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9 Timeless Rules for Naming Your Baby

August 16, 2010 Pamela Redmond

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.

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show,, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its new sequel, Older.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles

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