What’s in a Baby Name?

Yesterday I heard a story on the radio about choosing baby names, and current trends in naming. This is a topic of some interest to me at the moment, as my children are about to welcome their fourth new cousin in under 10 months. While I am very decidedly not part of it, there’s been a baby boom in my family as of late. While I have absolutely zero input into the decision, I find it somewhat fascinating how parents go about it. Everyone’s approach is different. Everyone takes a different amount of time to settle on a final choice.

My husband and I settled on baby names very early in my two pregnancies. While I was still in my first trimester, I compiled a list of my top choices for both boys and girls. Then, together, we chose first names from those lists. My children’s middle names were chosen for family members. Hannah’s middle name, for instance, is Lauren, for her grandmothers Laura and Laurie. Jacob’s middle name is Theodore for his grandfather and great grandfather. Once we’d chosen, we stuck with the names. I got lucky in this regard, because when I was pregnant with Hannah I started to sour on our boy name, and when I was pregnant with Jacob I started to sour on our girl name, but this ended up not being an issue either time.

I know other people who wait to meet their new baby before they settle on a name. Here in British Columbia you have 30 days to register the birth, and I’ve known parents who’ve gone right down to the wire in naming their little ones. In fact, I’ve even known people who’ve gone over, and had to pay fines. I know others who, once they see their baby, decide their chosen name just doesn’t fit and start the search all over again. There’s a lot of responsibility in choosing a name, and you want to make sure you have the right one for your new arrival. I can understand that. This is the label your child will carry for life, after all.

choosing a baby name

As is probably obvious based on the fact that our children are named Hannah and Jacob, Jon and I weren’t searching for particularly unique names or spellings. Vancouver is a very multi-cultural city, and I thought that the simpler my name choices, the easier it would be for everyone to pronounce my kids’ names. My own parents, by contrast, wanted unique names. In the 70s when I was born, Amber was still a pretty unusual name. Now it carries certain, er, connotations. My middle name is Dawn, and if you combine the two, you have Amber Dawn. As you can see, I don’t need to do a quiz find my stripper name, I already have it. (Although, for the record, I actually do like my name quite a lot.)

There are some countries where the parents’ name choice isn’t the final word. In an effort to avoid possible trauma, governments have implemented laws around what you may name your baby. For instance, in Germany the baby’s gender must be obvious from the choice of first name, and in Denmark parents must choose from a list of 7000 approved names, some of which are for boys and others for girls, or go through an approval process. And in Iceland a teenage girl is fighting with the government to get her name back.

The real truth about naming your baby is that whatever you choose, you’re probably going to choose wrong. Either it will be too common or too unusual, too hard to spell or too boring, too hard to pronounce or too long or too short. There will be too many weird nicknames, or not enough personalized products with the name printed on it. There are so many ways to mess up, but a choice must be made. In the end, we all just need to shut out the outside ideas and opinions, and do our best. And maybe choose a really good middle name or two, so our kids will have options.

What approach did you take to naming your babies? Did you choose names early on, or at the last minute? I’d love to hear!

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    1. We agreed on our first son’s name pretty quickly, and tried to avoid popular. His name is now uber-popular. Sigh. BB#2′s name was harder to choose. Mainly we just chose names we liked and that didn’t sound stupid with out last name. We did not ask for input or tell anyone ahead of time, so we wouldn’t get the comments. Since we have two boys, I believe finding a non-trendy, not too popular, not made up boys name is harder–especially since so many “boy” names are being used for girls. It’s a sad statement on our sexist society, but once a name becomes a “girl” name, it is harder to use it for a boy (Ashley, Beverly or Leslie for a boy, anyone?) Though while I sort of wish parents of daughters would leave “boy” names alone, I am not a fan of the government determining which names are which and making laws requiring a name reflect a person’s gender. To each their own. My pet peeve is the made up spelling of a popular name (it still sounds the same when you say it out loud even if it looks “unique”), because often parents get offended when people spell it wrong–which will happen when there are 10 ways to spell it!
      Andrea’s last post … Enough With the Teacher-BashingMy Profile

      • It’s true, you can use boys’ names for girls, but not so much vice versa without getting flack. For instance, I like the name Quinn, but I think that’s going the way of Leslie.

    2. We both must listen to the same radio! ;)

      I definitely put a lot of thought into choosing the right names for my children. I wanted to respect both mine and my husband’s heritage (English and Czech), stay away from trendiness but give them uniqueness as well as easy name recognition, pronunciation and spelling in different languages. I went with old fashioned, traditional names.

      I agree with Andrea, I hate misspelled names. I almost feel like they are names for cartoon characters.

      • I went with very traditional spellings for my kids’ names, but even so, we get misspellings often. I think once there are 15 different ways to spell a name, confusion naturally follows. Although you can clearly see I didn’t go for innovation myself.

    3. We ad different experiences shoosing names for our 2 kids. For the first we did tons of research into the meanings of names and made a spreadsheet with a crosstab table of all the names we liked to see which first and middle names looked and sounded right together (really, I wish I was kidding). We were able to decide on a name before he was born. With our second son you’ll be glad to hear there was no spreadsheet, just a few names jotted down and we weren’t able to pick a name until he was a day old.
      Shana’s last post … The only chicken served in my vegetarian householdMy Profile

    4. Does it make me sound dumb if I say I had no idea about the Amber/stripper thing? I’ve always loved the name Amber. At one point it was on my list for girl names, but it didn’t go that great with our last name. I really like your name too.

      The name Angus was always kicking around in my mind – my Dad had always said he would have named a boy Angus (he had two girls). We had a few other possibilities (I do find it kind of weird when people name their kids before they meet them) but once he was born, huge and red and squalling, Angus seemed perfect. Eve was supposed to be Rachel or Isabel and then she was born, and in my 60-hour labour delirium, I was suddenly convinced that her name was Eve, even though it’s not the best with our last name after all. Oh well. I’ve never regretted my names for either of my kids – and that’s about the only thing in my life I can say that about. :)
      allison’s last post … 2012 In Books: The Ones I "Liked"My Profile

    5. Like yourself, both our daughters were named well before they made their arrivals. With our eldest Emma, I had actually picked the name Rowan. Unfortunately for me, my husband killed that one. Then we settled on Hannah – for my favoite aunty who passed away when I was a child. But then dear friends of ours (you know who I am talking about) named their beatiful first child Hannah and again, that name was put aside. We picked Emma easily enough. We wanted a simple name that was easy to say and spell.

      When we got pregnant the second time, and much quicker than planned, we found out we were havign a girl and knew right away THIS child would be a Hannah. Hannah was named for my dear aunty – the witch who taught me all about fairies and brownies and all things from the Isle of Mann (where she was from). I loved her dearly.

      Both of our girls have 2 middle names, all for family. Some living, some not. After giving Emma 2 middle names we thought Hannah deserved nothing less.

      Emma Jean Renee and Hannah Eve Nicole. It was only afterwards that we noticed that Hannah has 2 palendromes. Lucky her.

      And although we aren’t particularily biblical people, I am often told I chose very biblical names.

      The down side of their names is they both end in ‘a’…and I get them confused on my tounge all the time…it comes out Hanemma!
      Heather’s last post … A Lesson in ForgivenessMy Profile

    6. Rebecca B. says:

      This is a timely post for me as I had my second daughter six weeks ago. We had our eldest daughter’s name picked out before the actual conception. She ended up being born in July, although her due date was in August, sealing the deal on our already-decided name, Julia. During the second pregnancy we could not decide on a name. We found out the gender before she was born, and finding a girl name that we both liked was tough. Since our oldest daughter’s name reflected the time of the year when she was born, I wanted to do that for our second daughter. One night I jokingly said to my (German) husband, “You know how in Germany they call New Year’s ‘Silvester’? We should name the baby Sylvia…” While I was kinda giggling, he said, “Yeah, sure, why not?” Hence our daughters’ names are Julia and Sylvia!

    7. Love this topic! My sister is 14 weeks pregnant and we have been talking baby names for about 10 weeks already! We picked basic, easy to spell and pronounce names for our girls – Megan and Emily. I still love their names, because my name was unusual when I was a kid and I always hated the attention that my name garnered and wished to have been named Jennifer/Michelle/Lisa. My poor sister is trying to be unique but everything she considers has already worked its way onto a list of some kind (Willow, Olive etc).

    8. Henry didn’t have a name until he was 5 days old, because we were between two different names. We let his older sister be the swing vote, and of course she chose the name that is also a character from Thomas the Train! But, even in that 5 days, people were bugging us like crazy to choose a name – it seems people find an unnamed baby very unsettling!
      Amanda’s last post … You Smile, I SmileMy Profile

      • It’s funny, I hadn’t thought about it, but after gender name does seem to be the first thing everyone wants to know. What is a grandparent to tell their friends when baby doesn’t have one (yet). The horror! ;)

    9. Were you listening to the CBC too?

      I work in a baby store and I hear lots of baby names – sometimes I think we should institute those same sort of naming laws in Canada too lol.

      As for me, I grew up with the name Tami – the letter ‘i’ was a popular spelling alternative in those days but I hated having to correct everyone when they spelled my name wrong. When it was time to name my own girls, I wanted names that were common but not popular and very easy to spell. I’m pretty happy with what we chose. Not many people pick up on it, but both girls ended up with names of trees, which I kind of like – though I don’t know if we could agree on a third tree name if we have another!
      Tamara’s last post … Sleep or Sweep?My Profile

    10. I don’t know how I missed the popularity of the name Sebastian when we chose it. Maybe I just liked it too much and rationalized it? A friend suggested it and it took awhile to grow on me but once it did, that was it. But it’s in the Top 100 for boys and I hear it everywhere and that gets under my skin a bit. “Janine” is still fairly uncommon – Enough so that I’m still taken back if a character in a movie shares my name. At least Sebastian is open for lots of nicknames. We call ours Bass and have a friend who calls her Sebastian Bash. And yet another is just Seb. (Do you see how many there are??)

      We have had 2+ girl names chosen since our first trimester with Sebastian, so it’s no surprise that we’re having another boy. (The girl names, of course, aren’t very popular at all. Le sigh.)

      P.S. I think that Amber Dawn is very pretty!
      Janine’s last post … Mama Style Must-Have: TunicsMy Profile

    11. If it makes you feel better, I know someone with the first name “Misty” and the middle name “Dawn”.

      Our baby naming process? Well, we both came up with a list of 10 names, exchanged and proceeded to strike out every single name from each other’s list.

      I however (the large and pregnant one) was stuck on the name “Rhiannon.” He had baggage around that one. So I sent him a list of the most ridiculous baby names I could find. When he got to “Stanislavitsa” he stepped back a bit.

      And so we settled on Shannon, which means “small and wise”. And while she is not the former, I hope she is the latter.
      Nicole’s last post … I just tried to write a real postMy Profile

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