The months leading up to the birth of a child are for many expectant parents marked by anticipation, joy and a big dose of stress tied to the many decisions that must be made in short order. Such as what to name the new baby.
Rather than go it alone when it comes to making what can be a tough choice, some parents are turning to a cottage industry of baby-naming services for help.
Some outfits can charge a mint. Erfolgswelle, a Swiss firm focused on creating unique baby names, charges about $30,000 for every baby it names.
The firm relies on a team of naming experts, historians and legal experts to come up with monikers that are supposedly one-of-a-kind. On its website, it promises that "your child will be the first one with this newly developed first name."
Of course, many expectant parents would rather choose a name on their own, thank you, and most still do. Many still turn to baby books for inspiration, or tap online resources, such as the Social Security Administration's top-10 baby names list.
So, why are a handful of soon-to-be moms and dads willing to fork out money for professional help?
Because they can. Baby-naming services, like personal trainers and home de-cluttering specialists, are a relatively new phenomenon and tend to attract clients who can well afford them, said Jennifer Moss, founder and chief executive officer of Babynames.com, a website that gets 1.5 million unique visits a month.
Baby-naming services "are used by people who have money to spare, like any type of boutique concierge services," said Moss, a self-described name enthusiast who once worked as a paid baby-name consultant in the Los Angeles market, in addition to running her website.
Her clients were mostly celebrities and other wealthy types. Moss charged $195 for her services and asked clients what names they liked, what names they hated, collected information about their family names and helped them think through various options. But she eventually got out of the business when it became too time-consuming, not to mention a bit frustrating.
"Most people had a name in mind and just wanted my stamp of approval. They didn't want suggestions. They wanted me to tell them that their name choice was wonderful and didn't really listen to what I had to say," explained Moss.
Some expectant couples, she said, struggle to pick out a name because of they disagree with one another or feel torn because of input from friends and family. Or they may have an unusual or very common surname, making it difficult to come up with an appealing combination. The name John Smith, for instance, is a touch too ordinary for some.
In the past, popular names were all the rage, but many of today's parents feel pressure to come up with something unique, explained Moss. In 2004, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and husband Chris Martin of Coldplay fame got lots of media attention when they named their daughter Apple, but such unusual monikers no longer have quite as much shock value.
"People want more-unique names because it has become more socially acceptable now. The biggest concern about unusual names used to be playground teasing," but no bullying-laws and other programs have helped make that less of an issue, said Moss.
The stress brought on by the search for a name (unique or otherwise) is enough to prompt some parents to seek help from services such as My Name for Life in New York. The service provides hand-picked recommendations based on "discovery" consultations, during which clients explore their "naming parameters and style preferences," according to founder Sherri Suzanne. The company offers different packages, starting at a cost of several hundred dollars.
"The vast majority of parents still choose their own children's names without outside assistance, but the ones who seek my help usually have a specific reason," such as a disagreement among partners, said Suzanne. Other clients are excited by the idea of exploring names without opening themselves up to judgment from friends and family, she added.