Why Naming Your Baby Is the Most Important Decision You'll Make
Your baby’s name is the most important decision you make as a first-time parent.
I’m a baby name expert, so you might expect me to say that the name you choose is going to determine your child’s entire future.
I don’t believe that. A name is only one factor that will influence your child’s life, ranking below such forces as intelligence, personality, education, and especially family.
The reason choosing your child’s name is so important is that it’s a key step in defining your new family. Your child’s name symbolizes the values and priorities most important in the world you create for your child. It sets the identity you present to the world and to yourself.
Whether you’re conscious of it or not, your child’s name represents:
— Your relationship to your parents and family of origin.
— The importance of your religious, ethnic, and cultural affiliations.
— Your views on gender identity.
— Your desire to fit in or stand out.
— The power dynamics in your relationship.
— Your preference for tradition or invention, history or the future.
— Your feelings about your own name and ultimately, your personal identity.
The names you like can give you important clues to your feelings on all these issues, which make up the foundation of your family identity. That identity underpins everything from how you spend time to which goals you pursue to where you live and who you interact with.
And your feelings on these specific issues might lead you to names that strike a deep chord. The first step to making the right choice is exploring these questions alone or with a partner.
Some questions you and your partner might ask yourselves and each other:
How close do you want to be with your parents and your extended family?
Do you aspire to raise your family the way they did or do you want to do things differently? How often will you see your families, and what kind of relationship do you want them to have with your child? How much do you want to please them, and how will you manage it if you don’t?
How important are religious, ethnic, and cultural origins to you?
Even if you have no religious affiliation now, do you plan to raise your child in a religious institution? How important is your ethnic identity to you, and how quickly do you want to let people know about that? What other cultural associations – your educational background, where you grew up, your passion for travel – are important to you and your family?
What are your values around gender?
Do you believe girls and boys should present clear and conventional gender identities or is gender neutrality your ideal? Will you dress your children in gendered clothes and buy them gendered toys, will you let them take the lead, or will you insist on gender-neutral items?
How much do you want to fit in or stand out?
Are you more comfortable blending in with the crowd or do you relish getting noticed? Do you want a family life that’s ordinary or unique? Do you want your child to have a name familiar to most people or do you want your child’s name to inspire attention and conversation?
How do you and your partner make decisions?
If you’re shaping the identity of your new family with another person, how do you navigate decision-making? Does one of you get their way more often than the other? Is one (or both) of you a pleaser or a placater, and how do you feel about taking a back seat? Are you more comfortable with finding solutions that are a compromise, with taking turns making decisions, or with one of you usually taking the lead in certain areas?
What's more important: tradition or innovation?
What do you value more, things built on long tradition or things that break new ground? Are you more attracted to houses and décor, books and art, places and ideas rooted in the past or those that look to the future? Do you like being the first to try something new or would you rather rely on what you already know and love?
How do you feel about your own name?
What do you like and dislike about it? Do you think it represents your personal identity and if so, how and how not? What about your middle name and surname? If you could change your name easily, would you, and if so, which new name sounds like the person you truly are?
Making the final decision
Some of these questions will resonate more than others, so if something simply isn’t important to you, feel free to set it aside. Focus on the issues that have the most juice for you, even if the thoughts and feelings that come up are less than positive. You’ll want to unpack your emotions and ideas, whatever their tone, so you can make real sense of them.
Keep in mind that finding a baby name that perfectly encapsulates every priority on your list and marries that in a seamless way with your partner’s preferences might be difficult, if not impossible. But untangling all the issues can at least help you identify the names that express what’s most important to you.
This exercise will not only lead you to a better baby name but will help you understand the forces that shape your family identity. Clarifying what’s behind your choice of a name can help you figure out who you are, who you want to be, and how you want your family to live into the future. For you and your family’s long-term happiness and satisfaction, there are no decisions more important than those.