(I'm writing this post so I can link to it later!)
1. If you might have more than one child, and you'd like your children's names to go well together, think ahead of time about sibling names. This makes things harder for you NOW, when it's hard to even come up with ONE name---but will make things easier for you later. Most people like a name or two from almost any style category, but like big clumps of names from one or two style categories. It's easy to inadvertently choose one of the outlier names, and then find nothing else you like goes with that style. Paul and I came very close to giving ourselves a problem with this: our first child was a boy, but if he'd been a girl our top choice was Emerson. We didn't realize at the time that Emerson was an outlier for us: a single name we like from one style, when our main style is quite different.
I like The Baby Name Wizard for this: because she separates names into style categories, it's easy to go through and find which categories you're drawn to. You might see two names you like in one category, but another category you might think "OOOOoooooo, I like so MANY of these!" Choose from the second type of category, and you're likely to find it easier to choose sibling names later on.
2. If possible, don't choose the middle name first. Sometimes the particular middle name is so crucial, it MUST be carved in stone before the first name is chosen---but this is unusual, and it severely restricts first-name options. So, if possible, concentrate on choosing the first name FIRST, and THEN turn your attention to the middle name options. I don't like to even CONSIDER middle names until the first name finalist list is solid, because I don't want to get attached to a certain middle name and then find myself stuck.
3. Keep in mind that almost all self-imposed restrictions ("Has to start with an E," "Can't start with an E," "Has to have three syllables," "Can't start with the same letter as our surname," "Has to go with William as the middle name," "Can't be anything starting with Em because my sister's daughter is Emma and anything starting with Em would be too close," "Can't be the name of anyone we've ever known," "Can't be the name of any child I've ever had in class," "Can't be in the Top 100," etc.) are PREFERENCES---preferences you can elect not to satisfy. It's up to you: you're the one making the rules, so you're the one who can change them. It's easy to start letting the restrictions pile up until NO name can possibly meet them---and then to continue to quest for it anyway until you drive yourself insane. If choosing the name starts to seem like a puzzle that's impossible to solve, look over the preferences list and ask yourself which of them really must be honored and which ones can be scratched off the list. (See also: Preferences vs. Requirements.)
4. Every name rules out a batch of other names for future siblings. (This concept blew my mind when I first read about it in Beyond Jennifer and Jason.) This will depend on your own preferences, but includes things such as the idea that if you use the name Rose, you won't later want to use Lily or Violet. Or if you use Ethan, maybe that rules out Evan and Ian. Or if you use a unisex girl name, maybe that rules out frilly girl names. Or maybe you don't want to repeat initials within the sibling group, so using Ethan rules out Evelyn and Elizabeth and Edward.
Whatever your preferences are, look carefully ahead of time and make sure you're choosing the name you want most from the Elimination Group. If you only want one flower name, look at ALL the flower names and choose your favorite. If you only want one biblical name, look at ALL the biblical names and make sure you have the one you like best. If you don't want to repeat initials, look at ALL the other names with the initials of your finalists and make sure you're choosing your favorite NOW. (This ties in to #3, too: remember that many of these things are preferences and CAN be waived if you find a name you love to the point of despair. A family with a Rose AND a Lily will be fine; a family with an Ethan and an Edward will be fine. When possible, let the beloved name outrank the self-imposed preference.)
5. There is no One Perfect Fated Name. Some people have the lightning bolt reaction to a name ("That's IT!!!"), but most people make a list of finalists they're both okay with, and then one finalist gradually rises to the top until the parents say "This? Yeah, I guess it's this! Okay, let's use this!" Lack of lightning bolt doesn't mean it's the wrong choice. Sometimes for parents who are having a lot of trouble agreeing, there is only The Best Possible Choice---and that is good enough. Perspective is important here: choosing a name is an important responsibility and we shouldn't take it lightly---but on the other hand, in the Universal Scheme of Things it's a minor event. It's tempting, I think, to think of it as if the child already has a name and that it's our job to holy-grail-quest until we find it---but there's likely a large group of names that would all work well for the child, and it's a matter only of choosing the one you think is probably best.
6. Imagine a baby in your arms. Think of cooing the name to the child. Does it seem like Your Baby? Many of us (especially baby-name hobbyists!) have huge lists of names we love---but a much, much smaller list of names that would be right for our own families. Finding a name that seems like My Baby doesn't necessarily mean it's the right name---but finding a name that DOESN'T seem like My Baby can help narrow down the list.
7. Imagine the name on a minister, a receptionist, a lawyer, a Target clerk, someone who's plump and wears glasses. Imagine someone introducing themselves to you with that name. Imagine introducing yourself to someone, if it was your name. Does the name WORK?
Possibly related topics:
How to Decide Between Two Finalists
The Top Ten is Not Necessarily the Kiss of Death
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