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How to choose a name for your baby

How to choose a name for your baby
Latest posts by Keith Lindner (see all)

What you should know before you get started

Choosing a name for your baby is nothing new. We’ve been doing this for centuries. But there has been a revolution in the way American parents name their children over the last 20 or so years. 

Names used to be more about fitting in and conforming to a certain degree.

This meant parents would choose a name from a fairly limited set of typical baby names.  That was what was realistic and what was expected. 

Today, it’s more about standing out rather than fitting in. Everyone is pushing to be unique, to be creative. 

This modern push to be unique has created an almost unlimited number of options to choose from which is amazing in some ways but can also be overwhelming. This can create an enormous amount of pressure and a kind of decision paralysis for today’s parents.

This is mainly due to the fact that the internet has forever changed how parents choose a name for their baby. There is an entire industry all around baby names that you may not know exists. It’s actually quite fascinating when you dig into it all. 

It’s not surprising this has happened as names have always played such a vital part in our everyday lives. For many of us though, we don’t really think about them that way very often (or ever). They’re just our names. What’s the big deal? 

Well, when you really think about it, a name can:

  • Represent our identity
  • Carry on family and cultural traditions
  • Heavily impact our future both positively and negatively
  • Affect the way we are perceived by others
  • Help you build relationships and connect with others
  • Be a source of pride or shame
  • And most recently, become an instant meme

After looking at these bullet points, I don’t see how anyone can argue that a name isn’t important and worthy of some serious thought for your baby. After all, they’ll likely carry this name on for the rest of their life whether they like it or not. No pressure.

So if you’re ready to start thinking about what to name your baby, we’ve got you covered. It can actually be quite fun if you want it to be. 

We’ll walk you through some common steps on how to get started and give you the ultimate baby naming checklist to help you whittle your way down to just one name. 

How to get started

Try to give yourself plenty of time. Ideally this isn’t a conversation to have at 39 weeks pregnant. Not a problem if you are 39 weeks, we’ll cover that below as well, but as you begin your parenting journey, the sooner you start this conversation the better. It can take a lot of the pressure off. 

The real answer around how to get started is the age-old classic… “well, it depends.” But that’s the truth, there is no one right way or wrong way to choose a name for your baby. It’s very personal to you and your family. 

Preparing for a baby can bring on a lot of anxieties. You might be worried about money, or your health, or your career but we hope choosing a name doesn’t fall into those categories. Names should be your chance to sit back and have a bit of fun. 

So if you’ve got the time and energy to dedicate to it, choosing a name for your baby can actually be a really fun process over several weeks or months.

Here are some basic things we have tried ourselves and know have worked with many parents in our community. 

Step 1 – Do some discovery work

Our best advice is to simply get started. And it actually requires very minimal effort to do so. 

You just need to start listening:

  • To your favorite TV shows, movies, podcasts, and music
  • When another parent is yelling “pull your pants up [name], we’re at Target”
  • While you’re waiting at Starbucks
  • When you are at a local sporting event
  • At work when people talk about their kids

While you’re doing this, just whip out your phone and write the names that you like and, almost more importantly, the ones you don’t like. 

The goal here is to just start paying attention to the types of names you’re feeling comfortable with. Some other ways to get the juices flowing:

  • Look through a variety of baby name lists: baby name lists are a great place to get some inspiration. You can also look at buying one of the many baby name books available on Amazon. Here is my top choice and a very close runner up.
  • Get your family and friends involved: ask others to write down name suggestions on slips of paper and fold them up so you can’t see. Once you’ve collected enough, you and your partner can open them up together and see if any of them stand out.
  • Take a look at your family tree: if you’re lucky enough to have a family tree mapped out this is another great place to maybe get some inspiration. And if there isn’t an actual family tree, maybe dust off some old photo albums out with your parents and see what you can discover.
  • Think about your special places: place names are becoming more common because many couples can share a special relationship with a certain town, city, country region, or even a specific street. Names like London, Sydney, Georgia are all worth a look. 

Once you’ve got a list of names you love and hate, it’s time to analyze them a bit further.

Step 2 – Set guidelines to help make a shortlist 

Whoever is involved in the ultimate decision should understand the importance and history of naming. It’s something that should be brushed off lightly. Once everyone is feeling like they are ready to engage in the process, we recommend everyone make their own lists and then bring them together for a discussion. 

Unless each person has lists with 100’s of names, it’s pretty typical that you won’t actually have any (or many) names in common on your ‘love’ lists. It’s very common to have shared names on your ‘hate’ list (hello ex girlfriend/boyfriend).

Using the lists, the next step is to discuss and analyze the names so you can set some guidelines for you to work with moving forward. 

During this process, you can discuss the reasons why these names made your respective lists.

Is it the style of the name, the letter it starts with, a family or cultural tradition, the meaning, the length or just simply the way it sounds? 

This is your time to ask questions and listen more than anything else. Names are very personal which means emotions can run high in these conversations. You want to get off on the right start and understand what the other person is thinking before going too much further. 

This technique can apply to your partner but also to family members you might (or might not) want involved in the process. It can save you from having some really awful or awkward conversations. 

Remember to give it some time. If you are not agreeing on at least a few names after some lengthy discussions, then try taking a step back and give it a bit of time. Write down the list and stick it to the fridge so you see the names all the time but don’t feel the need to talk about it right away. 

Time can do wonders for the subconscious. It may just be a case of getting familiar with the name. So rest assured, even if you think you’re at a stalemate, it’s very healthy to “try on” some potential names for a bit to see if your mind starts to change. Names can grow on people just like a song can grow on you after hearing it a few more times. This is another benefit to starting this process early. 

Once you’ve got a single name or a few on your shortlist it’s time to think about when you’d feel comfortable making it official. 

Step 3 – Make it official (and then legal)

By make it official, I mean, announcing it to other people. It doesn’t matter if that’s just your best friend or just your parents or if you throw a massive party with all your people. There are some things to consider. 

Firstly, there are cultural norms and traditions to consider. Some cultures are very open with the naming process and others are very closed and won’t allow a name until the child is born. This isn’t something most Americans need to worry about but should be something to think about if you’re part of a more mixed family. 

But honestly, the biggest factor in deciding when to announce your baby’s name is when you actually choose it. 

If you’ve got a name chosen very early on in your pregnancy, you may want to announce it right away. This can be a really exciting moment to share with your close inner circle or with the entire world on social media like many celebrities are doing nowadays. 

Just know that announcing early can invite a lot of opinions and facial expressions you might not want to hear or see.

We like to think of naming as more of an art than a science. And as with any art, we don’t all see it or hear it the same way. Think about your favorite movie, book, music or painting and I could find 10 more that don’t particularly like it. 

So if you are confident in your choice and fully understand that people will not have the same relationship with that name that you have, then it’s ok to share early on. If you’re not feeling confident in your decision, then it’s probably best not to share. 

For anyone that has decided to hold off on making it official, legally speaking, you don’t have to decide on a name in the US for a couple of weeks. Make sure to do your own research into your state’s laws and advocate for your rights if you want to take some time to decide after your baby is born. 

Knowing you don’t have to have the name picked out literally the moment your child comes into the world can hopefully take some pressure off as you’re going through this process. 

Some people go into the birth with a shortlist and then wait to meet their baby before deciding. 

If you decide to wait, some parents also like to say the names to their baby and see if they have a reaction to one of them more than others. Seeing a smile after one of the names might be all you need to make it official. 

My wife and I didn’t know what we were having but agreed on 2 boy names and 2 girl names. As soon as we met our son, he just fit one name better than the other. I don’t think either of us could tell you why, it just happened that way. 

The ultimate baby naming checklist

We’ve rounded up the most important things to consider as you start to whittle down your shortlist of names. There is no right time to do this or particular order to do this in. You have to do what feels right to you. 

We’d love to hear more about your naming stories and if this checklists helps so please leave a comment below to share your story and advice. 

Think about your last name too

As you create your love/hate lists, we recommend writing your last name next to it each name too. It’s important to visualize and verbalize the names together from the very beginning.

Be mindful of the spelling

There are a few things to consider here. The full spelling of the name, the initials and what we like to call the email test. 

Funny names

You’ve probably seen the hilarious names of Jack Mehoff, Jenny Talya, Moe Lester, A. Nelprober, Betty Phucksher, Eric Shun, Wayne Kerr and Wilma Dikfit (email us if you want more). 

Jokes aside, there can be some less offensive ones you have to look out for as well. Like in the TV ad you may have seen where new parents reconsider the name Callum Murray because it basically sounds like calamari. You may have to channel your inner 6 year old again. 

Make sure you look at the initials

Once you’ve chosen some names and middle names you like, make sure you look at the initials to be sure your kid isn’t going to be an A.S.S. or a P.I.G. or a Z.I.T.

Do the email test

Does the first initial spell anything when joined with your last name? William Anchor sounds like an awesome choice — until it gets him assigned [email protected] and he has to look for a job with it. 

Think about potential nicknames

Nicknames can be really fun, until they’re not. Ask anyone who has had a nickname they didn’t enjoy and you will quickly hear some awful stories. People can be cruel, especially other children. 

So try your best to get inside the brain of a modern 6 year old and come up with any potentially embarrassing nicknames. 

After you turn off the 6 year old brain, you might want to think through any common nicknames that are used to simply shorten the original name. This can vary depending on where you live and within your family, cultural or religious circles. Some examples…

  • Dominique = Neek/Nika
  • Charlotte = Charley/Lotte
  • Joseph = Joe/Joey
  • William = Billy/Willy

It’s best to assume that your child will have someone call them by their shortened nicknames at some point. If you don’t like one of these shortened nicknames, that’s ok. 

It’s worth thinking about guiding your friends and family toward using your baby’s full name—or the nickname you prefer—from early on. 

Remember, it’s fine to tell Grandpa that your little Theodore is going to be called Theo instead of his preferred Teddy. And if your child wants one of the other nicknames later in life, that’s their decision to make. 

Actually discuss why you love or hate a name

Our initial reaction to a lot of names is love or hate. But many times we can’t articulate why we love or hate a particular name. 

Do your best to actually ask yourself why rather than just skipping over names really quickly. This can really help you set up your guidelines in step 2 above.

Research the popularity of the name

The top 1,000 boy names from 2022 and top 1,000 girl names from 2022 are great resources for this step. You can see which names have been most popular lately if this is a key factor in your decision making process. 

One thing to keep in mind though is that it’s far less common today than it was 20 years ago that your child will grow up with 10 other kids with the same name. Our culture has shifted to appreciate and accept a much more diverse range of names recently. 

This means that even the most popular names of today are far less common as a total percentage of all names than they used to be. 

Be conscious of very short term trends

Trends come and go quicker than ever in today’s world and that is definitely not going to change anytime soon. 

So what might seem really cool and trendy now (like a name from a hit HBO show), could very quickly fade or completely reverse. Just something to think about if you’re considering a very trendy name.

Look up the meaning of the name

Some people put a lot of emphasis on the meaning of the name and others rely simply more on the sound of the name. But just simply Google the meaning of the name and you’ll find lots of interesting information. 

Think about other family members names (or consider sibling names)

Write down all the first names in your immediate family like you were signing a Christamas card and then add the name you’re considering for your baby and see what they look like together to see if anything stands out to you. 

Many people will skip this step but we know many others that decided not to go with a certain name after doing this. 

Imagine the name as an adult, not just as your baby

Some names might sound adorable to you right now as you’re thinking about holding your newborn. 

But make sure you also put yourself in their shoes as an adult and think about what it would be like to be called that name. 

Consider ways to honor your culture

Choosing a name that honors your cultural background(s) can be really special. Don’t get boxed into thinking you can only do this by choosing a really traditional name from your culture. It could be a modern variation or it could be a combination of both parents’ cultures. 

This is one of those areas where you can get really creative and have some fun with the names you’re considering. 

Actually say it out loud

All too often people choose a name just because they like the way it looks written down. Or they say it in their head but not out loud. You want to make sure it rolls off the tongue. 

Ask yourself if it has a bit of a rhythmic flow to it. 

  • Often, longer first names work better with shorter surnames, and vice versa. 
  • Combining a first name that ends in a vowel with a surname that starts with a vowel generally isn’t the best choice – the names tend to run together, like Eva Andrews. 
  • Avoid first names that rhyme with your surname. Rosie Lee.
  • Even though you might like the look of Hudson Jackson McMasterson, that’s a mouthful to actually say out loud. 

This is especially important if you’re choosing a name for your baby that is a bit more unique or uncommon. Maybe go to a coffee shop and give the barista your name of choice. How does it sound when they call it out? Did they mispronounce it? Was it spelled correctly?

Think about how other people might say the name

Similar to the point above, you might want to think about how other people would say it. 

Global immigration has led to many mixed race/cultural families. Have a bit of fun and say the names you are considering in your native accents or in the accent of wherever you’re planning on living while your kids are young. We’ve got an entire article dedicated to pronunciation considerations.

My wife and I were considering Harry until she realized Americans say it the same way as you’d describe someone’s hairy back. After a few rounds of imitating my American family calling my future son’s name, we quickly ruled out Harry.

We saw a story from another mom who named her son Axel, not realizing that most kids struggle with the letter X for the first few years of life. So rather than Axel, she could only hear her son “A**hole” at the playground. 

Realize your geography may matter

We as parents may have lived in the same place our entire lives but that doesn’t mean our kids will. My mom definitely didn’t think I’d live on the other side of the planet. 

So even though you might love a name that is geographically bound, perhaps to a local celebrity or location, it may be looked at differently in other parts of the country or world. Just something else to consider. 

  • I wouldn’t want to be a Chloe living in Germany since you could very easily be confused with “klo” which is German slang for “toilet.”
  • Peter is a very common name worldwide but in French “Péter” means to fart (with a slight difference in pronunciation).
  • Living in France as a ‘Nick’ can be interesting because it sounds identical to the French word ‘nique’ which means “to f***”. 

Google it

One you get down to a few finalists, just make sure you Google the full name to see what happens. This can lead to some new insights, some hilarious connections you hadn’t made or some horrifying people that just happened to share that name. 

The name William Buckner sounds super strong until you Google it and realize Bill Buckner is blamed for losing the Red Sox the world series in 1986. Not a great start for little William. 

A final word from The Baby Swaggers

We know that not everyone is ready to start this process until they are at a certain stage in their pregnancy or life but the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to give yourself as much time as possible. 

You may be feeling the pressure of choosing a name for your baby that they will likely have for a lifetime but trust yourself and enjoy the process. 

Whatever you decide, if it’s a name that you feel really good about, chances are your child will love it too.

Do I have to name my baby right away?

This depends on where you live. In the USA you usually have at least a couple of weeks from what we can tell. It’s important to know the answer to this question so take a look at our guide

When should you start talking about baby names?

Start talking about baby names as soon as possible. If you give yourself plenty of time, it reduces some of the pressure and can make it easier to have some fun along the way. 

What happens if we can’t agree on a name?

If you can’t agree on a baby name, it may lead to prolonged discussions and potential conflict between the parents. It could result in delayed decision-making or a compromise where neither parent feels fully satisfied with the chosen name. In some cases, seeking outside help or considering alternative solutions like combining names or using family names may help reach a resolution.

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