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Choosing A Name For Your Baby
20 Questions to Think About

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1.    Should the baby be named for a relative? a good friend? a celebrity?  Fewer names today than in the past are chosen on these bases.  When relatives' or friends' names are chosen, they often are middle rather than first names.

If Uncle Wilbur or Aunt Paula is very dear, naming an infant for him or her may be a deserved tribute.  But consider this anecdote related by Audrey K. Duchert in the magazine Names:

In 1884, a daughter was born to the Charles Hemmenways of North Leverett, Massachusetts, and was named Ruby Marion.  A neighbor inquired, "Charles, why didn't you name her Hepsabeth, after your mother?"  He replied, "I loved my mother, but I love my daughter, too, and I wouldn't wish such a name on her."

Remember, too, that if you name the child for Aunt Paula, Aunt Corinne may feel hurt.  And if you name her or him for your best friend - well, friendships have been known to break up.

Some babies are named for movie stars or other well-known people.  There's nothing wrong with that, although the star's name and fame may fade quickly and the use of the name may prove only a fad.

2.    Should you choose a name that is now "in"?  Fads do exist in naming.  In one decade, for example, David and Kevin for boys, and Karen and Jennifer for girls, may be "in," but a decade or so later, both may be largely replaced by new favorites.

Do you want your child five or six years from now to be one of the four Davids or the five Jennifers in a class, or do you prefer a name that, while not necessarily unique, does distinguish your child from most of the others?  Or, on the contrary, do you consider a name better if it suggests that the child really "belongs" with the others, even to the extent of an identical given name?

3.    Should you choose a name that is highly unusual?  Maybe somewhere you encounter the name Girisa (gee-REE-shuh), originally Hindi as an alternative name for the god Siva, meaning (mountain lord), and used in parts of India for boys as well as girls.  You like its exoticism and the grandeur of its lordly denotation.

Ask yourself whether most people could pronounce it and spell it, and whether it matters that they probably couldn't.  The name has the advantage that it certainly would be a conversational icebreaker.  How important is that?  If your little girl grows up to be a staid, conventional person, will Girisa be a suitable name?

4.    How may the name affect the child's future?  No definitive studies have been made of the effect a name may have on a person's life, but there are reports on two studies, one saying that boys christened Jack, Bud, and the like usually grow up to be outdoorsy, he-man types, and the other saying that men with names such as Rodman Carew Michaelson have a better than average chance of becoming business tycoons.

5.    Is the name in conformity with your religious preferences?  Many Jewish families like to honor a well-liked but deceased family member.  Roman Catholic families are expected to use the name of a canonized saint as either the first or middle name; since the number of saints is large, there are seldom problems.

A Catholic is unlikely to name a son Luther, Calvin, or Wesley, and non-ecumenical Protestants may avoid a name that suggests a denomination other than their own.  Many biblical names are appropriate for both the Jewish faith and the various Christian faiths.  Parents who adhere to none of the organized religions may want to avoid names that suggest anything pertaining to specific faiths.

6.    Is the name suitable for both a child and an older person?  Tina may sound fine for a six-pound bundle of joy, but less appropriate for the 160-pound woman she may become.  Stacy and Tracy have a young, ungrandmotherly sound.

On the other hand, some names sound too old for a little child.  Some people say that no one under forty should be called Edna or Maud, and some say that Nathaniel is a name befitting only an old man (although its meaning is (gift of God).

Such classification of names as "young" or "old," it must be admitted, is a highly personal, subjective matter and may depend largely on people we know who have a particular name.

7.    Is the name merely "cute"?  Names like Ima and Iva are generally to be avoided, as in Ima Rose and Iva Thorn.  Also unsound is any name that combines cutely with the surname - Ruby Redd or Roxie Stone, for instance.

8.    If the surname is simple and common, are the other names also rather simple and common?  This does not mean that if the surname is Brown the child's first name must be William or Mary, but some people hear a jarring or anticlimactic note in Throckmorton McAllister Brown or Hilary Ermentrude Brown. Some, however, argue that something rather spectacular is needed to offset the plainness of Brown.  Still others prefer moderately uncommon names with the ordinary surname - maybe Roger Edmund Brown or Marilyn Lucille Brown.

9.    Is the name appropriate to the ancestry?  Some Polish people, for instance, like to choose names that bear at least a hint of the child's Polish heritage - not necessarily Stanislas but perhaps Stanley.  Some folks wear their heritage very proudly and want it to be reflected in their children's names, as was true of an Illinois Irish family whose children were Terence, Deirdre, Colleen, and Patrick, and who at last report were expecting either a Michael or a Kathleen.

If the first and second names seem to indicate a heritage different from that of the surname, some people may be confused by the mixed signals:  Giovanni Domingo Schmidt, for instance.  On the other hand, parents with differing ancestral backgrounds may want to select given names that at least suggest the mother's background.  Often the middle name may serve that purpose:  William Antonio Schmidt, possibly.

10.    Is the name too alliterative?  Richard Reed Rathburn and Katherine Kelda Keefe?  Most people wouldn't want so much repetition of the same sound.

11.    Is the meaning of the name one that you believe appropriate?  Although many people are barely aware that names have meanings, choices may be affected when the definitions become known.  For example, one strongly feminist couple decided against Henry when they found that it means (ruler of the home), and some pacifist parents ruled out a few dozen boys' names that had military connotations.  And if two couples who named their daughters Lesbia and Gomora had been better informed, they might not have made those choices.  Dolores, a beautiful name, has been rejected by some couples who found it means (lady of sorrows).

A bookish couple decided in favor of Cuthbert when they found it means (brilliant wisdom), and another couple, wishful for their daughters' success in life, chose Eunice because its meaning is (joyously triumphant).

12.    Are the first and middle names sufficiently different?  One couple named their daughter Helen Elaine - very pretty; but Helen and Elaine are really the same name, and others of the sixty or more in the Helen group include Eleanor, Ellen, Alena, Lena, Leonora, and (hard to believe) the Russian Olenko and Galinochka.  Obviously there is no law against such duplication, but carried to an extreme it could lead to a name such as Robert Roberto Roberti.

13.    Does the rhythm of the three names (and of the first and last name alone) please you?  Some people dislike two names of one syllable each, like Kent Clark (although Superman Clark Kent did all right).  Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poetic ears were offended by a two-syllable name with the accent on the second syllable, like Adele or Eugene.  "Never take an iambus as a Christian name," he advised in recommending Edith and Rotha as the two best names for girls.  Actually, it is two iambics in succession that would displease many people:  Maureen Malone, for example.

There's no complete, agreement about which onomastic rhythms are most attractive, and it is certainly true that euphonious vowel and consonant combinations can often overcome possibly unpleasant rhythms.  In general, people who compile books about given names recommend unequal numbers of syllables in the names.  For instance, with a one-syllable surname a two- or three-syllable given name may be best:  Conrad Lake, Roberta Mead; with a two-syllable surname a one- or three-syllable given name:  Grace Keller, Rosamund Leclaire; with a surname of three or more syllables, a one- or two-syllable given name:  Ray Gallagher, Nancy Rutherford.  But attractive exceptions to these principles do exist.

14.    Does the middle name have a function?  The middle name may have a family or religious connection, as suggested previously.  Often it may be the mother's maiden name or some other name associated with her family.

It can become a future alternative to the first name, which the child may in later years want to use instead of the first name.  For example, a boy named Robert Leighton Correll, after being known to teachers and fellow students as Robert or Bob for over twenty years, decided that for the purposes of his profession R. Leighton Correll would provide an air of distinction that was not present in Robert L. Correll.

15What is the nickname likely to be?  Do you like it?  Although it is impossible to predict for certain what nickname other children will give a boy or girl, the odds are that it will be one of the conventional ones:  Ed for Edward or Edgar, Liz or Betty for Elizabeth, and so on.  To some extent, then, parents control what the nickname will be.  Ideally it should be a nickname that will sound attractive in conjunction with the last name.  One unfortunate boy, whose last name was Dick, was christened Richard, for which Dick is a nickname.  He was thus Dick Dick, which became Tick Tick, Tick Tock, and other variants.  His elementary schoolmates' fun became even greater when one of them went to a zoo and discovered a small African antelope called a dik-dik.

One of Dick's classmates was a girl named Ariadne, who was first nicknamed Airy, then Windy.

16Does the name indicate gender clearly? A television actress named Michael Learned has had to insist that Miss be placed before her name in the list of credits.  When one sees such names as Marion, Jan, Merl(e), Beryl, Shirley, or Leslie, one cannot be sure whether the bearer is female or male.

Maybe in an age in which many people are working for a leveling-off of sex differentiation, everybody should be named Marion, Jan, etc.  But if parents decide to give a child such a name, the choice should be a carefully reasoned one.

17.    Is the name easy enough to pronounce and to spell?  A girl named Ursula had to tell people repeatedly that her name was to be pronounced UR-suh-luh, not ur-SOO-luh.  And our friend Ariadne found that almost none of her classmates and not all of her teachers could spell her name.

18.    If you believe in numerology, are you satisfied with what the numbers tell you?  Many numerologists disagree with each other.  They have widely different methods of equating letters and numbers and no less different interpretations of the results.  However, if you are a believer in numerology, apply your favorite formula and see whether you like what it says about the numerological vibrations of the name you are considering.

19.    Are both parents happy or at least satisfied with the name?  The man and the woman cooperated in conception and will (hopefully) cooperate in the child's nurture and upbringing.  In a good marriage a child can be an added cohesive force.  As far as possible, nothing about the child, including the name by which he or she is called every day, should be divisive of the family.

20.    Some years in the future, when the child asks, "Why did you name me _____________?" will you be able to give a good, clear answer?

Hook, J. N. The Book of Names, A Celebration of Mainly American Names: People, Places, and Things. Franklin Watts, 1983.



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