9 Timeless Rules for Naming Your Baby

On this 98 degree day, I’m doing the only chore that makes sense: cleaning the basement. That’s how, deep in a dusty box, between my now adult daughter’s kindergarten drawings and my ancient college essays, I found a draft of the proposal for our very first baby-naming book.

What struck me most about our early work was a list of rules for choosing the perfect name, as relevant today as they’ve ever been — and will continue to be. Whether your taste in names tends toward the traditional or the trendy, whether you’re picking between a few finalists or still playing the vast field, these guidelines should help:

1. Start Thinking of Names Early — Make some tentative decisions, and live with them for a while. If you’re tired of a name after two months, imagine how you’ll feel after 20 years.

2. Say the Name With Your Last Name Quickly Ten Times — Beware of run-together sounds. Max Satran could be Mac Satran or Max Atran; Olaf Finch could be Ola Finch or Olaf Inch. Childhood is confusing enough.

3. Try Out Names On Your Friends — Take cues from their reactions. If you say a name and they always reply, “What?” or “How is that spelled?,” don’t assume that they’re either stupid or hearing-impaired; your child will likely get the same reactions for the rest of her life.

4. Don’t Be Pressured Into Using A Name Your Don’t Like — So what if your mother keeps hinting about how happy it would make her if you named your child Harold after her favorite uncle? If you remember Uncle Harold with a red nose and cigar breath, ignore the hints. On the other hand:

5. Fulfill Obligations with a Middle Name — The middle name can be the perfect way to dispose of Uncle Harold, honor your father-in-law, indulge a fancy, or oblige your spouse with a name you can’t live with as a first name.

6. Anticipate the Inevitable — If you name your baby Susannah, don’t be surprised if people shorten it to Sue, Susie, or even Sukie. If you give your child a name with variant spellings and pronunciations — Alisa, Alyssa, Elissa, Elyssa, Ilyssa etc. — don’t be surprised if you find yourself “correcting” the spelling and pronunciation forevermore.

7. Think Like A Bully — While children have become more tolerant of unique, ethnically distinctive, and gender ambiguous names, bullies still exist and you don’t want to give your child a name that will too easily make him a target of teasing.

8.  Rule Out All Names of Ex-Boyfriends and Ex-GirlfriendsEven if your husband’s ex-girlfriend’s name has always been your favorite in the world, don’t go with it and hope you’ll forget. You won’t, and neither will he.

9.  Rule Out Names with Bad Associations — The kid who threw up at your seventh birthday party, your pimply lab partner — no matter how nice their names, you’ll never transcend the association.

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16 Responses to “9 Timeless Rules for Naming Your Baby”

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Greythatch Says:

August 16th, 2010 at 7:40 am

Great post! I am continually surprised how often parents jump to pick a name and forget to look at how it flows with their last names, what the initials spell, and nicknames.

Bella (spotlightstarlit) Says:

August 16th, 2010 at 10:19 am

Great post! I think the last rule depends on the person you are thinking of, that one girl from summer camp’s name will quickly become your daughters name, however that evil teacher who always singled you out will always hold the connotation, chances are he didn’t have very nice of a name to begin with!

phoebesmom Says:

August 16th, 2010 at 11:32 am

I love this post! Especially love the advice to try the name out on friends in family. I notice a lot on the message boards that people advise NOT telling your friends and family about your names, and while I can understand their reasoning, I feel that it is important to take the reactions of those close to you seriously, because these are the reactions your child will have to deal with. A name that might play well in London, just may not be right for a child in Wisconsin.

Carie Says:

August 16th, 2010 at 5:12 pm

I wanted to name our son Alexander with the nn of Xander/Zander. In my husbands family they have a tradition that the first born son has the father’s first name as a middle name. So I knew that his middle name would be Samuel. Please note that our last name starts with an S. So I start writing down Alexander Samuel S…….and realized in that instant that his initials would be a bad word!!!! Needless to say we decided upon another name. We both liked the Z sound so much we ended up naming him Zachary after my husbands best friend. I feel so bad for kids who have parents who don’t think about those little things!

mutantanemone Says:

August 16th, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Great advice, especially number 1! I think a lot of people dismiss that one, but that’s one of the best pieces of naming advice I’ve ever heard, and one that I stick to: never, ever name on a whim. You want to love the name just as much in ten years as you do now.

daisy451 Says:

August 16th, 2010 at 9:09 pm

This is an amazing post! The fourth rule is REALLY important, and I think people often forget it! I disagree with the last rule, though. In my opinion, having a child will totally override any bad association you may have had with their name, especially if it’s as long ago as kindergarten or high school.

Sachiko Says:

August 17th, 2010 at 9:00 pm

If you have to check the reactions of friends and family, then I strongly suggest you do so when you’re NOT PREGNANT.

I used to think it was just me, until some of my friends reported the same thing happening to them: baby-making hormones can turn you into a self-sacrificing pleaser. You can begin to care way too much about what one or two malcontents say about your baby name ideas.

I got myself in to naming tizzy one or two times by discussing my name ideas with friends/family when I was hormonally vulnerable. I literally couldn’t sleep at night for fear I wouldn’t find a name that would please everybody. Don’t let this happen to you!

It’s good to have an outside perspective, especially when you get as crazy in the naming as we Berries do. But you’ve got to keep that perspective, in perspective.

Persephone Says:

August 18th, 2010 at 5:27 am

I agree with Sachiko and Daisy. I never test out names on family and friends because I care far too much about what they think and unfavourable remarks can simply come down to a difference in taste which isn’t helpful. You know what is helpful? Testing names out on strangers in the street who ask about your pregnancy. People love to chat to you about it so why not test out your list on them?

Also, we named one of our children Theodore after it took my husband three years to get over a teacher he had with the last name Theodore. He hadn’t liked the teacher very much but I was set on the name so he got over it and now loves it as much as I do. Ex-girlfriends and boyfriend’s names are definitely out though!

Great list though. My motto is “Don’t get too creative” and it’s always worked for us! I love traditional names slightly left of centre and no quirky spellings.

Tori Says:

August 19th, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Rule number two rules out so many names in my case.
My Scottish surname is such a pain when it comes to finding names that flow with the surname.

I love the name Rose it’s a beautiful name and a family name too however it sounds so bad with my surname I have to rule it out maybe if I get married I can consider Rose but for now it’ll be a first name that I’d love to use but can’t because of my awful surname.

All these points have to be taken into account especially 2, 4 and 5


Chelsea Says:

September 7th, 2010 at 6:48 pm

When I’m pregnant, I plan on trying out names at places like Starbucks that call out your name when your order is ready, just to hear how it sounds out of the usual context of baby name discussions and in the real world. So instead of giving my usual name to the cashier, I’ll toss them a name from my baby name list.

Whitney Says:

June 11th, 2011 at 9:32 pm

If more parents followed #6, the current generation of kids would be a lot better off. Specifically, if you choose to get “creative” with spelling, you have to graciously accept that everyone will misspell the name. No eye rolls. No exasperated sighs. I used to write on birthday cakes at a bakery and couldn’t get over how many times I’d say, “Okay, that’s Katie – K-A-T-I-E?” Only to be met with a stony glare and, “NOOO! It’s K-A-Y-T-E-E.” If it doesn’t chance the pronunciation, why change it in the first place?

Carlynn Says:

July 27th, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I love this list of suggestions, number 6 just summed up all 22 years I’ve been on this earth. Carlynn (Car- Lynn) is a straightforward name, but people want to throw an “o” or “a” between the “r” & “l” making my name Car-o-lynn or Car-a-lynn. . . I DESPISE these names and people always pronounce my name worng. I will definately be giving my child a simple name. No funny spellings, something that can’t get said or spelled wrong everyday of their life!!

Neun zeitlose Babynamen-Regeln Says:

February 20th, 2014 at 9:06 am

[…] bei der Babynamen-Suche, die zeitlos sind. Die folgende Checkliste zur Namensfindung habe ich bei Nameberry gefunden und auf deutsche Verhältnisse […]


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