7 Ways You Can Get Your Baby's Name Wrong

Jun 11th 2015

I don't usually talk about "bad" baby names. Names are chosen with great thought and care, and a choice isn't wrong just because it doesn't suit your taste or mine. Yet I've talked to enough anguished parents to know that it's possible to for a name choice to lead to painful regrets. The usual misstep isn't bad taste, but a bad decision process. Here are the most common mistakes that can lead to namer's remorse:

1. Talking yourself out of your own taste. Parents put a lot of pressure on themselves to be creative with their name choices. I've heard plenty of wistful moms talk about lifelong favorite names they abandoned out of fear that they're not original or distinctive enough to impress people. Listen to your heart. If you get a happy glow when you hear a particular name, chances are others will too. What better start in life could a child have than a name that makes people happy?

2. Putting the middle name first. "We're using the middle name Morton after my grandfather. What first name goes with Morton?" Red alert, red alert! You're doing this backwards. You're not going to use that middle name on a daily basis, and frankly, you don't even like it. (If you did, you'd be using it as a first name.) So put the middle name aside until you've come up with a few ideas you really love, then it can serve as a tiebreaker. Don't count on a middle name to fix a tough first-last match, either. At the end of the day, Reed Alexander Snead is still Reed Snead.

3. Not doing your research. The most common source of name regret is unhappy surprises. I've heard from parents who had no idea that Noah had become such a popular name, or that Aurora was the name of a Disney princess. As a result, they chose names that were very different from what they were looking for. For confirmation of the cultural impact of a favorite name, check in with other parents of small children, or with Namipedia or -- if I say so myself -- the Baby Name Wizard book.

4. Thinking an unusual spelling makes an unusual name. There's nothing wrong with customizing the spelling of a name in a way that looks attractive to you. But do it because you like the effect, not just to make your child stand out. A Jaxsen will still be confused with the Jacksons and Jaxons in his school -- even more so, because all of their names will end up misspelled. Similarly, if you want a unique name and are tempted by Aarya, be sure to look up the popularity of spellings like Arya and Aria for a better sense of how distinctive the name will sound.

5. Over-focusing on the "sibset." To you, your kids are a set. You see them together, and say their names together. But out in the world, they're individuals. The impression each child's name makes on its own matters more than how well it coordinates with your other kids' names.

6. Not picking up the phone and asking. Will your cousin think you're a name thief if you choose the same name she did? Will your divorced dad feel slighted if you choose a name from your mom's family tree? The best way to tackle interpersonal name questions is head-on. If you ask in advance, you can explain your thinking and present the issue in a positive light. Plus you'll show that you care about the person's feelings, which is the most important part of the message.

7. Imagining you can control the name. Baby name decisions belong to the parents, but the names themselves belong to the children, and the world. That means that your little Nicholas will end up answering to Nick, no matter how much you loathe that name. It also means that a name with an unconventional spelling or pronunciation will be mistaken constantly, and you'll have to be patient and cheerful about it. Be honest with yourself. If you can't stand the idea of the likely corrections, confusions or nicknames that come with your favorite name, it may be best to look elsewhere.



June 11, 2015 4:45 PM

While a creatively spelled name will not be distinct audially, it will be distinct digitally.  I think this is becoming more important as the population is expanding and we rely more on computers.  Jaxsen Smith won't be charged for Jackson Smith's crime, as the computer knows the difference.  So while an uncommon spelling may sound more common than the parents expected, there is still a vestigial uniqueness that could be important to little Jaxsen.  On the whole though, I expect the daily hassle of a unique spelling would be more troublesome than the small possibility of identity confusion later in life. 

June 11, 2015 11:16 PM

There is something to be said for digital uniqueness, but the problem is that computers only know what humans tell them. If the bank clerk or DMV or whatever made assumptions about spelling, Jaxsen could very well be on file in several places as Jackson, and he could get arrested for a crime he didn't commit based on those erroneous files. I know from experience that once one database has an incorrect spelling in it, it'll start showing up everywhere, and it'll be about as impossible to eradicate as bamboo. (Granted, my experience is with a mangle-prone surname, not a given name, but I don't think that makes all that much difference.)

June 12, 2015 5:44 AM

Agree with HungarianNameGeek. I went through a period of spelling my name "Eimile" when I was a teenager in a quest for differentiation. Everyone wrote it "Emilie." There's still a girl in the UK somewhere who gets some of my emails. 



June 13, 2015 11:09 PM

I had to laugh when reading #5. Yes, it's a valid point about how each child will grow to have their own unique identity and their siblings' names won't matter any more than those unheard middle names do.


You do realize that, for people browsing baby-name books in bookstores, your concern for sibsets and the suggestions your books contain are your calling card? Your niche? Your product differentiation? I never once felt any urge to buy ANY name books, not even Rosenkrantz and Sartrand, whom I greatly admired for giving great history on African-American names. And then I found your book and thought having sibling suggestions was genius and bought my first and last name book. It's how I "sold" the book to my friends, that they needed this book to help pick Baby #2's name. It's what called out to people I know who said that they wanted to go with name __ for their first child, but worried about what could possibly complement or live up to such a fabulous, original name for future siblings? So it might not be in your personal interest to downplay sibset harmony. ;-)

But seriously, thinking about the sibset helped me clarify what I like, what I don't, what I'm going for, what I want people to think and feel when they hear my kids' names. My first child was Xavier. Making the next boy Malik would play up the African-American popularity of Xavier. Pairing him with a brother named Francis would give a devout Catholic spin. An hermano named Diego is going to raise the odds that some will think to pronounce the name like Javier (aka how Xavier is pronounced in Spanish). A Xander makes it look like I just love me some "X" names. In other words, sibsets carry cultural information.

June 15, 2015 7:35 PM

Point #1 can go the other way, too--I know parents who were talked out of a beloved name because it was "too weird" and regretted it ever after. If your heart is set on Arwen, chances are that Erin will only ever be a pale imitation. (Of course, if your heart is set on Erin, that's another matter entirely.)

One other issue I would add to the list is not communicating enough with your co-parent, so that you eventually reach a name "compromise" that feels more like capitulation to one or both parties. It's not always realistic that both parents will love everything about their child's name, but a naming process where both parents feel that their hopes and dreams for their child have been taken into account is less likely to lead to regret.

June 16, 2015 11:05 AM

I think the problem with babynaming is that you do it while you are in your pregnancy fog!  I still like all of my kids names, but I honestly didn't realize when naming my second boy that his name started with the same sound as my older son.  One begins a soft G and the other is J.  Such a DUH moment.  

June 16, 2015 1:18 PM

"I think the problem with babynaming is that you do it while you are in your pregnancy fog!"

I would hope the child has others involved who are not in the "pregnancy fog"-- father, aunts, uncles, grandparents, pastor, etc-- or the name will be the least of his problems. Unless by "fog" you mean something more general that affects them as well. 

And the problem with "babynaming" is that the baby will likely live past 80. "Lifenaming" sounds better.  

By EVie
June 16, 2015 2:06 PM

AJwith3Boys -- I think that Laura's book has value beyond just creating sibsets, in the "if you like this, you might also like this" line of thought--people always have names they love but don't want to use for one reason or another, and so are on the hunt for names with a similar feel. There is also the idea of names having cultural meaning beyond their etymology, which is something that isn't as well developed in other baby name books. The fact that Laura focuses on these more subjective themes also means that her book isn't riddled with factual errors the way etymology-focused baby name books tend to be ;)

(Folks who want an accurate etymology-focused book, look for a "name dictionary" rather than a "baby name book"--A Dictionary of First Names from Oxford University Press is a good example). 

By mk
June 16, 2015 5:34 PM

I agree with all of these points.

June 16, 2015 10:50 PM

I vote for "lifenaming" instead of "babynaming" too! Li'l Lollipop is going to be Big Lollipop someday :)

I agree with all of the points above, especially keeping the spouse connected in the naming process, not being talked out of a name that's a little "weird" or not heard as often, and the pressure of naming during the clock-ticking-sleep-deprived-foggy prenatal time (and, yes, spouse is sleep-deprived and foggy too!)

June 17, 2015 12:32 AM

My daughter had a new friend in school named Yvonne.  I had to write permission for my daughter to go home after school with her new friend.  My daughter asked me when she got home what name I had written on the note?  I told her "Yvonne" of course.  Seems Yvonne's parents loved the name but had no idea how to spell it.  Hence poor childi is named Eveon.  What?  We still laugh over this. No creative name spelling for us.

June 22, 2015 6:09 PM

I couldn't agree more with the last point. DH is exclusively called Nicholas within his family out of the fear his mother instilled in everyone at birth but introduces himself as Nick to everyone else. Because of this I go back and forth depending who I'm talking to but it just proves that kids grow up and have to deal with societal norms. Otherwise they're constantly correcting people forever. if you don't like the NICKnames, think twice about using the full. 

By Rhii
June 25, 2015 2:09 PM

So true! My SO is a William, nicknamed Billy by his family. He grew up into Bill to everyone who's known him since childhood. But he prefers Will, so he's Will everywhere that people met him as an adult. This causes me no end of confusion. Depending on the company I might call him Bill, Billy, or Will! Ahh! If I pick the wrong one I confuse everyone!

October 11, 2015 8:17 PM

I wanted middle names with significance rather than syllables chosen to sound consonant with the first name. I picked the middle name Stephen for our son after being unsure I wanted it as his first name, and struggled for a long time over the first name. Almost before we left the hospital I was wishing I'd used Stephen as the first name instead. Afterwards I couldn't convince my husband to let me use his middle name and call him Stephen. And I do regret that. Daughter's MN is a family name that husband vetoed for a first name long before we had kids. I got over that one and I really adore her first name, so that one doesn't bother me.