8 Biggest Baby Naming Mistakes …
We hope you caught the great segment on this morning’s (Tuesday) Today Show featuring Abby giving her typically sage baby name advice to pregnant staffers Dylan Dreyer and Savannah Guthrie! Watch the video here.
By Abby Sandel
Your new baby is here, and you? You have a ballpoint pen and a blank form to complete, asking for your child’s name.
Chances are you’ve been thinking about this for at least a few months already, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed: infinite choices, endless opinions, and one very small human being counting on you to get it right.
Maybe you’ve never named so much as a turtle. Or maybe you’ve been dreaming up names for your children since you could read. Either way, there are thousands of ways to give your child a great name – and only a few pitfalls to avoid along the way.
Here’s your go-to guide for what not to do when choosing baby names.
We dismiss names as too popular.
I hear you, Ashley B. It’s no fun to share your name with half the fourth grade. But times have changed, and no single name is anywhere near as common as Mary and John in the 1950s, or Jessica and Michael from the 1980s. I understand if you think Number One Noah is too familiar, but maybe ruling out River (Number 244) and Knox (Number 258) goes too far in the other direction. And if William was your beloved grandfather’s name? It doesn’t matter if it is in the Top Ten. It still might be the right choice for your son.
We dismiss names as too weird.
For every parent worried that Knox is the new Noah, there’s another fretting that Knox might be too out-there. Consider this: the US Social Security Administration reports the 1,000 most popular names every year – but fewer than 75% of all children receive a name on that list. In other words, even names on the fringes of the Top 1000, like Briar and Otis and Ophelia – are still given to a few hundred kids every year. Meanwhile, plenty of familiar names, like Louise and Alistair, don’t make the list. Children are used to hearing a wider range of names than ever before, meaning that a really unusual name just doesn’t stick out the way it might have in the past.
We treat names as single-use items.
Not so long ago, families cheerfully repeated names within the same generation. In 2016, this has gone so far in the other direction that some parents lament that every name is taken, as if it is a single-use item. Sure, it might be best to avoid duplicating the names of your nieces and nephews, or the names of close friends’ children. But your college roommate’s brother’s kids names? Those are fair game.
We dismiss family names and traditions.
Choosing the name is the parents’ privilege and responsibility. But before you insist on a blank slate, consider the way family names can preserve family history and connect children to their heritage. And always be open to reinvention. One of my favorite name stories is a boy named Nate – just Nate – who happens to have four aunts and uncles whose names begin with N, A, T, and E.
We use filler middle names.
If you’ve chosen a relatively traditional first name, it’s a good idea to choose something unexpected for the middle. Katherine Marie is fine, but Katherine Marigold is gorgeous. Even if that middle name is short, it can still pack a style punch: think Ava Blue instead of Ava Grace, Lucy Faye instead of Lucy Ann, or Mason Brio instead of Mason Bryce.
We forget about balance.
The opposite is true, too. If your child’s given name is bold, a more conservative middle can balance things out. Maverick Messiah Star is a lot to live up to; but Maverick Landon James wears well. Unisex names, like River or Rowan, often benefit from a gender-specific middle. While we don’t use middle names daily, they’re part of our identity, and deserve some attention.
We don’t test drive the names.
Conventional wisdom holds that we should keep our favorite names a closely guarded secret. Except that means we don’t get to hear them in use until the decision is made. Will Aubrey be misheard as Audrey? How does Carson sound in your uncle’s Boston accent? It’s a good idea to find a confidante – someone you know will be neutral – to test out your shortlist. Or try giving your favorite name as your name the next time you order a coffee. Another option: test it out on an online forum, like the ones at Nameberry.
We don’t use the name we love.
It’s so easy to talk ourselves out of our favorite names. We’re convinced that Bernadette is too old-fashioned, Bodhi too edgy, Brandon not current enough. And yet, choosing a name isn’t always about cool logic. It’s important to look at popularity data, to consider how the name sounds when said aloud, and to look for balance in your name combinations. But when you pick up that pen, you should love your child’s name. Even if it breaks every rule on this list.
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Baby Name Addict Said
on September 13th, 2016 at 9:55 am
I would recommend really thinking about the middle name. I have 2 examples where you should consider it.
(1) I have a friend called James Karl. The eldest son on his Mum’s side is always called James, but it gets confusing with all the James’s, so he goes by Karl. If you have a family name – like James – that you want to preserve, then you could consider using the middle name as your child’s unique name.
(2) If you want to go for a controversial name – like Berry, Zeus, Chase, or River – , then it might be an idea to use a more ‘sensible’/common name – like Michael, David, Lola, or Ava – as the middle name, and visa versa. Some children would want to go by an ordinary name so that they fit in with the crowd, yet others would want something bold so they can stand out. As said in (1), you could use an opposing middle name that can be used as back up incase your child really hates their name.
Baby Name Addict Said
on September 13th, 2016 at 10:05 am
Continued before, what if Isabella Mia and Alexander James wish their name was something different to everyone else, or Pepper Berry and Zeus Rex wished they fit in? It might be wiser to name your children Isabella Pheonix, Alexander Chase, Pepper Charlotte, and Zeus Liam so that they can go by their middle name if they hate their first.
on September 13th, 2016 at 12:28 pm
I’d disagree with the last part, I don’t think that you loving a name should be more important than it sounding good or it being too weird/out-there; in the end it would be fantastic if you love your child’s name but I think it’s more important that they will be able to live comfortably with it, that doesn’t mean they have to (or will) love it, just that they can comfortably raise their hand when their name is called out in school or not feel embarrassed putting it down on a job ablication.
In the end it’s their name, not yours, all the wonderful things you associate with Gertrude, that character in the book you love, the painting of that wonderful painter, the rose-garden imagery, etc. will not be the same for your child nor for their classmates or friends; even your grandmother who you dearly loved but that passed away will only known through stories to you child, so even a family member might not have the same significance to your child (no matter how wonderful they were) as they do to you.
That’s not not to say you shouldn’t use a name you love or that is sentimental to you but that you should consider how it would sound without that connection/association.
on September 13th, 2016 at 3:00 pm
I sometimes wonder how close is too close for name repeats. We have a relatively small family, one sibling on my side and one on SO’s side has kids. Those kids have only a small number of cousins right now, all on their other parent’s side of the family.
We all see those extended families – the blood relatives and the in-laws – frequently. When my brother got married, his wife brought her sister’s family into the extended family. We know my nieces’ cousins as well as we know my nieces! I wouldn’t duplicate the names of my brother’s kids, certainly, but are his wife’s sister’s kids’ names too close? Would it be too weird for my nieces to have multiple first cousins named Dominic or Alyssa, for example? Even if the other Dominic and Alyssa aren’t related to ME at all?
Abby Sandel Said
on September 13th, 2016 at 3:11 pm
@Rhii – I think that’s a really tough call, and it depends on a bunch of factors. Do you see each other often? (I know a family with a similar relationship where they did duplicate a name – but there’s a ten-year age gap between the kids. And an ocean, so it’s not like they hang out a lot.) Since you say yes, I think that makes it a little more awkward to duplicate a name. But – is the name personally significant? Your grandmother’s name, maybe, or a name you’ve had picked out since you were 12? There’s some wiggle room there. Is the name common? I feel like most kids with a Top Ten name are used to the idea that they might not be the only one. It would be much more difficult it if were an unusual name that you’re aware of ONLY because of that family member …
on September 13th, 2016 at 10:28 pm
Some excellent points here, particularly three of them.
One is the single use item. I have read so many posts that say things like my mailman’s son is named James so I can’t name my son James. Well, OK, so I exaggerate a little, but too many beloved names seem to be tossed because the parents know someone of that name. First, if it is a fairly common name there are going to be 50 of them at your child’s preschool anyway so why sweat a cousin named Noah when there are so many little Noahs out there? And secondly, if the name is rare, you might feel more awkward using it if someone you knew already had, but my rule is if I thought of it before hearing of the other child, it’s fair game. Besides can a family have too many girls named Nuala or boys named Nicholas? Not in my view.
Another point with which I agree is using a gender specific companion name with a unisex name. Some kids love being a Riley but I for one would have hated it and wanted a female only name. At least with a female middle I could have gone by that instead. And vice versa, for the kid who hates Arabella and loves Riley.
And finally, I totally agree that too many people discard THE name because it doesn’t meet some regulation they have in mind. It is too short, long, romantic, out there, common, starts with the wrong letter or sounds like something else, etc. etc. etc. Sure you have to rule out insane names like Adolph and Stalin, but the non-creepy name that gives you chills of joy every time you hear it, the name you’d freak out if anyone else took…… I say go for it.
on September 13th, 2016 at 10:32 pm
I think this article had a lot of good advice! 🙂
on September 14th, 2016 at 7:30 am
Because of social media, we are likely to know the names of everyone and their brother’s baby, where as in the past we wouldn’t have. This makes duplicating names a little awkward.
I was a little excited when a colleague of my husband moved away, because she has such a great name! However, we are still Facebook friends so it still feels awkward to use it.
on September 15th, 2016 at 9:20 am
I think this article is great and I struggle with wanting an Agnes when others say no, or a Theodore but then it seems to be gaining in popularity. This is a great reminder to focus on the big picture.
on September 16th, 2016 at 2:22 am
We had been seriously struggling with coming up with a boys middle name, we know we want finnick 100% and we poured over the Internet and books etc never coming to compromise until one day my husband made a joke about naming him bender from futurama and we both had an “ah ha!” Moment and came to Fry… I absolutely adore finnick fry but I’ve gotten some pretty serious backlash from our families and friends about it sounding silly 🙁
on December 11th, 2016 at 6:43 am
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