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Solving Common Baby Naming Problems

Baby Names: How to Pick a Great Name
Baby Names: How to Pick a Great Name
Baby Jennifer

Kaysh Shinn

Naming a baby is a deeply personal undertaking. Parents want a name that reflects a unique identity, heritage, or a good vibe. All too often, others (friends, in-laws, coworkers) feel free to weigh in on your choice, or you and your partner don't see eye to eye. Here are some common problems, and how to resolve them.

Q. My husband and I have different naming styles. He is much more traditional and conservative, while I am drawn to more creative, unusual names. What can we do?

A. You could flip a coin to decide who gets to pick the first name and who gets to select the middle name, but that wouldn't make either of you very happy. It would also result in the kind of divisiveness that leads to dueling names or a dull compromise that nobody likes.

If your lists are far apart stylistically, keep an open mind. You may be surprised by what you discover. There are so many names to choose from that the possibilities are unlimited. Consider creating a new name from one of your husband's favorites, combined with one of yours. If his top pick of Emily, for example, is too conventional for you, you could suggest Emilie, Emme, Amelia, or Emerson.

Don't shortchange the process or each other. Take turns suggesting potential names, listen respectfully to each other's choices, and agree from the start to choose a name that both of you like and accept. This way you'll be sure to defuse any power struggles, and you'll move that much closer to achieving a happy collaboration.

Here's one exercise that always gets people to cooperate: Start with a list of names you both hate, and work your way up from there.

Emily Names for Girls
Emily Names for Girls

Q. My wife is dead set on naming our daughter after her favorite aunt, Sylvia. I used to be horribly bullied in fourth grade by a tyrant called Sylvia. As a result, I hate that name. How can we honor my wife's aunt without raking up my unpleasant memories?

A. I am very sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience in fourth grade; however, keep in mind that it was fourth grade. I also understand your wife's wish to honor her aunt. There are many ways to celebrate a namesake. You could open up the field of choices by picking a name that begins with the same letter, S, to come up with Serena or Stella. You could choose a name that ends in "ia," such as Mia or Olivia. You could also use some of the letters in Sylvia to form another name, like Isla, Lia, or Ivy. International variations of Sylvia include the French, Sylvie and the Italian, Silvana. Since Sylvia means "forest," you could choose a tree name, such as Laurel, as a tribute. Did Aunt Sylvia have a favorite soap opera character named Greenleigh? Maybe the flower she most admired was the calla lily, in which case you could call your daughter Calla or Lily. There is no shortage of inspiring ideas once you put your heads together.

Stella Names for Girls
Stella Names for Girls

Q. I have always loved the name Theodore and have told anyone who would listen that if I had a son, his name would be Theodore. The problem? My college roommate just announced that she is going to name her son Theodore too. I am so upset my favorite name is taken that I can't even think about finding a replacement name or attending our next reunion.

A. It's not so surprising that if you had anything at all in common with your friend, you would like the same name or types of names. Before you accuse your former roomie of being a name robber, remember that you are not living with her anymore. There is plenty of room for more than one Theodore in the world.

The truth of the matter is that no matter how many Theodores you encounter in your lifetime, none will ever mean as much to you as your own. Your little Teddy will be special and unique to you because he's yours. And who knows? She might choose to call her son Theo, Eddie, or Teo.

Q. Help! My in-laws reject and pooh-pooh every name my husband and I suggest before we've even finished speaking. Do I have to tell them what our son's name will be?

A. Many couples don't divulge their child's name until after the baby is born and the ink on the birth certificate has dried. Decide on a name together with your husband, and present a united front to your in-laws. What you and your partner decide to name the baby is up to the two of you. You are not obligated to explain your choice, only to love it.

Q. We're in a Lamaze class where people are very direct and nosy. Lately, they have been demanding to know what we are going to name our child or what our top picks are. We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but we are very private people. What should we say?

A. You could always refer to the baby by a top-secret code name like Baby X or Cherry Garcia. One couple I know actually picked the most awful name they could find and told annoying busybodies that was the name they had selected. If being private and reserved makes you feel more secure, then silence is golden. (On the other hand, if you're one of those folks who views every acquaintance as a new test market, chatter away.) It's perfectly fine to say, "We're not sure. We're still working on it." Or change the subject by asking, "Have you heard of any names you like yet?"

Happy Endings

Parents often focus on the first letter in a child's name. The most popular first letters for girls' names are A, K, M, and J. For boys, it's J, D, A, and C. But these days, mothers and fathers also pay attention to the way a name ends. While many girls' names end in the feminine "a" and "ella," trendy boys' names conclude with the popular "en." A quick run down the alphabet shows Aiden, Braden, Branden, Caden, Damien, Hayden, Jaden, Jalen, and Owen -- and myriad variations of each. Other fashionable finishers for boys include "er," "on," and "an," as in Asher, Carter, Parker, Tyler, Brandon, Devon, Landon, Donovan, Logan, and Tristan.

Gender Benders

Thinking of a unisex name for your baby? As trends go, it's far more socially acceptable for a girl to have a boy's name than the other way around. Once a male name becomes widely adopted for girls, it often drops out of use for boys. Among the male names that have evolved into female names: Ashley, Courtney, Hilary, Lindsey, and Vivian. Notable exceptions to this trend: Cameron, Dakota, Dylan, and Jordan. Although these names are considered unisex, males with these names still outnumber females. This raises the question: Does giving a child a gender-neutral name render a girl more masculine and a boy more feminine, or does it just confuse everybody?

Jordan: Names for Boys
Jordan: Names for Boys
Did You Know?

Both Richard Melville Hall (aka Moby) and Wentworth Miller's names were inspired by characters in literature. Hall's parents nicknamed him Moby soon after birth -- the author Herman Melville is his great-great-great-great uncle. Miller was named after Captain Frederick Wentworth, from Jane Austen's novel Persuasion. You might think Orlando Bloom was named after the hero of Orlando, by Virginia Woolf, but his parents actually named him after the 17th-century composer Orlando Gibbons.

Orlando: Names for Boys
Orlando: Names for Boys
There's Something About Mary

Meryl Streep's first name was Mary. Mary was also the first name of Debbie Reynolds, Sissy Spacek, Marg Helgenberger, Lily Timlon, Bo Derek, Debra Winger, Lauren Hutton, and Sean Young.

Take It Back, Please

Not every celebrity scion wants the attention that comes with an unusual name. Free Carradine, son of David Carradine and Barbara Hershey, changed his name to Tom. David Bowie's son, Zowie, went by Joe for years. One of Bob Geldof's daughters, Peaches Honeyblossom Michelle Charlotte Angel Vanessa Geldof, asked celebrity parents to stop giving their kids silly names: "My weird name has haunted me all my life."

Names to Grow On by Suelain Moy with the editors of americanbaby.com (2007) is excerpted with permission from Meredith Books.



Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the March 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.