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Picking Your Baby's Name

How to pick a name for your baby

Last updated: November 2006




There are thousands of names to choose from. Help!

Picking the right name for your child is a daunting task. It will stick with them for life, so the pressure's on! And while some countries have strict rosters of appropriate names you can choose from, in America almost anything goes. With all the options, it can be extremely overwhelming.

And of course, you'll regularly be fending off suggestions from family, friends, and strangers. While it doesn't hurt to be open to ideas, the decision is up to you and your partner. Don't be afraid to say thanks, but no thanks!


Where do I begin?

Start discussing names with your partner as soon as possible to set some guidelines. Keep a list of favorites handy so you can add to it whenever a name pops into your head. Use our Baby Names Finder tool to find name ideas.

There are lots of considerations when you're deciding on a name, such as appeasing relatives, avoiding embarrassing initials or nicknames, and steering clear of monikers associated with bad memories. These are some of the main points to keep in mind:

* Sound and compatibility. How your baby's name sounds when it's said aloud is one of the most essential things to think about. Is it melodious? Harsh? Does it go well with your last name? Often, longer first names work better with shorter last names, and vice versa. Combining a first name that ends in a vowel with a last name that starts with a vowel generally isn't the best choice -- the names tend to run together ("Eva Anderson"). Avoid first names that rhyme with your last name. And please resist puns: A name like "Holly Wood" or "Bud Weiser" will be cute for about five minutes. Then your poor child will be stuck with it for the rest of his or her life.

* Uniqueness. An unusual name has the advantage of making the bearer stand out from the crowd. Fran Barclay of Ann Arbor, Michigan, sometimes wishes she hadn't named her second son Matthew. When he started school, he had three other Matts in his class. "It was years before he really understood that his name wasn't Matt B.," she says. On the other hand, a name no one has heard of and few can pronounce can bring attention a child would rather avoid. One way of striking a balance is to choose a familiar first name if the child's last name is unusual, and vice versa. If your son's last name will be Smith, you might want to consider something with more pizazz than Joe for his first name. But if his last name is Aytrivbsoan, then Joe might be preferable to, say, Archimedes as a given name.

* Relatives and friends. Many parents choose to name their babies after a grandparent, other relative, or close friend. This option can provide you with a good pool of names to consider. Take ideas graciously, but don't tell anyone what you and your partner have decided until after the baby is born -- when it's too late to give in to any subtle hints. And never let anyone pressure you into a name you don't like. Great Aunt Hepzibah may have survived all right with her name, but will your baby?

* Ancestry and heritage. Your child's heritage is an essential part of who she is, and you may want her name to reflect that. Your religious preference may steer you toward a certain category of names. Or perhaps your family has a tradition of naming first-born sons after their fathers. If you love a name but it doesn't meet your family's traditional requirements, consider using it as a middle name. Or give her the name you prefer and use the traditional name for her middle name.

* Meaning. No one is likely to treat your daughter Ingrid differently because her name means "hero's daughter," but the derivation of your baby's name is something you may want to think about. After all, if little Stockard finds out someday that her name means "from the yard of tree stumps," she may not be pleased.

* Initials and nicknames. People, especially kids, can be cruel when it comes to nicknames, so try to anticipate any potentially embarrassing ones. Of course, just because you don't think of something doesn't mean some clever second-grader down the line won't -- and he'll probably find it utterly hilarious. But at least you can rule out the obvious problems. Also, be aware of what your child's initials spell. Zachary Ian Thomas will more than likely get a lot of teasing; Zachary Edward Thomas probably won't.

Remember, none of these are hard rules. The most important criterion for a name is simply that you and your partner like it.

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