No Dumb Names: And 21 other baby name rules worth following
A few weeks ago we asked the Nameberry moms and dads to tell us their best baby names rules. What followed were hundreds of suggestions, from the idiosyncratically individual (All middle names must be Celtic and begin with R) to rules so universal they might apply to everyone.
Rule Number 1, according to one berry? No dumb names. We’re down with that, along with these 21 other smart, sensible rules that every modern baby namer should follow:
3. A first name should ideally embody some kind of meaning. That might be family or ethnic significance, literal meaning, or even that you’ve loved it since you were seven. A name with meaning is going to have more staying power than one you choose simply because it’s attractive.
4. A middle name should definitely embody meaning. Otherwise, why have one at all?
5. While literal meaning shouldn’t rule your name decision – who knows or cares anymore that a name means “spear ruler”? – you should at least know what the meaning is before you make a final choice.
6. Family or other personal significance trumps popularity concern. If you want to name your baby after grandmother Isabella, it doesn’t matter that it’s the Number 1 name.
7. If your kids’ names have a theme, make it subtle. Giving all your children botanical middle names or names with uplifting meanings is preferable to Duggar-style devotion to one first initial.
8. Initials shouldn’t spell anything negative. We figure you know enough not to use initials like A.S.S., but if possible avoid initials like S.A.D. or B.O.O. too.
10. Don’t let anyone pressure you into or out of a name. It’s the Number 1 reason behind baby name regret.
11. Each child’s name should sound distinct. If you want all your children’s names to start with C and all have two syllables, okay, but Christian, Clifford, and Cara are better than overlapping choices like Carter, Carson, and Carly.
12. The first name should not end with the same letter that starts the last name. The sounds run together and lead to confusion about where one name ends and the other begins: Is Silas Smith really Sila Smith or Silas Mith?
13. Ideally, first, middle, and last names will be unequal numbers of syllables. So 3-1-2 tends to work better than 2-2-2.
14. Thou shalt not steal thy best friend’s or thy cousin’s favorite name. But this rule only stands if they announced their favorite name in fourth grade and are pregnant at the same time you are. If you are expecting a child in two weeks and they suddenly pop up with a list of names they like and so are forbidding you to use, no fair.
15. Don’t name your baby after a pop star or a sitcom character, if for no other reason that it doesn’t give your child enough to live up to.
18. A name’s image should encompass many possibilities. Names diverse enough in image to let your child grow up to be a banker or a filmmaker, according to her talents or choice, are preferable to those that scream “corporate lawyer” or “exotic dancer.”
19. Don’t pick a name that will eternally have to be pronounced and explained to everyone. You’re signing up for a lifetime of name pain, not only for yourself but for your child.
20. Reach name consensus with your partner. While the final choice may not be at the top of the list for both you and your baby-having partner, you both have to be fully on board with the choice, even if it’s to let him have total control over naming this child while you get to choose next time.
21. Choose a name that can grow with your child, from infanthood through childhood to adulthood. If you’re only going to follow one rule, this should be it!
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Alexia Mae Said
on July 23rd, 2012 at 11:21 pm
Such sound, amazing advice. This should be a printed flier sent to every person expecting.
on July 24th, 2012 at 12:02 am
I agree with Alexia Mae. This should be distributed to all expectant American parents.
on July 24th, 2012 at 12:49 am
Likewise, especially the first two! If people even followed that, there’d be a world of better named people… 🙂
on July 24th, 2012 at 1:43 am
Good advice. I wish more people would follow the first two. Names like Jaykub or Jaydin give me a headache.
I understand 16 and 19. My son’s name is Emory and the nurse at his pediatricians office constantly mispronounces his name. She says something like Ay(like hay)-more-ee, which grates on me. It is such a simple name, how can it be mispronounced? And a lot of people think he is a girl because of his name, until they hear his middle name.
on July 24th, 2012 at 2:15 am
Word! Read up people. Great advice.
on July 24th, 2012 at 3:47 am
Love them all, except 16. Something about the name should indicate gender, if only for official papers like passports.
I totally don’t believe that names should be equivocal to gender nor a gender identifier. I don’t believe anyone should make any assumptions about a person simply from seeing their name written somewhere, especially something as trivial as gender. It miffs me when teachers use names as gender identifiers before meeting their students, or if they categorize their students by gender in any way. I respect that some people feel names should express gender, but you can’t convince me that “Riley Sage” will have any more difficulty with passport paperwork than “William Robert” as long as he fills the form out properly.
on July 24th, 2012 at 5:24 am
13. Ideally, first, middle, and last names will be unequal numbers of syllables. So 3-1-2 yes, 2-2-2 no.
I actually think 2-2-2 is the only repeated syllable combination that works. Oterwise it’s best to mix them up
on July 24th, 2012 at 5:30 am
I agree with Kiki – but of course I do, my name is a 2-2-2!
on July 24th, 2012 at 6:23 am
Hm, my son’s name in syllables is 3-3-3. We think it flows beautifully, it works. So there! 🙂 And how often do you say the middle name anyway?
I also agree with Scrambledmegs – what does it matter if you can’t tell someone’s gender from their name?
And names had to be made up at one time – why not now?
on July 24th, 2012 at 7:51 am
Number 13 concerns me. My last name is three. Syllables and all my favorite girl names are 3, so I’m strongly considering 3-3-3… i don’t think thats a steadfast rule considering a child will mostly be called by only their first name. Example of 2-2-2- sarah Michelle gellar.
on July 24th, 2012 at 8:02 am
On the syllables, my own children are all 2-2s! Certainly, equal number of syllables can work, but if you’re torn between Caroline Jessica Sullivan and Caroline June Sullivan, Caroline June might be intrinsically more pleasing on the syllable level.
On gender and names, this is such a fascinating issue and becoming more so, as our ideas of gender identity broaden. I speak mostly as the mom of a girl named Rory with whom I traveled around the world when she was little — having the middle name Elizabeth made going through passport control with her a lot easier.
on July 24th, 2012 at 9:40 am
I honestly think the syllable rule is more about accents than syllables. i.e. sarAH michELLE GELLar’s name has accents on different syllables, as opposed to sarAH michELLE renEE.
on July 24th, 2012 at 10:48 am
The bias against yooneek spellings and invented names is cultural and situational…if it’s a common practice among the people you’re surrounded by, and you want your child to have a name that reflects where they come from, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Paitynne.
Elisabeth Rae Said
on July 24th, 2012 at 11:00 am
Haha, I totally agree with this one:
4. A middle name should definitely embody meaning. Otherwise, why have one at all?
-ask the millions of Jessica Maries, Jennifer Lynns (or Annes), Ashley Nicoles, and Kimberly Michelles
on July 24th, 2012 at 11:29 am
haha good one @elisabeth rae! I am one of those Jennifer Lynns…
I thought that I had followed all these rules when picking my kids names but it has been shocking to me how many people have asked me if my Caroline is a CARE-O-LINE or a CARE-O-LYNN! I had know idea that it wasn’t clear…
(shes a care-o-line)!
on July 24th, 2012 at 11:31 am
I agree with most of this – number 16 gets me because while I am all for diminishing gender roles, thats not whats actually happening. Whats happening is masculine names being used for females and not vice-versa, that’s not “equality” or “diminishing gender roles” to me, that’s just a stupid trend that will hopefully fade away. Maybe when people are ACTUALLY ready to diminish gender roles, we can revive gender bender names and they can go both ways.
on July 24th, 2012 at 11:49 am
Very sound advice, although I’m partial to the first one: no dumb names (;
on July 24th, 2012 at 12:04 pm
Good list! I also think the gender thing is a little backward, though, and I take objection to rule 17 about extreme ethnic choices. What makes the choice extreme? Is it because the countries are far away from each other? Or because the people look really different? If an American parent happened to study abroad in India or something and fell in love with a name there, what’s wrong with honoring that part of their life experience? If I met a little Mia Saraswati or a Lucas Suresh I would just think they had cool parents and an interesting name story to tell.
on July 24th, 2012 at 12:34 pm
Question for Pam…..Regarding #14, what about using the same name as a good friend’s older (7 yrs) child. The name is common and the kids will rarely see one another, maybe once a year if that, and even then the name has nn options which I could call my child when around her’s. It seems like rule #14 should only apply to more rare unique names. Would love to hear your thoughts.
on July 24th, 2012 at 1:09 pm
pixiewoo, I could be wrong, but I think what they mean with #14 is this. Say your best friend has loved the name Lily since she was a teenager, and always wanted to name her first daughter that. You’re now in your 20’s or 30’s and you’re both expecting, her 6 months after you. Don’t name your daughter Lily. Lila or Violet, sure, but not Lily, that’s just mean.
on July 24th, 2012 at 3:00 pm
# 20 I have a problem with. Not to say that you shouldn’t come to an agreement with your partner, because of course you should. But I don’t think it is good advice to say ” you name this one, I’ll catch the next one” because you never know if there will be a next one! Choose a name you both love and agree on the for each child, don’t divide and conquer.
on July 24th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
These are great rules! I have to disagree with kerryci. I am a teacher in the South and most of my students have nonsensical made-up names. It interferes with their learning of phonics and English when there are silent “q’s” and myriads of apostrophes in their names. In the high schools in my county, the kids in the so-called “average” classes tend to have the misspelled and made-up names while the kids in the honours and AP classes do not. So think twice about what you are doing when you name your child Shandelier or Antwquan. As for gender names, in this time of increased security, I would hate to have a problem with authorities with my child because the name did not match gender. My children have gender specific names precisely because I spent so much time in Europe with my non-gender specific name that no one could pronounce.
on July 24th, 2012 at 5:18 pm
Correlation is not causation…I live on the coast, where the kids in the honors classes are much more likely to have “American” names and the kids in other classes are much more likely to have immigrant names with crazy spellings that defy the laws of English phonetics…j’s that sound like h’s, ng- being pronounced kind of like w-, you name it…but I think people would be a lot more sensitive about referring to those names as “dumb.” I see a lot of virtue in giving a child a name that transfers well between cultures, but I think culturally specific names are ok too and I definitely DON’T think whether they’re ok is determined by how low or high class other people think your culture is.
on July 24th, 2012 at 5:36 pm
Also, I assume you’re counting Thomas and Sean on your list of horribly spelled names that interfere with their bearers’ ability to understand phonics.
on July 24th, 2012 at 6:19 pm
I say #5 is unnecessary. I named my oldest son Paul Stephen without knowing what either name means. Turns out Paul means “small” which might not be the best meaning but it’s still a great name. Stephen means “crown” so he had better luck with that one.
on July 24th, 2012 at 6:50 pm
@Flick, I think when you make the assumption that every gender ambiguous name is given to a female, you’re part of the problem. “Maybe when people are ACTUALLY ready to diminish gender roles, we can revive gender bender names and they can go both ways.” Who’s to say it doesn’t? I’ve met some wonderful young men named Kelly, Loren, Ashley and Addison. Any assumption, whether it be of a person’s gender or of the population’s gender bias, is unnecessary and contributes to the idea that it’s acceptable. My position is: It shouldn’t be acceptable. Name your daughter Graham, name your son Elizabeth, name your child Honeydew Peter Quasar for all I care, just try not to make any assumptions. This is a life lesson that goes beyond names!
on July 24th, 2012 at 6:57 pm
Lilylunapotter: yes I understood exactly what Pam was trying to say, which is what you paraphrased, but I still would like to get Pam’s thoughts on the scenerio I gave her. Thanks!
on July 24th, 2012 at 7:23 pm
Lots of good points made in this list, and in the comments. I have to take exception, though, to rule #2. Though it is similar to a lot of other names out there, my parents, as far as they knew when they named me, invented my name: Merielle. I describe the pronounciation to others as, ” ‘Merry,’ as in ‘Merry Christmas,’ ‘L’ like the letter L, emphasis on the second syllable.” Sure, people have had trouble spelling it, but the response to it my whole life has been overwhelmingly positive, and I’ve never wanted to be called anything else. Sometimes made-up names are amazing.
on July 24th, 2012 at 9:16 pm
@Scrambled – How many little boys in the past 15 years or so have you come across with a feminine name? How many little girls have you come across in the past 15 years with a masculine name?
Yes, it DOES happen more one way than it does the other, that’s a fact, not an assumption.
on July 24th, 2012 at 10:03 pm
This article has been posted here before and I still find a lot of these rules arbitrary.
on July 24th, 2012 at 10:22 pm
miloween, I agree. I know a girl who had a capital letter in the middle of her name (which is a word name, but with a made up spelling). It’s like McDonald or how people spell MacKenzie sometimes. Her mother explained this to her 2nd grade teacher ahead of time just because she knew it would be a problem. The teacher still corrected her and told her to make it lowercase. It was an uppercase letter on her birth certificate so it should be spelled that way, but I also understand how the teacher is trying to teach her proper spelling and grammar.
on July 25th, 2012 at 3:38 am
I definitely use a lot of these rules already! #20 strikes home for me the most, been TTC for over a year now and hubby has given me all power to name future baby, but I still want to pick a name we both love. 🙂
on July 25th, 2012 at 8:51 am
I generally agree with rule #1, but I do think that, for whatever reason, it’s easier for a girl to get away with a creatively spelled name than a boy. A girl named Jordyn or Caetlinn doesn’t seem as “wrong” to me as a boy named Jaedyn or Karsin. Anybody else feel the same way?
on July 26th, 2012 at 5:45 am
I’ve got a real problem with #17. My husband is Chinese and happens to have an Irish first name. I put it down to his mother wanting him to be a “true American” and picking something she liked off of a soap opera figuring that would do the trick. Oddly enough he found me, I’m Irish and we’ll probably end up with an Irish name for our kid too. So while I agree that other cultures shouldn’t “steal” names because they’re trendy sometimes you have to cut people some slack. I’ve known a lot of immigrants who pick names they think are American (but are often tied to a specific ethnicity) hoping to give their kids a better start in this country.
on July 27th, 2012 at 6:54 pm
I find it interesting that people think it’s bad to make up names, yet leave so many positive comments about the made up names from Game of Thrones. That just shows me that made up names can work, even for Berries!
on July 29th, 2012 at 9:36 am
I’m sorry, @Flick. By assumption, I meant broad generalization. You made the statement that it doesn’t happen the other way around, and I am saying that isn’t true. Simply because more people choose to name their female children traditionally male names does not mean no one is naming their male children female names.
on July 30th, 2012 at 9:16 pm
I agree with most of this but I have to disagree on some. 1) I don’t think you should necessarily feel pressured into throwing in gender specific names if that’s not your thing. Parents shouldn’t feel the pressure to conform to gender stereotypes if they don’t plan on raising their kids like that.
2) Made up names can -sometimes- be okay, to an extent. This goes with the “No hard-to-spell/pronounce” rule. My name is Vaela, pronounced Vayluh. 99% of people I met throughout my life couldn’t say my name at first – it was always Vayeeluh or Vaylea or Valla or anything else but how it’s actually pronounced.
According to this list, that caused me pain, but that’s not true at all! I LOVED having a unique name. It helped immensely with my self esteem and making me feel “special.” I always get compliments when I first meet people about my name, and while it’s awkward and repetitive, it’s a great ice-breaker, and NOBODY ever forgets my name. 🙂
My parents kinda made it up, too. I’m adopted, and they found a Hebrew(they claim) name “Vala” meaning “the chosen one.” They didn’t like that spelling (or pronunciation, lol) so they added an E and essentially changed the whole name! I’ve never in my life met or heard of another Vaela. If you look me up on facebook, there’s me, some girl whose nickname is Vaela, and a bunch of Indian last names.
My point is – coming from someone with a “weird” name, it’s not a bad thing necessarily, so if you feel confident and happy with the name you’ve chosen, don’t think you always have to follow the rules.
on July 30th, 2012 at 9:18 pm
In regards to female/male names – I stand by what I said BUT there does have to be a limit. Gender neutral is one thing – but I know a guy named Kimberly. He doesn’t go by that.
on August 10th, 2012 at 4:38 pm
I broke #4 and #12, and I’m a total rules-obsessed name nerd. Oh well.
on October 19th, 2012 at 10:56 pm
when i go thru nameberry, i save ALL the names i love. when i save a “berry” i write
“Vaela = fellow berry!”
i immediately knew how to pn your name, + i absolutely LOVE it! so it’s on my LOVELIST 🙂
i can’t imagine ANYone mis-pronouncing your name :O it’s gorgeous! there aren’t many “V” gurl names that i like, Vaela is DEF a LOVER of mine <3 muahhzzz
of course Jiinxsay isn't my name. it WAS Alice, then Ali, then Aly, then Jiinxsay, i'm in the process of changing it permanentely-(sp?). i am falling deep into love with "word names", so i am going to go against the grain BIG time and rename "mee" to
Whimsy-Bohème Capricious Willoughby
when i go for the meaning it IS MEE:) i am rebellious, i spell me, mee online, i Love my new name. i many throw another middle namie in there after Capricious. some star named their kids; True, Brave and Soul. then they had another gurl they named "Glow Amorette". i many use some form of Amorette. so as for rules, well, my adoptive parents blew about 5 rules :O i blew a few, but i had 6 kids so i made up for it. i wish i had known about "alliteration" back 26 yrs ago! i didn't even KNOW about that word till a few months ago! i'd LOVE to know your middle name 🙂 k, i'm sure everyone is bored, annoyed, over it, wanting me to stifle and go away, so i will. just wanted to tell you that you have no idea how much i really do Love your name and wish it would work w/my name 🙁 love, your friend, whimsy-doodle
on October 19th, 2012 at 11:13 pm
PS. do you have a personal blog? i’d love to follow you/join/etc/facebook.
sorry to everyone else.
on February 2nd, 2013 at 1:26 pm
Overall, a great list of rules that more expectant parents need to read! But I think it’s important that people know there is some flexibility.
As most people said, gender-specific names shouldn’t be pushed if that’s not the parents’ style. My son has a unisex first name, but a strong masculine middle. That what what I preferred to do to prevent confusion, but I don’t see any problem with someone going completely neutral. After all, official documents do list male or female.
I’m surprised I’m the first to object to the statement that no one knows or cares about name meanings anymore. Meanings are utterly fascinating and very important to me. I would not use a name with a negative meaning unless I had some superseding positive personal association.
I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but it seems Berries are more aware of meanings than the general populace, so I wouldn’t have thought to find such a statement in a list made here.
Lastly, number 19. Even though my name isn’t utterly unheard of where I live, it is uncommon and I always have to correct the pronunciation. However, 99 percent of people get it right after one correction and my name is rarely forgotten. It truly was not an issue growing up, nor is it an issue now.
My daughter’s name gives us similar problems, although I thought it had a pretty straightforward pronunciation. In my experience, and from some of the comments above, even a very traditional name can be mispronounced (is Andrea pronounced ANN-dree-ah or on-DRAY-ah?) so I hardly think this is enough of a reason not to choose a name that you love.
on February 4th, 2013 at 1:39 pm
I agree with all of the above, but object to the “rules” part. These ALL should be guidelines and considerations, definitely. However, if you have a valid reason (that is, valid to the people who are actually doing the baby naming) for choosing a name that violates any of the above “rules”, then it doesn’t invalidate the name in any way.
on March 8th, 2013 at 9:01 am
Might I add, don’t make your child’s name a joke? If your last name is Bell, don’t name your child Tinker. I knew someone who did this (not Tinker Bell, but something similarly jokey), and the mother regretted giving in to her husband.
Also, don’t be offended if your child hates their name. I went to school with a girl who liked her first name, hated her middle name (Starchild). She was eagerly anticipating her 18th birthday so that she could change her middle name.
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on March 22nd, 2013 at 6:21 am
[…] compiled some common guidelines with help from authoritative sources like Nameberry.com and countless other bloggers. Check your own name ideas against these tips, and you’ll be […]
on April 10th, 2013 at 6:58 am
There’s a big one left out! Don’t name your kid after yourself. Leaving the house when you grow up is a royal pain, and there is always confusion.
on May 17th, 2013 at 2:48 pm
I think made-up names are okay, so long as they have meaning. It could come from roots in any language, or the meaning could be personal, such as a mix of the names of people who are important to you. The kind of made-up names that I’m not a fan of are those that are just a random mix of syllables because the parents couldn’t think of another name.
on August 23rd, 2013 at 11:19 am
I have one more: Don’t make your child a middle-namer!! For example don’t name your child Erin Kimberly Smith if you know you’re just going to call her Kim. I have been plagued with this my whole life. Every first day of school, any time there was a substitute teacher, and now as an adult EVERY. SINGLE. DOCTOR/DENTIST APPOINTMENT!! I have to repeat the same line: “That’s my first name but I go by…” I hate it.
on August 23rd, 2013 at 1:32 pm
I think about the only “rule” to be followed on here is number 10, and it’s rather ironic as all the other “rules” contradict it. Women/parent/people in general really need to stop being so judgmental and bitchy about insignificant things such as names. Yep, your kid is going to be stuck with whatever you name him or her for the rest of their life, so it IS an important decision. But it’s a decision that is entirely UP TO THAT CHILD’S parents. I’m not saying I think people should start naming their kids kid Ima Whore or Dick Head, but really, worry about naming your own kids and let other parents worry about naming theirs. (My kids names are Colton Edward, Cayleigh Jayne and Carleigh Avery, so yeah, I ignored a lot of these idiotic “rules” and guess what, my kids are just fine. I myself have a name that goes against even more “rules” and I’m okay and I certainly don’t hate my name or my mom for giving it to me. Gasp.)
on September 17th, 2013 at 2:13 am
I like this list but I don’t necessarily agree with all of them.
Some people actually like having a uniquely spelt name (once it is not too out of the ordinary) to set them apart from the others. (eg I grew up with a Kelli)
My friends growing up with made up names/rare hispanic names (nothing too out if the ordinary) all loved their names and embraced their uniqueness like Merielle above said.
I think this is a well written article with alot of food for thought despite the fact that I may not agree with all the points.
I like the spunky middles but I can accept and respect the fact that it may not look best on paper and think it is great advice for consideration
on October 2nd, 2013 at 1:26 am
Broadly very good advice, but what if that person you went out of your way to give at least one strongly-gendered name to decides that they wish to be strongly the opposite gender? Or chooses not to identify strongly with any gender? I’m not saying you CAN’T give strongly-gendered names – give whatever you think sounds good, as long as it’s not yooneekli speyld – but making gendering a rule is pointless. You don’t know who they’re going to be – some kids will love not having gender pushed on them, some will resent not seeming more manly/ladylike, and some will turn out to be a different gender to their birth sex anyway. You really don’t know which you’re going to get.
As for official documents, pfeh on them – if sex is important then they can dang well ask, end of story. It’s well past the era when you could consider name an indicator – as Madison, Kelly, Lindsay and Marion would all be able to attest.
Personally, I turned “Jessica” into “Jesse” as soon as I was old enough to choose, but I’ve long felt detached from it – possibly because Jesse is audibly indistinguishable from Jessie, which is so girly I can’t ever make it feel like me. I even tried to go by Jed for a little while, which apparently was my parents’ choice for a boy. I’ve never felt that I wanted to be anything other than a woman, but I have ALWAYS felt that my name shouldn’t make people assume anything about me, including gender. I wouldn’t necessarily push that ideal on a child, but if anybody told me I couldn’t, I would want to bite them >:\
on May 5th, 2014 at 12:26 pm
My initials are CFT and my name is Carly. Also, I hardly ever say my middle and last name.
on May 5th, 2014 at 12:32 pm
@Pam: I’m a 2-3-2.
on July 9th, 2015 at 10:29 pm
you missed one – don’t forget the last name! my sis-in-law wanted to use Eaton for their son until we reminded her our last name is Bacon.
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