6 Ways to Pick a Baby Name That Will Make Your Child A Success

Gabrielle Karol

Baby NamesBaby Einstein and Baby Mozart may promise to make your little one smarter, but your child’s success could also be determined by one little thing that won’t cost a cent: the right first name.

Studies have shown a relationship between names and résumé success, the types of career paths chosen—even whether or not a child will be recognized as gifted early on in school.

And let’s be honest—talking about names is just plain fun.

To find out the names that are most likely to ensure future success academically, professionally and, eventually, financially, we spoke to Pamela Redmond Satran, co-creator of Nameberry, a baby-naming site based on the ten books she co-authored with Linda Rosenkrantz.

Here are the six things Satran says matter most when it comes to naming a future billionaire/CEO/President of the United States—or whatever title you attribute success to.

1. Think About the Unique Factor

“Names that are unusual can be an advantage, especially in creative businesses and fields. Names that would get your child noticed in Hollywood or the art world are often unique and stand out on their own,” says Satran.

The New York Times reports that many parents are now doing a quick Google search of their child’s potential first name and last name to see how common the combination is (not to mention whether the name already belongs to a “serial killer, pornography star or sex offender”).

Choosing a unique name will ensure your child will eventually rise to the “top of future search results,” writes The Times. So it stands to reason that doing a quick Google search for potential name combinations to make sure there aren’t 1,000 other prominent people with the same name could be beneficial. If it turns out that there are, it might be a good idea to consider choosing another favorite first name on your list.

One thing to avoid? Creating your own variation on the name through unconventional spelling choices. “Olivia’s a popular name, so you see some parents creating variations, like ‘Alyvia,’” says Satran. “This is basically never a good idea. People will always be misspelling your child’s name, and they’ll assume that you, as the parent, didn’t know how to spell the name correctly … which doesn’t reflect well on you or your child.”

2. Pick a Name Without Ethnic or Cultural Associations

“Traditional names likes Caitlin, Claire, William and Henry are not necessarily associated with a particular class or ethnic group and are socially acceptable to a wider range of people,” says Satran. “This makes them easier to understand in a corporate setting.”

Additionally, a study published in the American Economic Review titled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal?” found that applicants with names perceived to be more common in the black community received 50% fewer callbacks after sending résumés than applicants who sent out identical résumés with “white-sounding” names. It’s regrettable, we agree, but we’re just reporting the facts.

3. Check out the ‘Most Popular’ Lists—Then Avoid Those Names

“Choosing a name at the top of the ‘Most Popular’ lists is an effective way to sidestep the prejudices against an ‘ethnic’ name,” says Satran, as those names transcend class, cultural and racial boundaries, but she actually advises that mothers-to-be avoid those names.

“One negative effect is that very popular names tie your child to a certain time period, leaving them subject to ageism,” she says. “People will assume that they’re either young, hurting them at the beginning of their career, or old, hurting them later on.”

This effect is easy to understand: If you heard that you were going to meet a woman named Tiffany or Jennifer, would you imagine a woman in her teens, 30’s or 50’s? Chances are, you would guess 30’s … and you’d stand a good chance of being right, as these names were some of the most popular for babies born in the 1980’s. Check out the most popular lists for 2011 here.

4. Consider Masculine Names for Girls …  But Don’t Give Your Son a Feminine Name.

Satran points to a study by Professor David Figlio of Northwestern University that observed sisters who were both naturally good at math and sciences. “Girls with more androgynous names were more likely to study math and science than girls with more conventionally feminine or frilly names,” she said.

Considering that engineering, science, and computers and mathematics are some of the best majors for steady work and high earnings, a more masculine name for a girl could really pay off in the long run. Additionally, a study from Clemson University showed that women with more traditionally male names made more successful lawyers and judges than women with more feminine names.

The reverse (giving your son a more feminine or androgynous name) proves to be a less successful tactic. Figlio, the same author of the study mentioned above, found in a separate study that boys with names like Ashley, Shannon, Jamie and Courtney were more likely to have behavioral problems in middle school.

5. Seek Out Positive Initials (or, at the Very Least, Avoid Negative Initials)

“Positive initials are initials that spell out a word that we associate with something good,” says Satran. “This could be something like G.O.D.,” or A.C.E., H.U.G., J.O.Y., etc.  Negative initials spell “bad” words, like A.S.S., P.I.G. or D.I.E.

Satran warns parents to avoid negative initials, pointing to studies like the one published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research that showed that males with negative initials died almost 3 years earlier than control subjects, while men with positive initials lived nearly 4.5 years longer. For women, positive initials led to an almost 3.5 year increase in longevity (negative initials were not found to have an effect on female subjects).

6. Don’t Forget About Baby’s Siblings

To ensure that your child has the most harmonious experience growing up, think about how your baby’s name will fit in with his or her siblings’ names. “Names should be distinct enough so that the child feels like an individual but compatible with his siblings’ names,” says Satran. “Jane and John and Joan may be overly matchy-matchy, but having some unity of style and feeling can promote family unity, which is usually a positive.”

  • Christina Loveless

    The names cited as traditional and “not necessarily associated with a particular class or ethnic group” are actually very WASP in origin. The majority are in the British royal family as a matter of fact

    • lyzl

      Yeah, I noticed that too. Racism is alive and well.

  • Katie H.

    But when your child has an ethnic last name (i.e. “Morales”, “Rodriguez”, etc.), you’re already at a disadvantage.  My husband is Puerto Rican and has a very biblical (and white-sounding) first name.  He also has a Bachelor’s Degree.  Nonetheless, when he applied for an administrative position in a large company, he was told that the position was filled, but that they were looking for janitors!!!  He found out later from a friend who worked there that the entire janitorial staff was Hispanic and there were no people of color in management positions.  *smh*  We gave our daughter his mother’s middle name since we knew that no matter what, we couldn’t “escape” her ethnic last name :(

  • Chris

    I’m sorry, but this article is kind of silly. Who chooses a baby name based on some asinine studies? And to go so far as to neglect your ethnic origin, just to perpetuate or corporate westernization? Come on…

  • Sheila

    Not only do the ethnic studies make me sad, but so do the gender studies (I.e. Men are more valuable in our culture, so name both your boys and girls male-sounding names. But do not, under any circumstances, tell your boys that women are also valuable by giving them female-sounding names). And by giving into these pressures, don’t we perpetuate these problems? Wouldn’t a Courtney (male) or a Lakisha who is taught by good parents to fight these stereotypes and grows up to be President go a tremendous way toward changing these racist and sexist ideas?

    • jdock

      Afterall, our President’s mom named her baby Barack.

  • Lisette

    I agree about the ethnic last names, no way to change that, but we chose names that meant something for our children, but happened to be on the popular list…so far my kids have not received any racism other than mispronounced names in their feminine companions and or being called Hector(for Victor) With Victor being the only ethnic first name as well in my children, I make it a point to remind him that a Victor is successful, victorious, ambitious and strong, without being arrogant or cocky. And at 18, it has worked, manager of a fast food chain, while attending college. His goals are tremendous and he strives to do the best(not perfect) that he can do. So even though his ethnic name, both first and last, he has tried not to let it affect him. It’s all about perception. If you perceive yourself as successful, you will be successful regardless of the name you were born with.

    • your_truly

      True indeed