What If You Don't Choose a Name?
For name-hunting parents, the birth certificate is the ultimate deadline. You'd better have a baby name plan before you arrive at the hospital, because without a name, they may not let you leave. In many locales, a complete birth certificate is a check-out requirement.
That last part wasn't always true. According to the Boston Globe, in the 1950s one out of every 25 newborn Bostonians received a birth certificate with a blank space or placeholder in the given name slot.
The reasons for the blank birth certificates ranged from the dramatic to the mundane. Most often, it seems, the necessary paperwork was simply overlooked by busy new parents with large families to care for. In that generation, the oversight didn't much matter. The kids still grew up called by names every day, like everybody else. The went to school, got married, served in the military, paid taxes, all under names that had never been legally registered. Documents like baptism certificates were accepted as sufficient proof of identity.
Then a not-so-funny thing happened: September 11. Requirements for obtaining government ID were tightened. Americans who had held drivers' licenses for decades were denied renewals without a birth certificate as proof of identity. Many of them turned to their city halls to request copies, only to discover that the legal documents named them "Baby Boy." The names they'd lived with all their lives were in legal limbo, and they had to file for formal amendments to their birth certificates in order to proceed with their official lives.
You may take this as a tale about the increasing regimentation of modern life. Alternately, you may take it as a cautionary tale about skimping on something as basic as giving your child an official name. But if you're expecting a baby, you should certainly take it as a reminder to plan ahead. Don't count on the perfect name magically coming to you when you see your newborn's scrunched-up face. (And don't count on yourself to be at your sharpest, mentally.) At the very least, have a fallback name or a clear decision tree in place. It sure beats fighting city hall.