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5 Things You Need to Consider Before Naming Your Baby

Photograph by Twenty20

I didn’t expect that finding a name for our baby would be so stressful. I imagined my wife and I relaxing, happily pouring over baby-name books or trading stories of wonderfully named relatives, all of which would be filled with exciting options for the perfect name for our new child. I thought it would be fun.

In reality, it was a long, frustrating process filled with self-doubt, arguments and severely opinionated relatives. (It is a fact that my mother thought I was being difficult for refusing to consider to name my daughter after my sister’s 1980s Cabbage Patch doll.)

If you’re just beginning the name selection process, here are five of the most important criteria that I found you MUST consider before you settle on a final name for your lovely unnamed baby.

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1. Name Frequency

In the United States, the Social Security Administration has a website where they track the most popular baby names in the country—Noah and Emma were the top picks in 2015, if you’re interested—and you can also search on any baby name and see its historical popularity, too. At first, the existence of this database annoyed me. We had expecting friends who lived or died by the database, lamenting if one of their baby name picks was in the top 10 (“too common”) and finding smug satisfaction if their choice didn’t even make the top 1,000 (how original) “Who cares what everyone else does?” I complained. “It shouldn’t matter to us if the name is popular or not.” Except the thing is … it does kind of matter.

Don’t believe me? Talk to a kindergarten teacher. We ran some of our picks past a family member who taught kindergarten, and she visibly recoiled at a few of them. “Oh, not [NAME WE LIKED]. I literally have six [NAME WE LIKED] in my class this year. It made things IMPOSSIBLE.” For some odd reason, baby names are cyclical. They experience periods of feast and famine. So, while, yes, you should be able to pick any name you want, it is nice to have an idea if your kid will be the 20th Noah or Emma in their class in a few years. You shouldn’t base your entire decision on name frequency, but it’s a good criteria to consider.

2. The Story

Imagine telling it to the young, to the old, to your grandmother. And then decide whether or not you really want to commit.

After you introduce your newly named baby to your friends and family, the FIRST thing they’ll want to know is “How did you come up with the name?” Because it’s not enough to just like a name, you really do need to have a story to go with it. Now the story doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can be as simple as “Well, little Robert Michael was named after my dad Robert and my grandfather Michael.” But the story does have to exist. You will be asked about it again and again, so it’s important to consider what you’re going to say, particularly if you don’t have an answer as direct as “it was my mom’s name.”

Try saying the story to yourself out loud for a few times before you commit to the name. For example, once you’re one minute into your story about why you named your twins after the main characters in "50 Shades of Gray," if you realize “This makes me sound insane,” maybe you need to think about your story more. I’m not saying you can’t name your kids Christian and Anastasia. I’m just saying try imagining yourself telling that "50 Shades" origin story a thousand times for the rest of your life. Imagine telling it to the young, to the old, to your grandmother. And then decide whether or not you really want to commit to that as the story behind your name.

3. How It Sounds Out Loud

Let’s say you want to name your daughter “Stephanie.” (Lovely name.) Now try saying it out loud. Say it over and over again. Now try saying it as you think about different circumstances. Try saying it happy, try saying it angry. Try yelling it.

Try saying it fast. Think about how you will abbreviate the name. The best way to do this is imagine comforting your child. Imagine cuddling up with your baby and saying her name in the sweetest, cuddliest way possible. The way you’d say someone’s name to soothe them or to make them stop crying. Would you call her “Stef”? Do you stick with the full “Stephanie”? Or “Annie?” Or the more regrettable “Fannie?”

Take the name out for a drive, kick the tires and see what you’ll REALLY be calling your kid under optimal (and less-than-optimal) conditions. Because the way you use their name will vary from situation to situation.

4. The Importance of Spelling

In all the months we’d been talking about that name, we’d NEVER ONCE discussed the spelling.

My wife and I decided on my daughter’s name in the delivery room a few seconds after she was born. It had been high-up on a list of favorites we’d had for months, but seeing her in person for the first time really brought home that OF COURSE it had to be her name.

Cut to a few hours later in our hospital room. An administrator walks in, carrying all the paperwork for the baby’s birth certificate. We proudly tell her our daughter’s name, and she asks us to spell it. My wife begins spelling my daughter’s first name, and I immediately stop her. “Wait, WHAT?” I said out loud. “Is THAT how you want to spell it?”

In all the months we’d been talking about that name, we’d NEVER ONCE discussed the spelling. Not once. And I didn’t mind the way my wife spelled our daughter’s name (it was better than my idea), but it was just surprising to hear it out loud for the first time as we were filling out the birth certificate. So, trust me, if only because you don’t want to embarrass a friendly hospital administrator like we did, discuss your name choices AND their spelling options long before the baby is born.

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5. Some People Won’t Like It

That’s just a fact. There will be people in your life who won’t like your baby name choice. Most probably won’t be bold enough to say anything to your face (don’t expect any open “eww”s), but you’ll definitely be able to tell when someone isn’t on board with it. They’ll wince. They’ll get quiet. They’ll take a long pause and finally say “That’s … great. So … unique.” Things like that.

And you have to decide, upfront, how you’re going to deal with that internally. Will those little pauses fill you with doubt and regret? Will the barely perceptible winces send you into a blind rage? Or will you just not give a damn? The third option is always the best, but it’s a good idea to consider how you’re going to feel if Grandma Pat or Uncle Rick decide to be a jerk about your choices. Just prepare yourself for the worst, enjoy the best and steel yourself to OWN your fierce new baby name, no matter what.

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