HOAX: SoCal Woman Gets $5,000 for Baby-Naming Rights

When an online contest offered $5,000 to allow the public to vote on a slate of baby names, Natasha Hill jumped at the chance

NOTE: This story was an elaborate hoax, NBC's TODAY Moms blog has learned. This story was updated on March 4. Here is a link to the NBC4 story on the hoax.

The original story, reported by NBC4, Today and dozens of other media outlets, can be found below:

Natasha Hill couldn’t decide what to call the baby she is expecting in September.

So when a baby-naming website offered $5,000 to an expectant mom who was willing to let the public vote on the best moniker, the 26-year-old jumped at the chance.

“I just thought it was a really cool idea,” said Hill, an art teacher who works with young children. “I found it when I was online looking for baby names on different websites.”

Hill, who lives in West Los Angeles, was one of 80 women who entered the contest, which was sponsored by a Texas based company called Belly Ballot.

The social media website grew out of a naming game sometimes played at baby showers, at which participants are given a list of acceptable names by expectant parents, and then vote on their favorite ones.

At Belly Ballot, expectant moms sign up groups of family and friends, and offer them five possible girl names and five possible boy names, said owner Lacey Moler. The group votes, and then the mom can either go with their consensus or ignore it.

For the contest, Moler and her staff secured funding from advertisers, and decided to offer a $5,000 prize to an applicant who was willing to let anyone in the world vote on a name for her baby.

The voters will be presented with a list of names chosen by Moler, her staff and the advertisers, Moler said. Product names will not be allowed, nor names that are “too crazy,” and everyone gets just one vote.

Unlike the more casual balloting conducted for groups of family and friends by the website, Hill won’t have the option of rejecting the name that is chosen.

But she trusts Moler’s promise that the name won’t be too strange – and she says that given her own eclectic tastes, the baby may be better off anyway with a consensus name chosen by the public.

“I think whatever name is chosen my child is going to be grateful that it didn’t come from me,” Hill said.

Her boyfriend is a little less sanguine about it. He remembers a Facebook contest in which a man said he would name his child Batman if he got 500,000 likes on his page.

"He thinks people are going to use it as a chance to do something pranky,” she said.

To choose Hill as their winner, Moler and her staff sifted through essays written by each of the applicants. They were moved, she said, by Hill’s promise to use half of the money to pay down credit debt and the other half to start a college fund for the baby.

“We heard all kinds of stories,” Moler said. Moms promised to use the money for diapers, helping with newborn costs, financial support to take a leave of absence – even a down payment on a house.

“People told stories about their pregnancies,” said Moler, herself a mother of three. “People definitely did pull at our heartstrings.”

But, Moler, said, letting the whole world choose your baby’s name isn’t for everyone.

At her own baby shower, she said, guests voted on a slate of names for her daughter, and chose Stella.

Moler named the child Anna instead.

I have very strong opinions about my names,” Moler said.

Hill, nervous enough about the baby and now the name, has decided not to check the website to even see what appellations wind up on the final list.

“I’m afraid if I look at them I’ll get my favorite one,” said Hill, who had previously considered names including Katorah (no, she doesn't know what it means) and Winter. “And then I’ll be disappointed.”

If she doesn’t like the name, Hill said, there’s still one available exit strategy.

And it’s a classic.

“There’s always a nickname,” the mother-to-be said.

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