Every parent of a teenager would prefer if they got a job to help pay their own way through life. Most, however, don’t expect their teens to create an international business, earning hundreds of thousands and paying for their own college. That’s exactly what British teen Beau Jessup did with her unique business: naming hundreds of Chinese babies a day.
It all began when Jessup received an unexpected request during a business trip to China with her father in 2015.
“He was with a business colleague who had a three-year-old daughter and she had asked me to suggest an English name for her little girl,” Jessup told News.com.au. “I was surprised by this because having the responsibility to name a child is quite important. I wanted to take it seriously.”
In China, babies are often given Western names in addition to their Chinese names.
“If you don’t have a Western name, you can’t email, purchase online, or basically function in the 21st century,” Jessup explained in a TEDx Talk.
However, heavy government censorship of the internet in China can make it difficult for new parents to research an appropriate Western name for their babies.
“This is where it gets funny, and universities start getting applications from Goofy Li, Rolex Wang and Gandalf Wu,” said Jessup.
With this in mind, Jessup wanted to suggest a Western name that would fit the hopes that her father’s colleague had for her baby. She settled on Eliza, after the protagonist of My Fair Lady, symbolizing the mother’s wish that her daughter would surprise people with her accomplishments.
“It occurred to me that if [the mother] needed this service, then maybe other parents would as well,” she said.
And so, with the help of a freelance web developer and a $1,980 loan from her father, Jessup started the Special Name website.
The site works by giving parents a selection of 12 character and personality traits that they’d like their baby’s name to embody. Parents choose five traits, which the site then uses to determine three gender-specific recommendations.
Jessup built the site’s database of 4,000 names herself, and initially provided recommendations manually in a “labor-intensive” process. However, she has since streamlined the process using an algorithm.
“I currently name around 850 babies a day,” Jessup said.
While Special Name began as a free service, the site now charges 60 pence – about 80 cents – per name. In March 2019, CNBC estimated that the site had earned around $407,000 from naming 677,929 babies.
Jessup has since used her profits to pay back her father’s loan with interest, and to fund a university degree in social anthropology.
“My parents are really proud but probably because they don’t have to pay for my uni fees,” she joked.