Burning Baby Naming Questions

January 8, 2020 Abby Sandel
baby naming questions

As Nameberry’s resident Name Sage, I hear all sorts of baby naming questions. While every short list and situation is just a little different, a few big themes repeat. And even though my answers vary based on circumstances, some things remain true.

With a fresh new year upon us, let’s talk about those enduring questions – and the answers that apply in (almost) every case, too!

How can I talk my partner into my favorite name? First things first: you cannot talk your partner into naming your baby Hephzibah, even if it’s been your top name since forever. The flipside is also true. You wouldn’t want to be strong-armed into using something you weren’t wild about, right? Naming a child – just like raising a child – is a joint effort between both parents.

When there’s disagreement, I suggest both parents put aside their favorites and start fresh. It’s always possible that, after careful consideration, Hephzibah will rise to the top. But in order to find a name you can both embrace, you’ll have to let go of your favorites first.

How do we break this family tradition? Together. Children often arrive when we’re relatively young in our relationships. But by the time that baby heads off to kindergarten, the family we create together will be different, in ways large and small, from the ones we experienced growing up. There’s no reason one side’s customs should dominate our decisions – in anything.

If you can’t imagine continuing the tradition of all J names, or passing down the name Horatio to a third generation, then you are free to move on. It might mean a tough conversation or two, and maybe some hurt feelings. (And, as Swistle always reminds us, if it’s your family tradition, you talk to your parents. If it’s your partner’s parents? The opposite applies.) Remember that your child’s grandparents will love them, regardless of their names.

We like this one name a lot, but feel like it might not be The Name. The act of finally deciding on The Name is a struggle. If you’re almost-but-not-quite there, here’s an approach. Put your favorite aside, and start the process over again. Talk about the other possibilities on your shortlist. If nothing rivals your top choice, then it’s likely you’ve found your name.

If evaluation is your challenge, you might consider using tools created by Nancy’s Baby Names. She created a weighted decision matrix as well as a paired comparison analysis. Even if analysis isn’t usually your thing, seeing it in black and white can help.

Or maybe you’re the kind of person who needs to hear a name in lots of different settings. Consider going to a different coffee shop and ordering with your favorite name. Does it bother you if the barista misspells Elliana? How does it sound called out in a crowd? Testing it out with strangers can be revealing – and satisfying, too.

Our first child’s name is perfect! How can we choose a second name without it feeling like a runner-up? It’s so great when parents love their kids’ names! That’s why this site exists, right? And yet, when I hear this, I wonder … is the name so uniquely perfect? Or is our love for our child so strong that we’re having a tough time realizing that the experience will repeat? I knew that my daughter’s name was great when I chose it. But my love for her quickly became part of that name, and magnified my feelings. Chances are the same thing happened to you, and will again. Choose a good name, and know that all that’s missing is having your baby in your arms.

I have name regret after our first child’s name. How can I avoid it this time around? It depends on thinking through why you have name regret. Often, it’s a case of how you decided on your first child’s name. Maybe you bowed to outside pressure, or simply rushed the decision process. The latter was true for my firstborn. We agreed on a first name. But then I suggested a middle, my husband said “done” … except I wasn’t! While there’s a point where you’ll simply have to choose, there’s something to be said for taking your time and doing the research, too. Regret that your first child’s name is too popular? Use our resources to research your favorites this time around. Frustrated that pronunciation or spelling is difficult? Our forums can be a great place to look for feedback and reactions. Or did you get talked out of your favorite name? Stand your ground this time. Which reminds me …

Everyone hates our favorite name. Should we still use it? I’ll almost always say yes. It might be worth noting why others object. Do they think it’s just bananas to name your baby Khaleesi? Are they worried that no one will spell Saoirse correctly? They’re real concerns, but you’re still free to ignore them – and be confident that your friends and family will love your little Dothraki queen anyway. And if it’s the grandparents that dislike the name? Well, often their favorites are stuck in 1984, give or take a decade. Their list of “normal” names probably includes Stephanie, Crystal, Justin, and Joshua. They don’t realize that Aria, Evelyn, Wyatt, and Elijah are the 2020 equivalents.

Is it okay to use this super common/super weird name? Yes! You should use the name you love, a name that you and your partner agree on. Even if it’s as popular as Liam or as obscure as Odette. It matters most that you and your partner feel comfortable with the name. There are rules you can consider, but ultimately, when you both agree on a favorite, it’s almost certainly the best choice. If you’re still worried, add a sparky middle to make sure your Olivia Jones won’t be confused with the others, or opt for a middle like Caroline to anchor a daring first like Juno.

My partner shoots down every name. What can I do? Break the pattern. It’s exhausting to be the one suggesting ideas and far too easy to do the rejecting. Switch roles, and insist the one rejecting names come up with some new possibilities to discuss. If that’s not working, I’d suggest the technique below, for couples who just don’t know where to start.

We don’t know where to begin. If you’re just plain stuck – either because you can’t think of a name either of you really likes, or because you’ve been going ‘round and round with lists, but not finding any agreement, it’s time to shift the conversation.

Instead of talking about names for your child, talk about your own names. Reflect on whether you like them – and why? A Kristen who has grown weary of spelling her name out probably shouldn’t name her son Jackson, Jaxon, or Jaxson. And a Matthew who disliked being Matt G. in school might not want to name his daughter Ava or Emma. The questions are many: did you like having a family name? An unusual middle? How did your feelings about your name change from childhood to adulthood? It’s an interesting conversation – and it can often help us recognize the qualities we prize in our children’s names. And that’s often a far more productive place to start than arguing the merits of Liam versus Oliver.

Do you have any advice for parents who are struggling to choose a name? What were your biggest challenges?

About the author


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

View all of Abby's articles


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