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I thought of this question while writing an answer to this related question. I think it would be useful to compile some ideas:

When we were expecting our first child, we discovered how hard it can be to come up with a name that is really good. We had a list of criteria that were important to us, and perhaps we made it more difficult for ourselves than others would. We finally made a choice (and we're still happy with it) but I wonder if the community can provide some wisdom for this.

What aspects should parents consider regarding choice of name(s) for a child?

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Don't worry. Very quickly the child becomes the name. You soon can't imagine any other name for the new person in the house. –  Stuart Woodward Oct 15 '11 at 7:11

12 Answers 12

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I don't think you should have criteria as such, but maybe a list of things to think of.

And here is mine:

  1. The name should be easy to pronounce, even in cultures where a second language is unusual, such as the US. This does tend to mean that English names have an edge there.

  2. The name should contain A-Z only (or if you are using non-latin scripts, it should be easily transcribed into A-Z). Names such as Björk, Michał etc will confuse people no end.

  3. If the name ends on the same vowel/consonant as the last name starts on, it gets hard to know when one name stops and the other starts. Is it "John Node" or "John Ode"? "Margret Rails" or "Margret Trails"?

  4. A good person with the same name (famous or in the family) is also a nice touch.

It is hard to fulfill all of these in one name, so feel free to use more. I have three names, and so does my daughter. :-)

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Your list is what I meant by criteria :-) Ours were a little different but based on the same thinking. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 17 '11 at 16:24
  • Nicknames - people (especially in Australia) will always have their names reduced to the minimum number of syllables. Make sure you're happy with the shortened name as well as the full name. If your surname is Head, you probably do not want to call your son Richard.

  • Pronouncability is a big one. I wanted to call my daughter Jale (pronounced Ja-lair in Turkish) but in an English country, it would be pronounced as Jail.

  • Fashion. When my daughter was growing up, Olivia seemed to be the name of the day, now it is Audrey. Personally, I'd avoid any name on the top ten.

  • Alliteration can be a consideration for some parents, they'd like to have their children's names starting with the same letter. Personally, this is not a criteria for me but we ended up there anyway.

Plus, you've got to like it.

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Challenging pronunciation can actually be a useful trait, as it easily distinguishes strangers who are trying to read the name. This makes it easy to identify telemarketers and such. –  Malachi Oct 7 '11 at 20:18
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@Malachi - My daughter is 10 years old - my own family can still not pronounce or spell her name correctly and hers is not that unusual a name. –  dave Oct 8 '11 at 4:49
    
+1 for avoiding the top 10 - look at how popular 'Jack' has been in the last 10 years and every 3rd baby girl I meet is named 'Sophie/a'. –  JBRWilkinson Oct 10 '11 at 13:57
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@Malachi: just look at any childs' face when someone gets their name wrong - they are disappointed and upset. Avoiding telemarketing is not great reason to call your child something unpronouncable. –  JBRWilkinson Oct 10 '11 at 13:58
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@Malachi - gotta agree with JBRWilkinson on this - my daughter gets very angry when people do not spell or pronounce her name correctly. –  dave Oct 10 '11 at 19:41

Being from India, our criteria was:

How will it sound to international English speakers?

Will the initials unitentionally turn out obscene i.e. stuff like BJ rejected.

Does it have a meaning with positive connotations?

Hearing the name, people should not be ambiguous if it's a boy or girl

Avoid celebrity names with controversy - as an example, post-Bill Clinton, Monica is a name parents avoid. Kids get teased.

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I'd actually say that it's better to have a gender-ambiguous name. Resumes don't get filtered because you're a boy or a girl. –  Swati Oct 6 '11 at 21:47
    
+1 for the warning about initials. –  SQB Feb 3 at 10:18

Here's a list of the aspects that we used:

  1. Must be easily pronounceable in the languages we use.
    (Specifically for us, this means Danish, German, and English.)
  2. Must not have special characters like Jürgen or Søren.
    (This makes it easier to use emails/websites and other international systems.)
  3. Must be possible to spell it correctly after hearing it once.
  4. Must be spellable only one way, e.g. Robert rather than Christopher/Kristoffer.
  5. Must go well with the last name, and not end with the same sound that the last name starts with.
  6. Must be a generally known name, to avoid having to explain how to spell and pronounce it.
  7. Must be universally recognizable as belonging to the correct gender, unlike e.g. Andrea.
    (I hate when people get my gender wrong in written correspondence.)
  8. Must not be an obviously Christian name, e.g. Christian.
  9. Should be a relatively short name, because our last name is so long already.
  10. Should not be overly popular, e.g. to avoid him being the fifth "Leon" in his kindergarten class.
  11. Should not have age-specific connotations,
    e.g. a name that's cute as a kid but too odd later in life; or good for adults but odd for a kid.
  12. Should not be an obvious reason for teasing.
  13. A Scandinavian name would be nice, if it doesn't conflict with any of the above.

After many ideas and thoughts, we finally chose "Daniel".

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For point number 8, did you mean "does not feature highly in the Bible" (e.g. not Simon, Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John,..) –  JBRWilkinson Oct 10 '11 at 14:17
    
@JBRWilkinson I didn't want to say it so bluntly, but since you ask: I dislike Christianity and I don't want my kids names to be associated with it. I've been told that "Daniel" does appear in there somewhere, but not as obviously as the examples you give. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 10 '11 at 14:26
    
Admittedly, if you asked which name is Biblical, or "more Biblical" between Simon and Daniel, I would have said Daniel. Though I am coming from a different perspective, being a rabbi ;-). –  Ze'ev Felsen Jun 17 '13 at 19:05

Good list of topics already presented, and we did some of these, but two I see missing which was a concern for us was meaning and associations.

Although my wife didn't mind about the name so much since English is not her native language I wanted a name that reflected on someone in my family that made a contribution - our oldest was named Patrick after my Grandfather. My son also has a Chinese name which she uses, so the English name was of shorter consequence to her.

With our second son we went through many names, and my wife's consulting factors in that name were that we did not know anyone with the name - and anyone we might have known was someone we liked. She considered it bad luck that the name was associated with anyone we did not like.

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We chose our three using a few rules:

  • Must be a Celtic or Norse name - to reflect our country (we had looked at some lovely old Hebrew names, but they all seemed to have religious connotations)
  • Must not be a common name - much better to have one that is memorable
  • Should be slightly difficult to spell - adds to the memorable nature of it
  • Must not make obscenities when shortened or initialed
  • Must not be religious
  • Must not be the same as any exes my wife and I had

I really wanted Ragnar, but apparently another rule came into play:

  • Must work for children, not just big hairy vikings

Ended up with two Scottish names and an Icelandic one

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This is a pretty personal question. There isn't any "right" answer. My wife and I didn't want the very popular, trendy names. For example, when I was growing up, there were waaaay too many Jasons.

We also didn't want to go for a name that was completely off-the-wall. Therefore, we chose "classic" names that everyone (here in the USA) recognizes as names, have no negative connotations, but haven't been super popular in the past 50 years. For example, both of our children's names were in the top 25 for 1900, but haven't been in the top 100 in 50 years or so. Since these names are still around (in the top 300), they feel "classic" (as mentioned before), but avoid feeling old-timey.

Don't forget to think about what your child would think about their own name when they grow up.

If you live in the United States, the Social Security Administration publishes lists of the most popular names with a lot of prior years available. The tool is fantastic. It even lets you type in a particular name you're interested in and see its trend as to how popular it has been in recent years.

http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/

While not asked, I might also mention we went for regular, plain 'ole spelling for their names, not adopting the trend of coming up with "unique" spellings for a given name. They problem is that those unique spellings are never really unique and just result in children having to explain the spelling of their names more often.

So far we haven't had regrets with our approach to naming.

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To me, a good name is a name which has good meaning. In other words, a name is what we pray for our child would be in the future. So it would be what parents hope for their children. In my country, usually the meaning would be related to the future character for their children. The name should have a good nickname also, so our child won't get shy for their nickname.

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While it may have used to be a rough indicator of ethnicity, country-of-origin, religion or class, with the Internet age and the 'cult of celebrity', you really cannot tell much about a person from their name.

A person's name is one of the most precious things to them, so it is important that it can't be a source of ridicule for the person.

Here are some of the issues I've noticed, with real-world examples (some names changed to protect the innocent):

Teasing at School

Name-calling kind of starts at school where children from a variety of backgrounds are brought together. If you've named your baby something that has an obvious contraction or contortion to something rude or famous/topical, your child is going to get teased about it. Sometimes this could be cool - I've met someone named 'James Bond' - but other times this could be the source of endless teasing such as for Harrison (Harry) Potter. Any fan of "The Simpsons" can attest to this stuff - "Hugh Jass", etc.

Unintentional Associations

There are some cultures or religions that will leap to all sorts of conclusions based on a name as it is common to name a child according to a religious book/story or culture. For example, some latin-American boys will be named 'Jesus' (pronounced 'hay-soose') but some people might find this unusual. Similarly, the German name 'Adolf' was probably just fine until the 1920's. A guy I know is named "Wi" ('Wee') - which possibly amused some people until Nintendo brought out a popular games console and now nobody mentions it. Apple just released a feature named 'Siri' which seems pleasant - but not to Japanese people.

Parents' and Siblings' names

So if the parents names are Anna and Andrew Smith, should they think twice about naming their children Amy and Alex? So when a letter/card/parcel/present is addressed to 'A. Smith', who is it to? This may seem like a minor point, but consider the Health Centre that calls up "Mr A Smith" with blood test results and Mrs Smith leaps to the conclusion that her son is sick/dirty when in fact it was husband just getting a routine test for something that could most easily be detected through a blood test (e.g. insulin levels). Ooops.

Mis-spelling

I've met a 'Leila' (Irish version) and a 'Layla' (she was Afghani) so I understand there's variations in spelling due to culture or religion, but one mother recently tried to explain to me that "Cristle" was the correct spelling of 'Crystal', "like the champagne". I'm not sure whether it was a deliberate choice (this spelling already exists) or that she just could not spell properly, which is truly sad for her daughter who has to wait 16 years (UK) to get it corrected if that's the case.

'Name Day'

Some cultures have a celebration each day of the year for people with a certain name, or derivation of it, rather than their actual birthday. This has benefits - nobody forgets your birthday as the calendars usually have the boy and girl name of the day on them.


Contra-indications

I've noticed that a number of people feel that a persons' name will likely dictate their outcome in life. They may cite examples such as "Dave", "Bob" and "Mike" being popular names for carpenters, builders and electricians and that people named "St. John", "Tarquin" or "Lockhart" may be polo players or investment bankers. The book 'Freakonomics' discussed this theory in the chapter 'The Socioeconomic patterns of naming children'. IIRC, they concluded that people are more likely to name their child based on their own socio-economic situation and that the name had little or no bearing on the childs' future, QED past and present US Presidents.


The following is a list of names of real people I've discovered (in real life or on the news), as background to the above points:

  • Ophelia Bowles. Nice classical first name but the parents clearly didn't think through how it would work with the surname. (If you're non-English speaking, this sounds like 'I feel your balls')
  • In my home town, Mr & Mrs House named their daughter Wendy and son Maxwell. At first I thought this was a joke - and then I met them. I honestly think this was deliberate. If you're not from the UK, a 'Wendy House' is the popular name for a children's play house (often made from material) and 'Maxwell House' is a cheap brand of instant coffee.
  • I met a Mr and Mrs Tickle and they told me they were deeply worried that their son Bob was going to marry the girl he'd been dating. Her name was 'Tess'.
  • A court case in New Zealand ruled that a girl could change her name "Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii" as she hated it and wasn't old enough to change it herself yet. See the link for many more examples of unusual names, both humorous and hair-raising including twins named "Benson & Hedges" (a brand of cigarette).
  • A UK cricketer is named 'Neville Neville' and a programmer in our office is named 'Long long'. I guess this makes form-filling easier.
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I attended elementary school in Columbus, Ohio (USA) with a girl named Scarlet Ann Gray. Columbus is home to the Ohio State University whose team colors are scarlet and gray. The family was interviewed every football season. She hated it. –  Melita Kennedy Feb 19 '12 at 19:48
    
The initials become an issue long before medical results and parcels. I often write things on the shopping list like "A shampoo" or "B toothpaste" referring to the specific brand preferred by a family member. If they share initials, you need another way to do that (such as using M or D for Mum and Dad, I guess.) –  Chrys Jun 19 at 15:07

I just wanted to share my naming criteria (I say "my" because I had more restrictions than my husband did, although there are a couple of criteria on here that are his).

  1. The child should be able to grow with the name. We didn't want the name to appear too "old" for an infant nor too "young" for a 40-year-old.

  2. No names from my forbidden name list. I'm a teacher and I've had many, many names that have just been killed for me over the years either because the child was a nightmare or because the name is simply over-used. The name Brandon comes to mind. As a high school teacher, I taught multiple classes a day and in one class I had FIVE Brandons. FIVE! Tyler is another one. I had three Tylers in one class. The real clincher is that Tyler was their middle name, not their first name but they all chose to go by Tyler instead!

  3. No city names. No Paris, Sydney, Brooklyn, Savannah, etc. This isn't actually my rule, it's my husband's. It was unintentionally violated, though, when we named our daughter Charlotte. It wasn't until someone said, "Oh, like the city!" that we realized that there is a Charlotte, North Carolina. Oh, well, too late now!

  4. Classic first name followed by slightly more unusual middle name. If they want to go by their more unusual middle name later in life, they are more than welcome to (although I lobbied hard to have my daughter's middle name to be her first name).

  5. No alliterations. Our last name starts with a hard C. Thus, we wanted to avoid the C-C.

  6. I don't do matchy-matchy. Our son's name starts with A and I didn't want our daughter's to begin with A. It's not a pattern I cared to start (I'm a little compulsive that way. If I'd chosen an A name for our daughter, I would have felt compelled to name the rest of my kids with a name that started with A. It's a weird quirk, I know).

  7. We wanted our son's name and our daughter's name to flow. I didn't want an Andrew and a Neveah. The names just don't make sense together. Ultimately, I chose my daughter's name by getting down my book of British Royalty and flipping through the family trees. Lots of Elizabeths, Catherines, Marys, Annes, and Victorias to choose from.

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Faced with twin boys, we added two criteria to our short list:

  1. No alliterative names
  2. No rhyming names

Beyond that, we wanted

  1. Names that weren't too popular
  2. No obvious way to tease
  3. No duplicates among our friends or friends' kids

We ended up with one first name that's in the 200s ranking in the US, and another that sounds familiar to people, but is very uncommon. Middle names are family names, and also have the benefit that they're little used in the US.

My first and middle names are very unusual and while it did bug me sometimes growing up (I could never find a souvenir when traveling with my name on it!), I much preferred a unique name to being one of multiple girls with the same name in a class.

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Bravo for not giving your twins alliterative or rhyming names! Twins end up sharing almost everything, it's nice to have at least your initials to yourself. –  Martha Feb 16 '12 at 19:33

I think the one and only most important thing to consider is:

Your child will have to live his entire life with this name.

Fast-forward imagine in your mind how he will be called in school, in college, during work. Try to imagine how people will react to this name, which nicknames they might give. And if you think that your child will do fine with that name, then you got the right one. ;)

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