The Agony of Choosing A Name

The Agony of Choosing A Name

by Paul Ratner

As my wife and I are counting down to the birth of our son, we are happy, eager, completely discomforted (well, that’s mostly my heroic wife) and stuck in agonizing limbo over choosing a name for our upcoming guy. It seemed like a simple enough thing to do. There are a million names out there to pick from. But immediately, we realized that choosing a name for this very new person is a tremendous responsibility. He’ll have to go through his whole life with it, responding dozens of times a day to the combination of sounds we pick out for him. And each such word carries the whole gamut of human experience in its letters.

Every name conjures up associations. Cultural, racial, historical, deeply personal. Every prejudice you ever came across is invoked with every name you recite. To deal with this, I got seven baby name apps on my phone. I also have a couple of encyclopedias with tens of thousands of choices. We also perused every single web list out there. Thanks and no thanks to nameberry, babycenter, momswhothink, whattoexpect, sheknows, god knows, and Internet as a whole. Maybe it’s all the choices that are the problem. I doubt parents a hundred years ago had access to 100,000 names at their fingertips. You named kids after your parents, royals or religious heroes. But the sheer amount of currently available information makes any choice almost paralyzing.

So, should we go for one of the “aiden” names that have been all the rage? Aiden, Haiden, Kaiden, Jaiden, Brayden and all the spelling permutations thereof. It feels like a fad that’s sure to not date well. Or the cool baby jock names like Ace, Rogue or Hunter, toughening him up straight from the womb. Hopefully he won’t try to gain respect as a scientist. Or go for celebrity-like brand names like Orange, Apricot, SouthEast or WestOfNorth. At least that sounds useful. The son will be forced to eat nutritiously or know his way without a compass. Or maybe some conqueror name like Alexander or Atilla or Napoleon? Seems like a lot to live up to.

Or maybe go for some name from the Bible, joining the millions of Johns, Pauls and Matthews that came before. Feels like just another verse of someone else’s song. Or maybe something more ethnic? My wife likes all the Celtic names than end in “n” — Flynn, Finn, Finnegan, Killian and the like. Just seems why if we are not Irish? Or what about some beautiful Native American-sounding name like “He Who Runs In the Wind”? That would be pretty, but kind of a mouthful to tweet. And we’d probably be looked at as cultural usurpers. Which I suppose we are, living in this American supermarket.

And now there are all these studies that confirm what seems pretty obvious: Folks make judgements about you based on your name before they even see you. People working in human resources make snap decisions about candidates in just a few seconds. Will our boy’s name ensure his riches or doom him to a lifetime of discrimination? Or maybe get him stuck in a particular industry just because that’s where he seems to belong? Apparently, Bobs end up as car salesmen, but Bobbies become pro golfers. All because of one extra syllable!

So what if we just make it up, to avoid all the burdensome associations? How does Jenobaxius Gargalumiel Skymachoo Ratner sound? Pretty good actually. Maybe we’ll go with that.

Paul Ratner is a writer, film director and proud father of a 5-year-old Minecraft fanatic, with another boy on the way.  Paul makes films about history, fringe philosophers and writes fairy tales for grown-ups.  Find out more about his work at .

About the Author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry and Baby Name DNA. The coauthor of ten groundbreaking books on names, Redmond is an internationally-recognized baby name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, CNN, and the BBC. She has written about baby names for The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and People.

Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its sequel, Older. She has three new books in the works.