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Originally published Monday, November 28, 2011 at 6:30 PM

What's in a baby name? Ask Google

Web searches can help parents ensure their child is not saddled with a negatively connoted name, but a unique, or uncommon one.

The New York Times

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Kalia is a stripper name, but Kaleya is not, her parents-to-be concluded.

No offense to the Kalias of the world, but Lecia and Thor Kaslofsky decided this two years ago, after conducting a Google search of names they were considering for their first child.

A search for Kalia pulled up several images of scantily clad women.

"I didn't want there to be a Google identity for her to wrestle with," said Lecia Kaslofsky, a corporate investigator in San Francisco.

So the couple, who wanted an uncommon name, came up with a creative spelling that sounds the same as kah-LEE-ah: Kaleya.

Another Google search didn't raise any red flags, and thus a name was born.

"The Kaleyas online were an illustrator of goth posters and a Spanish metal band," she said.

In our still-budding digital world, where public and private spheres cross-pollinate in unpredictable ways, perhaps it's not surprising that soon-to-be parents now routinely turn to Google to vet baby names. A quick search can help ensure that a child is not saddled with the name of a serial killer, pornography star or sex offender.

But what's new is the level of complexity that Google and other search engines have brought to the name game. Some parents want names that are unique so their child will rise to the top of future search results. Others want names that are uncommon enough to bestow uniqueness, but not so exotic that they would be considered weird on the playground. A rare few want their child's name to get lost in a virtual crowd.

While there are no reliable statistics on the matter, a small survey on LilSugar (http://www.lilsugar.com/), a parenting and pop culture site, found that 64 percent of respondents had Googled their baby's name before settling on it.

Uniqueness seems to be a primary motive and has spurred an unspoken competition among parents to find the most original names, said Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard," a guide for selecting a name.

"Parents thinking of a baby name will type it in and say: 'Oh, no, it's taken. There are already three others with that name.' "

But too little research can backfire, too. Deborah Goldstein, 43, and her partner, Gabriella Di Maggio, thought they had chosen unique names for their boys: Levi and Asher. To be sure, they checked the Social Security Administration's list of most popular baby names. Neither was in the top 100.

"I did not want them to have names where there were 15 in their class like I was," Goldstein said. "There were a lot of Debbies back then"

But shortly after the couple moved to South Orange, N.J., in 2006, they had a rude awakening. While waiting at an ice-cream parlor, they heard a woman shout "Asher!" at a different boy.

"It was two other Jewish lesbian moms with a child of the same name," Goldstein said.

Google had let her down.

"It didn't tell us it's a unique name unless you move to a neighborhood outside New York City where other trendy Jews are moving, too."

Other parents, it seems, strive for a middle ground.

"You want your kid to be unique enough so there aren't 80 of them, but not so unique that they seem weird," said Doug Moe, a comedian in Brooklyn. His 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe, he points out, shares a first and last name with at least two other Phoebe Moes online.

It's the rare parent, it seems, who wants a common name for a child. New parents, after all, envision future presidents, Super Bowl winners and cancer curers, not Vatican streakers or college beer-bong guzzlers.

But maybe common names are more prudent. A recent study by the online security firm AVG found that 92 percent of children younger than 2 in the United States have some kind of online presence, whether a tagged photo, sonogram image or Facebook page. Life, it seems, begins not at birth but with online conception. And a child's name is the link to that permanent record.

"When you name your baby, it's a time of dreaming," Wattenberg said. "No one stops and thinks, 'What if one day my child does something embarrassing and wants to hide from it?' "

Maybe the wisest approach in our searchable new world is to let computers do the naming.

Lindsey Pollak, a writer on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who specializes in career advice, fancied the name Chloe when she was pregnant with her daughter. Her husband, Evan Gotlib, wanted Zoe.

To settle the feud, they downloaded a 99-cent iPhone app called Kick to Pick. After typing in the two names, they held the phone to Pollak's stomach, as the phone alternated between the two. When the fetus kicked, the phone froze on one name, like a coin toss. It came up Chloe for each of the four tries.

The next thing Pollak did, of course, was to Google it.

"One of the websites said Chloe means little green shoots, and we liked that," Pollak said.

Chloe it was. They even registered their unborn child's first and last name as a domain name and signed her up on Tumblr, Twitter and Gmail.

The Kaslofskys wish they had had that foresight. When they Googled Kaleya in 2009, there were only a few relevant results. But since then, the parents of another child named Kaleya have started posting videos of that little girl's adventures on YouTube, with titles like "Kaleya Makes a Snow Angel" and "Kaleya Runs From a Wave."

Lecia Kaslofsky is miffed.

"Things have changed in the last three years," she said.

Luckily, she'll get a second chance: Kaslofsky is pregnant with her second child, a boy.

"We are probably going to name him Lucian, which is related to a family name of Thor's, and call him Luke." she said.

Why? "We like the name."

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