When parents give their child a name, they determine what he’ll write at the top of his math quiz in elementary school, how he’ll introduce him-self at his first job interview after college and even whom his future spouse will promise vows to on their wedding day. A name is something parents give their child that will last his whole life long, and the pressure to make the right choice can feel tremendous.
But selecting a designation for your darling doesn’t have to be a daunting task, says Swistle (a pseudonym), author of the popular naming blog Swistle. “There is a lot of worry about making a mistake or regretting a choice … There is a feeling, I think, that there is only one perfect name for each child and that it is the parents’ [duty] to find that name or else doom the child to an altered fate.” However, that’s not the case, she assures. “Choosing a name is indeed a big responsibility, but there is a long list of names that would all be excellent choices for any particular child.”
Without the pressure to find The One, moms and dads can take a more relaxed approach in their search for a suitable title and even enjoy the creative process along the way. The truth is: Naming a baby can—and should—be fun.
What’s in a name: Where monikers come from
As soon as you find out you’re pregnant, the naming process can commence—and you can begin looking for inspiration anywhere and everywhere. Jennifer Moss, author and founder of BabyNames.com, suggests starting with the people you love and perusing your family tree. Next, consider places that are important to you and your partner—perhaps you met in Jackson Hole or went to Florence on your honeymoon. Think about memorable street names—your first home on Maple Avenue, for example, as well as mentors, teachers and friends who have left lasting impressions.
If you come across a name that neither runs in your family nor has any sentimental significance, don’t feel like you have to discount it. “Not every name has to mean something,” say Miek Bruno and Kerry Sparks, co-authors of Hello, My Name is Pabst: Baby Names for Nonconformist, Indie, Geeky, DIY, Hipster and Alterna-Parents of Every Kind. “It’s not silly at all to choose a name just because you like it.”
In fact, inspiration can abound in the most unexpected places, suggest Bruno and Sparks, such as the credits of a film or a tombstone at the cemetery. “You can find unusual names in very common places,” they say, “like your favorite book—think Beezus, Bartleby and Moby—or the produce aisle—try Kale, Plum or Basil.”
Name that tune: Today’s top hits
Assigning a moniker that’s on trend but not too trendy is one of the trickier balances parents strive to strike. “The surefire (not so) secret weapon is the Social Security Administration’s list of most popular baby names, which is published every year on Mother’s Day,” says Linda Rosenkrantz, co-creator of Nameberry.com. By checking the list and avoiding the names on it, you improve the odds of your offspring having a not-too-common denomination.
Another valuable resource is BabyNames.com’s popularity charts, which calculate the most popular names from its millions of users’ favorite names lists. “Because our users are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant,” Moss explains, “our popularity lists tend to predict actual U.S. birth naming trends.” The charts also indicate whether a name is rising or falling and how fast, which can forecast whether a name will hit the top 10 in the near future. Remember, too, that just because a name is off the charts doesn’t mean it has to be off the table. Swistle says that one of the top mistakes parents can make is having too many arbitrary requirements, such as “It can’t be the name of anyone we’ve ever known” or “It can’t be in the top 100 most popular names.” Rosenkrantz seconds the sentiment, encouraging parents not to bypass a name they love just because it’s too high on the national popularity list.
Moss offers further assurance: “If you love a too-popular name, you won’t mind if your daughter is the third Lucy in the class. She’ll survive—take it from a Jennifer.”
The name of the game: Strategies for the search
If a name doesn’t stand out to you right away, don’t fret. You have plenty of time to decide. Try compiling a list of names you like (even if they’re not quite right), and see if you notice any trends. For example, you may find you have a thing for one-syllable names, like Kate and Rose, or tend to lean toward names that can be shortened easily to a nickname, like Zachary and Jacob. Maybe you like the sound of names that end in “a”—such as Emma, Ava and Sophia, or maybe royal names—including George, Alexander and William—are your thing.
If you’re able to define your naming style, you can focus on names that fall within your preferred parameters. A smaller pool to choose from can make the selection process seem less overwhelming; plus, feeling like you have direction in your quest can be surprisingly reassuring.
Of course, there’s a chance you and your partner will be drawn to entirely different genres of monikers, which can feel like a bit of a setback. But just because you love Skylar and he prefers Michael doesn’t mean your baby is destined to remain nameless. “Your child will be named even if finding a name you both agree on proves to be harder than working out that seating chart for your wedding,” assures Jennifer Griffin, author of 1,107 Baby Names That Stand the Test of Time. “You’ll either pick one that is nobody’s favorite, but you both can tolerate; or you will tell your husband that you get first pick, and he can name the second child.”
If you and your partner have narrowed it down to a few contenders but none come forward as a clear winner, consider waiting until baby is born to make the final call. “I think waiting until after the birth to name the child can be helpful when the parents have given the subject a lot of thought and are down to two or three finalists they love equally,” says Swistle.
But, she warns, “While I might wait until after the birth to choose the best of three candidates, I would make sure the careful consideration had been done ahead of time … Just after a birth can be emotionally intense and tumultuous for the parents, which is not the ideal mind-frame for decision-making.” In other words: Don’t wait until your bundle is in your arms to begin the brainstorming process. A blank birth certificate is more likely to induce stress than spur ideas.
The long and short of it: Middle names and nicknames
In addition to finding a first name, most parents also give their child a middle name, and it’s equally deserving of thorough contemplation. “More attention is being to given to middle names, which now have almost as much weight as first names,” says Rosenkrantz. Middle names are a great opportunity to incorporate a family name, if you haven’t already, or to do something more adventurous, if you were hesitant to try anything too unusual with the first.
There’s also the option to call your child by his middle name instead of his forename. And even if that’s not your initial intention, it doesn’t hurt to have a first-rate second name. Advise Bruno and Sparks: “A good idea would be to have a middle name you really love, so that you could always fall back on calling your child that if he doesn’t seem to fit his first name.”
Whether you choose to use the first or middle name as baby’s primary name, you’ll need to also take into account nicknames. While many nicknames are inspired after your wee one arrives, decisions about whether your Robert will go by Rob or Bobby are best made ahead of time.
If you feel strongly about using—or not using—a nickname, you’ll want to inform your family and friends accordingly. “This is a good generation for full names,” says Swistle. “People are much less likely to jump to Jimmy or Liz if they’re introduced to a James or Elizabeth.”
But that doesn’t mean keeping your Lucas from being called Luke will be easy. Notes Swistle: “I think it’s smart for parents to go into it with the knowledge that there may be people who will just use the nicknames, even when they’re asked not to.” What can you do when this happens? “If, after gentle reminders, a family member persists in using a nickname—saying something like, ‘Oh, he just looks like a Pete to me!’—I’d suggest using the breathing methods learned in childbirth classes,” she jokes.
Sticks and stones: Standing up for your chosen name
Once you’ve chosen an appellation for the apple of your eye, you’ll likely want to shout it from the rooftops. But before you do, know that the most recurring (and resounding) words of wisdom seem to be to keep mum on the name until baby’s debut. “My advice is to never tell anyone in advance what the name is going to be,” says Griffin. “Wait to tell people the name,” echo Bruno and Sparks.
The reason? “If you announce it after the child is born, the only response can be, ‘How lovely,’” Griffin explains, which she says is far more desirable than the uncensored opinions you may receive prior to your bundle’s arrival. Before the baby is born, people often think they can influence your pick and sway you to go with something else. However, once your little one is here and officially named, they’re generally a little more respectful of—and polite about—your decision.
Still, if you’re so excited you can’t stand to keep the chosen moniker a secret any longer, go ahead and spill the beans. Announce the name with confidence, and promise yourself you won’t second-guess it when friends and strangers alike tell you about a Lydia in kindergarten who used to pick her nose or a Carson in law school who was a total jerk. Don’t pay too much attention to other people’s opinions, advises Rosenkrantz, “especially in the case of older relatives, whose ideas are probably several decades out of style.”
Try not to let even your mother’s upturned nose bother you. “If you love Francesca, go with it,” advises Griffin. “Your mother will absolutely come around once she sees the little cutie. And even if she still hates the name, she’ll still love the girl.” Margaret Eby, author of Rock & Roll Baby Names: Over 2,000 Music Inspired Names from Alison to Ziggy, offers a similar opinion: “Use the name that fits for you, and your loved ones will get used to it … Beyonce’s name came from an adaptation of her mother’s maiden name, Biyince. Her family wasn’t originally convinced … but now, could you imagine her with any other name?”
When it comes to naming your child, “Don’t let anyone else—experts like me included—pressure you into ‘Graham’ when your heart is saying ‘James,’” says Eby. The only real mistake you can make is going with something that doesn’t ring true to you, she says. “Everything else is fair game.”