Canadian programmer and new dad Stephen McLaughlin took a lot of flack from easily scandalized observers over his choice to outsource his daughter’s name on the unruly forums of reddit.
Now, four months after the voting began, the baby — and the final name! — are here: The McLaughlins ended up with “Amelia Savannah Joy.”
So, okay, there’s technically one more middle name in there than any child should rightly need. But it’s pretty! It’s conventional! It is, in fact, not terribly different from other names the Internet has dreamt up, when called to christen newborns in the past.
There was Ian Huntress in October 1995, the name “Ian” plucked from a pile of 1,500 suggestions on his parents’ webpage. In 2010, a Toronto woman crowdsourced her baby’s name on Facebook; the winning name, Melania Alpinelli, edged out Aria by a mere nine votes.
Admittedly Melania is a bit unusual, and Ian a bit bland. But have you seen the things people are naming their kids these days?! “Khaleesi” (as in the fictional character), Paisley (as in the pattern) and Londyn (as in nothing, because that’s spelled wrong) were all relatively popular this year. An acquaintance recently encountered a baby named “Skilite” — pronounced sky light, as in overhead window.
Besides, Internet naming has long been the go-to custom for things like baby zoo animals and asteroids, and that seems to work just fine. The Toronto Zoo closed its contest to name a baby gorilla just this afternoon. Meanwhile, the National Zoo held an online vote to name its newest panda cub — and I think we can all agree the resulting name, Bao Bao, ended up being pretty cute. It’s no wonder that several companies offer “naming contest” platforms, which let the user crowdsource his baby’s name (… or brand name, or pet name, or band name…) from a private group or the greater public.
The principle being drawn upon, in each of these cases, is a theory called “the wisdom of the crowd” — codified in James Surowiecki’s 2005 book of the same name, though the roots of the idea date back earlier. Basically, Surowiecki argues, a diverse group of independent, decentralized people will have more information — and thus make better decisions — than an individual acting alone.
Of course, the whole wisdom-of-the-crowd philosophy doesn’t work with a homogenous or biased group. Which may explain why Amelia Savannah Joy was actually reddit’s second-place name. The site, which skews male and — well, often, nerdy — chose “Cthulhu” as its favorite name. Cthulhu is a fictional “monster of vaguely anthropoid outline,” invented by H.P. Lovecraft in the 1920s.
It’s a good thing Amelia’s father set some ground rules.