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Have you ever looked at a simple, yet highly successful, invention and thought, “I could have done that”? I sometimes wonder what genius came up with the idea of sticking a cute image onto a magnet so that we could attach things to our refrigerators. (Wikipedia says a man named William Zimmerman did, but provides no sources). I mean, who even knew we needed fridge magnets? And I can’t survive a day without them.

The point is, you think you could have invented these things, but you didn’t. You didn’t come up with the fridge magnet, the post-it note, play-doh, stop signs, Cubism, the snuggie, or the all-you-can-eat buffet. Someone with more brains, creativity, business sense, or plain old gumption got in there first and pipped you.

That’s kind of how I feel when I read Sarah’s blog, For Real Baby Names. The subtitle is All names on this site are names of actual babies, and it consists of lists of baby names culled from recent birth announcements in newspapers. It’s such a perfectly simple concept that only an absolute genius could have come up with it, and yet once you see it, you immediately think, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

If I sound a bit envious, there’s a good reason for that: I am. Out of the name blogs I have reviewed so far, this is the one I’m most jealous of. Even though Abby is so famous, and Lou so young and vibrant, and Isadora so beloved, it’s Sarah’s blog that I wish I’d thought of first.

As far as I know, For Real Baby Names is a unique concept in the blogosphere. Some name blogs include birth announcements in their entries, but this is one just of birth announcements. I have also seen name blogs consisting of birth announcements, but they exist as a springboard for the blogger to vaunt their own opinions. These names, the blogger will insist, are horrible and vulgar, while this list of names shows class and breeding. These names are tasteful; this lot over here, trashy. Emulate these names; eschew those. For Real Baby Names has a purity of intention and a clarity of purpose that these birth announcement name blogs lack, and Sarah exhibits a remarkable restraint in not providing a commentary on every list of names.

I stumbled upon For Real Baby Names quite early in my blogging career, and was immediately struck by the difference between it, and most other name blogs. There was no advice as to what you should name your baby; no suggestions as to the correct spelling of a name; no opinions as to whether the name would be better for a girl or a boy. This was baby names at their most fundamental and authentic. While other name blogs tell you what people should name their children, For Real Baby Names tells you what people actually do name their children. The gap between the two is sometimes quite arresting. I can’t think of any blog that would advocate naming your child Delightful Unique, but nevertheless someone chose this name.

As someone who has long collected names out of newspapers and magazines, I was drawn to this blog like a Trekkie to a sci-fi convention that’s handing out free Spock tee-shirts. And instead of warning me to stay off her turf, Sarah was generous enough to encourage me to share some of the names I was collecting on my blog.

Sarah has been blogging on WordPress for two years, and by now she has a huge collection of baby names from around the world. Entries are organised by area, so you can see baby names from London, the United Kingdom, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and many states of the US, from Alaska to California to Kansas to Georgia to New York to Hawaii and more. These are headed with attractive little pictures so you know where you are, and often make me want to dash off to whatever country is on offer.

I must admit to being a little sceptical about these lists at first – I couldn’t help wondering if Sarah had selected names for each region with the view of making them fit a particular stereotype of that area. Was she deliberately choosing “southern-sounding” names for Georgia, or sweetly old-fashioned yet whimsical names for Ireland? However, the names listed for Australia are, I think, very typical of those names which are popular or fashionable now – many of the Australian baby names are the names of my friends’ and relatives’ children.

This convinces me that the name lists from most areas are probably representative of the type of baby names you will encounter there. You do begin to pick up on national or regional tastes on names, so that Alaska often has daring name choices, Arizona seems fond of nature names, Canada is quirky, and Hawaii mellifluous. I have seen a couple of familiar names in the Australian listings, including Jed Hardy – the name of one of our celebrity babies.

There is a good mix of crowd-pleasers, such as Cressida Blueberry; modern names such as Destin Ryder; interesting names, such as Bronze Quinten; contemporary standards, such as Scarlett Bella; old-fashioned names such as Mabel Olive; grand names such as Henry Leonidas Tiberius; sweet names such as Pixie Rose; tough names, such as Jake Buster; weird names such as Boo!; and plain awful names such as Charley Willard Horse Dick. Whether you wish to admire, criticise, be amazed, or gasp in horror, you will find names to revile and revel in.

For Real Baby Names also has posts on particular topics, such as this one on surprising middle names or this one on celebrity baby names. Each Sunday is a post listing names which Sarah appears to have found pleasing or interesting, and occasionally there is a Pop Quiz, on which I usually do rather badly. There are also Name Round Ups, which list unusual names, often grouped around a particular topic. These give Sarah an opportunity to share some of her thoughts on individual names, and her opinions on naming in general; her musings can often be witty, but they are never snide, or an excuse to start name bullying.

As you can imagine, this blog is very popular, and Sarah has many dedicated followers who enjoy commenting on the names. For Real Baby Names is a fun blog, and a big part of that is seeing what names other people love, hate, are bemused or baffled by, and sharing your own opinions for others to agree or disagree with. Sarah is very conscientious about answering comments, and even your most throw-away line will probably get a courteous response. You may also follow her on Twitter.

At the beginning of this review, I made a differentiation between regular baby name blogs as espousing an idealistic view of baby naming, whereas For Real Baby Names demonstrates the reality of naming practice. However, that’s an overly simplistic view of things. Real life baby Luella Hummingbird has a middle name that any name nerd would be proud to add to their blog, and one of the first entries on For Real Baby Names was for Seven Miller, whose name has been often covered on blogs this year, thanks to famous babe Harper Seven Beckham. I have seen real babies called Anjali and Tigerlily – names that have featured on Appellation Mountain and Nook of Names.

If you are interested in baby names, this blog is recommended reading; if you have a name blog of your own, For Real Baby Names is essential reading. Not only do you get a digest of baby names being used around the English-speaking world, you will learn many new names, see naming trends in action, and get a feel for what kinds of names and name combinations parents have a fondness for. Best of all, you will be exposed to a staggering variety of names, and understand that almost no baby name can be called “unusable”.

For Real Baby Names is addictive, and if you have even a passing interest in baby names, you will soon be impatiently waiting for the next instalment to be released. You didn’t know you needed it, and now you can’t live without it.

Q& A with Sarah

Name: My name is Sarah Elizabeth, the most popular Sarah combination it seems. I see my full name all the time when searching through birth announcements.  Plus, I tend to ask every Sarah I meet, “What is your middle name?”,  and it’s usually Elizabeth.

Name you would like to have: I’ve always liked Elizabeth more than Sarah so I used to write to penpals as a kid, and always signed them Elizabeth. I tried to switch over once, but it didn’t take. I guess I wasn’t persistent enough. Now, I would probably keep Sarah, but go by Sadie.

What began your interest in names?: I can’t remember exactly what started it. I do remember my first day of fourth grade. I changed schools that year and remember looking at the new class list on the wall and picking out who I would be friends with based solely on which names I liked.  🙂  It (of course) didn’t work out that way. 🙂

How did you start blogging?: I have always kept a list of names I saw in birth announcements that I liked, names I had never seen before, and the crazy and outrageous ones.  Once Nameberry started, and I found the blogs You Can’t Call It It! and Appellation Mountain, I realised I wasn’t the only one interested in names.  I thought maybe there would be others who would want to see which names were actually being used, so I decided to share them.

Your favourite blog entry on For Real Baby Names: Chisel and Wave (unexpected word names). I love word names and I’m always interested in what people use and why some words are more acceptable as names than others, so this one is my favourite.

Your pet naming peeve: I don’t like the sites that just trash baby names. Any name that isn’t Biblical or had a 100+ years of use, is deemed ridiculous, trashy or stupid, and will ruin the baby’s life.  I don’t think that is true.

Your favourite names: My naming style is all over the place.  I like names like Matilda, Henry, and August, like a good name nerd; but I also love names like Sawyer, Fenway, Wilder, Everly, Belle, and Forest (for a girl).

Names you dislike: I don’t like when names are a joke.  I don’t think your baby’s name should be a laughing matter, so I don’t care for names like Sudden Lee, Sincere Leigh, Merry Christmas, or Stormy Sea Waters.

Names you love, but can’t use: I love Isabella, Lily, and Emma, but in the 9th grade I was in school with seven girls called Jennifer, and I swore I would never use a popular name. Years ago, I dreamt once that I had a daughter named Fable, but I’m not sure if I’m cool enough to use such a bold name.

Your future children’s names: I have loved the name Matilda for a long time. This was my “for sure” name until I mentioned it to my Mom.  She said okay, but they would just call her Mattie, so now I’m not so sure.  I’ve dated two boys named Matthew and called Matt, and I do not love Mattie, so now my girl name is still under construction.  I think if I had a boy today, his name would be Sawyer or August.

The one piece of advice you would give to someone choosing a name for their baby: Give the baby a name you love. No matter what.  Don’t listen to other people. A name chosen from the heart could never be a wrong choice. It doesn’t matter if it is too popular, too unusual, or unheard of. If you love it, use it.