A Guide to Choosing the Perfect Baby Name
Experts and parents share their best advice when it comes to naming baby — and having no regrets — in this break-the-rules guide to baby names.
"Bean" works fine for now, but soon you'll have to choose an actual name. Overwhelmed by all of the endless options? No worries: We've got inspiration, tips, and trends that will guide you to the best possible choice. (Unless you like "Bean," that is!)
Ready to go? It's time to name that baby!
Baby Naming Basics: Where to Start
Consider Blending Your Two Favorites
Agreeing on a name you both love is cause for a happy dance; if you and your partner like different choices, not so much. "Getting to choose a child's middle name isn't the same," says Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard. You could take the "you name this baby, and I'll take the next one" route, but that assumes you'll have more than one child and requires one of you to have a lot of faith (and patience).
"It's tempting to think, I'm giving birth to her, so I should get to have the final say, but remember that the name is a powerful bridge to bonding," Wattenberg explains. "No one should have to cringe when saying their child's name!"
A good compromise: Do a combo. "I liked Lilliana and my husband liked Ella, which is how we got Elliana," says Krystle Bailey, of Atlantic City. This is trendy, Wattenberg says: "It started with celebrity mash-ups like Brangelina, but parents are now applying it to baby names." Names that have lots of vowels tend to work best as hybrids — even for noncelebs.
Bypass A Family Name
It's always a nice tribute to name a child after a beloved grandma or grandpop, but even though some old-fashioned names are back in a big way (think Ava, Henry, and Olivia), others aren't (sorry, Egbert and Mervin).
"You can use your relative's name as a middle name, or consider names that are similar," suggests Marcia Layton Turner, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to 40,000 Baby Names.
Ginger Anderson, who lives in San Diego, went both ways for her son. "We knew we'd give him Chase as his first name, and we wanted his middle name to be from my side of the family," she says. "The problem is, my family tree is overrun with Virgils, Elmers, and Richards ... not exactly my taste." So she joined the first syllable of her dad's name ("Ri" from Richard) and the second of his middle name ("Lan" in Alan).
You can also commemorate, say, your Uncle Donald, with what Wattenberg refers to as the "nicknamesake." Not into Donald but like Don? Choose a different name with the same nickname, such as Donovan, and you've honored your uncle in style. If you want to acknowledge your dad or uncle but are expecting a girl, try gender bending; add an "a" to a traditional male name. Or play with letters. "My grandma Olga died four months before my son was born," says Sarah Gobel, of Shoreview, Minnesota. "With some clever rearranging, we got Logan."
Put Last Names First
Mary Lynn Murphy, who lives in Pelham, New York, named her daughter Dempsey, her mom's maiden name. Many parents take this approach, says Wattenberg, although there's a limit to the surname-as-first-name trend: "You're not going to find lots of little Rosenblatts running around!"
Mine Your Cultural Roots
With so many ethnically inspired names topping the charts, there's no such thing as a name that sounds too foreign. But if you'd prefer to celebrate your ancestry while giving your child a more common name, pick one from your heritage that has an Americanized nickname (think Luc for Gianluca). This way, says Turner, "Your child's name can reflect his ancestry without being difficult to pronounce."
Or you can focus on the middle name, as Amy Yang, of Sacramento, California, did. "My husband and I wanted a Hmong name in honor of our ethnicity, but I wanted an American name too." What they came up with: Noah Nruag Naag, a cultural hybrid.
Wait Until You Meet Him
It might sound like the ultimate in procrastination, but taking the wait-and-see approach makes sense for some couples, who realize that the more they ruminate on a name, the funnier it sounds. Consider letting the way your cherub looks or acts upon arrival shed light on whether a moniker was meant to be.
Plug Your Ears To Critics
With a first name like Jason, there didn't seem to be much for Alyssa Knapp, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to worry about, until her husband started lobbying for the middle name Danger. "I was skeptical at first but changed my mind during labor," she says. "It was long, and we had a few scares where his heart stopped, so Danger actually fit him perfectly." Knapp proved easier to convince than their folks, though: "Both sets of grandparents thought we were joking."
So should you reveal Baby's name before she's born? On one hand, "wouldn't you want to know if everyone thought the name was ugly?" Wattenberg asks. "Your child is going to have to live with it!" Then again, because most moms find out the baby's sex in advance, it's fun to have a surprise at birth. You need something to announce!
You might want to bounce your very top contenders off a few confidants. "Older folks don't have a sense of how children on a playground will receive a name, but if your pals with kids tell you it has a fatal flaw, take that into account," Wattenberg says.
When considering outside opinions, ask yourself: Are you worried that you chose a bad name or are you concerned about making others happy? If you and your partner love it, Grandmom will too.
Common Conundrums: Expert Advice
Issue #1: Out of Options
Baby number three, a boy, is soon to join sister Mason (Macy) and bro Samuel, but parents Michelle and Tim Peters are out of inspiration.
"With the third, we have to think more," Michelle says. "We've already used our favorite names, and we want the name to sound good with the other two."
To complicate matters, the couple's last name is slang for — how to put this delicately — a part of the male anatomy, and the Peters don't want Peewee falling prey to a bully. "Our last name makes it challenging, especially for a boy. He won't be a Harry!" says Michelle. The couple have names they like, including Braeden, Jackson, Sullivan, and Weston.
"This couple's options are wide open," says Linda Rosenkrantz, of Nameberry.com. "They chose a unisex, nontraditional name for their daughter and a traditional Biblical name for their son, so they aren't limited to one genre for their third."
Rosenkrantz loves Sullivan (Sully), because "Macy, Sully, and Sam" has a nice ring to it. (Think of signing your holiday cards and yelling for the kids on the playground!) Also, "three-syllable first names work well with two-syllable last names like Peters," Rosenkrantz says. She suggested other three-syllable names too: Finnegan, Rafferty, Elias, and Tobias. Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard, prefers the surname-as-first-name options, such as Rafferty and Finnegan.
"Choosing a biblical name — like Tobias and Elias — creates a clear divide between the girl and boy names in the family," says Wattenberg. "Going with one of the surnames breaks that up by matching more closely with Mason." However, parents shouldn't feel compelled to give kids matching monikers.
"Sibling names don't have to go together like a coordinated outfit," Wattenberg says. "A mix of sounds and styles can work fine, as long as the names are equivalent. Dramatically contrasting names — like Jon, Tom, and Elvis — suggests that you hold different expectations for your children." Wattenberg's fave? "Jackson Peters is the strongest combo based on sound alone," she says. "The compact, 'crunchy' sound has a lot of energy."
"We tossed Sullivan around, but we keep coming back to Jackson," Michelle said after her consult. But just before delivery, her husband suggested Oliver, and it finally felt right. A few days later, Oliver Thomas Peters was born!
Issue #2: Fears of Mispronunciation
Mom Rhalee Perry's family has a tradition of unique names — her mother dreamed up Rhalee (pronounced like the city Raleigh) in memory of Rhalee's great-grandmother, Rachel. Rhalee wants to follow suit.
"I'd like to give our daughter a beautiful, unusual name that honors important family members — Betty, Elsie, Marsha, and Sarah -- by using parts of their names," Rhalee says. She already has a slew of options (including Ballen, Bevan, Breklyn, Elayr, Elleni, Meadoway, Millar, Shonsome, Solayr, and Sontine) thanks to her mother, who has been making lists of names for her future grandkids for decades. (And you thought your mom couldn't wait to be a grandma!)
The trip-up? Her husband Yoav, who has a Hebrew name that is often mispronounced in English (it's yo-AHV), is concerned that if they bestow a unique name on their daughter, folks will mangle it. The Perrys also prefer a name that's easily pronounced in Hebrew, for Yoav's family.
The Perrys aren't unique in wanting a unique name for their baby. "Many millennial parents grew up with popular names and felt that this robbed them of some of their individuality," Rosenkrantz says. But she cautions against going too far afield. "If a name is very strange, it might be misunderstood, misspelled, or misremembered."
Wattenberg says that pleasing both Yoav and Rhalee may be an impossible feat. "Imagine that it's a summer Saturday and you want to find a gorgeous beach that is quick to get to and has easy parking...but is empty," she says. "It just doesn't work that way, does it? The same holds for names. The ideal is a name that everybody loves and everybody can spell and pronounce, but nobody uses. They're tough to find."
Our pros valiantly tried! Rosenkrantz shared more than a dozen names that borrowed a syllable from a family member and were rarely used in the U.S. yet common in Hebrew. Among them: Bethel, Shifta, Shoshanna, and Shula. Wattenberg offered another strategy: "The Perrys should choose a place name or word that holds significance to them," she says. "That could make the spelling and pronunciation familiar, though the name is rare."
RELATED: Middle Name Trends for Girls
"Several of the names the pros suggested are common in Hebrew and have been on my mom's lists," Rhalee says. "But Yoav isn't loving those, so they didn't float to the top."
The Perrys were undecided (and pregnant) when we went to press, but they had these finalists: Elenee, Evrin, Marais, and Serelia. Their front runner, Marais (a charming Paris neighborhood), has sentimental value — Yoav proposed in the City of Light!
Real Regrets: Parent Advice
It's a Boy! ... Not
"I bought pricey bedding personalized with my son-to-be's name, Daniel. About two weeks before my due date, during an ultrasound, we discovered he was actually a she! I decided on Daniella so we could just add a 'la' to everything!" GG Benitez, San Diego
The lesson? Resist naming your chickens (or at least ordering costly personalizing) until they hatch.
RELATED: The Most Popular Baby Names by State
"We wanted something easy to pronounce, so we decided on Adam and chose Richard for his middle name, after my husband's father. But we realized after naming him that we gave our poor child the initials A.R.F. — like a barking dog!" Kendra Fleener; Battle Ground, Indiana
The lesson? Play with all scenarios. Are there weird nicknames? Unfortunate initials? Try again!
"Two days after our daughter was born, we finally decided on Rozzalind. But the second after I handed in the birth certificate form, I started bawling — I was suddenly sure her name should have one Z. I was convinced we were stuck with it!" Emily Reed; Phenix City, Alabama
The lesson? Do what Reed eventually did: Visit the Social Security Administration website to make a change.
More Baby Name Inspiration
Browse More Popular Baby Boy Names
Browse More Popular Baby Girl Names
- Cool And Unique Girl Names
- Best Vintage Baby Names for Girls
- Elegant Girl Names with Sporty Nicknames