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Let’s face it: naming a child is probably one of the most stressful things you’ll do as you prepare for their arrival.
Some parents have names chosen before conception, while others struggle to come up with a unique, meaningful name for their child. We know people who weren’t allowed to leave the hospital because they couldn’t decide on a name.
We’ve got you covered from just about every angle possible. No more agonizing over how to choose a baby name. Hallelujah!
Choosing a Baby Name
We hate to be the one to break this to you, but there is no right way to name a baby. If you’re a first time parent, this is part of a larger lesson that you need to learn right away, so listen closely: just like there is no “right” way to name a baby, there is no “right” way to parent.
You might be panicking a bit over this statement, but trust us, there’s freedom in it! Because without a “right” way to parent, you can be free to trust that your way is the right way.
We know, other people will tell you there is a right way, which usually means their way. Start learning to tune them out, because the right way is yours, mama.
While many people just straight up Google “how to name a baby,” the best advice we can give is to do your research (we’ll get to this in a minute) and go with your gut.
Naming your child is important, yes. But you have to trust that your way is the right way.
Pick A Baby Name Privately
Start talking about your baby’s name with just your partner, or if you’re a single parent, start thinking about what to name your baby before talking to anyone else about it.
Why? Because everyone and their brother will have advice and opinions.
They’ll tell you the baby names they picked out when they were kids; they’ll tell you that your choices are weird; they’ll tell you that they once knew a kid with that name who was awful.
You don’t need that kind of noise as you’re trying to choose a baby name.
Tell your well-meaning friends and family that you are considering baby name options, and that while you value their opinions, this is not something you’re ready to talk about until you’re ready to talk about it.
If you’re one of those people who’s open to suggestions, then go for it! But trust us, you’ll at least want to have a preliminary discussion about this before you open yourself up to a host of other opinions (this holds true for most aspects of parenting, by the way).
Naming Your Baby
Okay, so let’s say you’ve held some preliminary discussions about baby names, but you still can’t quite narrow it down. It’s time to start thinking in terms of categories.
(1) Timeless Baby Names
In the years since we’ve seen tons of babies from the royal family in England, there’s been a trend toward timeless baby names.
It’s likely that you know children named George, Charlie, Henry, Charlotte, Eloise. These are no longer the names of our grandparents; they are now popular baby names.
The great thing about timeless baby names is that they really don’t go out of style, and you can honor a loved one (friend or family member) by giving your child their name.
For example, my grandmother’s name is Judy, and my top baby name has always been “Jude” as a way to honor her (and if any of my siblings or cousins are reading this, I will fight you tooth and nail for that name, so don’t even think of stealing it!)
My own name was given to me to honor my great-grandmother. According to my parents, Sara Jones (I’m Sarah Creel) was the matriarch of the family, and I love knowing that they chose my name to honor someone they loved so much.
Katy’s name is actually Kathryn, after her mom, who was named after a dear family friend. Katy’s son Jack is actually named John, again, a family name. But he’s called Jack because there are a lot of Johns in her family.
You really can’t go wrong with a name that means something to you and your partner. Timeless baby names are a great way to do this, and they don’t have to be boring!
If you want to honor someone in your family but also be a little more contemporary, consider pairing a timeless baby name with a unique middle name.
(2) Unique Baby Names
Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard the weird celebrity baby names. Have you heard about Elon Musk and Grimes’ child, whose original name (X Æ A-12) defies pronunciation? They actually had to change it to comply with California state law, which mandates that names only contain the 26 letters in the English alphabet.
While Musk’s kid’s name is probably one of the stranger celebrity kid names, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and the Carters chose to name their kids things like “Apple” and “Blue,” respectively.
If you aren’t on the incredibly odd celebrity baby name train, but still want a unique name for your child, then we encourage you to think outside of the box…within reason.
Create a list of unique names and then ask yourself, “Would I be comfortable with this as a name for my child when he or she is an adult?” If the answer is no, keep searching.
(3) Trendy Baby Names
Does anyone remember the early 2000s when every name ended with “-en”? Aiden, Jayden, Brayden, Camden, etc?
Trendy baby names are popular for a reason, but the problem with them is that by the time your child reaches kindergarten, it’s possible that her name might rhyme (or be the same as) everyone else’s.
Also, there are just a lot of kids with trendy baby names.
Katy complains about this constantly. Out of 40 girls on her freshman hall in college, 5 of them were named Katy/Katie/Katey. Lauren and Megan (in various spellings) were really common for people our age, as well.
If that doesn’t bother you, then you’re good to go!
But if it does, you might want to ask yourself if the trendy name you are considering will stand the test of time, or if your child will be stuck with a name that doesn’t hold up twenty years from now as she starts her first job.
The other thing to consider is that, sometimes, trendy baby names ARE classic names. The most popular girl’s name of 2020 is Emma: classic. Ranking at #s 2, 3, and 4 for boys’ names are Noah, William, and James. Also classic.
This may help you if you want to be both modern and classic.
But if you’re bothered by your child having the same name as everyone else, keep an eye on the top 100 baby girl and boy names for the year your child is born.
Still worried you may choose a name that’s too popular? Think about popular TV shows and movies. It’s no coincidence that Aiden began trending around the same time Sex in the City was popular.
(4) Baby Names that Honor Heritage
One important thing to consider as you name your baby is your own cultural heritage. Many people enjoy giving their children names that mean something.
If your great-grandparents came over from Ireland and you grew up on stories of their perseverance and grit, then giving your child an Irish name is a great way to honor them. We’re seeing a boom in baby boys named Liam, partially for that reason.
If relatives you cherish hail from any geographical location aside from the one where you will be raising your child, then a quick google search will likely bring up names you’re sure to love.
Consider The Meanings of Cultural Names
You don’t want to give your child a name from another culture without fully understanding the meaning of the name in the context of that culture.
That’s why we recommend doing a little research about the meaning of the name. Of course, researching the meaning of any name–cultural or otherwise–is always a great idea!
For example, if you have African heritage, Adah and Davu are lovely African names with gorgeous meanings (Adah means “beautiful,” and Davu means “the beginning”). If your child is a rainbow baby, a name that means “the beginning” might feel meaningful for your family. A name that means “beautiful” might represent a new, beautiful chapter in your life.
Still can’t pick a baby name?
That’s okay. For most people, it’s best to start with a list, and then narrow. Use the categories we discussed to make your list. If you’re still having problem, look for a baby name generator or baby name wizard in Google, and just see what they come up with.
Must-Remember Considerations for Naming Your Baby
Now that you have all the broad strokes for naming your baby, come up with some ideas you like, then follow these tips to help you narrow your list of possibilities:
- Consider pronunciation. If your child’s name is going to be difficult for others to pronounce, you might want to rethink it. Or not, the call is yours, obviously! This could also include considerations of possible speech impediments. Katy’s favorite family name for a daughter is Mary Branham Harrison, but since she could not say “r” or “s” as a child, she isn’t willing to risk having a little girl being teased for calling herself “Mawy Bwanum Hawithun.”
- Consider spelling. Just like with pronunciation, you don’t want your kindergartner struggling to spell his own name; nor do you want others struggling to spell it.
- Consider meaning. As we mentioned earlier, the meaning of a name can really change how you feel about it. Do a little research and make sure you are comfortable with the meaning of your child’s name.
- Consider initials. I once had a friend in middle school whose initials were A.S.S. (not kidding). You can imagine how that went over in middle school.
- Make sure you say the name out loud. Don’t be like Amy Schumer and have to rename your kid after you realize that it sounds like a body part (Gene Attell).
- Think about nicknames. Kids LOVE to tease each other over names, no matter how hard we emphasize teaching kids empathy and participate in anti-bullying campaigns. Katy once knew a guy named Harrison Richard. We’ll leave the last name out for privacy. Honestly, we think Harrison Richard is a beautiful name, but you know the day will come when that poor child is called Harry Dick . . .
- Make yourself and your partner happy before others. We mentioned this before, but this is your child. Choose a name that you love.
- Don’t panic. If, after hours of labor, your baby is born and looks nothing like the name you chose, you can always go with another one! Nothing is set in stone until you sign the paperwork, and even then, as Amy Schumer showed us all, a change at the social security administration is still possible if needed.
Let’s end on one final point about choosing the perfect baby name. Most people expect parents to choose the exact right name. You know what? People expect a lot of parents. As you begin your parenting journey, it’s time to remember to let those things go.
But also, here’s the thing. The best baby name is the one that feels best to the parents, and the parents alone. Trust yourselves. It’s hard and scary, we know, but you’ve got this.
How did you go about naming your baby? Tell us all about your process in the comments!
Sarah Creel, PhD, is the editor of Undefining Motherhood, and Director of the Research Communication Certificate in the Graduate School at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Sarah loves to be with her family (including eight nieces and nephews!), friends, boyfriend, and animals (she has two cats and one weird dog. Wait, who is she kidding? They are all weird). At Undefining Motherhood, Sarah brings new perspectives by shedding light on nontraditional ways of being a mother.