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This is maybe more of a cultural than linguistic question, but an american friend told me that in the US, when a family is having a baby but before they know its gender, the baby is referred to as "Baby [their last name]". So if the Smiths are having a baby, they would for example send cards with "Join us in welcoming Baby Smith" or similar on them.

I have never heard of this practice before, but googling does reveal some anecdotal picture evidence (example). Is this a widespread phenomenon in the US, or could it be something specific to her region (Minesotta)?

  • 1
    Interesting question. What is the custom in your area? – Lawrence Dec 7 '17 at 12:26
  • Could it be linked to this trend? nameberry.com/list/358/Surname-Baby-Names – user240918 Dec 7 '17 at 12:26
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    Even when the baby has been born and the gender is obvious, but before the child has been named, I have heard "Baby [name]" used, although this was by the delivery assistants. Some children are named before they are even born but some not until weeks after. – mickeyf Dec 7 '17 at 13:30
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    It's not just that the gender is not known, it's that the name is not known. I think that this usage is common among doctors and hospitals, but I don't think I've heard it outside the medical profession. – Peter Shor Dec 7 '17 at 13:46
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    @Timst: In the U.S., the custom is more not telling people the name until birth. Lots of parents choose the name before birth but don't reveal it until the baby is born. I don't really know why this is the case. (Unless you know that your parents are going to say Don't name the kid Peter; that's a horrible name. You should name him Ephraim after your great-grandfather.) – Peter Shor Dec 8 '17 at 3:11
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Yes, this is used in the United States (and elsewhere in the English-speaking world). It's hard to say exactly how popular it is, but you can certainly find plenty of examples on the internet.

Note that "Baby LastName" is also used when the gender is known. "Baby Girl LastName" and "Baby Boy LastName" are also used like this, notably in some hospitals:

There is a very simple reason why babies go unnamed. Most of babies are born fast and parents can take weeks or months to pick that first name. Simply put, the delivery room and the receiving nursery can’t wait for a parental decision when the new arrival pops out squalling. The baby immediately needs weighing, Vitamin K shots and a medical exam to assess whether the baby is healthy or sick. Immediately, the clerical staff produces labels declaring that Baby Boy Smith or Baby Girl Garcia has arrived and they label the medical record accordingly.
Babies Without Real First Names At Risk

The form "Baby LastName" isn't new either; I found an example from 1892:

So is ushered into the world Baby Jones, very red and hungry, and very much troubled with insomnia.
Ballou's Monthly Magazine


Here are some more examples:

A friend of DD's, who had her first last week, called the unborn child Baby Smith, but with their name of course. —Breezy_Carol
Code names or nick names for unborn babies

I believe I agree Mahn she has more than enough money to get her own stuff they should donate money to charity ob behalf of baby Simpson. —Stephanie

It’s their surname, so lots of people refer to their unborn children as ‘Baby Johnson’ or ‘Baby Smith’ or ‘Baby Jones.’ —Melody

Jessica Simpson: ‘I’m So Excited to Have a Son’

To others they are baby smith (SOs last nane) or now my two littlest angels. —CassiJai
How to grieve when baby's sex is unknown?

In 1989 I spent the summer in Burlington, Vermont. One day, while driving around town, I came upon an old cemetery. It had a section reserved for babies, and all of them had died before the turn of the century. Often the children had no first names. The tombstones read simply Baby Johnson or Baby Smith.
Baby Anger

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Baby is used as the legal placeholder name of any infant who does not yet have a name, or whose name is unknown, in much of the English speaking world. It may be combined with surnames or with placeholder letters ("Baby A", "Baby X", etc.)* if the surname is unknown (which could happen with foundlings) or anonymous cases (which could happen with legal cases where privacy was being protected).

It's not terribly common, because it's more common to know the name of a baby you have reason to talk about, though there can of course be times when you might e.g. congratulate someone on a birth when they have not yet named the child, or you have not heard what it is.

*E.g. https://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2015/11/19/best-interests-hard-choices-the-baby-c-case/ http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/05/03/3206276.htm https://www.suffolkscb.org.uk/assets/Working-with-Children/Serious-Case-Reviews/Baby-E/2017-02-21-FINAL-SCR-Report-Baby-E.pdf https://bioethics.georgetown.edu/2015/04/baby-f-oklahoma-supreme-court-requires-clear-convincing-evidence-to-stop-life-support/ https://www.hebdenbridgetimes.co.uk/news/baby-h-case-raises-serious-care-concerns-1-1814148 http://www.magistratescourt.tas.gov.au/about_us/coroners/coronialfindings/b/baby_h_-_2012_tascd_82 http://www.safeguardingburychildren.org/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=16208&p=0 https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-protection-system/case-reviews/2015/ https://books.google.ie/books?id=LM3fpLxUDAoC&pg=PA82&lpg=PA82&dq=%22baby+I+case%22&source=bl&ots=xaRMOXXeUx&sig=tqUZ0xnv-hDH9WiWRLzvwtlEHDU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjZ3Lqx-KfYAhUJC8AKHQDdALAQ6AEINjAC#v=onepage&q=%22baby%20I%20case%22&f=false https://newcastleadvertiser.co.za/62445/baby-js-case-is-under-the-microscope/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_K https://ffh.films.com/id/11095/One_Brief_Life_The_Baby_L_Case.htm http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/000992289503400813 https://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/baby-l-case-back-in-court-1805431 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_M https://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/baby-o-case-kickstarts-third-great-abortion-debate-26238690.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Baby_P http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04lwm70 https://landdcasestudy.weebly.com/baby-r.html http://www.jplaw.com/today-pennsylvania-superior-court-upholds-validity-of-surrogacy-contracts-and-rules-sherri-shepherd-is-the-legal-mother-to-baby-s/ http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2000-05-23/news/0005230122_1_unsupervised-visits-court-appointed-attorney-lawyers https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/missing87975/baby-x-murder-1989-t3922.html https://www.ecr.co.za/news/news/neuro-psychologist-grilled-chatsworth-baby-murder-case/ Being legal cases involving infants where either the child was unnamed, the child's name was unknown, or it was felt necessary to apply anonymity in reporting of the cases, many of them make for upsetting reading.

  • The legal placeholder name? Do you have any sources for that? I'm asking because I found a contradicting source here; it says that in NY the name line on the birth certificate is left blank, unless the child dies and then they put down "died unnamed". – Laurel Dec 24 '17 at 2:13
  • @Laurel added some links. – Jon Hanna Dec 26 '17 at 15:11

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