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Friday, January 18, 2013

Baby Naming Issue: Where Do You START?

Joanna writes:
Hi!  My sister sent me the link to your blog after I found out I am pregnant with my first. I have been reading it frequently in my free time.  The task of picking a name is completely overwhelming. I don't know if the baby is a boy or a girl. We each wrote down a list of our top 5 girl and boy names, then showed each other.  Our last name is Howard. Both of our girl lists had Miriam and Harper. And I like the combination of Harper Miriam (or Margaret, his grandma's name) or Miriam Harper, and we actually both really like the double H initials. But the girl names really aren't the problem.

We have NO idea where to start with boy names.  Our boy lists had one name in common, which was Max, but I'm not in love with it.  We both like Silas, but again, not in love with it.  I suppose my question is, how do you even start the name process?  I tried baby wizard, but I think I like too wide a range of names.  

My only dislikes for a name is that it can't be too unusual that he/she would have to spell/pronounce it for everyone (I had a difficult last name before I married, and that was a pain), and I would prefer it not to be top 10, though I don't mind top 100. We lean towards Biblical names, both of ours being slightly Biblical (mine Joanna, his Benjamin). But it's not a must.  I like vintage and older names, but again not a must.  I JUST DON'T KNOW WHERE TO START?  

Our initial lists had:

I picked,
Ezra (which husband immediately vetoed)
Parker (wild card, I had to add a fifth)

He picked,
Connor (I vetoed)
Donovan (I vetoed)
Clay (I vetoed)
Jarvis (I vetoed because all I think of is Ironman)

Clearly, I'm a bit pickier and I veto more names than husband. Please help give us direction.

Thanks so much!

This is a great topic for a group setting like this. I can tell you how I started, and other people can say how they started, and perhaps one or more of those ways will be ways that would work for you too.

The first baby has its own special challenges (I wrote a post just for first-time parents), because everything is wide open: you can choose from EVERYTHING, and for many people it's the first time they've given much thought to baby names. Even those of us who read baby name books to name our childhood dolls are in it For Real for the first time---and/or are seeing how different it is when there's another person saying, "Nope, no, no, nope, no way," etc.

I started by getting a baby name book that wasn't a baby name dictionary (as in, it was a book that didn't seem to be padding the list to get the biggest possible number on the cover: "1,000,001 Baby Names If You Count Algratroid and Grinn!!!") and going through it and writing down every name I could imagine considering. That is, if I found a name that I didn't think there was any way it would beat out the other ten I'd already written down, or it didn't seem like it fit with our style, but I still liked the name well enough to notice it, I wrote it down. I tried to work on it in short enough sessions so that I didn't start skimming.

This was time-consuming. But I did it in the early stages of the pregnancy, usually starting about 5 minutes after getting a positive pregnancy test, and it helped to get through those lonnnnnnng early months when it's all worry and very little action. And I wrote the lists in my journal, so it's fun to see some of the names I wrote down: "Dutch" for my firstborn, for example.

One reason I write down all the names instead of just the names that seem most likely is that sometimes seeing a large list of EVERYTHING I like can help me better narrow down what I REALLY like. Also, it gives the other parent a lot of names to cross off, so they feel like they're having a say. Also, it can be fun to use a not-quite-our-usual-style name as a middle name. Also, sometimes I would find that although I'd thought I liked one style, my list was mostly made up of a different style---or that whenever I went over the list, I was more drawn to a different style, or tended to cross out all the names of a particular style. (Also, I like baby naming, and so I tend to err on the side of spending MORE time doing it.)

For me, when I did the "make a big list and work from THAT instead of from the name book" idea, I usually ended up crossing out until I ended up with a list of about a dozen names that were real candidates. Then Paul would cross out or circle some. Then we'd get down to a few real finalists, and we'd start ranking them and I'd spend a lot of time thinking about it and check in periodically with a less-interested Paul to see how HE was feeling about the choices. Sometimes I'd add a new name to the list, or leaf through the name book some more. I'd analyze every name that came up in every book, movie, and TV show. I looked for more possibilities in the credits, or in celebrity magazines. I looked up names in the Social Security data base to see how popular they were. I went through the family trees to see if I saw anything interesting. (This stage drives Paul a little nuts. I try to courteously involve him as little as possible, just as I appreciate when he doesn't subject me to ALL the talk about the various advantages and disadvantages of each of several drill presses he's considering.)

I would also play little games with the names we'd narrowed it down to. Like, let's say I had Max on my list. I'd look in The Baby Name Wizard under the name Max, and see what she suggested as brother names. I'd pick my favorite of those five names and go look IT up, and then pick my favorite of THOSE five names, and so on.

Or if my list felt too short or nothing seemed quite right, I'd brainstorm to see if I could find names that had things in common with the name. For Max, I'd consider Sam and Jack because they were one-syllable names with the same vowel sound and general style. Then I might see how I felt about Gus and George, or about Matt and John. For Silas, I'd consider Simon and Elias. I'd see if I could put a finger on what it was I liked about the name, and then see if there were other similar names I might feel more decisive about.

If I were making a brainstorming list from your list, it would look something like this:


If this is starting to feel overwhelming and stressful, then this may not be the method for you. One of my friends does zero with baby name books, and instead waits for the name to occur to her. She's going along and thinks, "Adam. How about Adam? Yes, Adam. With...James. Yes, James, that would be nice, and that's my husband's grandfather's name. Adam James. How nice!" My mother-in-law was the same: Paul was named by that method, as was his sister. "Way more time and effort" doesn't necessarily pay off in a proportionately better name; in fact, it can lead to more stress and uncertainty.

Or you could do a shorter version of my method: instead of writing down EVERY name you even KIND OF like, only write down the ones you really like. Instead of then making the list longer, make it shorter: toss out the ones where you know you wouldn't choose that name over another name on your list. If you get down to a couple of names and neither of them feels right, THEN maybe try brainstorming for similar names.

With one of my pregnancies, we did something like this: I wrote down a list of a dozen or so names I really liked. I showed the list to Paul. He picked his favorite from that list. We used it. That was a good way, too. You could both make lists, and choose one or two or three from each other's lists, and make those into a new list.


Anonymous said...

We had to come up with a list of requirements that produced a pool of options because I was insanely picky ("No Ellies! I knew a girl"....etc.) and my husband was perfectly fine using any of a small handful of overused names (think Emma, Anna, Ava, Clara). In his case our requirements broadened his scope. In mine, I found that working within set rules actually helped me come to a more meaningful choice. Basically we both came up with "Most Important Requirement". At the time my requirement was absolutely not in the top 100, preferably not in the top 1000. My husbands was must be a family name, preferably with significance. We combed our trees and came up with a list with a lot of Emmas and Anna's that were out because of my rule, and the odd cousin of a cousin of Eulalia which was out because of his. In the end we arrived at one name that peppered his direct line for over a century and was underused enough nowadays to satisfy my rule. Did we leave a huge chunk of namedom potentially untapped? Yes we did. But it caused fewer headaches and produced a name we both loved, something I never thought would happen.

Anonymous said...

Having never named a person, I really can't give a better suggestion than Swistle (I'm just a namelover). I do feel like I can add something, though, as I go about names completely differently and have never had a name book. I like to wait for inspiration (similar to her friend) by hanging out on name forums. There are quite a few. People ask about all sorts of names there, and I feel it's a great place to immediately get into a name. For instance, I see someone suggested Castor on a board. I've never considered it, so I quickly look it up on Behind the Name to see if it is legit and view the comments and ratings. Then, I'll check what Nameberry and have to say about it, since their little name summaries are nice for getting a feel. Then, if I still like it, I'll check it against names on my list. Is it a first name or middle name? Do I like the nicknames? Do the pros outweigh the cons? Lastly, I might ask a question about it on BabyNameGenie Forum or Nameberry Forum or occasionally Yahoo! Baby Names. These three have some pretty different users, and I think it's a good way to get a decent chuck of opinions. Yahoo! is by far the most mainstream place, imo, BabyNameGenie seems to have a more dedicated user set, and Nameberry has some great name experts.

Anyway, this process works well for me because I want a name to really hit me and then dive all the way into it. I'm generally quite picky about names and don't like to invest too much until I know everything about it, from ranking to meaning to associations to opinions.

Anonymous said...

*chunk not chuck *ugh*

Anonymous said...

Sorry, third comment (it's an interesting topic!). Forgot to mention two other good resources. I love Appellation Mountain for reading an in-depth analysis of a name, and I also like Parent Connect's surveys that let you see how much people who have that name like/dislike it and how much they were teased. And their ages and genders.

Kimberly said...

Our process, with #1 anyway, was somewhat similar to Swistle's...perused credits, leafed through name books, etc, and we got serious once we knew we were having a boy. We printed off the Social Security top 1000 list for the previous year, crossed out those we would never, ever, ever use (all of them but about 20), and got to work. Turned out, we liked mostly Celtic and preppy (?) names. We researched the Social Security database equivalents in the UK, Ireland, and Australia (other English speaking countries) to find some inspiration. About a week before my due date, we agreed to work for an entire evening to decide on a name or two...wrote them out, pretended we were signing Christmas cards, said them aloud, etc. We went to the hospital with two ranked finalists, and ultimately used our first choice.

With #2, I used some Google search feature (Lovely Swistle, might you consider a search function on your blog?), and searched all of Swistle's blog for #1's name, to see what names she and the commenters had suggested might pair well with #1. I wrote down the ones I liked (about 15), and that's the list we worked from. We reviewed the international lists again, and we asked Swistle to weigh in. :-) About a month before the due date, we had another "date night," the purpose of which was to identify a finalist or two. Again, we arrived at the hospital with a ranked list of two and went with our first choice.

Swistle said...

Kimberly- There is one! It's not exactly an intuitive location: upper left corner. (Maybe lovely Swistle should consider seeing if she can put that in the righthand margin instead. I'll bet that's easy enough.)

Brea said...

I don't have any children yet, but my husband and I are hoping to in the nearish future. We keep a running list of names that occur to us and run them by each other. For me, that means names that have some sort of special spiritual meaning or context; for him, it is names that sound cool or are related to something he likes. I doubt we'll ever have a name book or anything, though I may do some family tree research.

Heather N. said...

What a fun topic! My experience with my first two (whose sex I did not know) was that I used your friend/MIL's method to come up with boys names - they just occurred to me, my husband liked them, we chose honor names for the middle names and done. BUT, both times, we were stumped for girls names and did lists and back and forths right to the very end. And, both times we had boys! So, now I'm pregnant with my 3rd and same thing, boys names are just dropping from the sky and we're listing girl's names. Sounds like I may be in for 3 boys :)))

Crimson Kirk said...

It's funny to think about this question, because with my kids, all five were named in such different ways! My first child was a boy, and my husband picked his entire name, because what attracted me to my husband in the first place was when we met in college and were still just friends he told me he had his future children's names all picked out. I was stunned by just that, but then he told me the boy name - Jacob Frederick Mikel Lastname, and how Jacob was the first ancestor on his father's side to head west in a covered wagon; how Frederick was his beloved Grandpa on his mother's side, and Mikels was a family name brought over from Europe that morphed at Ellis Island, etc..and I thought - WOW! I didn't know men thought about this stuff. Well, then when it was time to have an actual kid with him, I had to decide if I still liked that name for my own, real child, and I decided that yes, I did, just because it had so impressed me all those years ago and had so much meaning for my husband. Anyway - NONE of my other kids names were chosen much by my husband, meaning, I put a lot more say in to what I liked and my family. Anyway - my one piece of advice was that my husband's girl name was Katie, always, or Kate, or Katharine, but it doesn't go AT all with our last name imo, so I searched and searched and thought and thought about how he could get a little Katie....and then I stumbled across Katriel in a baby name book and bingo - it flowed so much better with our last name, had some originality and romance for me, PLUS he got his Kate/Katie. And it only took five kids to reach a name compromise after all:)