Naming "Guidelines" (reposted from article about Nameberry)

Rule No. 1, according to one berry? No dumb names. We're down with that, along with these 21 other smart, sensible rules that every modern baby-namer should follow:

1. No yooneek spellings. Name your son (or daughter) Peyton or even Payton. But not Peighton, Patyn, or Paitynne.

2. No made-up names. Translating a meaningful place or word into a name is all right, but don't manufacture a name from whole cloth. Jaunel and Calton, we're looking at you.

3. A first name should ideally embody some kind of meaning. That might be family or ethnic significance, literal meaning, or even that you've loved it since you were 7. A name with meaning is going to have more staying power than one you choose simply because it's attractive.

4. A middle name should definitely embody meaning.
 Otherwise, why have one at all?

5. You should at least know what the meaning is before you make a final choice, even though literal meaning shouldn't rule your name decision. (Who knows or cares anymore that a name means "spear ruler"?)

6. Family or other personal significance trumps popularity concern. If you want to name your baby after grandmother Isabella, it doesn't matter that it's the No. 1 name.

7. If your kids' names have a theme, make it subtle. Giving all your children botanical middle names or names with uplifting meanings is preferable to Duggar-style devotion to one first initial.

8. Initials shouldn't spell anything negative. We figure you know enough not to use initials like A.S.S., but if possible, avoid initials like S.A.D. or B.O.O. too.

9. If you hate the obvious nickname, think twice about using the name. Do you wantEdward to be called Ed?

10. Don't let anyone pressure you into or out of a name. It's the No. 1 reason for baby-name regret.

11. Each child's name should sound distinct. If you want all your children's names to start with C and all have two syllables, okay, but ChristianClifford, and Cara are better than overlapping choices like CarterCarson, and Carly.

12. The first name should not end with the same letter that starts the last name. 
The sounds run together and lead to confusion about where one name ends and the other begins: IsSilas Smith really Sila Smith or Silas Mith?

13. Ideally, first, middle, and last names will be unequal numbers of syllables. So 3-1-2 yes, 2-2-2 no.

14. Thou shalt not steal thy best friend's or thy cousin's favorite name. But this rule only stands if they announced their favorite name in fourth grade and are pregnant at the same time you are. If you are expecting a child in two weeks and they suddenly pop up with a list of names they like and so are forbidding you to use, no fair.

15. Don't name your baby after a pop star or a sitcom character, if for no other reason that it doesn't give your child enough to live up to.

16. Something about the name should indicate gender, if only for official papers like passports. So Carter Elizabeth Jones is preferable to Carter Emerson Jones.

17. Beware extreme ethnic combinations such as Sean Yuki unless you really are Irish and Japanese.

18. A name's image should encompass many possibilities. Names diverse enough in image to let your child grow up to be a banker or a filmmaker, according to her talents or choice, are preferable to those that scream "corporate lawyer" or "exotic dancer."

19. Don't pick a name that will eternally have to be pronounced and explained to everyone. You're signing up for a lifetime of name pain, not only for yourself but for your child.

20. Reach name consensus with your partner. 
While the final choice may not be at the top of the list for both you and your baby-having partner, you both have to be fully on board with the choice, even if it's to let him have total control over naming this child while you get to choose next time.

21. Choose a name that can grow with your child, from infanthood through childhood to adulthood. If you're only going to follow one rule, this should be it!


By EVie
April 27, 2012 4:04 PM

Hmm. I agree with most of these in theory, but the idea of laying down a list of "rules" for other people to follow when they name their kids makes me kind of prickly. I find #3 and #4 particuarly irritating, because I feel like they encourage the idea that there is a hierarchy of "meaningfulness" in name choices—like if you're not choosing a name to honor family or because of some sort of deep personal connection, then you're being superficial. In reality, I think everyone picks names that reflect their values in some way or another, even if those values are individuality and innovation—and who are we to say that those values are less significant than honoring Great Aunt Marge or Saint Ignatius? It strikes me as very judgmental. 

I would probably be more comfortable if these were "Guidelines" and not "Rules."

Also, I'm disappointed in Satran and Rosenkrantz for #2—I would have hoped they were professional enough to do some cursory Googling before making a claim that a name is manufactured from whole cloth. Calton *is* a place name—there are two in England (Staffordshire and the North Riding of Yorkshire), three in Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh and Argyll & Bute), and one in Ontario; it can also be a transferred surname. The English version means "calf farm," from Old English; the Scottish version means "wood on the hill" or "black hill," from Gaelic.

April 27, 2012 4:48 PM

I totally agree with you-- especially on your opinion of #2.  A lot of "classic sounding" names were once invented such as Imogen, Cedric, Annabel, Coraline, Rosamond, and Diego.  I think there's some subtext of classism or racism there (see Lauren's blog on Ledasha:

What's wrong with Sean Yuki?  Despite the fact that Yuki is predominately a girl's name, I don't see why people can't combine ethnic names.  In fact, real life Sean Lennon's middle names are Taro Ono-- making his name a great example.  I don't know why they went fishing with a name like Sean Yuki.  As a minority, I daily straddle the line between majority culture and my own hybrid background.  The reverse of that rule means that we should only give our babies names that reflect our own ethnicity or an Anglo-name.  I know people who as adults gave themselves Chinese names either legally or as alternatives to their given names.  I think more than ethnicity, culture should play a part in your baby names.  Sean Yuki would be a nice name for an English speaker living in Japan or for a child whose parents embrace Japanese culture, regardless of ethnicity.

April 28, 2012 2:20 AM

While poorly worded and too vague, I think that the spirit of that ethnicity "rule" is that if the mixing of cultural names is not meaningful in some way, it can create a jarring, confusing name, and sometimes even make parents look ignorant and culturally insensitive. And Sean Lennon was born to one English and one Japanese parent, making his name "acceptable" according to the rule, even in its most extreme form.

However, their example sucked. Sean was so widely used by people of so many backgrounds that it no longer screams "Irish" the way that it once did, and it feels like a perfectly plausible name for someone without any Irish roots. Something like Pádraig Masahiko or Ruaraidh Takahiro used by parents with no connection to either Ireland or Japan might have been a bit better.

Overally, though, I have to say that I enjoyed the list, agreed with almost all of it (to varying degrees), and took it in a spirit of fun.

April 28, 2012 12:11 PM

I agreee with you all. The tone of the article is a bit off but I believe their intentions were good. I posted it all because it seemed relevant and something to discuss. I like the idea of changing the wording from rules to "some things to consider" or guidelines. Rules makes them seem a bit preachy and rigid. 

April 28, 2012 3:03 PM

As others have mentioned, I find the tone of the above offputting to say the least.  I myself have violated a couple of the above rules (9 and 13), and I suppose I can expect the name police to be knocking at my door.  Specifically to cite the example used in #9, I named my son Edward, and I went to every length to be sure he was called Edward and not Ed.  To my chagrin he adopted Ed, and that is the name he uses professionally (on his books and articles) and the name his wife and friends his age use.  I, my friends, and my family use Edward, period.  And first name, middle name, and surname all are two syllables, in fact, trochees.  My own birth name is 3 syllables+3 syllables, actually a double dactyl.  And the sky has not fallen over any of this. 

I am a member of a religio-cultural group that does have an ironclad naming rule: children are named after deceased family members (and if all deceased family member names have been used up so to speak, after other deceased individuals who are revered).  So my son was named after his deceased grandfathers Edward and Raymond, and there wasn't even a question about which would come first because my son's father was a junior and so was named Raymond.  So he has two 2-syllable names both ending in -d (probably the name police wouldn't approve of that either).  Both names are Germanic bithematic names, Raymond coming by way of Provence.  Both have a long history and are easy to spell and pronounce, requiring no explanation or correction.  And neither was common among his cohort; he didn't meet another Edward until he went to university.  But none of that mattered in the slightest.  He was going to be named after my deceased and dearly missed father.  If my father's name had been Yerachmiel or Ovadya, then he would have been Yerachmiel or Ovadya.  As it happens, Edward was my father's civil name; his real name was Eliyahu, and that is also Edward's real name (not the one on his birth certificate).  Our dear little one will be legally named Elliott when the adoption is finalized (which we expect it to be in the next few weeks after much bureaucratic hassle).  Now Elliott is the diminutive of Elie which is the French form of Elijah/Elias/Eliyahu, so he too is named after my father who is worthy of innumerable namesakes.

As I review the above "rules," I guess I did adhere to the other nineteen, but that was only by accident :-).

By Guest (not verified)
April 28, 2012 8:20 PM

The only rules I really agree with are 1, 6, 8, 10, 17, 19-21 but the wording is so offputting I'd be tempted to go against them all. 2,4, and 5 are just silly. Choosing names because you like them is a good enough reason and one with meaning!

April 29, 2012 8:40 PM

I have actually read this before and agree it's quite judgemental and a bit off-putting.  Some of the 'rules' are useful things to think about but they are hardly rules to live by.

I agree that agreeing with your partner, thinking about the sound, flow meaning etc are useful things to do but aren't the be all and end all.

The extreme ethnic combinations is both silly and offensive. I have a German married surname and my child uses that surname. We aren't German and the German heritage is about 200 years back. The name is quite obscure and reads very German but we weren't going to let that dictate what first name to pick. We ended up going with a Scandinavian first name and French middle name. I guess that is ethnically extremem given we are neither Scandinavian or French either but really should it matter?  

I also disagree on the middle names should mean something. I guess the name we picked meant something but not in a traditional sense. It wasn't a family name  nor did we have any connection to it. My husband loves all things French and has wanted to live there for awhile so it seemed kind of fitting. Plus, we just liked the name!

Our rules for naming were:

No unique or made up spellings (variants from other languages are OK though)

No one we know has used the name

Not popular (not in Australian top 100 or likely to be any time soon)

We both agreed on it

It worked for a baby/toddler/child adult

If we didn't like the enevitable nickname then we would use it in the middle name spot.


By hyz
April 30, 2012 2:36 PM

I generally agree with all of these rules, although of course I agree they could be worded more diplomatically, and I think that there are perfectly good exceptions to every rule.  I think they are all very valid "guidelines" to consider--but the statement that they are "rules that every modern baby-namer should follow" is certainly going too far.  But then, extreme/controversial articles probably garner more site traffic than even-handed and restrained ones, so that may be the basis for some of the tone issues going on here.

eta: Chimu, re: extreme ethnic combinations, I read that more to mean that one might want to think twice about choosing a name that is clearly outside their culture, although that is admittedly not quite what it says.  I was thinking along the lines of people who choose names of certain cultures just because they sound "exotic" or cool or something, potentially without any real understanding of the context of the name in its culture.  This can feel like misappropriation (like the use of Native American names by non NAs), or downright misuse (like Cohen).  I was also reading in the concept that picking names far outside your culture should be done with caution--this is where I think the "extreme" part comes in (like the example from PennyX, I think Natalia is within the realm of normal use even with no e. European roots, but Nadezhda would get some confused looks, or similar to your case, where I think the name should not raise any eyebrows the way that Asløg or Tryggve might).  And of course all of this is subject to my caveat above, that I think these are simply things parents should consider, not ironclad rules. 

April 30, 2012 6:56 PM

hyz, I agree that what you have said is probably what they were trying to get at but it could be quite misinterpreted. 

As far as I'm concerned the only 'ethnic' naming that should be avoided is anything that can cause offense to another culture (of which you have no claim to) for example the Native American names or the Cohen example. I know many people who don't even think that should be a consideration though.

May 1, 2012 2:04 AM

Hmmmm, I think that "rule" 12 only applies to certain sounds. I understand that it's difficult to keep the Silas and Smith distinct, but I don't know that that's true for every consonant or vowel. I don't have the technical vocabulary to describe this phenomenon, but it would seem to me that a name like Ezra Adams, for instance, works just fine.

May 1, 2012 6:25 PM

kalmia-As far as the rules I used, they were mostly the guidelines from above. I did not choose any creative spellings but don't think that they should be "outlawed". Erik/Erique or Natalee are totally fine for me for others to use. Something like Nataly or Nataliegh though is probably be a bit out there for me.

My dh probably would have vetoed "made-up" names. We did have a strict rule about no Jr's. We absolutely did not want name confusion within our family and wanted the children to have their own names. We did want gender obvious names, we didn't worry too much about the actual meanings but they turned out great. We didn't get the initial thing 100% right but it hasn't caused us too much woe. The use of the same initial sound as the last name was always a no. Our last name begins with A so many beautiful names were out that either ended in A or began with A because of the alliteration. We wanted something easy to pronounce and didn't look at extremely ethnic names as they aren't really for us. We don't have a theme other than 70's type classic names appeal to us. We didn't worry about syllables as long as it "sounded okay when spoken". We figured that since the names were fairly classic they would be fine to carry into adulthood. Ultimately we just liked the names. 

May 2, 2012 3:54 PM

#4 really seems to be a knock at "filler" middles.  But in defense of "filler" middles like Anne, Marie, and Elizabeth and maybe Rose and Grace in this generation is that they often do sound nice with a variety of first and last names.  And, while name enthusiast may think that more time and attention needs to be paid to the whole name, saying that there is no point to a middle name that doesn't have meaning is a little over the top.  We like the way it sounded seems like a sufficient reason for most of the general population.

And send the naming police after me but I had no idea what the name Paul meant when I used it!  Can you believe it?  See my hubby suggested John Paul after the pope but then we thought he'd likely end up being called just John.  I said I'd prefer Paul over John and hubby agreed.  We never looked back.  Paul means small - and interestingly since he was born preterm he was indeed small.  At 10 he really dislikes that his name means small, but I think he likes most everything else about his name.  On the plus side I also didn't know that his middle name (Stephen) meant crown, and he thinks that it's cool.  You win some and you lose some.