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Monday, August 22, 2011

Baby Naming Advice For First-Time Parents

(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


Elsa's Cooking Diary said...

I love comment number 5. I am in that boat. I feel like I should have this lighting bolt, "aw-ha!" reaction and I haven't. I think that's my biggest hold-up with selecting a baby name.

Patricia said...

Great baby naming advice, Swistle, and a good idea to get it all in one place where you can easily reference it. I especially like #7 -- in fact I'd probably put that closer to the top of the list: Would YOU like to have this name as YOUR name, through all of life's stages and ages?

HereWeGoAJen said...

This may be the best naming advice post that I have ever seen.

KMW said...

Brilliant advice

M.Amanda said...

This past weekend I found myself watching "Say Yes to the Dress" and there was something about the wedding dress version of #5. This one woman had been to 20 appointments and tried on over 150 dresses looking for that AHA! moment. She left disappointed and looked just. so. sad. I just wanted to hug her and say, "It may start out not-perfect, but just really great, but having it at that special moment will make it that much more wonderful. Don't put so much pressure on yourself and ruin what should be such an awesome experience." I think that advice works for new parents, too.

Anonymous said...

Number 7 is very important. Everyone thinks their child is going to be at least a decent-looking adult. Over the years, I've met two women who looked like Matsys's Ugly Duchess painting. One was named Dana (trendy boys-name-on-a-girl for her birth year). That name didn't do her any favors. The other was named Victoria; a dignified, classic, upperclass name that seemed to improve how people saw her. I have to admit, their names affected my impression of each of them too.

Jodi said...

That was such a fun read, and such solid advice!

The only one I think I've come to disagree with over the course of naming 4... 5... almost 6 children is #4. And I don't *really* disagree with it even. I do agree that first-time-parents should consider what they are ruling out by using a name. They should count the cost and make sure they are okay with it. *But* whenever I hear a voice in my head saying (for example), "We can't name this baby Beatrix because then if we ever have a boy we won't be able to use Barnaby!" there is another, louder voice saying, "No! This baby deserves your very favorite name right now for this baby!" It just isn't fair to "save" names or initials or possible middle names at the expense of the the current little one getting the very best of the best. We, in fact, did use Beatrix, and for the next two pregnancies did regret that Barnaby feels off-limits now, but so far still haven't needed a boys' name anyway. So glad we didn't overthink her name at the time - she's such a Beatrix!

I totally agree with #5! We've had a couple lightning bolt names, a slow rise to the top name and a take-the-list-the-the-hospital name, and they are all equally perfect now. I still think it'd be fun to have a post-birth lightning bolt name that wasn't even on the list :)

Jess said...

I LOVE this. 4 and 5 especially applied to our situation. There's a whole family of C boy names I like: in addition to Callum, also Colin and Caleb and Calvin and so forth, and only one of those could be used, and Callum was the one we decided we liked best. And now the others are off the list, and I'm glad I KNOW that, and won't have to come to the unpleasant realization down the line. (Though I am still a little bit torn about the way it locks you into a style, or doesn't. Like for example I really like the name Rhys for a boy and if we have another boy I might advocate for it pretty hard--but on the other hand Callum and Rhys are both SUCH UK-ish names that if we had them as a sibling set maybe it would seem pretentious or something? This is something I didn't think about beforehand, about how you are eliminating not just styles that are wildly divergent but also possibly styles that are TOO similar.)

And on number 5--I never had a lightning bolt moment but Torsten did, with Jonah, and Jonah falls into that category you were mentioning of great names that aren't right for our family, at least from my perspective, but I almost felt like even though I KNEW Jonah wasn't MY baby, I should agree to it anyway because at least that way ONE of us would have that lightning bolt name. But I'm really glad I stood firm on it, even though I felt bad about it at the time.

Kathryn said...

I think people place to much emphasis on sibling names "going together". I have named 4, and while the others' names have influenced our choices, it isn't everything. I have used two C names, and two more names with the same first sound. It really doesn't matter. They will be known mostly as an individual for most of their lives. I know a lot of families with kids that have very similar names (I do know someone with an Ethan and an Evan! and two families with all Ch- names). This hasn't affected anyone negatively.

The other advice is great. I think the most important bit is giving kids names that will work for them as a kid and an adult. And also one that the parents love.

Karen L said...

All great advice! And although #1 and #4 seem especially pertinent to first-time parents, I think this could be titled: Baby Naming Advice for Any Parents-To-Be. #5, for example, seems especially pertinent to second-time parents who have already used their most beloved name.

I think, too, a general post of advice for people experiencing relationship conflicts (marital, inlaw ...) over names would be handy, as that comes up over and over again. Though, that seems tougher to sum up.

And a question: Do you notice a trend in name-regret issues? Are any of them avoidable? For my own name-regret issue, I guess I'd sum it up as "half-assing" the honour name.

Stephanie said...

To add to #7: One thing I always found helpful was to imagine answering the phone and hearing a voice on the other end of the line asking for my child by name, then imagine myself calling that name loudly to summon that child to the phone.

Frazzled Mom said...

What a good idea to put all of this advice in one place.

As far as #2, I may have fallen into the "trap" but with good reason: I wanted to use honoring middle names. I knew I wanted my daughter to have the same middle name as me and my Mom, and luckily since my middle name is an easy middle name to work with, most first names go with it.

For my son, we ended up using more leeway. My husband happens to have the same middle name as his Dad, and I thought that was great because if we had a son, he could also be the third generation heir to his middle name. And my husband's middle name is James, which is such a universal middle name (some name snobs would call it a "filler middle name") you would think we would have no problem working with it.

However, when I was pregnant with our son, the only name we could both agree on happened to begin with P. The names, Paul James, worked together fine, but I hate initial nicknames. I'm a name enthusiast; I love names; I don't want the names I lovingly picked hidden behind initials.

I just happen to hate PJ the most of all initial nicknames. I might have been able to live with AJ, RJ, or even JJ. Some people would have been fine correcting people who called their son PJ, but my in-laws can be annoying and I didn't want to even go there. It took a lot of work to get my FIL, SIL, and nieces to stop calling my daughter, Fiona "Fifi." We ended up using my husband's first name, Robert, as the middle name and it works fine.

For #4, I think how one name rules out other batches of names varies from family to family based on preferences. Some families like matchy names and others don't, but thinking about it ahead of time is a good idea. However, not everything can be planed ahead. Some couples will pick out a boy and a girl name, and end up having a daughter for their first child. While I see no problem saving the boy name for a future son, sometimes when the son comes around 3 years later, the parent's tastes simply changed. This happened to me too. When I was pregnant with my daughter before we knew the sex, we were going to name her Max for Maxwell if she had been a boy. When our son arrived 3years later, I simply wasn’t feeling Max anymore.

Another example is whether or not to match initials. I say if you have 2-3 kids, the initials should all be the same or different, but once you have more than 3 kids, I find avoiding repeating initials just as limiting as trying to match the initials.

Frazzled Mom said...

P.S. I think adding information about coordinating sibling names in blended families could be useful too. I often see Swistle posts addressing this topic.

Swistle, I like how you said that when a blended family is considering names for a new baby, the parents should simply pick a name as if they were naming their first baby. This relives the stress of trying to find a name that closes a possible style gap between the older children from previous marriages. The older children's names resulted from two different couples with the tastes of two people who have no relation to the new baby, and contrasting, even clashing sibling names are to be expected.

British American said...

Awesome list!

We actually did pick out our 2nd child's middle name before his first. My husband wanted to use his grandfather's name. Luckily it worked out fine to pick the first name second.

Juju at Tales of said...

All great advice but particularly number 7 :)

Manday said...

Just another perspective... as I go back through your archives I have noticed this a few times, and just felt like I should say something in the name of infertility awareness. 1 in 4 couples will experience some form of infertility. Why is this relevant to a baby name blog? Because it makes some of the "rules" seem fool hardy. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but to someone who has experienced infertility, altering a name choice because you are worried about what potential siblings might be named down the road is naive and presumptuous. As a first time parent, you should look to choose your absolute favorite, best, most sentimental etc name.

Swistle said...

Manday- I don't think it has to be presumptuous or naive to take these things into consideration---any more than it's presumptuous or naive to buy a crib and a car seat, with the assumption that the baby most likely won't be stillborn; or to start saving for college, with the assumption that the child most likely won't die in childhood; or to discuss how many children they might like to have, without it meaning they don't understand they might not have that choice.

Preparing for future possibilities seems normal and acceptable to me, and I don't plan to change my advice about the wisdom of thinking ahead.