The Little Known Truth About Long Name Lists


I ditched one of my “brilliant” ideas. (I decided to focus on another one of my ideas instead.)

When deciding what to publish on UBN, and what to put in the circular file (otherwise known as the trash heap), I strive not only to entertain, but help my readers as well.

This rejected idea was an expansion on my surprising name series. Here the posts in this series:

I thought, “If 4 or 5 surprising names are good then 100 or even 1000 surprising names must be better, right?”

A “brilliant” idea was born.

I planned to write a series of ebooks called 1000 Surprising [insert theme here] Names.

The possibilities were endless. I was getting giddy.

And then—inevitably—problems arose.

I’m not the type to abandon every idea once the inevitable roadblock strikes. But in this case, I decided to re-evaluate this “brilliant” ebook series idea.

Here were the two biggest problems which are related:

Problem 1. Finding 1000 names to fit any given theme was one thing, finding 1000 *good* names (while sticking to the theme) was quite another.

Problem 2. Long name lists might be entertaining, but are they truly helpful to expectant parents? This may seem counterintuitive, but I’m not sure long name lists are really all that helpful.

More than once, I have come across parents struggling to find a baby name who said they had considered what seemed like “just about every name in existence.”

My evidence is anecdotal.

But I have found a study that supports my anecdotal evidence. The study doesn’t focus on baby names, but rather jam.


If you are not familiar with this jam experiment, which has been cited often by marketers and psychologists, here’s the story:

Using samples of jam at a high-end grocery store, Columbia University professor Sheena Iyengar tested which customers were more likely to buy: those presented with a large number of choices or a small number of choices.

One Saturday, a group of customers was given a choice of 24 jams to sample. The following Saturday, the other group was given a choice of six jams to sample.

  • The 24 jams attracted 60% of customers, but only 3% of those people bought any jam.
  • The six jam display attracted 40% of customers, but 30% of those bought jam.

While the display with 24 jams attracted more people, the display with six jams convinced more people to buy.

In another Iyengar study, participants presented with a box of six chocolates were more likely to be satisfied with their choice than those who were presented with a box of 30 chocolates. Those presented with 30 chocolates were more likely to feel remorse after making their choice.

Iyengar, who has built a career studying how people make choices, supports a belief that most people like the idea of many options but, in practice, feel more confident about their decisions after choosing from a small list of options.

How Does This Apply To Baby Names?

While the theoretical number of baby name choices available to Americans hasn’t really grown in the past few decades, the number of socially acceptable choices has.

Before 1997, the top 1000 US baby names were not publicly available and accessible at any time on the internet. Maybe once a year the top 10 or top 20 US baby names were published in the newspaper.

The number of baby name books available has also expanded in the past couple of decades. A search on Amazon with key words “baby names” under the “books” category results in over 34,000 choices (at time of writing).

And yet even with these extensive choices, baby name regret is on the rise, according to Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard book and blog.

Wattenberg’s belief that more baby name options lead to more baby name regret is supported by Professor Iyengar’s jam and chocolate experiments. (And I’m getting hungry.)

I suspect many options = buyer’s remorse might stem from people’s fear of closing doors.

The 24 jam display gave the customer 23 chances to get it wrong. I speculate that analysis paralysis set in which led to customers opting out of purchasing jam. With the six jam display, there were only five chances to get it wrong, reducing the risk of commitment and therefore convincing more customers to buy.

Of course no parent can opt out of picking a baby name.

Sure, you might have more time than you think to pick a baby name, depending on where you live, but sooner or later baby needs a name.

And if you are looking for a baby name, would a list of 1000 botanical names really help you? How about 1000 nickname names or 1000 astrological names?

Sure these books would be fun to read, but I believe UBN readers are smart and expect more. They appreciate entertainment but realize that finding that one right name is better than wading through name list after name list.

UBN readers want practical information on names ahead of the curve.

Practical information on names ahead of the curve does not exclude name lists. There will still be name lists on UBN because I know that reader’s love them, but name lists will focus on quality over quantity.

And that’s the story behind why I decided not to do the 1000 Surprising Names ebook series.

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Jam Image Credit: By jammmick [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


  1. I quite agree with you there. I much prefer a short, well-curated list of names to 1000. It makes you focus better on the ones chosen.

  2. Jennifer R. says:

    Some people are just less decisive. My husband and I picked up the latest version of Baby Name Wizard by Laura W. and it was a great guide for us. I flipped through and read each name, highlighting the ones I would consider. He then went over my choices and circled the ones he approved of. Here we are with a very short list of 3 girls and 2 boys names. Easy enough.

    A name should accompany your child through life, not define them. But it is a really big decision worthy of much thought. The regret is usually people who chose a name they didn’t love because someone else pressured them or they got wrapped up in a trend. I have a dear friend who got pregnant at 18 and named her daughter something very trendy and now 6 years later hates the name as her tastes have just changed from 18 to 25. So it can happen.

    I would love to see a poll that ties baby name regret to the name that was chosen – I would bet the majority (not all) are trendy or uniquely spelled names and not classics.

    • You bring up a good question: why do some parents suffer baby name regret? You might be right about some parents regretting trendy names. I always thought baby name regret often stemmed from this nagging feeling that the name simply “didn’t fit” the baby.

  3. We currently have 3 boys with New Testament names and 2 daughters with classic but not Biblical names. Expecting another baby this spring and boys names have been so much easier in large part because we’re sticking to classic New Testament names – a small but not too narrow pool. Girls names are much more difficult as the pool of classic girl names is so much larger.


  1. […] professor Sheena Iyengar who studies how consumers are more likely to purchase when faced with a smaller, not larger, number of options, I began to wonder if, at least subconsciously, some parents were drawn to the limits imposed by a […]

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