Naming (Other People’s) Babies
by Laura Dunphy
Don’t tell me you’re pregnant.
I mean, I’ll be happy for you and all. But even before the word “Congratulations!” can escape past my lips, I’ll be naming your baby.
You’ll say, “I’m thinking about calling it—”
And I’ll say, “Nope.”
And you’ll say, “But I didn’t even tell you—”
And I’ll say, “Doesn’t matter.”
My brain will have already whipped up, in mere fractions of a second, your baby’s ideal name!
The one you’re thinking about right now isn’t it.
Sometimes you’ll get lucky and choose well, as my dear friend did a few years ago. After months of seeking and searching, she finally settled on a name for her future child. She then attended a party where people were trying to guess what it was. Even with hints a plenty, not one of dozens of guessers got it right. I’d had a front runner in mind from the second she’d told me she was pregnant.
“It’s a boy,” she said. “Not in the top thousand last year. Starts with a—”
“Cormac,” I said.
“—C,” she said. And, after a moment of silence, “Good guess.”
Phew! Not only was I delighted in my friend’s good taste in baby names, not to mention my good taste in friends, I was so glad I could avoid the dreaded conversation where I have to explain exactly why the baby’s name is wrong. It’s especially awkward if the baby’s already been born. Let’s avoid that, shall we?
But how, you ask? How do I know that your daughter should be Sky and not Rain, that your son should be Phillip with two ls and not one, that Taylor is suitable for any gender in Connecticut but Brooklyn residents can handle something way more unisexy, like Zen? How does my brain put together all the pieces so that the final name is a perfect fit?
Alas, I can’t explain how I do what I do… But I can tell you what I don’t do. Some rules, if you will, that eliminate so many names that by the time I’m done, I’m down to the perfect one.
Do not search for names in newspaper headlines without reading the full articles below, lest you end up with an unusually affectionate Stormy (‘y’ or ‘i’, doesn’t matter) or an infuriatingly persistent Zika. Brexit is not a clever mashup of Rex and Brit. If you’re looking for a more exotic Nate, move along, there’s NATO to see here.
Same goes for names of cultural significance. If you’d like to honor your Italian grandmother whose family escaped to America during World War II, don’t scroll through a thousand names then choose Benito because it “sounds cool.” This is a woman who calls her microwave “that angry beeping machine” and even she will think you’re an idiot who can’t Google. Then she’ll leave the family vineyard to your sister, who named her son Hank (perfect choice, by the way).
Do not wait to see what the baby looks like. Have you checked out a newborn lately? They’re usually round and pink and delicious, but round, pink, delicious names like Cotton Candy, Sno-Ball, and Strawberry are better suited to baby hamsters. And, some babies – through no fault of their own, and all (most, anyway) turn out perfectly attractive – arrive looking like a Shar–Pei. I’d have thought this was off the table, but then came High School Musical. Must I say it? I must. Do not name your baby Shar–Pei or Sharpay.
Thanks to clever marketing to assuage humanity’s existential terror about artificial intelligence, Alexa is out. At least, that is, if you own or plan to own an Amazon Echo. The last thing you need is a robot responding every time you talk to your baby. Talk about an existential crisis. Not even Amazon stock could pay for the future therapy sessions. And given what we’ve been learning about how these machines store their recordings, a simple act like naming your baby Alexa could lead to Amazon archiving hundreds of versions of you singing “Alexa made a poopy!” every time you change a diaper. And then sending them to your boss.
You just overheard me approve Anjelica for that couple over there. Sorry, but it’s not for you. You’re not prepared for a certain subset of the population to hear that name and immediately respond with, “Work, work!” or “Eliza and Peggy.” You have no idea what I’m talking about right now. Which proves my point. Also off the table for you: Lin, Manuel, Miranda, Alexander, and Hamilton. Have you considered Aaron or Burr?
And finally, don’t break your own rules. Don’t have five girls and use all “G” names except for the fourth one, which for some mysterious reason even you cannot explain, you have named Raquel. I don’t usually love whole same-letter thing, but if you’re opting for a theme, stick with it. I’m calling her Gertrude. You have no one to blame but yourself.
So just follow these rules and reject all the obviously terrible options, and you’ll end up with a wonderful short list. I’m sure whatever you choose will be great. (Nope, not that one.) The most important thing is, when you’re finally holding that snuggly little bundle in your arms, that you can look down at it and know deep in your heart and without a doubt that I approve.
Laura Dunphy lives in Manhattan and will only name your baby if you let her keep it.