10 Rules for Naming a Baby

Selecting a name for your baby isn’t easy, with so many names to choose from.

At the risk of putting my foot in it, because I’m not a parent and have never had to make this kind of life-altering decision for someone else, I would like to help.

Because while I like my own first name, Kari, quite a bit, I have to admit it’s caused me no small amount of aggravation throughout my life, because people both spell and mispronounce it incorrectly, sometimes literally seconds after I’ve introduced myself. It’s not their fault, though. I just have a weird name.

So here’s a few things to think about while you’re choosing your own baby’s name.

1. Avoid “creative” spellings and “creative” pronunciations.

If a name has an i in it, you do not need to replace it with a y so that your child will be unique (unyque?). It’s not necessary. Your child will already be unique. And given the popularity of the letter y, there’s a good chance that there will already be an Ylyce or a Kylyyy in her class anyway.

Having a name that you have to spell out over the phone every time you say it, and having a name which is constantly mispronounced isn’t unique. It’s annoying.

Think about it. Every teacher you ever have will say it wrong the first time. Every client you introduce yourself to will say your name incorrectly even if you’ve just said it. Every letter you get will be addressed to someone who isn’t you. When you go to a conference for work, your pre-printed name tag will probably be wrong. And you will never, never find anything engraved with your name–not one single mug, keychain or snowglobe. Ever.

2. Avoid “trendy” names.

How many Isabellas and Jacobs will there be in your child’s class? How many Anastasias and Christians?

Incidentally, do you want to explain to your child that he or she was named after a sparkly vampire or a racy romance novel? Do you want your eight-year-old reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” to find out about her namesake? No? Then don’t do that.

And I say this with a heavy heart, because I like all those names myself.

3. Always google the name and watch out for unpleasant associations.

I think the name “Jersey” is cute. Unfortunately, it is also the name of a breed of cow. Eventually, some kid in your kid’s class will google your child’s name. It may even be your child. You can’t really prevent every possible association (Mercedes used to be a perfectly pretty name for a girl), but at least give it a shot.

Someday the boy you chose not to name Enron will thank you.

4. Consider family names.

Even if they’re terrible, your child will know that someone else had it first, and that there is a reason for it. Also, there is someone to blame apart from the parents, which can be nice.

I’m named after two great-grandmothers. I actually like that; it gives me an excuse and when I’m ceaselessly spelling out my name to people over the phone, or repeating how to pronounce it correctly, I usually say “It’s Norwegian.” Generally people accept that as a valid excuse, and in the Midwest it can be a handy conversation-opener, too.

5. Consider names that allow for nicknames.

I’ve always envied Elizabeths. At the drop of a hat, they can magically change from a Liz to Lizzie, Eliza, Liza, Beth, Lisbeth, Lisbet, Bette, Betty and probably more. The name is the functional equivalent of a transformer, and you have all degrees of familiarity and style at your fingertips.

As a Kari I’m pretty much limited to my actual name. That’s okay with me, but you can never go wrong with more options.

Caveat: To parents who want to name your child something that will absolutely make any nicknames completely impossible: Dwight Eisenhower’s mom felt this way too, and that is how she ended up with a son named Ike. If the kid wants a nickname enough, he or she will probably get one, whether you like it or not.

6. Your child is a child, not an animal. Avoid being cutesy.

The names Hekyll and Jekyll work great for a pair of cartoon magpies. A set of human twins deserves better than that, and as they age, they will not always want to be seen as a single entity. It’s best not to name them as if they were, and give them a bit of space in which to work out their own individual identities.

If you really want to have some sort of theme, do it in a way that isn’t going to be obvious to everyone your child will meet. For example, in my family we have a set of five children whose names begin with vowels: A, E, I, O, U. I think that’s clever. If you met any two of those children, you wouldn’t know the pattern, and plus, each name stands quite well on its own. I don’t really know how they feel about it, but if you want a theme, I’d say that’s the way to do it.

7. Consider the initials.

I don’t mind KEL, but I might have felt differently about LOL or worse, FML.

… now that I think of it, it’s probably best to google the initials too.

(If you do, note that the abbreviation FML stands for something you probably would not say in front of your sweet old granny.)

8. Names should be versatile.

Your child may end up being a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, or your child may end up being a firefighter, a house painter or a ballerina. Whatever name you choose should fit equally well in each of those settings.

Will the name look professional on a business card? Will your child have difficulty establishing him or herself as a serious, reliable person? Are you naming your child something so cute he or she will sound like a bubblehead?

9. Consider cultural factors.

There are only so many syllables out there, so no matter what name you choose, it likely means something hilarious in some language, somewhere. Just ask Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whose perfectly sensible Egyptian name sounds strange to an American.

The best you can do is try to make sure that somewhere is not where you plan to be living in the long term, so that your child can at least avoid some hysterical giggles.

10. Make your own decision.

At the end of the day, it’s your kid! You get to make the decision yourself.

If you want to name your child Jersey Ysybella Boutros-Boutros Cherry Pie Willetina III, you absolutely can! These aren’t rules, for Nevaeh’s sake.

And it’s probably best to take all naming advice with a very large grain of salt. Everybody’s got their own opinions on the subject.

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