Choosing a baby name is the best task of being an expectant parent. Sure, you have a nursery to build and a stack of baby books to read and once this kid pops out your life will never be the same. But you also have this — the opportunity to give your child an identity that he will carry for the rest of his life.
Now, finding the perfect name isn’t easy. First, there are many names to choose from and most the good ones are taken, either by people from your past who you’d prefer have no association with your child or by your asshole brother-in-law, who stole your dream name for his son just last month. Also, your partner obviously has a say in the matter, which means you’ll have to agree and compromise. But worry not, because today we’re covering all these issues and more. Here now is your painless but complete guide to finding the perfect baby name.
Make A List
When my wife was pregnant, I bought a big book of baby names and had all the intention of reading it cover to cover. I would leave no stone unturned in the quest for the ultimate name. My advice to you: don’t do this.
Don’t go A to Z. There are too many damn names. After the 2nd page of the ‘A’s I was ready to quit and name the child Aardvark. A much better approach is to use names you like to find others of a similar style.
Use the Name Matchmaker. Maybe you’ve had a baby name in mind for years. Maybe you want your kid’s name to reflect his Italian heritage. Or you want a short name so you can easily scold the child with a single syllable. BLAKE!
You can use these preferences to generate a customized list of baby names using the Name Matchmaker tool at babynamewizard.com. You have to sign up with an email, but you don’t have to confirm anything so just use a junk address.
The tool lets you enter up to three example names and customize preferences for style, culture, popularity, and length. It’s also surprisingly accurate. I entered 3 of the runner-up names we had for our daughter and the database not only returned the name we decided on but others from our list as well.
Write but don’t rank. You’re brainstorming here, so write the names down but don’t worry about ranking them.
Don’t worry about middle names yet. First names are infinitely more important than middle names. Yes, you’ll need one, but it shouldn’t influence the first name decision.
Do this as a couple. When it comes to naming a child, expectant parents can follow one of two strategies. You can either a) each make a list and hope there’s overlap, or b) complete the whole process together. The latter makes it far less likely you will go off in wildly different directions.
When you feel comfortable, move on. We often believe that information drives better decisions. But too much information creates option fatigue and can actually result in poorer decisions. So don’t go searching the ends of the internet for the hidden gem of baby names. When you have a list of 8-12 names with a few very solid candidates, move on.
Make A Short List
Now that you’ve collected enough names to feel comfortable with a decision, narrow the list to 3-4 finalists.
Review and discuss. My wife and I had our list in a notebook. We’d run through it every few nights and after about two weeks, the finalists emerged almost subconsciously. Give it some time and a little thought and the contenders will show themselves. Then when you’re ready…
Make the cuts.
Select Your Name
You now have 3-4 perfectly worthy baby names. Good for you! But, of course, there can be only one. Run each name through the following tests and tiebreakers to determine the champion.
Bring in the middle name. You’ll need to make sure the initials as well as the full name vibe, so now it’s time to add the middle name.
A quick note: the middle name is a great place to incorporate a little family history. So if you want to honor Grandma Mildred, without giving her first name prominence, this is where to do it. Also, don’t be afraid to use a variant. If you think Mildred is a little too ancient, even for a middle name, use Millie instead.
Say every version of the name out loud. Benjamin James Dover is an excellent name. Benjamin J. Dover? That’s fine. So is Benjamin Dover. But Ben Dover? Not so much.
Consider the initials. If your last name is Johnson, then Pamela May is a fine first and middle name combo. But if your last name is Smith, your little P.M.S. might have a rough go in high school.
Consider the nickname. You will be saying this name many, many times. It doesn’t hurt to have a name that converts nicely into a single syllable.
Imagine the child as an adult. It’s easy to think of names only as they apply to a baby. But in two short years the child will be a walking, talking, deliberately disobeying toddler. And, of course, for most of his or her life, he or she will be an adult. Make sure the name is appropriate for all ages.
Get an outside opinion. I know The Thing right now is to not announce the name until the baby is born, but consider running it by a trusted advisor. A history buff, for example, could prevent you from raising a little Marshall Applewhite or Theodore Bundy.
Check trends for popularity. If having a unique name is important to you, make sure to check trends (available here on Baby Name Wizard). Just because Mila wasn’t popular when you picked it in 2014 doesn’t mean it wasn’t trending in that direction.
Don’t go into the delivery room without a decision. You’ll have other things to worry about. And if you’re expecting the kid to show you his name through his personality, you are expecting far too much from a newborn.
Recycle and reuse. You’ve done a lot of great work here. Make sure to save the fruits of your labor for your next child.