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Baby Name Advice: Use the Name You Love

November 6, 2016 Abby Sandel

By Abby Sandel

When it comes to baby naming, here’s my number one rule: Use the name you love.

That sounds straightforward. And yet, as we consider names, we come across all sorts of concerns – often from those closest to us.

The result? A shortlist of three or four great names starts to seem much more complicated.

Most objections are based on generational differences, or others’ personal preferences. It’s good to listen – remember Poppy Montgomery’s story about the near-naming disaster her father-in-law averted? But for every serious, name-changing observation, a great many comments are best ignored.

Here are nine frequently-cited concerns that shouldn’t come between you and your favorite name.

Popularity isn’t a bad thing – Choose a conventional name, like Ethan or Emma, and you might be warned that your child will be lost in a sea of same-named children. While it’s true that we all know an Ethan or two, that’s because it’s a great name. There’s something to be said for embracing well-liked choices. Your Emma can choose from dozens of other notable Emmas to admire, from Jane Austen’s heroine to the actress who played Hermione Granger. Of course, if you’re surprised to hear that Harper and Liam have cracked the US Top Ten, you might want to spend some time with the popularity lists.

Weird often just means unfamiliar – Maybe you’re going for different, and you know your choice might raise a few eyebrows. More often, this statement isn’t about your favorite name – it’s about the other person’s unfamiliarity with current trends. Malachi, Maverick, Axel, Everett, and Leonardo are in the US boys’ Top 200. The girls’ list includes Leilani, Harmony, Athena, Everly, and Willow. They’re names your mom might not recognize – but they’re perfectly mainstream today.

Everything old is new again – Speaking of trends, if you don’t spend time with very small children, you probably don’t know which names have made a comeback. I’ve heard Evelyn, Cora, and Hazel rejected as too old-fashioned, along with Henry, Ezra, and Julian – all Top 100 picks as of 2015. Take a deep breath and remember that names move in cycles. If your mom loved Brandon and Melissa in the 1980s, odds are she still thinks those would make great names for her grandchildren, and can’t imagine why you’d consider Elliott and Georgia.

Those “rhymes with” and “sounds like” take work! – Everything kind of-sort of sounds like something. Most of these objections bring to mind the classic Nicolas Cage Saturday Night Live skit, where the dad-to-be rejects Joe because it rhymes with blow and Todd because it sounds like tadpole. So if your sister frets that Paisley sounds too much like lazy, don’t give it another thought.

Few pop culture associations really stick – That same classic SNL skit hypothesizes that any child named Paul would be asked about Peter and Mary, as in 1960s folk trio Peter, Paul, and Mary. But let’s face it – even powerful cultural references rarely last more than a generation. Most Reagans weren’t named for Ronald, and calling your daughter Luna doesn’t make you a Potterhead. Only the most distinctive names – think Renesmee and Katniss – stay wedded to books and movies, and even that’s not necessarily forever.

A beautiful new baby can erase many a memory – What to do when the comment is, “I knew an awful person with that name?” If the awful person set off a chain of disastrous events worthy of a country-western song, well – maybe you shouldn’t name your daughter Jolene. But most of the time, the person has faded to the distant past – the bully from your mom’s fourth grade class, someone your sister vaguely remembers from her first job. I promise that if you do use the name, love for your child will eclipse those unpleasant memories.

Kids are pretty chill – We often worry that kids will be cruel, but actually, kids these days are pretty accepting. The pool of names in use is diverse, and often children can’t distinguish between a popular name and a rare one.

All names grow up – I’ve heard this one called “the Supreme Court Test.” Names considered trendy or cute, the argument goes, will never sound properly grown-up. Except it’s not so. As a generation ages, so do their names. Eventually, Kaylee and Tyler will take on leadership roles – and it won’t seem strange at all when Skylar introduces herself as your heart surgeon. Oh, and speaking of the Supreme Court? We’ve had justices named Rufus, Felix, Wiley, Smith, Thurgood, Sandra, and Elena. Traditional names are not a requirement for professional success.

Names can be used for girls, and still be great for boys – Are there girls named Hunter and Ryan? Yes. (We’ve got the numbers in this story.) But don’t assume occasional – or even frequent – use for girls makes a name off-limits for boys. Rowan, Charlie, Jordan, River, Reese, and many more have been used for both boys and girls in significant numbers. Love the idea of naming your son Ellis, Maxwell, or Jude, but worried because you’ve heard of girls with the name? Rest easy. They still wear well for a son.

Did you encounter any of these objections when naming your children? How did you handle them?

About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.

View all of Abby's articles

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