but there’s more excitement with it now. People are having more fun with it. Kicking around ideas with a baby name consultant is a fun experimental aspect of preparing for a baby. On the flip side, I’ve had a handful of people come to me with name regret, wanting to change their baby’s name. That’s always kind of sad — as a parent, postpartum is already hard enough, and if you don’t feel good about your baby’s name, you may feel completely preoccupied by it. Several of those people have said, “I wish I said the name out loud before I used it.” And after the baby’s born, they just feel like it’s not right.

What does a baby name consultant do?

People book one of my packages (starting at $250) through my website, and I send them a questionnaire to better understand their naming preferences.

It has questions like: What are your top contenders right now? Why don’t they feel right? What are the names that you like, but your partner has vetoed, and vice versa? Are any names off limits? Do you have any preferences around the phonetics of the name? As in, you don’t want it to end in a certain sound, or you want a certain number of syllables. Maybe your last name starts with an S and you don’t want the first name to end in an S. Some people like alliteration; some people don’t. What are your preferences around popularity?

Some people keep it brief. Some people write me a novel. People can get very specific — I had somebody who wanted a component of figurative language built into the name, so either assonance, consonance or alliteration, something that gave the name a poetic element to it. I encourage people to give me as much information as possible.

And then I get to work. I do have a big repository of baby names in my head at this point, but I also have baby-name books I still reference. I use the Social Security Administration site for popularity data. I do a lot of Googling, and I have a few other tricks up my sleeve. Recently I had a client who wanted a middle name that had some significance to places she and her partner had lived, like Berlin. So I was researching like crazy trying to find names that were connected to these places that they had lived in — looking at street names, monument names, flora and fauna that are notable in each area. I can really go down some rabbit holes.

I send them everything in a video or a Google doc. Each name has a short analysis — its popularity, its meaning, why I think it would be a good fit for them. And I also give them feedback on their name list; that’s a big piece for a lot of people. Especially because people often don’t share their chosen name with anybody before they have the baby. Because if you start telling friends and family, you’re going to get 50 different opinions. But then you start to get in your head — is this a good name?! — and you want an objective opinion. So that’s what I try to provide.

Of course there are names that I don’t like. But I’d still suggest them if I feel like they’re the right fit. I try not to let my biases play into the consultation, and I really try to come up with a list that meets the parents’ criteria and what they’re going for. Not every list is going to be the list I would choose. Sometimes parents ask for my honest opinion and in that case, I’m happy to give it!

I would tell parents who are worried about choosing a good name to do their research. Figure out the things that are really important to you, but don’t overthink it. There are a hundred thousand ideas out there, a hundred thousand opinions. Stick to your gut, and don’t let outside influence sway you too much. I think that’s what is creating a lot of this anxiety or hesitation with names today — seeing a negative opinion about that name and then overthinking everything. Try not to let that outside noise affect you too much.

People ask me if I ever get sick of talking about baby names. What a ludicrous question! That was actually a fear of mine when I first started this, but so far, so good! It’s not monotonous work; everybody is coming to you with a new challenge. There are so many names out there; there are always going to be new trends to keep up with. I’m really still in a pinch-me phase. My 8-year-old self would faint if she saw me now! 

As told to Rheana Murray