The Baby Name Whisperer

You can now outsource baby naming. Maryanna Korwitts is the brainchild behind The Baby Naming Experience and, for the cost of three JJ Cole Bundle Mes ($150), she will help you seal your unborn child's fate.
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A person's name wields an incredible amount of power. Consider mine, for instance: the name Leslie nearly turned me gay. I vividly recall sitting on my parent's bed in the fourth grade and gently breaking it to my mother that I was a lesbian. "What makes you think that's the case?" she asked, no doubt planning a slew of phone calls to her friends to share the exciting news. "Well, everyone at school calls me Leslie the Lesbian, so I'm pretty sure I'm gay." (Of course, they also called me Lester the Molester, just not as frequently.) Once she ran down a quick list of boys in my grade, asking if I thought they were cute, my mother deemed me heterosexual and sent me off to play outside.

My grandmother, who has been teaching Sunday school for nearly 60 years, has also seen the power of a name. Last year she had a student named Paris Bernstein -- quite possible the worst Jewish name I've ever heard -- and this year she's got one whose name is, simply, "L." Both have been teased mercilessly.

Then again, step into your local preschool and call out a seemingly normal name like "Ava!" and 12 little girls are bound to come running. (The same goes for Isabella, Chloe, Aiden, Jacob and Noah.) Whether you go for something traditional, of-the-moment or off-the-wall, it seems there's no winning.

And so, with less than six weeks to go until our little girl blasts into the world, my husband and I have been struggling to come up with the perfect moniker. Truth be told, the process has been far easier for us than many couples, as we are locked into specific initials: An "E" for the first name, to honor his mother, Ellen, who passed away when he was in high school, and an "S" middle name, after his Bubbie, Sylvia. So it's not like the world is our oyster when it comes to issuing her a lifetime label. (Hey, "Oyster" sounds like great celeb baby name!) Thus far, we've narrowed it down to two potential first names, not yet to be revealed to the public, but remain staunchly split on which we prefer. (Hint: I like the better one.) We do, however, agree on her in-utero nickname, TBA: short for Tiny Baby Alter as well as To Be Announced.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of American Baby magazine in my ob/gyn's waiting room, and read a story about a couple in a similar, albeit more complicated, position: The author is an Israeli of German and Russian descent; her husband, a hodgepodge of nationalities. And they live in Brooklyn, to boot, a place where names like Calliope and Oona rule the roost. Desperate for help in naming their son, they chose to seek advice from a professional nameologist.

That's right: You can now outsource baby naming. Maryanna Korwitts is the brainchild behind The Baby Naming Experience and, for the cost of three JJ Cole Bundle Mes ($150), she will help you seal your unborn child's fate. As soon as I read the story -- and learned that Korwitts is based in Downers Grove, IL, which is quite close to our Chicago home -- I knew I had to meet her. At best, she'd help up solidify our choice. At worst, she'd concoct a slew of bizarro E.S.A. baby handles, offering amusing cocktail party conversational fodder for months to come. It'd make a juicy story if nothing else.

When Korwitts and I met at a nearby Barnes & Noble, she told me she has helped hundreds of couples name their little ones. (She also works with adults looking to tweak or change their name to get ahead in business or flourish following a major life transition.)

"Name shape your personality," she explained. "Language carries an energy, similar to colors." Just like red suggests power and lavender is calming, certain names suggest charisma, creativity, physical stamina or even negative traits like selfishness or material possessiveness. Not only must you consider what kind of person you want your baby to grow up to be, you can't ignore nickname potential ("Elizabeth" is ideal for writers, actors, musicians or anyone artsy, but "Beth" isn't -- she's more likely to become an entrepreneur with a strong sense of business acumen) and you must take her initials into account: According to the Theory of Deadly Initials, a hypothesis published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research in 1999, men with "negative" initials (ie F.A.T. or D.I.E.) die 2.8 years earlier than those whose initials spell out, say, V.I.P. or A.C.E.)

Korwitts and I went over the homework assignment she had asked Dan and I to complete, a task we rather enjoyed. Among the questions: "If you could choose your child's future profession, what are three career areas that would get your vote?" (Us: Writer, physician, entrepreneur); "Would you consider a name that is created specifically for your child, or would you prefer to choose a name that carries historical/cultural tradition?" (Us: The latter) and "Would you consider a traditional name that is spelled uniquely such as Nathanial or Steffani?" (Us: Nope. The world is hard enough as it is without constantly having to explain that your name is spelled "P-H-I-O-N-A -- that's Fiona with a "PH.") We were asked to provide a list of at least ten names that we like and dislike, and then had to rank a whole slew of positive and negative personality traits on a scale of one to 10, according to how important it is to us that our child exhibit/avoid them. (Creativity, sense of humor and independence scored a 9, as did selfishness, irresponsibility, and coldness.)

After briefly commenting on my and Dan's names -- "Leslie" encourages independence, determination, responsibility and high levels of physical stamina; "Dan"s are similarly independent, straightforward, no-nonsense, and highly physical -- Korwitts gave an assessment of our two favorite girls' names. It turns out both are quite similar, suggesting trailblazing confidence and an out-of-the-box mentality. With either name, we could virtually guarantee a little pioneer who thinks for herself. Sounds good to me! The major difference was one of our "E" names had more of a physical quality to it, assuring us a baby who would climb all over everything and grow up to be more athletically inclined.

Where Korwitts lost me was her belief that a name can trump both nature and nurture. For instance, she feels that even if both parents are extroverted social butterflies, if they name their daughter Lilly, she is more or less destined to prefer staying in her room, reading a book than attending a big party. I believe that a name has the potential to mold certain aspects of one's personality, but I don't buy the notion that it can turn a biologically outgoing child into a shy hermit, or vice versa.

Korwitts also did a "reading" or sorts, where she shuffled a deck of 81 Baby Archetype cards, each emblazoned with a "type" of baby ("The Giving Teacher," "The Amiable Ruler," "The Playful Joker," "The Shy Homebody." One by one, she laid them out, tarot card-style, revealing that our baby's overall personality will be "The Confident Climber," that she'll be an "Active Thinker" throughout her life with an "Absentminded Professor"-style profession. Of course, these cards turned up at random, but much like a horoscope, you can always find a grain of truth in what you're told.

For those of you in the process of naming your bambino, Korwitts offers a few bits of wisdom:
  1. Keep in mind how a name both looks and sounds, as well as nickname potential and how it sounds with your last name.
  2. Associations matter -- that's why we don't see anyone today naming their kid Adolf. If you're naming after a family member, consider that person's personality and life and ask yourself, "Do I want our youngster to emulate this person?"
  3. Don't be too heavily influenced by pop culture (Bella, we're looking at you.) "As soon as she's in school, there might be four or five of them and the teacher will need to create nicknames or call her 'Bella #2' to differentiate between them. Parents want their kids to have a unique identity. Look at the Social Security Administration list of most popular names...and steer clear of them.
  4. Avoid unisex names. "So much communication today is done over email or phone, not in person," she says. Logans, Taylors, Harpers and Kennedys will, over the course of their lives, confuse thousands of people, forcing them to wonder, "Am I emailing with a man or a woman?"

Oh, and as for the names she dreamt up for TBA? Here are just a few of the nearly 30 she sent:

Eliza Slade
Ellise Savanna
Evan Sinclaire
Estelle Sonya
Elysia Sinead
Ernestina Sylvette
Emilyn Sadie
Eve Serena

Place your vote below, keeping in mind we want a creative, outspoken little feminist who lacks her mom's hypochondriacal tendencies, can spell well and knows how to dunk a basketball, should the occasion arise.

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