By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)
Perhaps no activity can consume as much of an expectant couple’s time and energy as choosing a name for their baby. While other aspects of pregnancy and preparing for childbirth and parenting may interest one parent more than the other, both mom and dad are equally invested in the deliberations for just the right name.
And they should be. A name carries so much meaning. It is a person’s identity, the very first introduction any person has to the world. That a name is likely to stay attached to a person throughout his life makes choosing the name to be a huge responsibility. It makes me think of a song my dad listens to, a 1974 song by Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue,” about a father who named his son, Sue, and the resentment the boy felt toward his father because of that.
An Exercise in Sensitivity
Naming a baby can have a lot to do with setting the foundation for attachment between you and your child, in that it may be the first major decision you have to make in that baby’s life. Choosing a name is great practice for making other big decisions in the child’s future that may not be as fun – although baby naming is not without strife. Some parents can get themselves into power struggles over preferred names.
For example, with my first daughter, my husband and I just could not agree on a name. I wanted Katelyn and he wanted Allison, and neither of us was budging. Finally, we agreed to throw out our names and choose a name that we both liked: Rachel.
There are a lot of baby-naming books and websites available, with every name imaginable in them. Some parents like classic or trendy names; others like unique names. For some families, baby naming is a way to pass down a bit of genealogy. My name is Rita Jane, named for my maternal grandmother, Rita, and my paternal grandmother, Martha Jane. With my husband, his middle name, Joseph, is a family surname.
It’s certainly a parent’s privilege to name their child whatever they want, but here are a few tips that may help you to stay sensitive to your child:
- Choose names while keeping the surname in mind. For example, Ima may not be a good name choice if paired with a noun surname, such as Ima Wall. And be careful of tongue twisters, rhymes, or too much alliteration, such as Jon Johnson or Will Grille. Say the full name out loud to hear how it sounds.
- Consider what the initials will spell out, such as Kendra Kathleen Krull (KKK) or Daniel Oliver Goodeman (DOG). This could put the child at risk of teasing. Along these same lines, be wary of names that others can easily link to someone notorious such as Adolph (Hitler) or even (Hurricane) Katrina.
- Think about choosing names that are easy to spell, especially if you have a long or commonly mispronounced surname, such as Cyza or Brhel.
- Consider possible nicknames. For example, naming a baby Abigail would give her the option of going by Abby, Gail, or Abigail. On the other hand, if you name your baby Harold and people shorten that to Harry, will this bother you?
- Learn the meaning of the names you’re debating. For some cultures, such as Native American tribes, the name holds great meaning. For example, Rachel means little lamb and Emily means hardworking.
Unique or Common Names?
In her book, 50,001+ Best Baby Names, Diane Stafford surveyed 21 people about how their names helped to shape their lives. Here are a few responses to get you thinking:
- Camilla was named for a great aunt but has struggled with her name all her life, because people have trouble spelling and pronouncing it.
- David was named for a historical character in his family’s religion and is proud of the legacy he carries through the history of his faith-based name. However, he did have a middle name that he wouldn’t share, that he said he received teasing for until he had it legally changed.
- Clarence was named for his father’s friend and he was glad for the uniqueness in his name. His father, however, was named Napoleon and received teasing until he had shortened it to a nickname, Nap.
- Jennifer likes her common name, one that she shared with many of her friends, as well as her nicknames, Jen and Jenny.
- Kristina was named after a special woman in her father’s childhood. She likes how her first name sounds with her last name, which starts with a K. She did say the two names together made for a long, hard-to-spell name in school.
- Dana, whose name is pronounced as Danna, likes her unique name and doesn’t mind helping others learn how to pronounce it.
- Dominique has always liked his unique name, especially as an adult because it has a sense of sophistication.
- Cari didn’t like her unique name as a child but very much does now that she’s an adult. She likes being the only person in her life with her name.
- Jane wasn’t given a middle name, because her mother, Lula Mae, didn’t like her own name pairing.
- Donna didn’t care much about her name as a child. She was just glad she wasn’t being teased about it, like other children. But she likes her name now as an adult, since she found out it’s meaning: ladylike.
- Natasha was named after her father’s college mentor. As a child, she didn’t like her Russian-ethnic name, but as an adult, she feels a special connection with her father’s friend, who died before Natasha was born.
- JoAnn doesn’t like her name, because it reminds her of a boy name. Her father had told her that they were going to name her Jacquelyn but that it was too long, so now she wishes her name was Jacquelyn instead.
- Trey didn’t like his unique name as a child but appreciates it now as an adult because it was given to him by his great-grandmother.
- Angela went by her middle name, Theresa, for most of her life because she was a tomboy and didn’t want to be associated with a name connected with the gentleness of an angel.
- Spiker always liked his name, because it was easy to remember.
- Cristy said her name bothered her as a teen, because people would ask what her name was short for and that was just her name. Also, she has always had to correct people’s spelling who want to add a “h” so it’d read “Christy.”
- Jennifer is now in her 50s and when she was young, her name was unique. She said she liked that because it sounded pretty and set her apart.
- Christopher said she didn’t like her name because it was too boyish – in fact, she was sent a military draft notice – and she was teased by children as, “Christopher Columbus.”
- Wendy doesn’t like her name because it is too plain. Also, her mother said they considered naming her Robin, which is a name she likes better so she always wished she had that name.
- Carey said she has always liked her unique name and was never teased for it.
Looking at this list, a couple trends stand out for me:
- Children who were told by their parents that they considered naming them another name grew to not like the name that was chosen.
- While some children didn’t like their unique names as children, most do now as an adult.
- Those people who were named for someone special in their parents’ lives grow up feeling proud of that and a special connection to their family.
Growing up, there were times that I didn’t like my name, Rita, because it was unique and a name from an older generation, but because I was named after my grandmother, I have always felt a special pride and connection to my family. I find my name to be very pretty. Paired with a hard-to-pronounce, hard-to-spell Czechoslovakian-ethnic last name, Brhel, it’s really unique – and that’s something I enjoy. No one else has a name like me.
As my husband and I were naming our children, we went with family names for their middle names and common names for their first names. While I don’t mind seeing my name misspelled or correcting its pronunciation, I recognized that it’s because I married into my last name. If had I given my children unique first names, they may not appreciate having to spell and sound out their entire names all their lives.
What Makes or Breaks a Name – the Parenting Approach That Goes with It
Also, as a child, I was teased: I was called Burrito and Margarita. It didn’t bother me, though, because I knew from an early age that I was named for a beloved grandmother. While I sometimes wished Rita was a more common name, I didn’t wish that I wasn’t named Rita. Most children will at some time struggle to find an identity and so much of that is linked to their names. But no matter how careful parents try to be to choose a name that their child will like, or that won’t be a target for teasing, no name is foolproof and names are not the only reason why children are teased. Why some children grow to like their names or not depends much more on how their parents have raised them to think about themselves and others. So, yes, spend some time deliberating your child’s name but remember that the most important link to self esteem and happiness for that child is in your parenting approach.
How did you come up with the names for your children? Do you have any regrets?