5 Mistakes Even Smart Baby Namers Make

Ever feel like you’re a baby name klutz and that there are other, infinitely smarter baby namers out there who do everything right and magically arrive at the perfect name with no fuss or wrong turns?

Not true.  Here are the five most common mistakes even the smartest baby namers make.

1.     They try to psych out the Social Security list.

There’s something about naming a baby that can inspire even the most math phobic among us to turn to the Social Security list of most popular names and try to deconstruct it with the precision of an actuary.  But baby name ups and downs depend on much more than statistics, and you can drive yourself crazy trying to psych out the numbers in search of the name that’s unusual but not too weird, stylish but not in danger of getting overpopular.

How better to find names that achieve the golden mean?  By consulting nameberry, of course.

2.     They’re afraid to tell anyone their name ideas.

Many parents today keep their favorite names secret in fear of namenapping or harsh critiques, and that can be a smart thing in some cases.  But it can also keep you from learning a name’s pitfalls, such as that nobody can understand what you’re saying unless you spell it, or that it’s prone to mispronunciation, or that there are three little girls with that name in the local nursery school.

If you don’t want to open your ideas up to judgment but you still want to see how they fly in the world, try them out on people you don’t know very well: acquaintances, shopkeepers, message board cohorts.

3.     They fight with their spouses about names.

Sure, we fight with our spouses just like most married people, but baby names are one arena where you should tame the tempers and get at the reasons beneath your fights.  Names are often symbolic of deeper beliefs about family, religion, gender, self-image – all kinds of big and important things – and rather than engaging in heated power struggles about Henry vs. Hugo, it’s smarter to sit down over a nice dinner and talk about your hopes and dreams for your child-to-be and how your name ideas connect with them.

A good ground rule is to take all names off the table that the other really doesn’t like, no matter how much you love them yourself.  What you’re looking for are names that you both feel happy with, even if they’re neither partner’s top choice.

4.     They anticipate initials, nicknames, and teasing potential, but misjudge the name’s rhythm.

Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but in general the best combinations involve unequal numbers of syllables in each element of the name.  So, if you’ve got a two-syllable last name, you might want to look for a three-syllable first name and one-syllable middle name, or vice versa.  The mistake you don’t want to make is the one I made with my third child and give him a two-two-two name.  Not terrible, of course, but not nearly as musical as a name with different syllabic rhythms.

5.     They overthink the decision.

Of course, we believe you should think about baby names long and hard (and make it fun too).  You should give yourself lots of time to explore plenty of names and make the most informed decision.

But it is possible to find so many names you like that you’re unable to settle on just one.  Or to be so attuned to every name’s down side that you can’t find any you like.  Or to settle on a name today only to change your mind tomorrow – and do that 28 different times.  Or to bring the baby home from the hospital and decide you’ve made a grievous name mistake.

At some point, it makes sense to settle on a name decision even if you’re not 100% sure – to just give yourself time to live with a name for a while without thinking about the subject constantly.  Part of the difficulty of choosing a name is letting go of all the other names that carry different advantages.  But in the end you need to let go of name debates and move on to more important duties, like being the best possible parent to your child.

<h2>Need more baby naming help?  Buy our book The Baby Name Bible today.</h2>

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26 Responses to “5 Mistakes Even Smart Baby Namers Make”

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Angela Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 1:44 am

I’m curious about #4… Are all three of the names trochees? (Or, more unusually, three iambs?) Because something like Anna Marie Johnson has three syllables in each name, but having the iamb in the middle breaks up the rhythm a bit (as trochees are common in the English language, I suspect that’s why Marie seems to be far and away the most common female middle name in the USA: to help with rhythm).

Filipa Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 5:07 am

I’m not “a smart baby namer”, but i love names. And I feel that sometimes i ruin some names because i spend too much time thinking about teasing potential, popularity, significance… I might have a much larger perspective of a name, but that’s not always positive at all!

Emmy Jo Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 5:47 am

The only one of which I’m guilty is #5, and boy am I! We didn’t settle on Julius’s name until four days after he was born, and then only after many tears and my husband’s insistence that we couldn’t take an unnamed baby home from the hospital.

We ended up choosing my absolute favorite of our three options, but it still took me several months before I was convinced we hadn’t made a grievous error.

Stacy Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 7:25 am

We did watch the SSA list pretty closely, but that was because we were worried because a celebrity had chosen our #1 name the year before. It went up in popularity, but not so excessively we were too worried and it still doesn’t seem to be rising like other old lady chic names so… I think we’re ok.

And our name is 3-1-1, but I think it flows. Her middle name has more hard consonants and our last name has softer ones.

pam Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 8:36 am

Angela, I guess trochees are two syllable words with the emphasis on the first syllable and lambs have the emphasis on the last? You’re right on that and about Marie too — interesting theory and I’d never thought of it before. Thanks!

Michelle Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 8:37 am

#1 is so true. I really do not consider the SSA listings all that much because it varies from region to region. Besides, even those with the most unique names can find those who share them: I went to school with two Niamhs and two Gillians in the same class.

pam Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 8:41 am

And my son Joe, whose name we picked for family reasons and didn’t care that it was in the Top 20, has NEVER been in school with another Joe.

phaedra_p Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 9:09 am

I did all of these, except fight with my spouse! 🙂 I must say, I was pretty relieved to finally settle on names for my kids. I felt like I got my life back.

Angela & Pam, I posted a thread about that a while back (though I didn’t think to call them trochees). The consensus was that French is the most reliable supplier of trochees in our iambic world. The rhythm does work well, but unfortunately many of the traditional trochaic names sound dated now: Marie, Nicole.

Lots of people like Delphine and Corinne though, so there are options. If you want to break up the rhythm, French is a good language to look at.

sadiesadie Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 9:13 am

I never thought it was possible but o have four weeks left and am at number five!
I am going to the hospital with four names per gender “just on case” and I know there will be tears involved. I pretty much just have to stop looking at names, watching television and reading books :/

Lyndsay Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 9:13 am

I’ve never even heard the name Hernan before, and now my husband works with two of them… So you just never know!

I’m guilty of #2 for sure. I have much more unusual taste than my family, they tend to like Top 100 (or Top 10). I can’t tell you how many times my grandma has told me there have been studies that show having an unusual name causes problems for kids. And they all blatantly dislike most names I mention. I’m not afraid to talk about any name on the message boards, but nameberry posters are infinitely more open than my family and friends! It doesn’t give a very accurate picture of how a name will be received in real life. I’m really torn about whether or not it’s a good idea to talk about names with family. On the one hand, you want your kid’s grandparents to like their name. But on the other, you want the name to be your decision and not let everyone’s personal issues with it to get to you.

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February 8th, 2011 at 10:12 am

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British American Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 4:40 pm

I’ve done 1, 2 and 5. Though I’m not really worried about the SS list this 3rd time around. It was a big deal for our 1st child. Oh and it is interesting to look up the top 100 names in your state – some names I like tend to be more popular in our state, compared to the national average.

I’m ‘bad’ about not telling names too, moreso this time around. I could have told a random lady I got chatting to last week, but I didn’t want to. Same thing when another Mom from a preschool class asked if we’d picked names.

About the rhythm of names – that was a huge thing with our 1st child and I purposefully picked a 3 syllable middle name for her. (1-3-2) Then our 2nd child does have a 2-2-2 name and I actually think his name sounds good – especially as his middle name is a family name. Our new baby will be 1-2-2 or 2-4-2, depending girl or boy – so I guess we’re good to go on that one. 😉

I’m very good at overthinking too – my husband is the opposite: he just picked names he liked and was done. No websites! No books! So I’m just going to take a page out of his book this time – hopefully. 😛

NameGoddess Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I haven’t read through all the comments, so I’m not sure if anyone’s made note of this yet, but what has been fabled to be the “perfect” name rhythm is 3-syll-first, 2-syll-last. Of course, this isn’t to say this is the end-all, be-all pattern–it’s not like we can control our last names that much; mine is only one syll–but there’s certainly some merit in the balance. Names such as Eleanor Hartfield and Cecily Porter do have a certain ring to them–of course, these are just pretty names anyway.

And it makes since that May Johns or Annabella Prestigiacomo might not flow as well as when switched to May Prestigiacomo and Annabella Johns. This is all my opinion, of course, so please don’t take it too seriously! I just thought I’d mentioned it, since I’ve heard the “2-3 perfect pattern” mentioned to me a few times. I find it an interesting theory.

Emily Says:

February 8th, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Wow, just when I think that I’ve heard all interesting name theories, someone comes along and blows me away- while I’ve heard about and discussed rhythm before, I never thought about it in terms of iambs vs. trochees and what difference the emphasis has as opposed to just number of syllables. Way to go Angela, adds a whole new aspect to consider!

In terms of the actual post, I wanted to add that it’s not necessarily a matter of being afraid to share name choices (#2) but for us we just liked to have the surprise for our family and friends. We also didn’t find out the gender- I’m kind of traditionalist in that regard. I like having the big day have as much surprise as possible! I did however share names online, it’s a great way to spill the beans to people that aren’t in your family & friends!

Persephone Says:

February 9th, 2011 at 6:08 am

#1 – nope didn’t do this, although I did know the rankings of my children’s names at the time. It’s hilarious though because my son Felix, whose name ranked #357 in the national charts, goes to school with about five of them! There are more boys called Felix in our area than there are called Jack! I no longer care a bit and my son who is now 6, likes having a name that fits in.

#2 – this is exactly what I did – I didn’t reveal to close family what our names were, but I talked like mad about them with people I didn’t know 🙂 It worked a treat!

#3 No we didn’t fight, but we did passionately discuss, which got us each our way – mine with our second son’s first name, and him with our first son’s middle name. We were careful with each other and it worked out 🙂

#4 This I disagree with a little because we choose family names for the middle spot. They are so rarely used, but it is so important that they’re there, that rhythm came second to significance. We have 2-1-2 and 3-2-2.

Two iambic middle name alternatives I can think of are Camille and Sabine.

#5 I definitely over-thought the names. I would have made a naming mistake because of this if our second son had been a girl. We got lucky and struck it rich both times. I’m still ecstatic with their names and they’re 6 and 3.5 🙂

Emmy Jo Says:

February 9th, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Choosing names with different syllable rhythms can even make 3-3 names sound better. Doesn’t Adelaide Serena (ADD-uh-laid suh-REE-nuh) sound better rhythmically than Adelaide Sylvia (ADD-uh-laid SIL-vee-uh)?

I think the key with syllable number and syllable rhythm is just to make sure there is SOME variation. It doesn’t have to be 3-1-2 or 1-2-3. As long as three names don’t have the exact same rhythm, the combo usually sounds good.

Greer Says:

February 9th, 2011 at 10:37 pm

#4 is a HUGE one!! A name has to flow rhythmically. My son has a 2-2-2 name, but like Angela posted above, his name is a trochee-lamb-trochee combo, so it actually flows quite nicely. (Owen McCabe are the first and middle. I still love the way that sounds!)

My mom has always been the best baby namer. Our last name is/was a 2 syllable name, and my sister’s and I all have 1-3 first/middle combos (Greer Elizabeth, Maeve Amanda, and Tesse Olivia.)

Vanessa Says:

February 11th, 2011 at 9:00 am

I am definitely guilty on #1. I study the SSA baby names all of the time. I feel like I found the perfect boy’s name, familiar, traditional, but not in the Top 100. Girls on the other hand are difficult, styles change much faster.

Nora Says:

February 17th, 2011 at 7:31 pm

I have a two two two name and I don’t like it. The rhythm is REALLY important for a name.

Sparkle Says:

March 21st, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Is 2-2-1-3 ok?

Rory Says:

August 9th, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I’m not a “genius” or “professional” baby-namer, but I really like names. I find that it’s not about just the syllables of the name, but the vowels, consonants, syllables, letters, and just the way the name feels. So if you have a two-two-two name, who cares? It can still be a beautiful name just the same.

Brisen Says:

August 23rd, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Louise, Lenore, Margot, Adele, Odette, Mirielle, Danielle, Camille, Charmaine, Renee (sorry, I don’t know how to type the accent), and Irene are all girl names with middle name potential to replace something like Marie. Seems like a lot of French names are iambs.

I have a 2-2-2 name, but my middle name is Louise, and it does help the rhythm. I don’t really have much of an ear for rhythm, though, and it wasn’t a high priority for us. We have a 2-2-2, 3-3-2, 3-2(iamb)-2, 2-1-2, and a 2-2-2.

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emilymaryjane Says:

December 23rd, 2011 at 8:07 pm

As you can see my mum made the mistake not to give my name different syllables: Em-il-y Mar-y-Jane Jones my sister Harriet is the only one that does: Harr-i-et Mar-tha Ol-iv-i-a Jones. My mums name Cath-er-ine Re-becc-a doesn’t either

Kenzi Says:

February 28th, 2012 at 11:20 pm

i was so intent on having beautiful girl names for my girls! so after i named them i didn’t realize my mistake on two names. see if you can catch it!
Evelyn Skye
Arabella Paxton
Gabriella Elise
Vanessa Arielle
Mykaela Haven
Nolle River
yeah. Arabella and Gabriella. not my smartest move

sarahmezz Says:

April 18th, 2013 at 1:48 am

I think it’s my Australian ear, but flow simply doesn’t matter to me. I can hear the difference, but I don’t think a 2-2-2 name sounds bad at all, as long as the names don’t mush into each other or anything!

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