Week 27: Ask real questions

Infant identification name-on beads |  Wellcome Collection

Infant identification name-on beads | Wellcome Collection

Is Thor a good baby name?

The problem with most yes or no questions is that you already know the answer, or at least what you hope the right answer to be. In this case, you’re asking the internet for confirmation that if you name your child after the hammer-wielding protector of mankind, he’ll go on to have a happy successful life while looking like Chris Hemsworth.

Instead of asking this yes or no question (one that, again, you already know the answer to), ask yourself what questions lurk behind that “good name” question. Are you worried about your tiny god standing out in elementary school? Are you worried about him fitting in with all the Marvel-inspired kids? Are you worried about his future economic success?

On the whole, baby names are more yoo-neek than ever. If you've got a one-of-a-kind baby name in mind, you'd best head to a state with relaxed naming laws. Illinois will let you use numbers. South Carolina allows numbers too, as well as exclamation marks. Vermont allows obscenities (though it recommends against them). Alabama will let you give the baby whatever last name you want.

The top ten baby names are shared by fewer people than in previous decades, so even the most popular names are less common. This is why I’m always running into other Stephanies my age, but relatively few Dylans my son’s age, even though both names were among the most popular in the years when we were born.  

Some have theorized that those unique names are hurting kids, but at least as far as the economic question goes, you’re welcome to name your child Kumquat or Stapler or Portal.

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt devoted a chapter of Freakonomics to the baby name question, specifically, whether the name you give your child will impact future economic success. They revisited the topic for a recent episode of their podcast, and nothing’s really changed: your child’s name won’t dictate his or her earning potential.

The name you choose for your baby says more about you than it does about your child. Names rising in popularity say a lot about our political climate, our favorite television shows, and our love of food.

Maybe that’s why we as adults get so worked up over “bad” baby names. We view names as a signal of good parenting. Those other parents with the audacity to spell it Stefanie or Dillon are clearly getting it wrong and setting their children up for failure.

Of course, the quality of your favorite baby name is just one of dozens of yes/no questions you’re likely asking during the third trimester. And those yes/no questions will only multiply once there is an actual wailing red-faced infant who is either screaming because he’s gravely ill or because sometimes babies just cry.

So start training yourself out of yes/no questions:

  1. Instead of Googling your yes/no question, write it down. ( “Is Thor a good baby name?”)

  2. Look at your question and ask yourself what concerns are driving your yes/no question (your child’s social skills, your child’s economic success, your family’s happiness, how others will view your name choice)

  3. Rephrase your concerns as “how” or “why” questions (“How does a baby’s name affect school performance?” “How does a baby’s name affect future employment?”)

  4. Google your narrower, more focused questions and start exploring.

Need more practice? Here’s a few questions to consider:

Is sleeping on your stomach bad for a fetus? [Bad question! Try “How does sleep position affect baby?”] 

Does alcohol hurt a fetus? [You’re asking this question because you want permission to drink or ammunition against someone else who isn’t choosing your side.] 

Have you Googled a yes/no pregnancy question? Did your search result in a late-night panicked phone call to an obstetrician who reminded you that the number is for emergencies only? Send me your question and I’ll write you a calm answer.