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9 Timeless Rules for Naming Your Baby

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On this 98 degree day, I’m doing the only chore that makes sense: cleaning the basement. That’s how, deep in a dusty box, between my now adult daughter’s kindergarten drawings and my ancient college essays, I found a draft of the proposal for our very first baby-naming book.

What struck me most about our early work was a list of rules for choosing the perfect name, as relevant today as they’ve ever been — and will continue to be. Whether your taste in names tends toward the traditional or the trendy, whether you’re picking between a few finalists or still playing the vast field, these guidelines should help:

1. Start Thinking of Names Early — Make some tentative decisions, and live with them for a while. If you’re tired of a name after two months, imagine how you’ll feel after 20 years.

2. Say the Name With Your Last Name Quickly Ten Times — Beware of run-together sounds. Max Satran could be Mac Satran or Max Atran; Olaf Finch could be Ola Finch or Olaf Inch. Childhood is confusing enough.

3. Try Out Names On Your Friends — Take cues from their reactions. If you say a name and they always reply, “What?” or “How is that spelled?,” don’t assume that they’re either stupid or hearing-impaired; your child will likely get the same reactions for the rest of her life.

4. Don’t Be Pressured Into Using A Name Your Don’t Like — So what if your mother keeps hinting about how happy it would make her if you named your child Harold after her favorite uncle? If you remember Uncle Harold with a red nose and cigar breath, ignore the hints. On the other hand:

5. Fulfill Obligations with a Middle Name — The middle name can be the perfect way to dispose of Uncle Harold, honor your father-in-law, indulge a fancy, or oblige your spouse with a name you can’t live with as a first name.

6. Anticipate the Inevitable – If you name your baby Susannah, don’t be surprised if people shorten it to Sue, Susie, or even Sukie. If you give your child a name with variant spellings and pronunciations — Alisa, Alyssa, Elissa, Elyssa, Ilyssa etc. — don’t be surprised if you find yourself “correcting” the spelling and pronunciation forevermore.

7. Think Like A Bully — While children have become more tolerant of unique, ethnically distinctive, and gender ambiguous names, bullies still exist and you don’t want to give your child a name that will too easily make him a target of teasing.

8.  Rule Out All Names of Ex-Boyfriends and Ex-GirlfriendsEven if your husband’s ex-girlfriend’s name has always been your favorite in the world, don’t go with it and hope you’ll forget. You won’t, and neither will he.

9.  Rule Out Names with Bad Associations — The kid who threw up at your seventh birthday party, your pimply lab partner — no matter how nice their names, you’ll never transcend the association.

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