Your tiny newborn needs a name, and you have to choose the perfect one. What’s a parent to do?
“My son, Gabriel Raven Nicolai Dominic, has as many names as a royal child,” says mother Charity Mason. “When he grows up, he can make his own choice. If he becomes a rock star, Raven would be perfect; if he becomes an anthropologist, Dominic or Gabriel would be suitable.”
Most parents agree, choosing a name can be as full of snags as running through a thorny thicket in shorts. Whether you’re nearing the home stretch of a nine-month inning or beginning your first day as a new parent, chances are you’ll face the same dilemma. You and your partner agree on the names you hate, but can’t reach an accord on a single one you like!
1. Rhythm, Rhyme and Harmony
Justin Case had parents who either loved a good joke or didn’t put much thought into names. Charity Mason discovered she loved the name Jason, but her child would never have forgiven her. Likewise, Christine Rossine sounds like a variation on the same name rather than two separate names.
Does your choice have rhythm? Pair multiple syllable last names with single syllable first names and vice versa. For those of us who aren’t poets, the number of syllables in the first name shouldn’t match the number in the last name. Say your name choices out loud to feel the rhythm.
Aurora may not be the best choice for the Obermyer’s new addition. Often, first and last names beginning with the same vowel sound odd. And if the last name begins with a vowel sound, choose a first name that doesn’t.
Mom Barbara Enthru says nothing sounds right with her last name. “We gave our daughter an easy-to-spell first name that wouldn’t set her apart from the rest of the kids – Rachel.”
2. Can You Spell PIG?
String the initials of your name choices together. Do they spell anything?
Bryan Ulrich Mathison will endure more than his share of teasing on the school yard. And Page Isobel Gordanier will probably pass on monogrammed towels.
“My husband’s initials spell EEL and I thought that might not be a good thing to saddle on a child,” says Carole Lynch. “But my son has the same initials and he thinks it’s neat. When he’s 40 he may have a different opinion entirely.”
3. Seeing Red
An unusual name, like red hair seen across a crowded room, sets a child apart and creates a powerful first impression. Creative spelling of an old standard like Catherine as Kathourynne sounds poetic and elegant, but it also invokes images – free-spirited, ditzy, gracious or pretentious.
Is it worth it? Like the two percent of the world’s population with red tresses, it can be seen as a handicap or a blessing. Charmian Christie has corrected teachers, friends and coworkers and she’s never owned personalized items like bookmarks and buttons. She never says her name when someone asks for it.
“I always spell it first, then I say it,” she says. “If I say it first, people assume they know how to spell it and they always, always get it wrong.” But now she uses her name as a junk mail filter. If her name’s not spelled correctly on the envelope, she knows it’s not worth reading. And unlike the 32,101 baby boys named Jacob (most popular baby name for 2001), Charmian is unique.
An unusual name usually signifies an unusual meaning. Pearl will likely face down a clever second grader who can warp her name into something hilarious, but at least her name means “flawless beauty.” Garrett, whose name means “firm spears,” may not be as pleased.
“I believe in unique names whenever possible,” says Mel Duvall. “Tenaya’s name was a mixed blessing, but she loves it, especially when I showed it to her in the encyclopedia.” Duvall named her daughter Tenaya after the last Yosemite Indian Chief. She loved the way it sounded and its association with Yosemite and with Native Americans.
4. Honoring Grandpa
You might hold your grandfather in the highest esteem, but would you name your child Horace, Alfred or Ernest? Don’t worry, you can still honor Grandpa and grace your child with the name of your choice. Use a variation of Grandpa’s name or match his first initial. Remember though, if you don’t want input on the final selection, wait until after the birth to make your announcement. By then it will too late for lobbying.
Edwina Lewis celebrated a favorite uncle by giving their youngest child a variation of his name. “We took his first name, Jerry Lee and gave Heather the middle name of Leigh. He took our kids everywhere, had infinite patience and love for them, even when they were tiny. We just wanted to honor him.”
If you decide to bless your child with a name from your family, be prepared to explain why you gave your child the same name as Grandma, Grandpa or even Daddy. Sharmila Rance, who was given her mother’s name, feels she was an extension of her mother and her mother’s dreams. “I wasn’t even important enough to get my own name.”
However, naming your child after someone you admire is a wonderful way to connect him to your values, dreams and past. Your child will love to hear the story of how you named him Nelson after you watched Nelson Mandela walk to freedom and go on to become a great world leader.
Don’t forget to explore different versions of the same name to add interest. Julie, like Sheri, Cathy and Wendy were the staple diet of new parents during the ’70s. But add some spice and be creative – Julia, Jules, Julianna and even Juliet. Many parents look to the past to create new names. It doesn’t seem possible to some that Edith or Edwin could become a popular name for babies today, but 20 years ago, who would’ve guessed that Hannah, Abigail, Samuel and William would rule the name lists of 2002?
5. A Rose by Any Other Name
Elizabeth – Liz, Lizzy, Lizabeth, Betsy, Beth. Chances are your daughter will pick the one that raises the hairs on the back of your neck when she turns 8. So if you’re not comfortable with nicknames or with constantly correcting oh-so-clever-second-graders, move onto your next choice.
Some names allow parents a certain amount of control over combinations. But just about any name can be mutated, morphed and mutilated. One-syllable names are lengthened and longer names shortened. Grace becomes Gracie, Charles morphs to Charlie and Alexander inevitably turns to Alex. Every child goes through the I-want-to-change-my-name phase, and in the end, it’s his name.
“We didn’t want Micah to be known as Mike,” says mom Kellie Sisson Snider. “He’s 12, and I’ve told him we would always call him Micah. Very briefly he wanted to be called Mike, but he didn’t stick with it. He’ll always be Micah to me.”
6. Practice Makes Perfect
You’ll whisper, yell, sing and say your baby’s name a million times before he leaves home for college. When you’re angry you’ll soldier in his middle names for reinforcement, and when he crawls in your bed in the middle of the night you’ll whisper it as softly as a caress while you wrap your arm around him.
“We visited the park a lot during my pregnancy,” says Rebecca Shafer. “One mother called her daughter over and over – Holly Schmidt. After awhile it began to sound like she was swearing. We paid close attention to what names were being said and how they sounded at various decibels after that.”
7. Playing the Name Game
Don’t advertise your name choices unless you want input. Charity Mason asked for help and ended up strapping four names to her first child, and to keep peace, her subsequent children also landed four names respectively – one from each grandparent.
Be prepared for your sister-in-law to claim dibs on the name you’ve got your heart set on. Be firm. Unless she’s pregnant, all names are up for grabs.
Don’t fall into the rhythm trap of the ’50s and ’60s. Parents selected sibling names all beginning with the same letter. Edward and Elliot may sound nice for brothers, but you may be stuck with Earl, Elmer and Egbert by the time your third child arrives.
Be careful about sexual distinctions. If you choose a boyish name for your daughter, and later have a son, you’ll have to consider a clearly masculine name to avoid confusion. Avery, now a popular girl’s name, may leave strangers confused when you pair it with your first child Tiffany: Do you have a son and a daughter?
8. Good Vibrations
All the rational suggestions in the world can only provide basic guidance for one of the most emotional decisions you’ll make. And very few names meet all the criteria for the perfect selection.
“There was so much else to be concerned about that my baby’s name was the least of my worries,” says Cornelia Wright, who was living in Germany at the time of her daughter’s birth. “Parents need to create a neutral, loving zone where commonalities can be emphasized. You can always build from that point on.”
If you and your partner find the perfect name for your baby that breaks one or all of these suggestions, use it anyway. The most important guideline to adhere to is to pick a name that speaks to your heart and shows your child how special and unique he is to you.
Julia Rosien is a freelance writer, mother and teacher.
Websites for Baby Names
This website offers detailed lists of names and their meanings.
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A search engine with a multitude of names.