Your new baby is here, and you? You have a ballpoint pen and a blank form to complete, asking for your child’s name.
Chances are you’ve been thinking about this for at least a few months already, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed: infinite choices, endless opinions, and one very small human being counting on you to get it right.
Maybe you’ve never named so much as a turtle. Or maybe you’ve been dreaming up names for your children since you could read. Either way, there are thousands of ways to give your child a great name – and only a few pitfalls to avoid along the way.
Here are eight common mistakes people make when choosing baby names... and how to avoid them.
1. We dismiss names as too popular.
I hear you, Ashley B. It’s no fun to share your name with half the fourth grade. But times have changed, and no single name is anywhere near as common as Mary and John in the 1950s, or Jessica and Michael from the 1980s. I understand if you think Number One Noah is too familiar, but maybe ruling out River (Number 244) and Knox (Number 258) goes too far in the other direction. And if William was your beloved grandfather’s name? It doesn’t matter if it is in the Top Ten. It still might be the right choice for your son.
2. We dismiss names as too weird.
For every parent worried that Knox is the new Noah, there’s another fretting that Knox might be too out-there. Consider this: the US Social Security Administration reports the 1,000 most popular names every year – but fewer than 75% of all children receive a name on that list. In other words, even names on the fringes of the Top 1000, like Briar and Otis and Ophelia – are still given to a few hundred kids every year. Meanwhile, plenty of familiar names, like Louise and Alistair, don’t make the list. Children are used to hearing a wider range of names than ever before, meaning that a really unusual name just doesn’t stick out the way it might have in the past.
3. We treat names as single-use items.
Not so long ago, families cheerfully repeated names within the same generation. In 2016, this has gone so far in the other direction that some parents lament that every name is taken, as if it is a single-use item. Sure, it might be best to avoid duplicating the names of your nieces and nephews, or the names of close friends’ children. But your college roommate’s brother’s kids names? Those are fair game.
4. We dismiss family names and traditions.
Choosing the name is the parents’ privilege and responsibility. But before you insist on a blank slate, consider the way family names can preserve family history and connect children to their heritage. And always be open to reinvention. One of my favorite name stories is a boy named Nate – just Nate – who happens to have four aunts and uncles whose names begin with N, A, T, and E.
5. We use filler middle names.
If you’ve chosen a relatively traditional first name, it’s a good idea to choose something unexpected for the middle. Katherine Marie is fine, but Katherine Marigold is gorgeous. Even if that middle name is short, it can still pack a style punch: think Ava Blue instead of Ava Grace, Lucy Faye instead of Lucy Ann, or Mason Brio instead of Mason Bryce.
6. We forget about balance.
The opposite is true, too. If your child’s given name is bold, a more conservative middle can balance things out. Maverick Messiah Star is a lot to live up to; but Maverick Landon James wears well. Unisex names, like River or Rowan, often benefit from a gender-specific middle. While we don’t use middle names daily, they’re part of our identity, and deserve some attention.
7. We don’t test drive the names.
Conventional wisdom holds that we should keep our favorite names a closely guarded secret. Except that means we don’t get to hear them in use until the decision is made. Will Aubrey be misheard as Audrey? How does Carson sound in your uncle’s Boston accent? It’s a good idea to find a confidante – someone you know will be neutral - to test out your shortlist. Or try giving your favorite name as your name the next time you order a coffee. Another option: test it out on an online forum, like the ones at Nameberry.
8. We don’t use the name we love.
It’s so easy to talk ourselves out of our favorite names. We’re convinced that Bernadette is too old-fashioned, Bodhi too edgy, Brandon not current enough. And yet, choosing a name isn’t always about cool logic. It’s important to look at popularity data, to consider how the name sounds when said aloud, and to look for balance in your name combinations. But when you pick up that pen, you should love your child’s name. Even if it breaks every rule on this list.