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.


"Call Me Caitlyn": Naming a New Self

Jun 2nd 2015

How central are our names to our identities? The cover of the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair magazine offers a clue. The athlete and reality tv personality formerly known as Bruce Jenner introduces her new female identity to the world with three simple words, "Call Me Caitlyn."

A name change can represent a profound turning point for a transgender person. Choosing that name is every bit as complicated as choosing a baby name, but the considerations can be different. Many people look for names that echo the sound of their old names. That can help create continuity for others, and for themselves; we're all deeply conditioned to respond to our own names. Some in transition opt for an androgynous name to facilitate a gradual shift or non-binary identification. Others prefer a strongly gendered name to leave no doubt about their new identity. As with baby names, each name sends rich messages.

The message sent by Caitlyn is on most levels disarmingly ordinary. It's not a flashy celebrity name, but a girl-next-door name. Cheerful, popular, and mainstream, Caitlyn is one of the most well-liked names of its generation. That's not so surprising for a transgender name choice. An "ordinary" name is a natural approach if you want to fit in, rather than stand out. The kicker is the generation part.

Bruce Jenner was born in 1949, at the popularity peak of the name Bruce. The name Caitlyn peaked in 1998, making the typical Caitlyn a 17-year-old high school junior. The name didn't even show up for the first time until decades after Jenner was born. To put it simply, you will not meet anyone else of her age named Caitlyn.

For some background, Caitlyn is one of many variations on the Irish Gaelic name Caitlín. The Irish name is pronounced koit-HLEEN or kotch-LEEN, and its anglicized version is the old favorite Kathleen. But some English-speaking parents who saw Caitlín written down pronounced it as if it were English, and ended up with "KAYT-lin." That led to new spellings like Katelynn. Together, the many spellings became a big part of baby name style from the 1980s-2000s, and inspired similar names like Kaylin.

What would a comparable name from Jenner's own generation look like? As it happens, the #1 best statistical match for the historical popularity of Bruce is...Kathleen.

Try taking a look at the Vanity Fair photos and picturing the woman you see as a Kathleen. The people I've asked all say that the name seems like a natural fit. It's possible, in fact, that the outside world would have had an easier time adjusting to the generationally typical name Kathleen Jenner. But Caitlyn Jenner is how she saw herself.

The gender transition process is sometimes described as making your outer self match your inner self. The name Caitlyn would seem to match an inner self much younger than Jenner's years. If she's chasing youth, of course, she's hardly alone. How many 60-something Hollywood celebrities eagerly embrace aging? More broadly, it's unrealistic to expect anyone to use 1949 fashion sense to choose a 2015 name. We name ourselves as we dress ourselves, based on the style of the here and now.

If anything, the name Caitlyn suggests a generational limbo, a frozen point in time. It isn't native to Caitlyn Jenner's generation, but neither is it quite of this fashion moment. Jenner has said that she first took steps to become a woman back in the 1980s. I wouldn't be surprised if she considered the name Caitlyn back then, when it was a fresh new hit, and has been living with it privately ever since. If so, it's a both a fitting and poignant choice: the six-letter embodiment of a decades-long dream to be fresh and new, and to be the girl who Bruce never got to be.


21 Initials That Make Great Girl Names

Jun 1st 2015

Stirring Up Baby Names

Originally appeared on The Stir.


Baby girl names don't have to be elaborate, flowery things, and one trend that proves this are the parents who choose names they don't plan to use very often. Ever met a girl who goes by her initials? Sometimes it's a nickname she picked up along the way ... but just as often parents actually plan for their baby girl to go by just two letters.

"For girls, initials can offer a gender-neutral alter ego to a feminine name," says explains Laura Wattenberg, baby name expert and founder of BabyNameWizard. If the possibility of a short, punchy initial-based nickname appeals to you, here are some names to get you started: 


Alexa Jane -- A short (and hip!) version of Alexandra pairs well with the plainer and perennially popular Jane. 

Alyssa Joelle -- This variant of Alicia (which stands for nobility) creates great rhythm with Joelle -- which plays into the hot trend among girls of French middle names with a stressed second syllable.


Claudia Celeste -- This first name hails from old Rome, while the middle French name adds an ethereal quality.


Crystal Jade -- A New Age name all the way with a surprisingly down-to-earth nickname. 

Calliope Jo -- This elaborate first name after a Greek muse -- made popular by Grey's Anatomy character Calliope "Callie" Torres -- begs for a short, snappy second name like Jo.


Diana Juliette -- This classy Latin first name (meaning "divine") gets a sweet flourish with the French diminutive of Julie at the end.

Donna Jo -- This famous character from Full House was probably the first time D.J. hit our radar for girls. So, it makes sense we pay homage to her here with this Italian-inspired name (Donna is Italian for "lady").


Evie -- That's it. Get it? This plays off the growing trend of initials sounding just like the full first name.


Joanne Kathleen -- Sound familiar, Harry Potter fans? This is J.K. Rowling's pen name; she was encouraged to use initials to hide her gender and avoid alienating male readers.


Juliet Rae -- This ultra-romantic first name gets a dash of cool with this feminine form of Ray, short for Raymond. 


Casey -- Playing off the above-mentioned initials-pronounced-as-nickname trend.

Karli Crane -- This feminine version of Carl or Charles picks up a nice echo with the "c" in the middle name.


Katie -- Yet another nod to the trend of making a name and its initials sound the same. So cute!

Katherine Taylor -- This regal Greek first name pairs well with its more worldly "occupational" second name -- which has long been used as a last name but is gaining popularity as a first or middle name in its own right (hello, Taylor Swift). 


Maria Joanna -- A fancier, lilting twist to your usual Mary Jo.


Mary Kate -- Of Olsen twin fame, of course! The simplicity of this feminine name combined with its fun initial-based nickname are a nice combo.


Penelope James -- "James" is a hot name for girls, but combining it with the ultra long, feminine Penelope is a particularly refreshing mix!

Peyton Jolie -- This Old English "place name" has a contemporary vibe for girls, plus Angelina Jolie fans will love this middle-name nod to their favorite celeb.

Pace Justice -- Such a stately name for a girl; she's bound to do great things!


Tara Jacqueline -- This strong, simple Irish first name pairs well with the flourish of its French middle name. 

Tabitha Jett -- This ancient Greek first name is well complemented by the modern-sounding middle name. 

How do you feel about nicknames derived from initials?

Images via Veronica Lara/shutterstock