How does your own name affect your baby name choice?
By Melissa Willets
In the 1970s, Melissa was the third most popular name for girls in the country. So naturally, my parents named me Melissa, and thus, not a year went by without me being one of several girls with my name in my class. In case you can’t tell, I hated it.
So, when it came time to name my first daughter, I was determined to pick a baby name that no one else her age would share. I can proudly report that Dana has never met another little girl with her name, as it was far more popular in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.
The fact that my name strongly influenced my baby name choice made me wonder how other parents’ names might inform their decisions.
“Naming is such an interesting practice!” Anne E. Lincoln, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology at SMU in Dallas, Texas says. “Naming is a highly gendered practice in the United States, with boys often named after other family members.” The Bible largely influences name choice for both genders, but Lincoln adds parents have displayed a great deal of creativity with females. (As we’ve been seeing on Nameberry, though, this has begun to change, with more creativity and diversity now being seen on boys’ names.)
Let’s look at how your own name might influence the choice you make for your baby.
Common names. Like mine. As I explained, I was all about picking names that aren’t anywhere near the Top 10. No Ava or Jack for me! If you are hunting for a unique baby name, how about something like Evalina for a girl? Or Brenton for a boy?
Unique names. The opposite effect could come into play here, depending on how you feel about your uncommon moniker. Love being the only Joelle or Kipton you’ve ever met? Then you might go for a similarly-special name like Sela or Ames. But if you wish your name wasn’t so unusual, Olivia and Mason could be the names for you!
Family names. Do you dare break from custom? “I was named after my mother which is super weird, and [has] always been a tad annoying,” Ivette García Dávila, author of I’m The One Pushing, says, adding, “Especially for my husband. No guy wants to call his mother-in-law by his wife’s name.” She says being Latina, it’s common for first-born girls to be named after their moms. “And so my mom named me Ivette, like her.” But, Dávila adds, “When we had our daughter, we made sure to break that tradition.” Would you?
Conversation-starter names. Were you named after the Colfax Marathon where your parents met? If so, of course, everyone wants to know the story behind your name. It might be fun to honor the tradition of picking a place name for your own child. Among the many to consider: Sydney, Cuba, Holland, Vero, Montana, or Orlando.
Too-long names. Being named Arabellina or Constantine got you down? Then you might go to the opposite extreme with a one-syllable name like Eve, Brooke, May, or Bryn for a girl. Or for a boy, Kent, Finn, Grant, or Luke.
Nicknamey-names. Love being Andrew but despise Andy? Or adore Madeline but not Maddie? Here are some nickname-proof monikers you can marinate on: Beau, Jude, or Kai for a boy, and Reese, Mia, or Grace for a girl.
In the end, it seems that if you love your name, you’d be likely to pick a name for your baby with a similar theme. If you don’t love your name, well, it’s more about going in a completely different direction. Ultimately, your relationship with your own name is a very powerful, informative thing that can inform your choice for your child in one way or another.
Has the way you feel about your own name influenced your baby name choice?
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Amber W Said
on September 26th, 2017 at 11:03 pm
My parents both had very unusual names for their era and named all of us pretty common names because of it. I was not into being a first-name-plus-last-initial kid, so my kids got not unrecognizable but certainly not top 100 names. It’ll be interesting to see if they continue the pattern…
on September 26th, 2017 at 11:14 pm
I think that having a name that begins with L has made me gravitate toward other L-names. There were usually at least a few other Lauras in my grade (if not classroom) in school, but I’m still a firm believer in classic, well-loved names.
on September 26th, 2017 at 11:56 pm
It’s interesting… my name is Danielle, always knew at least 4 or 5 other girls with the same name, and I always went by a nickname which I wound up sharing with just as many boys. Not so coincidentally, I am adamant about giving our future child a rarer name. My husband is August, and has never met another person with his name… Luckily, he embraces his unique name and wouldn’t mind giving one to our kid either. But his personal taste does lean more towards the top 100ish.
on September 27th, 2017 at 12:04 am
My mother gave me a Celtic name that no one in the foreign country I grew up in knew how to spell or pronounce. And on the rare occasion someone did know how to pronounce it, I’d have to ‘correct’ them, because my mother had also seen fit to apply a random pronunciation to it – one that sounds exactly like a common and well-known boy name.
I hated that, phonetically speaking, my girl name was masculine. I also hated how, even though my name was legitimately spelled, people everywhere has trouble with it. So boy names on girls are a HUGE no for me, and I’d now never pick a name that had an unusual or overly complicated spelling with a non-intuitive pronunciation. The only thing I do like about my name is that I’ve never actually met another person wearing it. So all the names I seriously cater to reside outside the top 1000.
on September 27th, 2017 at 12:38 am
I enjoy having an unusual name and it probably gives me more confidence to give my kids unusual names as well since I’ve walked in those sorts of shoes, so to speak.
on September 27th, 2017 at 12:59 am
I hated that my name was very popular. I think it was #7 the year I was born. It’s a name with few good nicknames, and one of those very typical 80s names. I never felt like my name aged well, and there weren’t any nicknames to fall back in. Moreover, I never appreciated the inherent materialism in having a brand name for a name. My middle name doesn’t sound good with my surname, so I’ve also never wanted to use it. My parents chose my name because “it sounded pretty”, but I always longed for a meaningful name.
So, for my kids, their names are outside of the top 1,000. They’re longer with multiple nickname options to fall back on. Their middles represent their father’s heritage, which was important to us. Emiliana’s first name also represents my family heritage. Moreover, their names have ties to the story of their pregnancy, mythology, literature, etc.
All in all, I think it had a huge impact on my naming style. This was a very deep question.
on September 27th, 2017 at 1:11 am
I think it has. I have an unusual (in the UK), but pretty name, with a great meaning, and I absolutely loved there not being anyone in my school with my name and not being able to find personalised stuff. It made me feel more special and different, and still does tbh. It’s actually gone down and out of the top 1000 since I was born, whilst my cousins’ names have gone up hehe. I definitely want my kids to have the same. A name that sounds great, and people like, but isn’t at all popular and generally goes under the radar.
My love of having a more unusual name where I live (I’ve only met 1 with a variant spelling) is something I’m hoping my children will have, although of course that’s impossible to predict. My own choices have much more obvious associations than my own name does. I’ve also found with my name that spelling isn’t as big a deal as it’s made out to be. Most of the time, people just ask how to spell my name, simple as. Get it wrong on a drinks cup? No big deal. For drinks I use my nn now (Jam) and even that gets spelling mistakes. Pronunciation is a bit of an issue, and I do consider that more, but I got over and dealt with that issue with my own name. I had very few problems having a different name, and none of them haunt me at night haha. I really love it!
on September 27th, 2017 at 4:09 am
Being called Paula, I have to say that I would never call a daughter Erica, Shauna or Carla, a boys’ name with a letter shoved on the end. I love some feminine versions of male names, such as Charlotte and Claudia, however. I also like names like Michaela and Edwina, which have their own sound. I do like the popularity level of Paula, because it’s quite unusual but not rare, and mostly, people can spell and pronounce it. I prefer it to the dated Pauline.
on September 27th, 2017 at 6:40 am
I have a very common name for my age group (Lisa) so I definitely wanted to stay away from any top 10 names for my son! We gave him a name well outside the top 1000 in English-speaking countries, and outside the top 100 in Germany where we live. Oddly, since moving to Germany I’ve warmed up to my own name a bit more. The name Lisa skews much younger here and so far I’ve never met any one my age here with the same name. My son just started daycare and there’s even a little girl in his group named Lisa!
on September 27th, 2017 at 7:29 am
My mother and her siblings were all called by their middle names, which has caused her no end of headaches. So she was staunchly against a “ceremonial” first name.
She, her mother and her grandmother have variations of the same first name (which is why my mom was called by her middle), and she did carry on that tradition with me, giving me her grandmother’s name.
I like the popularity of my name—just outside the top 100 when I was born. There was only one other in my school (not in my grade), but I could always find knickknacks with my name on them. That seems like a good balance to strike, but I would be open to using a rarer name for a child, as long as it’s intuitive to pronounce—I love that mine is very rarely mispronounced.
on September 27th, 2017 at 7:40 am
I do like my name, but it is very common. For my future children’s names, I want to strike a good balance. I want them to have names that, like mine, are familiar with a long history of use–not made-up/obscure/trendy/unisex–but that are also rarer than the top 100 names (in whatever year they are born, of course). Even though I do love names that do not fit my criteria, like Sofia or Wren, I probably won’t be using them on a future daughter because of that. Maybe for a mn, since there I have more flexibility.
on September 27th, 2017 at 8:04 am
I was given a creatively spelt name as a child and as such developed a loathing for creatively spelt names. It wasn’t that I couldn’t spell my own name,. just that every other person seemed to have an issue spelling it.
Having birthday cards from family misspelled as a child was very frustrating. We actually had to write to one relative to thank her for the birthday cheque but asked her to resend it because she hadn’t spelt my name correctly and the bank wouldn’t take it. By the time I was eighteen I just automatically spelt my name out loud after saying it in any official capacity, just in case.
I since changed my name to a more common variant. Now I only have to spell my surname.
on September 27th, 2017 at 9:13 am
My name (Stephanie) was 7th most popular the year I was born. My mom went to the hospital with a few very different names in mind (Cassandra – 54th, April – 88th, Katrina -140th, and another name not in the top 1000 – Katarina) but her boyfriend did not like any of them. She told him to come back with something better. So Stephanie was what they agreed on. My biggest gripe as a kid was that my name had too many letters to write out! There were a few other girls in my grade in high school with the same name, but there were so many people it didn’t make much of a difference (not like the Katies, Megans and Brittany/Britneys).
I would never want my child to have to be “first name, last initial” (Stephanie D) constantly throughout their school days. And I tend to like my uncommon names in general.
on September 27th, 2017 at 10:34 am
My name (Mary) was number 37 the year I was born. I have never liked my name especially with my middle name, as that is what a lot of my family calls me. I grew up in a very Catholic family and while I didn’t attend Catholic school I was still constantly reminded that I had a “nun’s name”. Although my name was fairly popular I didn’t know any others growing up who were my age, though there were plenty of older women at church with it. I would say I definitely lean toward uncommon names and unisex names, but not names I personally find outdated.
on September 27th, 2017 at 10:38 am
The biggest influence for me is to not name my future daughters anything that rhymes with my name or sounds too similar. I have always loved Cara and Clara, but being Tarah, that doesn’t work.
Other influences are spelling, no one ever spells my name right without me telling them, which is really annoying, although something my SO and I share. We both have common names with not so common spellings.
Finally, I hate how dated my name is (it was definitely a 70s/80s name, used for a 90s baby). For me, I want my kids to have classic yet modern names. Easy to pronounce and easy to spell. I just hope they don’t end up hating their names LOL.
on September 27th, 2017 at 11:04 am
My name is fairly common, but it never bothered me a bit. I love having pieces of both my grandmothers’ names in mine. The only thing I don’t love about my name is that it is nickname-proof. Therefore, my daughter has a name just outside the top 100 with easy and varied nickname choices and a family middle name!
on September 27th, 2017 at 12:36 pm
My name was #38 the year that I was born, but had been much more popular in the two decades before (Heather, born in early 90s), and I hated it growing up. I didn’t have anyone in my class with my name, which I loved, but I hated whenever someone else had the name (a girl at my class in church when I was little had the name, and she was super popular and I had no friends). Once I got into college it got worse, because I was with people of multiple ages and the name was around everywhere, and once I started working I heard it even more. My husband also did not like his common name growing up (Nathan), partially because most of his siblings had a K (well, one C, but pronounced the same) name and he felt left out, and he had a cousin born 3 years after him with the same middle, first, and last name. They went to the same schools. My husband said it was a nightmare the whole time, and forms would get mixed up constantly and they had to specify the grade over the intercom if they were ever called to the office. So, we are planning on uncommon old-fashioned names, with each child having a different initial. We even started looking at family names and crossing any names off of our list if they had ever been used by a family member.
on September 27th, 2017 at 12:43 pm
I think this is insightful. My name was #7 the year I was born, and my husband’s name is William lol. We are both determined to give our child a more unique name that they won’t have to share with classmates. The one we currently like was juuuust inside the top 500 last year.
My coworker whose name is more unusual (and was even more unusual when she was growing up than it is now) definitely did not want to use a weird or hard to spell name for her son, and named him something outside the top 10 but just inside the top 25.
on September 27th, 2017 at 12:56 pm
My mother was Sandra and hated Sandy so her only thing was a nickname proof name. However, I ended up with a nickname name…. And worst of all it was popular with dogs. I loved having a unique name and it felt special when I did run into another girl that shared my name. So I will keep with that tradition, however, I would want to give a name with meaning to my future children. The most frustrating thing was looking up my name as a kid and just seeing “Diminutive of ______”. (Still I do really love my name and it suits me so well!)
More then anything this has affected how I name pets, because I strongly believe they shouldn’t get people names. Unless its obscure or taken from mythology.
on September 27th, 2017 at 4:51 pm
I’ve thought a lot about this one. I’m an Elizabeth and I love how classic my name is but I definitely wish that it was less common. Now, I try to go for classic girl’s names that have fallen out of favor. Laura is still classic but not trendy and it’s high on my list. I also like Corinne because it’s always been in the top 1,000 but never gotten too popular.
I also like to look for names that have only one or two possible nicknames. I was so overwhelmed by all the nicknames for Elizabeth! It helps the name feel less common but it also means that no one will call you by your full name. Tess and Mabel are two of my favorite nickname-free options.
on September 27th, 2017 at 9:38 pm
My name was #23 the year I was born. I hated the fact that I was 1 of 3 in my grade and always had to write the first initial of my last name on every school assignment. Because of that, I vowed to never give my children names in the top 100. So when I had my son, I wanted to give him a name that most people had heard of but that wasn’t very popular. I just had him a few months ago so the 2017 census isn’t out yet, but in 2016 his name was #345.
on September 27th, 2017 at 11:13 pm
What an interesting topic!
In the early 1960’s, my parents were going to name me Laurie Ann, then a very popular combo, but after 36 hours of labor, my mother said, “She doesn’t look like a Laurie Ann,” to which my father sympathetically responded, “Name her anything you like!”
Hence Leslie, which in my school was far less common. I’m grateful for the less common name and I love my name, particularly once I realized how much I preferred the Z sound in the middle instead of an S. I also loved that it’s Scottish and so am I.
And yet, in naming my unborn daughter, I chose Cordelia, and other imagined daughters would have been the likes of Geneva, Araminta, Fenella, etc. I do love the rollicking, prairie schooner, multi-syllabic, -a ending names for girls. They are longer and fancier than Leslie, with more nice nickname potential.
However, I am drawn to Celtic names and to names with a Z sound somewhere in them (James, Tamsin, Zinedine, Rosamund, etc.), like my own. And under no circumstances would I choose a name for my child as common as Laurie Ann was 55 years ago.
on September 28th, 2017 at 9:51 am
I loved being an Alyssa growing up and it has greatly influenced my naming preferences. I always liked that Alyssa was a normal name, easily recognizable but not overly common (I was the only Alyssa in my class until high school). My husband, on the other hand, is a Mike and he always had 4-5 other Mikes in the class to contend with. So, we are sticking with normal but not too popular names for our choices.
on September 28th, 2017 at 10:35 am
Everything you mentioned in your post is so true for me! I have a quite popular & short name with little to no nicknames. And what names are on my shortlist? Long, unique/rare names with various nickname options…
The same goes for my sister, just the other way round: her name isn’t nearly as popular as mine and she loves all the names from the current Top 50 list.
on September 28th, 2017 at 1:32 pm
I’m sure having an unusual name influenced my taste in names, but my specific name did as well. It’s an ultra-feminine name with a boyish nickname (as in, it is literally a boy’s name), and I’ve noticed I really like names like that (like Arianna/Ari), or at least with nicknames that are still feminine but more toned down (like Anastasia/Anya). I also don’t typically like names that don’t have nicknames, or are already nicknames. I’m not sure how much that’s influenced by my own name, but I did always like having the option to use both.
On the matter of having an unusual name (I’ve still yet to meet someone with the same name as me), I’m guessing my mom’s unusual name influenced her choice of my own. I also have spent my entire life spelling my name for people (even though I genuinely don’t think it’s THAT hard), and as a result, I’m always conscious of that issue. On the other hand, I’ve seen people say someone with my name would DEFINITELY be made fun of for it, and I never have been (though I do get the same reference joke all the time–imagine, for example, if your name is Mickey, and everyone you met said “So, are you a mouse?” as though they were extremely clever to think of that), so I’m a little more optimistic about unusual names than many people. There are certainly downsides, but it’s mostly not a big deal, and it was nice never having to wonder which Megan/Ashley/Jennifer someone was talking to. Plus, with a more unusual name, it’s kind of cool on those rare occasions when you see it in a book or movie. So I definitely prefer at least somewhat less common names on principle, although I actually do tend to like the most popular names in and of themselves.
Naming people after relatives is also a pretty significant tradition in my family. Almost everyone’s middle name is from one or more of their grandparents, except for one person who’s first name is for their mother. I do feel like I should at least attempt to do this, should I have kids, but I’m not certain if I’d opt to do that instead of picking a name I liked more. But it definitely feels like there’s an expectation there.
on September 28th, 2017 at 3:55 pm
So interesting! I do believe how we view our own name(s) greatly influences the names we choose for our children.
My mom’s name is Lynne. Short, single syllable name with no really nickname, though my grandfather would occasionally call her Lynnie… which my mom hated! She did not like her name at all so when my two sisters and I came along, she decided to give us all 3-syllable names that a wide variety of nickname options. She also loved J-names. Now my two sisters happened to get names that were fairly popular so they often had other Jennifers and Jessicas in their classes and had the opportunity to go by nicknames (Jen, Jenni, Jai Renee, Jes, Jessi, Jai Ann, etc.).
I was blessed with a less common name: Jacquelyn. I am pretty sure there were only 3 others with my name (all spelled differently: Jaclyn, Jacqueline, and a “just” Jackie) in my entire high school and during four years I think I ran into one only once. I have loved my name since I was a young child, and now that I, too, am a mother I am carrying on two of the naming ideas my mom started: specially 3-syllable names with nickname options.
on September 28th, 2017 at 7:51 pm
Coming from a bilingual family, my parents made it a priority to find names that could be pronounced in French and English fairly similarly, and could be spelled the same. I really appreciate this about my name, so I would certainly try to find names that fit this rule. It’s nice for travelling, or working in another language when your name is easily recognizable and pronounceable by people speaking a language other than your mother tongue.
on September 29th, 2017 at 1:19 am
I like that my name is the sweet-spot in terms of popularity, at least when I was growing up. It wasn’t super popular, but wasn’t anything uncommon either. I think it hovered around #100 when I was born. But, I hate how tied to the 80s-90s Kara is! At least Elizabeth or Grace, which are more popular, can’t be dated so easily. Also, I hate that nobody pronounces it correctly, outside the Midwest (care-uh, not car-uh or kah-rah!). So I think in the future, my kids will likely get names that are in the goldilocks zone of popularity, probably outside the Top 50 but not outside the top 500-1000 either. And preferably something with one straightforward pronunciation!
on September 29th, 2017 at 12:13 pm
It absolutely did for me. I have a name that is more popular with people 20-40 years older than me. Many go by a nickname I don’t care for that for some reason my parents decided to use. No one ever made fun of my name, but it was hard enough being a dorky unpopular kid especially with a baby boomer nickname. My name sounds like other much more popular names as so people often think my name is one of those. I also have to spell it for people. For this reason I decided that my children would have classic or contemporary names. The boy name my husband and I had picked out is very popular but classic enough to not feel dated. We chose a beautiful Biblical name for our daughter. It is popular but not in the top 50. It feels classic because I believe it has always been in the top 1000. A few people have mispronounced it but overall I hope she will have fewer issues than I have had. If we have another child, he or she will have a similar style of name. I am an introvert and wanted to blend in. Though many people didn’t like being Jennifer C. or Ashley H, I would have liked to have a popular name for people my age.
on September 30th, 2017 at 7:59 am
I think it has for me. Although my name was wildly popular in the US when I was born, here in the UK, I’ve only met a handful of girls with the same name and they are all younger than me. I recently worked with a woman who’s surname was my first name – she found it very odd. The only thing I like about my name is the unusualness of it, I hate the sound, spelling and style of it. I tend to prefer more unusual names, but with a complete different style to my own.
on October 1st, 2017 at 5:08 am
My name was extremely rare when I was young (Oriana), but variants (namely Arianna) have become popular as I’ve aged. While I loved having a unique name (I never met another Oriana until I was well in to my 20’s), I have met a handful since then who are around my age, or pre-school aged. I named my son a top 50 name, classic but sentimental to me and my soon-to-be daughters name will be a top 20 choice which seems to be on the rise, we just love it. I think the fact that I had such a different name makes me hesitate to use a name like Olivia or Jackson, but with name trends being what they are, I think even top 20 names are pretty uncommon these days. I have yet to meet a child with either name we chose. Interesting topic!
on October 1st, 2017 at 4:24 pm
My name is frequently misspelled and occasionally mispronounced. What annoyed me as a child though is what makes me love it as an adult. I was the only Marisa in my class and I have met under a handful of other women with my name. So I chose to give my daughter my middle name with a twist: Rosaline. A lot of people so far have either misspelled it or more commonly mispronounced the ending to rhyme with line rather than lean. I will give her the same option my mother gave me: she can change the spelling when she turns 18 if it really annoys her. I never wanted to and I don’t think she will either.
on October 2nd, 2017 at 6:35 am
Both my parents first language wasn’t English but they made their married life in mostly the UK always in an English Speaking Country. Giving their children honour names would have meant having names rather common and
specific to non-Englisg origins. My mother studied English literature and to her as a young woman by giving us all names from Greek mythology or Shakespeare it meant we had meaning. I felt the belonging of this wider meaning growing up and I wanted the same for our children. Miranda as opposed to Bianca was chosen bevause it had two other lovely associations for us. So while my name had meaning throuh literature our first 2 children were part literary but more our meanings.
As we moved to the next child we no longer needed literary meaning.
Just a special meaning to help us choose a name we love.
on April 14th, 2018 at 5:35 am
Megan was in the top ten the year I was born. I hate how common it is. I once had a history class of only 25 students, and there were 5 Megans. Even as an adult I’m still a “first name, last initial” person because someone at work or church will inevitably share my name.
When considering names for my own children, anything in the top 1000 is out. (I used to say only the top 100 was out, but considering how many of my friends thought they were naming their children unique names, only to find out when they put them in preschool that all the other mom’s had the same great idea’s for names at the same time, and now their unique name is in the top 10.)
I want my kids to feel special – to stand out from the crowd, not generic and stuck for life with a fad from the 90’s like I feel. I know everyone complains that “they will always have to spell it for people.” Well, so do I. Even common names have so many variants that no one knows how to spell any name anymore. (After doing a stint as a school photographer, I don’t trust my instincts on spelling any name. I’ve seen it all.)
So I’m pushing for rare, with options for nicknames, and will give them a common middle name or two to fall back on if they ever want to. I’ll give them what I think they’ll appreciate, and give them options if they don’t agree with me.
It’s more than I got with my name. I’m stuck being generic (my middle name is in the top ten too).
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