The Name Game

Deciding what to call your child.

What are you going to name your baby? Have an answer ready, because this is the second most frequently asked question of expecting parents, following “Is it a boy or a girl?”

The name question often incites a flushed feeling of panic. Even parents who have the answer ready tend to hesitate, opting to dodge the question in favor of the easier reply, “We’re still deciding.” Sound familiar? Yes, this white lie may invite unwelcome suggestions, but it avoids the judgment you’re sure to endure once that moniker ventures out into the world on its own.

Still, how do you find that judgment-proof perfect name? Unfortunately, as you can’t control others’ opinions, there’s no such thing as a judgment-free name. You can, however, find the perfect name for your child. The following characteristics make the process easier.

  • Versatility. We aren’t the stodgy old parents of yesteryear. We’re hip; we’re cool. We’re up on the latest trends and baby-name fashions. We want our kids to be popular with the other kids, and we’re going to help them accomplish that by giving them “in” names. In fact, why not go for a celebrity name? After all, your little Apple or Bear will certainly be an A-lister, right? Of course! But just in case he or she has no desire to be in the spotlight, it’s a good idea to test the name in two other important fields: the playground and corporate America. If the name you choose can look good on both a report card and a résumé, it also looks good on a marquee.
  • Popularity. Every generation has its popular names. Chances are, you know a couple of Jacobs and Emilys, the most popular names of the 2000s, according to the Social Security Administration. There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, but you do need to contemplate whether you want your child to have a popular name. On the up side, such names are simple to pronounce, easy to spell and less likely to incite taunting. On the down side, your last initial may be permanently tagged to your child’s name to distinguish him or her from others, and your child may feel less unique with a common identifier.
  • Sound. Though this may seem obvious, you need to think about how the name you’re considering sounds. The whole name. Together. Little Brock Lee’s parents may not have intentionally given his schoolmates ammunition for insults. The result is the same though. Practice saying, singing, whispering and perhaps yelling the name. How does it sound? Is it easy to pronounce? Is it too sing-songy? Does it have cadence? To say you will be speaking this name a lot is an understatement. You’d best love how it sounds now because it’s not going to sound any better the millionth time you say it.
  • Meaning. The meaning of a name, in my opinion, is the most important factor in deciding what to call your child. This doesn’t necessarily refer to the actual definition of the name (although it absolutely can), but rather what the name means to you. What is the story behind the name? Is there a family connection? What was the thought process that led to the choosing of the name? Why should the name have meaning for your child?
  • Associations. Every name has associations, positive and negative, in other people’s eyes. Obviously, you aren’t going to poll everyone you know or everyone who may come in contact with your child to determine the feelings and thoughts associated with each name you have in mind. Still, it is a good idea to be aware of any social stigmas attached to the names on your favorites list. Doing so may help you whittle down the list a bit further. For instance, if Osama is a possibility, you may want to think long and hard about its negative associations.

In May, the Social Security Administration released the most popular baby names of 2010. The top ten include:

  1. Jacob Isabella
  2. Ethan Sophia
  3. Michael Emma
  4. Jayden Olivia
  5. William Ava
  6. Alexander Emily
  7. Noah Abigail
  8. Daniel Madison
  9. Aiden Chloe
  10. Anthony Mia

Want to keep the sex of your baby a surprise? Don’t let that hold up your baby-naming fun! Consider gender-neutral names to get the process going. Here are a few to get you started:

Angel, Ashton, Cameron, Chase, Dakota, Devon, Dylan, Emerson, Finley, Hayden, Jaden, Jamie, Jessie, Jordan, Logan, Peyton, Quinn, Riley, Ryan, Taylor

Ultimately, the perfect name is one that is perfect in your eyes. Remember, this is your child, not your mother’s, not assertive (read: pushy) Aunt Sally’s, not the grocery store clerk’s who waits patiently as you size her up before revealing your baby’s name. You can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t try. If you take pride in the name you’ve chosen for your child, then your child will take pride in that name as well. And isn’t your child’s opinion the only one that truly matters?