By Abby Sandel
After ten years, our database is chock full of amazing names. But every parent faces the same challenge: how to whittle those nearly 70,000 choices down to just one single name – plus a middle or two – for your child?
As Nameberry’s resident Name Sage, I help families wrestle with these decisions all the time. Sometimes it’s about reconciling different styles, or thinking up fresh ideas.
But many times, the questions are bigger. What’s most important to our family? Who do we hope our children will become? And how can we find a name that will speak to everything they are, and still leave plenty of room for all of the amazing things that they’ll do in the future?
These are the questions that keep us up at night.
Is this name too weird? Even in a world with celebrity babies called Gravity and Chicago, plenty of us hesitate before we choose Matilda or Zinnia. Hey, it’s no fun to add “yes, that’s my real name,” every time you introduce yourself. And yet, it’s true that unusual names have become downright ordinary. Nova, Maverick, and Genesis rank in the US Top 100. Depending on where you live, Matilda might be one in a crowd.
Is this name too common? Worrying about a weird name is nothing new. But here’s a twenty-first century phenomenon: fretting that a name is too common. A generation of Jennifers and Ashleys grew up to marry Michaels and Jasons, and decided that avoiding a Top Ten name was a priority. But what do you do if your favorite name is a chart-topper like Noah or Charlotte? Is it harder to give up your favorite choice … or to share it with others?
The grandparents hate it. What now? You and your partner spent weeks dreaming up the perfect name. You decide to share it with the grandparents-to-be, and their reaction? They hate it. And they tell you. My advice: you and your parents don’t share clothes, and you probably don’t like the same music, either. There’s no reason you’d share the same style when it comes to names. Odds are their parents weren’t wild when they named you Brandon or Amber or Chelsea, so it’s only natural that they won’t realize that your favorite names are going to suit their grandchildren just fine. And they’ll love baby Matilda all the same.
We want to honor the grandparents, but don’t like their names. What now? For generations, handing down a family name meant just that. What else explains all those Robert William Jones IVs? Today it’s possible to have the best of both worlds: a name that expresses your personal style and honors your roots. Check out our list of ways to reinvent family names for a new generation.
Should we use this masculine name for our daughter? Your great aunt Shirley called to tell you and your sister Ashley that this isn’t new. Parents have sought strong names for their daughters for generations, and we’ve often borrowed from the boys to achieve that result. In the US, parents are free to choose nearly any name for a child. But it’s worth noting that there are countless feminine names that are plenty strong and courageous, too.
How can we avoid a nickname we don’t like? Not so long ago, every Robert was a Bobby, every William a Bill. But parents today are more likely to prefer their children’s names be used in full. In some cases, it’s as easy as choosing a nickname-resistant name: Bennett rather than Benjamin, Elise instead of Elizabeth. There’s a reason names like Ava and Logan are all over the current US Top Ten. And yet, it’s worth noting that a little bit of flexibility isn’t a bad thing. Adding a longer, nickname-rich middle can balance a spare, straightforward first name nicely. I’ll vote for Clara Josephine over Clara Jo every time.
Can I use this name my sister’s college roommate just used? There’s wisdom – and kindness – in not naming your daughter Sophie after your sister just named her firstborn Sophia. But ruling out every name we’ve heard on a real-life kid in our extended social circles ever won’t work, either. Most of us will eventually meet someone who shares our name, and that’s fine. Use the name you love, even if it means knowing that your kiddo won’t be one-of-one.
They stole my name! There are two varieties of name theft. First, you were planning to name your son True – but now it’s Khloe Kardashian’s daughter. As frustrating as a high-profile birth announcement can be, there’s no reason your Louis can’t co-exist with the little prince. But the second is tougher, because it’s often someone you’re close to, close enough that it hurts – even if it’s completely unintentional. My advice above stands. Value relationships over names, but remember that names don’t have to be unique to be special.
Can I use this name? Maybe the hardest questions aren’t about names at all – it’s about what they signify. Your all-time favorite is the name of the grade school bully your partner just can’t forget. Or the name reminds your loved one of something painful. It’s easy for us to say that it shouldn’t matter, but it does. In these cases, the people you love come first. Talk through whether welcoming a new child with this name will mark a fresh start, or be too difficult to consider.
How do I handle name regret? Repeat after me: the child makes the name. If you’re uncertain about your choice, know that as your child grows into the name, you’ll almost certainly come to love it, too. Instead of thinking about reasons why Trinity or Algernon or Luella doesn’t suit, you might try considering all the reasons you liked it in the first place. But if that falls short, changing an infant’s name is usually a pretty simple process, and worth considering if that feeling of name regret lingers more than a few weeks.
How do we narrow it down to The Name? This is what Nameberry has always been here for! Try entering your favorites into our Namehunter, look for lists of names that share the qualities you like, follow our Ask the Name Sage column, and of course, visit our forums to get feedback from fellow berries. They’ll help you test drive a potential name, and while not everyone will love every suggestion, their reaction is a great way to gauge which names will wear best.
We want to take this moment to acknowledge and thank Abby for all her wonderful contributions to Nameberry over the decade!