January 17, 2007

Baby Names: A Study

I hope Shelly won't mind that I'm totally pilfering her excellent comment (from the post "Boy Names") for this new post. She wrote:

I like nearly all of the names you have listed, with Henry my favorite (as if my opinion matters). Why is it so hard? & what do you do if you have namers remorse?? We sort of do b/c we didn't want to name our 4-month with an ultra popular name, but I fear we did, though we spelled it differently. It's such a fine line between wanting to have a unique name but not wanting to look like you just randomly threw syllables together just to be different.

I've been thinking of this all afternoon, ever since I read the comment. It brings up so many interesting issues.

Issue the first: Avoiding an overly popular name. One reason I love The Baby Name Wizard (both the book and the blog) is that she gives the heads-up on which names are getting too hot to handle. But her book also gave me some of the most reassuring baby-name-choosing advice I've ever had, which is that it's not necessarily a bad thing to choose a popular name: it's popular because lots of people like it, and that means lots of people will like your baby's name. You wouldn't necessarily want to go with Hortense or Herbert just to avoid popularity. I also like to keep in touch with The Social Security Administration's list of baby names, since that's a great way to see which names are rapidly shooting up in popularity even though you hardly ever hear them: you can type in a name and it'll tell you the popularity rank of that name every year since 1991. Sometimes I use it to avoid popularity, and sometimes I use it because I actually want a more common name.

Issue the second: And that brings me to namer's remorse. We didn't name our second son William, as you know from my post on pseudonyms, but it would have been a better choice than what we DID name him, since there were three children with his same name in his preschool class. There are two with that name in his kindergarten class. Holy crap, we had no idea. We thought we were choosing a boy name that was common, yes, but in a one-per-classroom way, not in an everywhere-you-turn way. We can't totally regret the choice, because now the name is HIM; he IS that name. But on the other hand, I've winced many times over the years since he was born, wondering if we should have chosen something different. You can legally change the baby's name if the remorse sets in right away, but pretty soon it's too late and you just have to give a shrug and a wry look and say "We had no idea!"

Issue the third: The point Laura Wattenberg (The Baby Name Wizard's author) makes about how you don't necessarily want to choose an unpopular name brings me to the issue of whether or not I would want the opinions of other people on the names we're considering. The answer is YES. For example, I'm pleasantly surprised to see that two people already have voted for Henry, because it's a name I worry about using in case it gives too many people the feeling of "old man name." Other people's opinions are an important part of which name we choose, and so I'm glad to have input.

Issue the fourth: Why is choosing a baby name so HARD? Shelly, my empathy buckets RUNNETH OVER. I think the reason it's so difficult is that it's so important, and because there are so many choices. Sometimes I wish I were part of a group that had specific naming rules, such as that the baby had to be named for a relative or a saint, because it would narrow things down a little. You have to choose how popular a name you want (three in her class with the same name? or mocked because her name is so crazy?), and what style of name you want (flowery? androgynous? classic?), and whether you want to name her after a family member. And of course, most people have to make all these decisions with another person--sometimes a person with whom you can't even agree on a thermostat setting. It only gets harder with subsequent babies, since then the names you choose can't be too similar to what you've chosen (if you choose Owen, you probably won't want to choose Ewan) or too different (if you choose Matthew, you probably won't want to choose Jett).

If anyone else would like to chip in here on choosing names, please do. Tell how you chose, or what factors were most important in your decision, and whether you regret any of your choices. Tell about your own name, how your parents chose it, whether you liked it or didn't.


desperate housewife said...

Well, we actually did what Shelly mentioned- throwing random syllables together. My husband loves to be different and really wanted a super-unique name that no one else would have, and I insisted that it not sound weird and out-there and as though we were, indeed, just trying to be different for its own sake. I wanted to actually like the name, too! So, we had talked about Addison a lot, but felt it might be growing too popular, or possibly sound unisex, so we decided to change it up a bit and just started playing around with different sounds.
Now, I sort of regret agreeing to go the whole "unique" name route, just because it sets the bar kinda high for the next kids. I'm having some real trouble coming up with anything I like that's particularly unusual, especially for a boy, but we obviously can't have an Adelay and then have a Ryan or something.

Swistle said...

I think "Adelay" is so pretty. I'd guessed (wrongly) that you'd started with Adelaide but then softened the end sound (and removed that tricky "laid" problem).

I think Ryan-type names would be fine with the name Adelay. For one thing, I think families often choose different sorts of names for the girls in the family than for the boys. For another thing, the name Adelay is unique but it has a familiar sound, so I think it goes fine with established names.

desperate housewife said...

That is true. It would be trickier with another girl, getting them to sound right together, but this is a less of a problem because there are lots of pretty girl names. I really like Talia, for instance. Or Celine.

Black Sheeped said...

My parets named me because 1) both my names were popular and 2) they thought the name would look cute on a cheerleading jacket. I have always despised my name(s) because of both those reasons.

I was never a cheerleader, of course.

Shelly said...

Does anyone know someone who has actually changed the baby's name later? My husband and I joke about it all the time. He was the one who wanted the name we chose (I liked it okay but shyed away b/c of it's current popularity). We just went to our first playtime at the library, and sure enough, our baby's name was the only duplicate there. Since I'm sure this is just a sign of things to come, he finally admitted last night actually said I was right (without saying explicity that he was wrong) and we should have used the name I wanted. I don't think I could imagine changing her name because it is just so her, not to mention how would you explain that to relatives??

Swistle said...

I don't know anyone who has legally changed a baby's name, but I do know a couple of people who called their child by a different name because the given name didn't fit. I went to high school with a boy who, at the beginning of every single new class, had to explain to the teacher that yes, his name was Peter, but he went by Scott. His parents named him Peter but didn't think it suited him and called him the runner-up name instead.

In the daycare where I worked, there was a baby whose name was Julianna but they called her Jill--not as a nickname, but because they didn't think Julianna suited her but they didn't feel comfortable changing it either. Jill had been their second-choice name.

I think it can be done legally, and that if it's going to be done, the sooner the better. I think it WOULD be tough to explain, but you'd just shrug and say, "The name we chose just wasn't HER" or whatever, and pretty soon everyone would forget she'd ever been any other name.

Anonymous said...

OK very late to the party here, but have been reading your archives after finding out about you via Sundry's blog & had to let you know that I am one of those people who changed their kids name. When my daughter was born 6 months ago we named her Clara (we had decided it was either going to be Clara or Veronica. I stupidly asked the midwife for her opinion momnets after she was born and when the midwife said, "oh I don't really like Veronica" I (on a real high after a great labour)decided "OK then let's call her Clara". By the next day I had regrets and let both my husband and mother know I thought we had chosen the wrong name. My bad temptered screaming bundle of joy was definitely no placid and sweet little 'Clara' (that's how I always imagined the name) she was totally a 'Veronica' (someone with an attitude). I kept being told it was the hormones and I would get used to her name, after a week (with my massive family having already been to see her and a billion and one gifts and cards all made out to baby Clara) I just simply decided my babies name wasn't something I was prepared to 'get used' to- I informed my husband that she was going to be Veronica instead. I was worried about what to thell the family about it but in the end in the thankyou cards made a comment on how after getting to know our daughter she wasn't a 'Clara' after all. I am sure they think I'm mental but at the end of the day it meant a lot to me and now I am SO thankful I did it, I would have regretted it always otherwise. I don't think I could have bonded with her as well if we'd kept the name, silly but true. OK end of essay- by the way love all your name ideas and agree boys names are really hard.