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Your Biggest Baby Name Surprises

May 8, 2020 Clare Green
baby name surprises

Choosing a name — like having a child — is a leap into the unknown. Whether you decide on a name instantly or agonize over it for months, eventually you make the final choice and the name goes out into the world with your child.

And then? It surprises you, in ways you never imagined.

Most of us do a few basic checks on potential names: no unfortunate initials, no accidental rhyming with the surname. But there are still so many things you could never predict, both positive and negative. They can come from other people’s reactions, from events outside your control, or from your children themselves.

We asked some of our Instagram followers what they’d found surprising about their children’s names — and boy, did they deliver. Here are some of the reasons why, when it comes to baby names, you can always expect the unexpected.

Popularity

Popularity isn’t everything. Even the Top Ten names are only given to a small percentage of children, and many parents find that their love for a name outweighs where it ranks in the annual charts.

However, since the data is freely available, it’s worth checking so you know where you stand. If you call your baby Emma or Liam believing these are unusual names that you won’t hear on other children… well, you’re probably in for a surprise.

When our follower Alex and her husband decided to name their first son Parker, she was dismayed to learn it was becoming more popular for girls.

“My husband quickly calmed me down and then pointed out that my name is Alex… and that I couldn’t really be that upset. …I love his name even more that it can be shared with everyone just like mine.”

Phew, it was a happy ending. Way to embrace unisex names!

Nicknames

Wherever you stand on nicknames — love them, or desperate for a nickname-proof name — it doesn’t always go to plan.

Shauna was surprised that for two of her children, many people just can’t use their full three syllables. Atticus is Atti to his teachers, and for Mirabelle, people split equally between Mira and Belle.

But for @nameaddict_ca, the opposite happened. She expected that a nickname would develop naturally for her daughter, Everly. Maybe Ever, or Evie? Two and a half years later, she’s still Everly. Now mom has twin boys on the way (congratulations!), and this time they’re weighing up not only full names, but also pre-chosen nicknames that make a good pair.

Pronunciation

With some names — Tadhg and Sara, for instance — you can reasonably expect to correct people’s pronunciation at some point. But other names seem straightforward, yet people still mispronounce them.

Follower @anna.dubourg didn’t realize until after her daughter Halston (“hall-ston”) was born, that some people would call her “hal-ston”. She still loves the name but says,

“I’m just worried she’ll be doomed to correct people her whole life.”

Hilary is even more surprised by the way people read out her daughter’s name, Mila (“meela”).

“I would say well over half of the people call her Myla rather than Mila. I was so shocked at this confusion. Not once when we were choosing her name did I think it was tricky or difficult to pronounce!”

Here in the baby name community, the pronunciation seems intuitive — Swistle even advised against using the Mila spelling for “Myla“. But in the big wide world…do people see it as Milo-with-an-A?

This doesn’t mean you should avoid every name that could possibly be mispronounced, and just call your child Bob. But it might be worth considering if there are any other way people might say your chosen name — and if so, whether that would be a problem.

Mistaken identity

Going beyond pronunciation, some parents are surprised when others don’t recognize a name that seems common and familiar to them.

Take Dean, for example. A steady staple with one common spelling, not overly trendy and never out of the Top 400. Familiar, right? Wrong. At least that’s the case for our follower Molly, whose son is called Dean:

“we prided ourselves on giving him a ‘normal’ name that we wouldn’t have to repeat or spell out and that’s literally all we’ve done since he’s been born”

Alyssa has had a similar experience with her son’s name, Ira, which she thought was an American classic:

“almost no one who meets him has heard the name! They assume it is a girl’s name (‘Oh, I love cross-gender name choices!’) or a name I invented (‘Oh, that’s really… unique!’).”

Sometimes it’s a generation thing. Samantha’s daughter, Quinn, has a name that has been in the Top 1000 for 25 years, and the Top 100 for five years. Kindergarten teachers probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but many older people mishear it as Gwen or Lynn. Statistically, it would be much more surprising to meet a young girl with either of those names.

Who’d have thought it?

Then there are some things you could just never predict. Sometimes, events in the world and pop culture can change a name overnight: just ask parents who named their children Alexa, Isis, or Harry Potter. They’ve had to quickly learn to weather the storm, and boldly face any reactions.

Our most unpredictable reader story came from follower @LitchfieldLocals. Her son’s name is Santino Tino or just T for short (so cute!). Now he’s starting to learn words, it’s surprisingly difficult to teach him “no”: 

“when I say “T, no!” he thinks I’m saying Tino… we’re now using words like ‘stop’ and ‘don’t’ [instead]”

On the flip side, sometimes the issue you worry about before your child arrives (and ask about in the Nameberry forums)… turns out to be no big deal. Dean’s mom, Molly, thought they might get negativity for giving him the initials DAM, but no one has bothered about it yet.

So if you’re naming a baby now, don’t be disheartened! Part of the joy of names is that they take on a life of their own. All we can do is bestow a name with love and the best intentions, then sit back and wait for the surprises to come.

Thanks to everyone who shared their stories with us! Now over to you: what have you found surprising about your child’s name (or your own)?

About the author

Clare Green

Clare Green writes Nameberry's weekly round-up of the latest baby name news, including celebrity announcements, unusual naming stories, and new statistics from around the world . Clare, who has been writing for Nameberry since 2015, lives in England, where she has worked in libraries and studies linguistics. You can follow her personally on Instagram and Twitter.

View all of Clare Green's articles

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