My forays into baby naming have been pretty smooth. Having two boys made the job easier, as did finding two boy names my husband and I could agree on. Essentially, we wanted classic, and that's why our sons are Daniel and James.
Naming babies has never been something parents take lightly. After all, "names are closely tied to identity," says Los Angeles-based family-naming expert Kelly Utt-Grubb. "Children grow up feeling that their names are as much a part of their identity as the face they see in the mirror every day." Here are some of the routine frustrations that many couples face.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Originally published in the October 2009 issue of American magazine.