5 Easy Ways to Judge a Baby Name

Many of us spend an entire nine months – or even longer – weighing the relative merits of names for our babies.

But it’s possible to judge most names much more quickly than that, at least accurately enough to tell whether they belong on your short list.

Here, nameberry’s top quick and easy tips for judging a baby’s name.


The book Blink theorized that the reaction we have to something in the first few seconds has important long-term meaning, and that counts for a name.  Perhaps you can learn to love a name that at first seems weird and old-fashioned like Leopold or get over your image of Ruth as the kid you knew who had green teeth, but better to choose a name that, the minute you hear it, makes you feel positive and full of anticipation for meeting the person who owns it.


The most compatible first names will have a different number of syllables than your surname…and a different number from the middle name too.  So a syllable combination of 2-3-1 – Rufus Barnaby Flynn, for instance – or 3-1-2 or 1-3-4 is best.

Of course, my three children all have two-syllable names paired with our two-syllable last name and I didn’t even realize it for about 20 years.  But if I had, I would have picked names with uneven numbers of syllables as I think that rhythm is most pleasing to the ear.


We’ve always made fun of those dumb rulebooks that advise you not to give your child initials that spell out P.I.G. or A.S.S.   Duh.  Of course you wouldn’t do that.

But what about something like S.T.D.?   Writing out the potential initials and checking them twice can be worthwhile.  Studies show that people with initials that spell out positive things – A.C.E. or V.I.P. – live nearly five years longer than those with negative ones.


No reason to invent an algorithm for divining the future population of every name on the Social Security’s Top 1000.  Instead, simply check out the popularity chart we include for every name on the SS list.  You can tell at a glance how quickly a name is motoring upward, as Leila is here https://nameberry.com/babyname/Leila, and how consistent its use has been over time.  At least in terms of popularity, this can give you all the information you really need.


Take it on a test drive, trying it out on, say, half a dozen people.  You don’t have to tell them it’s a name you’re considering for your baby; that may skew the results.  Instead, say you’d just met someone named Dashiell, for instance, and ask whether they’ve ever hear of the name.

If the overall response is confusion, repeated requests for spelling and pronunciation, and misunderstanding the name as everything from Daniel to Cashel, you can be pretty sure that will be the response throughout your child’s life.  You may decide you love the name enough to put up with it, but at least you’ll know what you’re getting yourself and your child into.

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33 Responses to “5 Easy Ways to Judge a Baby Name”

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Beth Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 5:33 am

I especially like the idea of trying out a name without telling someone that you’re considering it for a baby name–you’ll get a more honest reaction and people will react to it as the name of a person rather than an opportunity to give advice.

BasicSand Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 6:01 am

These are good suggestions. What sort of tests would one use to consider a name that is one in honor of a family member?

Ghoti Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 6:42 am

Talk about the family member a lot? I’ve been trying to find out whether one person can say the diminutive my family use by talkling about one family name a lot, but so far to no avail.

Jenny Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 10:37 am

Is a little girl with the initials SIF bad enough to change? Or is it only because I have a dirty mind?

mermuse Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 11:20 am

I have no idea what SIF is, so I’d say you are safe.

mermuse Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 11:23 am

do you think that the syllable rule is a MUST? my favorite boys’ name is 2 syllables, and so is our last name….

phaedra_p Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 11:29 am

I like these as rules of thumb, but I think the syllable thing is very flexible. I too have a two-syllable last night, and two of my kids have two-syllable firsts. I think they’re just fine.

Now, a 4-syllable first and a 4-syllable last would be a bit unwieldy. Likewise, a 1 and 1 is a bit slight to my ear. But I think 2-syllable last names work with the widest range of firsts and middles.

phaedra_p Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 11:29 am

*name, not night 😛

Steph Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 1:10 pm

I agree with Phaedra, a 2-syllable last name is fairly flexible. Having at least one of the three names be a different # of syllables seems to work for my ear at least. For example, my first DD is 1-2-2, My second DD is 2-3-2, and my third DD is 2-3-2.

Steph Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Also important to note about the syllables is where the stress is placed in terms of the rhythm of the name. It’s the reason why I think so many of us were given the middle name “Marie” in the 1970s. Mah-REE emphasizes the second syllable which breaks up the rhythm and sounds good with practically any name. My DD’s MN Elise is emphasized similarly.
A one-syllable MN does a similar thing in terms of breaking up the rhythm as long as the last name isn’t 1-syllable as well. That explains why names like Grace, Lynn, Claire and Rose work so well for MNs.

CanaLyn Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I have a 2-1-2 rhythm to my name, as do all three of my siblings. How weird.

My own name choices will probably always be affected by who I knew by a name:
Bellatrix is gorgeous, but the only place I’ve ever heard it used was for an evil witch from Harry Potter.
Rebecca is plain to me, but my firstborn girl will at least have it as a middle name, for my best friend in high school who died our freshman year in college.
Marshall is a great boy’s name, but I don’t want to name a boy after a brand of amp.
Kellen and Colt and Cameron are all great, but since they’re all quarterbacks (and, in the case of Kellen, Twilight actors) the only one I might use is Cameron, and that’s because I bleed orange and blue. And I don’t know that I could get away even with that.

British American Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 3:00 pm

For our first child we did 1-3-2 syllables. I did pick her middle name based on her short first name needing some ‘balance’. Not that we ever call her by both her first and middle name! 😛

Our son’s name is 2-2-2 and I think his name sounds fine too – especially with the middle name being having family significance.

If we go with the current picks for baby #3, it will be 1-2-2 or 2-3-2, so that’s ‘more pleasing’ too. 🙂 My own (maiden) name was 2-3-3. 🙂

I’m not familiar with what would make SIF a problem either.

I do seem to prefer some names that ‘grow on me’ – so I guess that means some negative first impressions. I do learn to love the more old fashioned names.

Chelsea Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

One way to test out a name is to give that name to the barista at Starbucks or wherever else they call out orders by name. I like hearing how a name will sound out-and-about, devoid of any meaningful context.

As for SIF–I think syphilis.

annie Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 5:26 pm

My name is 1-1-1 and it sort of flows, but it really doesn’t when you say it over and over. So, I think that rule should be taken into consideration.

E @ Oh! Apostrophe Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 5:49 pm

The name we picked for our son (due in March) is three syllables and so is our last name. I think two syllables would sound better, but ultimately my love of the name won out over that issue.


lemon Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 8:28 pm

I think Steph’s note about syllabic stress is a great one to point out. My name is a 2-2-2, but my middle name, like Steph’s daughter, is Elyse, which has the same stress pattern as Marie (coincidentally my mother’s middle name) – so, when paired with my first name, Lauren, it isn’t too bad.

Gigi Says:

November 9th, 2010 at 10:18 pm

What about 3 syllable last names? Before I got married I was a 2 2 and now I’m a 2 3 my hubby is a 133.

kay Says:

November 10th, 2010 at 3:13 pm

A lot of these tips are great, including the initials one, but the claim about initials and life span is a bit… overstated. Only ONE study showed that, another disproved it (according to the article you linked!). It drives me crazy when myths like this are perpetuated. Even if it was true, it would be hard to tell if it had anything to do with the initials – maybe parents who pay attention to these things also have higher socioeconomic status and therefore healthier children. Correlation vs Causation anyone??

elisa Says:

November 12th, 2010 at 2:49 pm

i think guidelines are great, but ultimately you will be calling your kid this for the rest of his/her life and have to love it first and foremost. one thing the article didnt’ mention is the short forms of a name. you can love the name all you want, but if it’s long and difficult, or is long and has too many syllables it’s definitely going to get shortened along the way by many of your child’s acquaintances. Personally, I tried every name for our boys out by shouting them out loud as if I were trying to get their attention on the playground. seriously, some names just didn’t work for that reason alone. do you want people calling Connor ‘Con’ or do you love people calling Dashiell ‘Dash’. One of our sons has a name that we never intended to use, we had always wanted just the short form but gave him the full form so that he’d have a choice later in life.

Rachel Says:

November 25th, 2010 at 1:37 am

My daughter’s name is Ruby Amira Craig. It just happens to be that it fell into place that way, not because we attempted to name her that way. Her initials are R.A.C. the same as mine.

Namenutt Says:

February 23rd, 2011 at 6:00 am

I like that these ‘rules’ are not set in stone, they are flexible as everyone’s comments illustrate. I’m lucky enough to have a 2-1-3: Hazel Jean V. which I do think flows very well, but then so does my sister’s 3-1-3 name: Eleanor Jayne V. so I agree with a pp who said the flow can sound ok as long as there is a variation of 2 different numbers 2-1-2, 3-2-3. I also agree with the comment that where the stress is placed does make a difference as a 2-2-2 Ruby Leanne Sanford doesn’t sound bad. To add to that, I think alliteration and the ending sound of each name also plays a part: Ruby Rita Renton >> individually the names are lovely but together, not so great. Nor is Ruby Lilly Buckley. But RubY LeonA Haywood is better. Still all 2-2-2’s. ___ As for another pp’s question about SIF, apart from the syphalis association, unfortunately in my country, South Africa, ‘sif’ is another slang word for ‘gross’, as in, “Eeww! SIF(gross) MAN!”. However, apart you probably even not being in SA. anyway, how often does a person, esp. a child REALLY need to use all their initials in a way that might draw that much/kind of attention to them? ___ I also associate names to the people I’ve met with them. For people close to me with uncommon names, it always feels very weird if I meet another person with that name. Eg, my best friend’s name is Maxine and if I ever come across another Maxine (unusual), it feels like the name just doesn’t suit anyone else and has been ‘stolen’! Lol! Ridiculous I know! (^^J)

Londinium Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 10:21 pm

I agree wth the initials because my initials spell L.A.W and that inspires me to better or live up to my initials.

Erin Says:

April 10th, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I’m coming late to the game, but I have to laugh at the initials thing. It’s something my husband and I have ALWAYS been aware of. His initials are BJS and unfortunately, kids can be cruel. 😉 Even without the S part, you still get BJ.

Our little girl is due at the end of June and we’re working on an A name, so obviously no S middle name. As it stands, we’re leaning towards a 3-2-3 rhythm. I can’t do anything about the 3 and 3 – one is the last name and the first name is the one I’m in love with, so it stays. Another rhythm that’s on the table is a 3-4-3 name.

*person* Says:

June 1st, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Initials should be fun and cool, but not something people notice the minute they hear the full name.
I know a girl who’s initials are OMG 🙂
A guy who’s initials are WAS
Mine are CHRO–And I like ’em that way

*person* Says:

June 1st, 2011 at 8:32 pm

I have a 1-2-3-3 name
Or a 1-5-3 If I feel like spelling my MN Hildaremenda instead of Hilda Remenda

Steph Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 5:54 am

My sister’s initials are MEG and she uses Meg as her tag for her business name – very cute! She was a MEB but it changed when she took her married name and now has this cute little nickname. Before this, I would have never thought of having a ‘back-up’ nickname with the initials but I really like the idea now!

Steph Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 5:55 am

Oh, forgot to mention above that my sister’s name is Meredith…no association with Meg/Meghan whatsoever.

eloise Says:

October 12th, 2011 at 12:48 am

That reminds me that there was a boy I went to school with who was known as SAM because that was his initials. I can’t even remember what his real first name was!

I just realised that both mine and my husband’s names are 3-1-2 (and we have different last names). Never noticed that before.

Something else you might want to consider is when the last letter of the first name and the first letter of the last name is the same. For example, if you called your son Liam Morris it may sound like Liam Orris or Lia Morris – you lose one of the ‘m’ sounds.

ferntailwp Says:

April 15th, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Instead of making up a story about someone you’ve met to your friends I think a good idea is to give them the potential name to the barista at Starbucks or something similar. That way you know the feeling you get with that being your name and you get to see a stranger’s reaction. This, of course, only works with names for the same gender, though.

MissusAytch Says:

January 21st, 2013 at 10:13 pm

My husband and I have 2-2-2 names. Accents on the first syllable of all three. Ugh. My mom had 4 children and all but one have the same pattern. Ugh! Anyway – we are not doing that! Our chosen boy name is 3-2-2 and though we are not sure of a girl name out front runner is 3-1-2. Rhythm is so important!

sarahmezz Says:

March 4th, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I don’t get the idea of “flow” or “rhythm”. My name is 2-2 with the stress on the first syllable in both first and surname. I think it sounds fine! I think flow and rhythm are more important to American ears!

Aligator_xxx Says:

April 17th, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Mine is 3-1-3 and I like the flow: Alison Rae W________.

AuroraPond Says:

April 22nd, 2014 at 5:08 pm

I blew the syllable rule out of the water by naming my son Felix Arthur Edmund. With our surname it is 2-2-2-1.
Our daughter is Imogen Hermione Louise 3-4-2-1 so maybe I made up for it?

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