Baby-Naming Pitfalls and How to Get Started

Need Help? Start with these smart ideas and learn how to resolve common points of conflict.

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    Getting Started

    Your baby's name is out there, whether it's inherited, borrowed, invented, translated, or overheard -- you just have to find it. If you're having trouble figuring out how to start, let these tips inspire and guide you.


    1. Don't Stress

    Whether baby's due in eight months or eight days, you will find the perfect name. Promise.

  • Start with Lists

    Unless you already know baby's gender, start by creating two lists: one for boy names, one for girl names. (If you already know what you're having, even better -- just one list!) Your job over the next few weeks and months is to gradually fill out each list with names that speak to you. Unisex names and surnames, like Emory or Emerson, can get added to both lists. Keep your lists handy and updated (at work, at home) by using the Names I Love tool.

  • Keep a Name Journal or Scrapbook

    Keep a little scrapbook tucked away in your purse or bag to jot down names that occur to you when you're out and about. Review entries while you're waiting in line somewhere, or at the doctor's office. Sometimes parents-to-be will dream about a name. If you keep the journal by your bedside, you can scribble any names that come to your subconscious before you're fully awake or asleep. Found some winners? Add them to Names I Love.

  • Agree to Agree

    As you start the name game, make a pact to choose a name you and your husband both love and can happily, equitably agree on. This will help prevent any name battles in the future, with one parent voicing their dissent by calling a child by a middle name or a nickname. Usually it's about veto power. If he absolutely hates a name you love, agree to strike it from the list (hey, there's always the next kid). Another tip: Figure out whose opinion matters the most before the naming process begins. Do the in-laws have a vote? What about baby's siblings? Or is it all exclusively up to you and the hubs?

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    Decide Where You Stand on the Popularity Issue

    Scan the list of the most popular names in the country. Do any names from the Top 100 lists jump out at you? Are you annoyed or thrilled to see your favorites on the lists? Some parents take pride in picking a popular name for their children, while others seek out a less common one. Check a name's ranking to make sure the results are winning for you.

  • List the Qualities You Admire

    Once you've come up with some of your most desirable or worthy adjectives (love, strength, wisdom, etc.), type the meaning into our Baby Name Finder to find the corresponding names. "Noble" will deliver results from Ada to Sary, while "Truth" will lead you to Allison, Emmett, and Verity. If you're not content with the meaning of a name, then consider using the characteristic itself. Maverick and Justice made the top 1,000 for boys recently, and Serenity and Precious were popular picks for girls. You also can translate a word into a foreign language -- "Flor" is the Spanish and Portuguese word for "flower;" ditto "Fleur" in French -- and get some names for your lists that way.

  • Spend Time Spacing Out

    That's right. Let your mind drift pleasantly while you're taking a low-key walk or vegging in front of your favorite TV show. Inspiration flows when we're in a relaxed, calm state. If you need proof, just look at the ascent of Addison with Grey's Anatomy, or the staying power of Brandon and Dylan, post Beverly Hills, 90210. That's why so many couples find names for their children when they're least expecting it. One mother realized she wanted to name her daughter Parade while she was just soaking in the tub (the name was in honor of all the protests she had attended as a child). Another couple went to a concert, heard a Clash song, and stuck with Strummer.

  • Samuel Kessler

    Think About Middle Names

    Some parents like to add one or more middle names to the mix; it's an especially nice way to remember a favorite aunt or grandfather. Eventually, writing your final picks down on index cards and then shuffling them around can help you determine the order of the names you pick.

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    Think About Last Names

    Knowing what the baby's last name will be can help you decide which first and middle names to use. Say all the names on your Names I Love list aloud with the last name. While using the father's last name for a child is still the most traditional choice, it's not the only way to finish.


    Here are the options:


    a. Take the father's last name.

    b. Take the mother's last name.

    c. Have a hyphenated last name, pairing the mother's and father's last names together.

    d. Include the mother's or father's surname as a middle name.

    e. Create a new last name for the entire family.

  • Think About Nicknames

    No name is ever truly nickname-proof. Investigate all the short, sweet, and not-so-sweet ways to abbreviate the names on the list. What are your preferences as a parent? Will you mind if your Alexa is called Lex, Lexi, Alex, or Al? For the ultimate test, channel your inner bully and see what sticks. Sometimes parents are very surprised to discover they like the nickname better than the traditional name and opt for Tilly over Matilda, Tessa over Teresa, and Sam over Samuel.

  • Check Initials

    To avoid any unpleasant or unflattering acronyms, take all the names on your Names I Love list and do your homework. See what the initials spell out, if anything. Examples of unfortunate initials include:


    B.S.

    V.D.

    C.O.W.

    P.I.G.

    S.T.D.

    Z.I.T.

    R.I.P.

  • Decide on a Disclosure Policy Now

    Will you keep your name contenders secret until the baby is born, share them with a few select relatives and friends, or start test-driving them with a billboard now? Too often parents become discouraged with a name or discard it because of negative feedback from relatives, coworkers, and friends who are all too eager to share their tastes, memories, and associations. Once you've chosen the names you like, decide how and when you want to share them with the world and keep a united front.

  • Buff Strickland

    How to Solve Spousal Conflict

    You two loved each other enough to partner up and make a baby. You thought you knew this person. So why are you hearing only now that he has his heart set on naming his son after his favorite Jedi knight (Obi what?)? Okay, so most spousal conflict isn't that jarring, but it can present problems. Alexis Kim, a mom in Garden Grove, California, knew that her husband, Doug Cripps, would want to name a son after his father, Kenneth. Alexis, who is Korean, wanted a Korean middle name. Yet Doug wanted to choose the middle name too; he didn't understand her desire to choose a name reflecting her heritage. "Both of us were hurt that the other didn't see our point of view. Finally, we agreed to wait until we knew the baby's gender." Luckily, having a girl allowed them a way out of their impasse: they named her Kendra (for Doug's dad) Yu Mi (Korean for "beautiful") Cripps.

    Blunder Solver: "Consider what would be the most meaningful way to go," says Lorilee Craker, author of A Is for Atticus: Baby Names From Great Books. "If, say, the husband's dad has an unobjectionable name like Henry, while the wife wants to honor family by using her maiden name, it may mean more to her than to him."

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    Input from Others

    Many parents-to-be discover the hard way that asking for input invites a storm of controversy. You: "How about Jeremy?" Your sister: "Ugh, I hated a kid named Jeremy in junior high." So it's goodbye Jeremy and back to the baby name book. Dwight Schultheis and his wife, Lauren Heller, were caught off guard when their daughter arrived a month early. "We said some of our top names aloud to see if the baby responded, and she did--to Tabitha," says Schultheis, who lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. That's when family chimed in, with comments like, "You're naming her after a witch!" So they shifted to Isabel. This time, a hospital nurse had her say, informing them that 13 Isabels had been born in the hospital in the last week. "Ultimately, we chose Ellie, which we're happy with."

    Blunder Solver: Unless you've absolutely chosen a name, keep your ideas top secret. And if you do spill and are met with disapproval--or if you get flak even after you've named the baby? Rest assured, "everyone will get used to it once they start attaching the name to their precious grandchild or niece," Craker says.

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    Your Loooong List

    Jessica Rosenberg was at week 37 of her pregnancy, but she and her husband, Mark, could not settle on a name. The couple, from Santa Clara, California, each wrote up a list of six names and granted two no-appeal votes on the other's names. "I canned Stephanie and Anna, and my husband axed Annabelle and Beatrix. When we looked at the remaining names, we saw that one name appeared on both lists. He'd written Lucy, and I'd written Lucie." ( Jessica got her way on the spelling.)

    Blunder Solver: Surely there's a name (or two or three) that makes your heart beat a little faster. No? Let a name dictionary be your guide. "Take a few examples and research their meanings," Craker says. You may equally like, say, Ruby and Miranda: Ruby is a color; Miranda means "admirable" and is Shakespearean. If you want the name to have a specific meaning, your decision may be simpler.

  • Alexandra Grablewski

    Be Creative (Without Going Crazy)

    The definition of creativity is subjective. How do you find the right mix? Jen Hinton, of Slidell, Louisiana, drew on an old sports rivalry. "When I met my husband, he was wearing a Boston Red Sox cap, and I'm a big Yankees fan, so I called him 'Boston.' Then the song 'Boston' came out while we were dating. When our son was born, we thought naming him Boston was the ideal solution."

    Blunder Solver: Stop worrying what others will think. To find an offbeat name that you and your child will love, "check out baby-name books that go beyond mere lists to evaluations for each name," Craker says. Your task: find a name that's not overused and that hits the sweet spot between plain vanilla and wackadoo.

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    A Hard Last Name to Pair With

    You don't want first and last names that rhyme. And some last names can be a bear if they're long. But don't envy people with "simple" names. Just ask Megan King, a mom in Wayne, Pennsylvania. "Many of the boys' names we liked--Mark, Luke, Jack--become verbs or at least sound like verbs when paired with King." King also liked Ryan but thought it sounded like "Lion King." Same thing with her husband's pick for a girl, Bryn. Bryn King? Nah. Their compromise: lengthening Bryn to Aubryn.

    Blunder Solver: Sounds easy, but don't skip this step: look at all the names that are serious contenders (as well as any potential nicknames), and say them out loud.

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    "Your" Name is Suddenly the Most Popular

    You finally settle on a name--only to find that lots of others love it too. What if your little one ends up being one of five Jacobs or Emmas in their kindergarten class? That was the case for Gretchen Roberts, a mom of two in Knoxville, Tennessee. "I named my daughter Sophia on November 20, 2006. Later, I found out that Sophia was one of the top names for girls in 2007!" (But she still loves the name.)

    Blunder Solver: Decide if this is a big deal to you. If you think you will be bothered, check out the Social Security Administration's handy lists of top names for any year you choose, at ssa.gov/OACT/babynames.

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    Honor Your Heritage

    Sometimes giving your child's name some ethnic flair is as simple as plucking a first or middle name from your family tree. But do you want to saddle your child with a name that's hard to pronounce or spell? Mindy Rhiger, of St. Paul, wanted to choose something Scandinavian. "I pored over lists of Scandinavian names--and came up with Lilija." The Rhigers use the explanation "the 'j' makes a 'y' sound" an awful lot, but they are very pleased with their meaningful choice.

    Blunder Solver: To find a name with ethnic or cultural flavor, do some Googling. Plug in "Dutch baby names" or "Kenyan baby names" and you'll have plenty of choices.