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5 Things Every First-Time Parent Needs To Know About Baby Names

September 14, 2016 Pamela Redmond
baby names advice

by Pamela Redmond Satran

Welcome to the thrilling and mysterious world of parenthood.  And welcome too to the new and radically different world of baby names. In the interest of helping you make the best possible name choice for your child, here is your initiation guide to all that’s changed since every kid was named Jennifer and Jason.

Baby names have gotten a lot more adventurous since you were a kid.

A lot more adventurous. Consider the sheer numbers alone. In the era most first-time parents today were born, say thirty years ago, there were just shy of 20,000 baby names recorded by the US government. Today, there are more than 33,000. That 50+ percent increase means thousands more invented names, international names, words and places and surnames turned names – a third of all babies getting names that didn’t even exist when you were born.

To give a specific example, in 1984, eleven baby girls were named Luna. In 2014, Luna was among the top 150 girls’ names in the US. And there were no baby girls named Arabella, today the 174th most popular name. Only six boys were named Atticus, today in the Top 400 and the Number 1 boys’ name on Nameberry.

The point: You can choose names that by the standards of your elementary school class are unheard of, outrageous, but in today’s lexicon are ho-hum. You’re going to have to try harder.

But there are many better resources to help you make the best choice.

Your mom and dad probably didn’t have the benefit of the internet when they named you. You may have even been named (we’re sorry) before the advent of our first book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, published in 1988. Which means before anyone was thinking, at least publicly, about such issues as style and names and the influence of popular culture on names, before there was any sense at all that it might be a good idea to think a little harder about the name your child would bear for his or her very long life.

Today, you’ve got sites like Nameberry, of course, which makes the simple act of searching through names – finding a name that’s Irish and unisex and means red, for instance – a 30-second operation rather than a weeks-long challenge. (I know, because I did it using only name dictionaries when I had my first child in 1982, and I did it again just now using Nameberry’s Super-Search tool.)

Not only do we make it vastly simpler to sift through the thousands of possible names, but we offer a way for you to discuss names and try out your choices with a huge community of well-informed name mavens on our forums. And listen, if you want to check out your name ideas beyond Nameberry, there are other excellent sites such as Behind the Name. And you can look up your last name on Surname Database and check name pronunciations on Forvo.

Can you imagine trying to do the job with one slim baby name dictionary?

Everyone, and we mean everyone, will try to give you advice about baby names.

Okay, you’ve probably already discovered that your friends love to talk with you about baby names. You’ve probably also discovered that your friends have some pretty lame ideas about names, which they are nonetheless extremely aggressive about trying to get you to adopt.

As if that weren’t uncomfortable enough, your family also is dying to discuss name ideas. Perhaps in a way that layers the discussion with a little more guilt and pressure. For instance, Grandpa is probably going to die soon, and could be at peace if only you would name the baby Stanislav.

Friends, family….maybe they have a right to try to talk with you about names. But how about the guy who makes your sandwich at the neighborhood deli? Do you really want to hear his opinion of the names Flora and Felix? Because if you are foolish enough to tell him your name ideas, you certainly will – and you’re not going to like it.

If you’re having this baby with a partner, you will probably fight about names.

Since your first date, the two of you have agreed on everything from what to have for that first, magic-infused dinner (sushi boat!) to where you want to spend your honeymoon (cabin by a lake) to when you were going to get pregnant (planning for an Aries). And so naturally, you expected your partner to agree with your well-informed and tasteful desire to name your baby Eliza if it’s a girl, and Edward if it’s a boy.

And yet, what’s this? He knew a priggish Eliza in sixth grade? He was bullied by an Edward at hockey camp? He wants to name your baby – what?!? – Marie after his mom or Mark after his dad?

No matter how compatible you may be in other ways, baby names tap into deeper issues of childhood and self-image, family and history and identity and style that may have been unexplored until now. Know that your arguments about baby names are really negotiations over deeper, more essential issues. Use them at a way to tease out those more essential beliefs and discussions, and perhaps then approach names from a more open and enlightened viewpoint.

The name may be your last good secret.

You couldn’t resist telling your mom you were pregnant before you even missed your first period. The baby’s gender was a known quantity by the tenth week. Super-sensitive sonograms practically stand in for baby’s first portrait.

So has all your exciting news been blown long before the baby is even here? That’s where the Big Name Reveal comes in. As the last vestige of mystery, your name choice remains a secret to be guarded as closely as the President’s code name. With your family, your friends, your official birth announcement – the final name decision is the new version of yesterday’s It’s A Girl!

Discuss possibilities, if you want. Make your final decision long before the birth. But save your name announcement for after the baby is here. It’s the one great secret you have left.


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