Baby Name Bracketology: How to Pick a Baby Name

For my wife and I, picking a baby name is a lot like the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament. We are members of the selection committee who, after months and months of reading baby name books, studying the statistics and checking to see which names lend themselves to the worst nicknames (Art the Fart, Lydia Chlamydia, Liberty the Stripper), assemble a list of names vying to win over our hearts and become our baby's name.

The discussion is often spirited and filled with useful, constructive comments like "That is the dumbest name suggestion I've ever heard in my life." We rule out names of grade school bullies, ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, Hollywood socialites, names your parents have suggested, dogs and, reluctantly, video game characters. (Sorry Luigi and Zelda; I made plays for both of you.) After a full season of debate, we finally settle on a mix of 64 names (32 male, 32 female) that both of us are willing to consider.

Like March Madness, there are perennial powerhouses that make it into the bracket year after year—like William, Joseph, Eric and Michael for boys, and Elizabeth, Sarah, Mary and Jessica for girls. These names carry prestige, have reputable histories and, most likely, are also the name of one of your family members whom will believe you when you say, "Of course we named the kid after you because we love you so much." Though, in all likelihood, you probably named the kid after Jessica Alba.

The new millennium added a few newcomers to the brackets that now show up every year, like Aiden and Jacob and Madison and Emma. These names get points for being trendy and, somehow, lose points for being trendy. I actually don't understand the math in this equation. My wife tries to explain it, but my brain explodes. All I know is that the algorithm she uses seems to only rule out names that I like.

Stupid math.

Next are bubble names, ones that have decent stats and just enough magic to crack the tournament, like Doug, Timothy, Lynn and Melissa. These names held popularity for decades, but thanks to some recruiting violations and your mom having too many friends with these names, they're unlikely to make it past the Sweet 16.

Finally, you have your Cinderella stories—names that your wife never would have allowed into the bracket, but sneaked in via automatic bid because you asked her while she was half asleep. This is also known as "winning the conference tournament." It includes names you've always loved like Marshall and Violet and Bacon and Chiquita. Names you heavily root for that, occasionally, will make a deep run in the bracket. But rarely do these Cinderella teams win the whole thing because, well, your wife eventually wakes up. Still, it's good that they make the tournament because one day when your 17-year-old hates your guts because you won't let her see her favorite band, Rhymes With Truck, in concert, you can look her straight in they eye and say, "Your life could be worse. Your Mom tried to name you Chiquita."

This, as most parents know, is where the real excitement begins. The names are divided in half (by gender) and seeded. Over the course of weeks, names will beat names and winners will come forth. Some will be buzzer beaters while others will be lopsided victories. Names you expect to go far will lose, and names that barely had a chance at first will make their way into the Elite 8. And by the time you make your way to the delivery room, you'll be down to the Final Four. Finally, as you kick people out so your wife can deliver your baby, one winner will emerge from each side of the bracket—one boy name and one girl name—and the championship rests on the gender of the baby.

Then the beautiful baby is born and, to your surprise, doesn't look like either of the names you've picked.

That, my friends, is called a bracket buster.

OK, so maybe this isn't the best way to pick baby names. But this bracket gives me hope that, one day, my wife and I might actually agree on a name for our child (which hasn't happened yet). With so many outside influences and opinions, it's hard not to get annoyed with nearly every name that has ever existed. The best you can hope for is that when the baby pops out of your wife, it can tell you what name suits it best. Even if it's just in the baby's smile.

Though, let's just hope the smile doesn't say "Art the Fart."

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