Photo: C Flanigan / Contributor via Getty Images
Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West welcomed their third child earlier this month and, as with all matters Kimye, the blessed arrival was handled with the calculated precision of a luxury product launch. On Monday, January 15, we learned that the baby—a girl!—had arrived via surrogate. And then we waited—and waited—to hear her name.
There was major excitement, mass media speculation and even bookies taking bets (Donda, Kanye’s mom’s name, was the favourite at 7 to 1). In the five whole days between the birth announcement and the name reveal, those of us who care about such things were like fans chanting “Encore!” at a concert. And then—finally!—the payoff: Chicago West (aka Chi, aka “Shy,” aka an announcement so momentous that future generations will ask “Where were you when?”).
And though Kim and Kanye are far from your typical mama and dada, they’re not the only parents taking a post-pregnancy pause between confirming their baby’s arrival and revealing the name. Lately, what was once handled in a single step (often via birth announcement in a newspaper) is being drawn out into a more dramatic double play. On social media, we learn “She’s here!” along with a few vital stats and maybe a cute snap. But a name? For that, we have to wait.
According to a recent survey by BabyCentre, about one-quarter of new parents are waiting until after the birth to choose their child’s name, with some waiting days and even weeks. Kristi Clements, a doula in Toronto, has been delivering babies for 15 years and recently noticed an uptick in new parents who don’t have baby names upon arrival. “A lot of parents just aren’t ready,” she says. (And, presumably, a few more just aren’t ready to go public.)
There are plenty of reasons for new parents to delay name disclosures, many of which are largely practical (as opposed to theatrical). “We were still mulling it over and testing out various names,” explains one mom when I asked “Why did you wait?” on Facebook. According to another new mom, “Birth and the first few days post-partum were so overwhelming that deciding on a name was just so low on the priority list.” Many new parents said they wanted to “spend time” with the new arrival before committing to a name.
None of these parents is “pulling a Kimye,” but their desire to get their baby names just right speaks to our contemporary parenting culture. Today, we discuss baby name trends the way we discuss fashion and food. There are cool names and uncool names and names so uncool that they’re cool all over again. “I see parents who are really stressed out over it,” says Clements, who points to increased scrutiny facilitated by Facebook, Instagram and other social media where the public reaction to a name can literally be measured in Likes. Note: This reaction is almost entirely about the namer as opposed to the name. “People agonize over getting their child’s name just right from a branding perspective,” says my only Facebook mom friend who was willing to mention the B-word.
And she’s right. While it may sound gross to talk about “branding” in terms of your baby, it’s also a modern reality. Almost everything you embrace or reject says something about what you project, and certainly what you name your child says as much as the car you drive (or don’t drive) or the coffee you drink (or don’t drink). Naming one’s kids has become the ultimate form of self-expression—and man, are we expressing ourselves.
“It’s one thing to say ‘All right, everybody, here’s Mike’ and quite another to say ‘All right, everybody, here’s Pomegranate!’” says Max Valiquette, a branding marketing expert for Publicis in Toronto. The desire to be unique, he says, has upped the ante in the arms race that is baby naming. “When we choose unusual names—names that have literally never been used before—we want to talk about this and make it a big deal,” he says.
Reveals, in general, have become a big part of parenting, from Instagram-friendly pregnancy announcements (the ones with two pairs of adult shoes and one pair of tiny shoes) to gender reveal parties (where the colour of a secret cake announces a boy or girl). With so much riding on name selection, it’s kind of natural that some parents (maybe not you, but some parents) want to milk the moment for all it’s worth and that others are creating that “drumroll, please” effect whether they mean to or not.
It’s Marketing 101: To enhance interest, withhold information. And, though your new baby may seem absolutely nothing like a hot new restaurant, the same principles apply. That Facebook mom who mentioned being overwhelmed by the birth experience notes that, while waiting a few days didn’t seem like a big deal from her perspective, her family and friends said it felt like “an eternity.” As a Kimye fan, I can definitely relate.
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