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Baby naming goes high tech

Today's parents have more than just the old baby-naming books to consult. They can choose baby names from a variety of online "wizards."

Baby naming has suddenly become a hot topic. News sources from, to conservative commentator David Brooks have recently weighed in on the significance of a baby's moniker. The Wall Street Journal even framed the naming decision as "the art of 'branding' your newborn."

Parents' stress levels may be rising as the naming the baby becomes a high-stakes decision. Expensive consultants have even cropped up. The Today Show featured a self-proclaimed "nameologist," who charged a couple $300 to help them choose among combinations of Charles, Robert, and Matthew. I say keep the three hundred bucks and choose a name out of a hat if you are that undecided.

Luckily there are many free or low-cost naming tools that can add to the fun rather than the stress of baby naming. In addition to the many books on the topic, from the thematically-organzied Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana, to the encyclopedic 100,000+ Baby Names, there are many free resources available online.

I personally don't gravitate to the baby-naming message boardsand chats, though some people really like them. I found that opinionated strangers were not always the most helpful sounding board. Just like previewing potential names to friends in real life, on message boards you can get too many replies along the lines of "I hated this girl in second grade named Tabitha and I would never name my kid that."

I have found two free online resources that are a lot of fun to use. Baby Name Wizard author Laura Wattenberg has created two cool programs. The Name Voyager program graphs historical naming trends. It can show you which older names are making comebacks, like Ella or Lillian, and tell you whether a name you think is original is actually speeding up the popularity charts.

Wattenberg has also developed an artificial intelligence tool called Nymbler. You input names that you like in order to generate additional suggestions. This creates a cool web of possibilities, especially if you have a set of relative or sibling names you want to consider. I entered the names of the six Brady kids. If Marcia, Greg, Jan, Peter, Cindy and Bobby had a new baby brother or sister, "Vicki" or "Kip" would fit right in.

As for some common-sense tips on selecting a baby name, I have three suggestions. First, don't get swayed by celebrity trends. Shiloh Jolie-Pitt and Suri Cruise already have strange, over-the-top lives as the children of celebrities. They can probably carry off their highly unusual names. Second, be kind and go out of your way to avoid names that "brand" kids as bully targets. I don't know how many of these "Harry Butts" stories are urban legends, but I do know that kids will latch on to "weird" names as a source of teasing. And finally, I am not a fan of "kreativ" spelling or hard-to-pronounce names. Kids shouldn't have to go through their whole lives constantly correcting other people's mistakes.

Naming the baby can be a fun process. Don't stress out too much about it ahead of time. After all, many parents report that meeting the baby after it has been born is the most important test to select a name that fits.