Now that Kathleen and I know that Creature is a girl we can get down to the task of picking an actual name for our daughter. This parental rite of passage has many obstacles along the way, most of them self-imposed by the couple having the child. We’re no different. Our list of criteria is arbitrary, but it’s our baby and our rules, and we’ll name it according to the barriers we’ve set1.
As it turns it, this is proving to be more difficult for us for a girl than it would have been for a boy. We were able to zero in on a very short list of boys’ names we liked, but the girls’ column is only getting longer and longer2. Again, this is largely our own doing. Theoretically, we can name Creature anything we want; once the name is on the birth certificate, there’s not a lot anyone can do. However, we have considerations and opinions. After all, this is a rather permanent decision3. So here are the hoops Kathleen and I are jumping through to pick a name for creature:
A name is an identifier, a social marker that you carry with you to differentiate you from other people. Our goal is to find an identifier that doesn’t lump Creature in with dozens of other girls in her cohort.
There are myriad great names for girls, but many of them are among the most common. Sophia, for instance, is a wonderful name, the problem is too many people agree. Over the past 15 years over 150,000 Sophias have been born4. Try it out. Next time you’re at a playground with your kid, call out “Sophia!” and see how many girls turn their head to see who is calling.
With hundreds of great names to choose from, we would like to settle on one that gives Creature a good chance of not sharing the name with two or three other kids in every class. Of course, there’s no guarantee that we’ll find one that meets this criterion. You can find a name that hasn’t held a lot of cultural cache for decades, and suddenly, five years later, it shoots to the top of the charts. Take the name “Isabella.” For decades, it was an unheard-of foreign variant of Elizabeth. It gained a little traction in the 1990’s, hovering in the 170’s the mid-2000’s when it suddenly became a top name, including snagging the #1 spot in 2009 and 2010.
There’s not a guaranteed way to avoid this5. I know that even if we find a name that’s nestled somewhere in the mid-500’s, it could take off in a few years and appear at the top of the chart. Still, we have access to the data, and we’ll use it the best we can.
Avoid Stupid Names
While we don’t want something super popular6, we don’t want to saddle Creature with a stupid name. Whether it’s a unique alternate spelling of a popular name7 or an unpronounceable mess based on an object or a concept, we want our daughter to raise as few eyebrows as possible when she introduces herself.
Exploring Family Names
I like the idea of honoring family members. My mom’s family has a history of naming children after relatives who have died. Kathleen’s mother Sharon passed away in 2013, so it wouldn’t have been a hard sell to convince me to name Creature in honor of her. While she wants to keep her mother’s memory alive in her heart, Kathleen doesn’t want to name our daughter Sharon. Her middle name, Jane, though, is on our list.
Personally, I would have loved to name Creature after my maternal grandmother Audrey, but one of my cousins already has a daughter with that name8. And that leads me to the next criterion.
Avoiding Taken Family & Friend Names
Kathleen and I are also trying to avoid names of family members, friends, and friends’ kids. Even though nobody owns the right to a name, there’s something a bit uncouth about co-opting a name that’s in your social circle or family. This eliminates a large list of names out of the gate9. This is fine, though. Without limitations, this process would be nearly impossible.
Names With Negative Connotations
Everyone has random emotional connections to certain names. Mean girls on the playground from childhood, ex-girlfriends, an old college roommate, whatever. There’s no accounting for it, and in most cases you’re just going to have to let it drop. For instance, I like the name Julia, but Kathleen has a bad association with a girl she didn’t along with in high school. The reaction is strong: Kathleen’s face twists in disgust when she hears the name, and even though I think it rolls of the tongue nicely10, no amount of campaigning will shake the visceral reaction she has to the name. Good thing we have hundreds to choose from.
The Sound Test
Eliminating names off the top is helpful, but now that we’ve refined the search it’s time to start trying names on for size to see how they sound. Names don’t have to be divinely inspired mellifluous poetry, but you don’t want a name that’s too much of a mouthful, either. Our last name is impacting our opinions in ways I wasn’t expecting.
Neither Kathleen nor I want a name that ends in an “s” sound because it makes it difficult to tell where the first name ends and the last name begins 11. Not a problem for everyone, naturally, but Kathleen and I are on the same page here.
One aural feature that we aren’t necessarily in agreement on is alliteration. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it12. On the other hand, Kathleen is vehemently against it. My opinion is not nearly as strong as hers on this issue. The good news is I haven’t fallen in love with any of the names that would fall into this category, so I’m happy to acquiesce.
After we eliminate the soft “S” sounds, we get to the nuances of the rhythm of the name. I think one-syllable names sound great with our last name. Then again, my sister’s name is Bethany, and her three-syllable name rolls off the tongue quite nicely. And while I like three-syllable names, not all of them are created equal13. This is probably the most arbitrary and subjective part of picking a name.
Pigtails to Business Card
Picking a name that ages well is an interesting challenge. There are many names that work great for a six-year-old that probably aren’t so great for a 36-year old14. The inverse is also true. Old-fashioned names that sound great for an adult woman may raise an eyebrow for a little girl. Kathleen said it best: “I want a name that sounds good in pigtails and on a business card.”
The Infinite Feedback Loop
You have to be careful when soliciting feedback from people about baby names. The biases they carry toward names are as arbitrary as your own. You may recognize this and try to ignore it, but it can be frustrating to hear people shoot down a name you like based on criteria that have nothing to do with your perspective. In a perfect world, Kathleen and I wouldn’t tell anyone before printing the name on the birth certificate, but I’m afraid this is impossible. Kathleen is, frankly, the world’s worst secret keeper15. There’s no point in trying to keep a lid on it, so I have to be confident with people when I tell them that this is the name we’ve picked out.
- Just as every parent does. And should.
- Don’t infer that we would have preferred a boy. It simply means that we had boys names we liked almost immediately but have struggled somewhat with girls names.
- Well, it’s possible that Creature doesn’t like her name and changes it. But we’re going to go into parenthood under the assumption that our daughter will be known by her given moniker, or some derivation thereof, for her entire life
- Sophia has been in the Top 5 most popular names since 2009 and claimed the #1 spot in 2012 and 2013.
- Well, there is: You can select a stupid name.
- Ideally, we’ll find a name that doesn’t appear in the Top 100
- Which serves no purpose other than to put your child into having to needlessly correct people for the rest of their lives.
- I could just ignore that and push for Audrey anyway, but that’s kind of a jerky thing to do.
- An incomplete list: Michelle, Caryn, Allison, Madeline, Courtney, Alexis, Brighid, Kelly, Ashley, Renee, Sloane, Mindy, Megan, Sydney, Gwendolyn, Grace, Faith, Jacqueline, Quincy, Shelley, Claire, Emma, Sophie, Ailey, Maureen, Sandy, Bethany, Caitlin, Cassidy, Amy.
- Especially with our last name
- Take “Iris,” for instance. Not a bad name on in a vacuum, but say “Iris Celmins” out loud and it’s hard to tell whether you’re saying “Iris Celmins” or “Ira Celmins” or even “Iris Ellmans.”
- Neither does my brother. All of his children have first names that start with the letter “S”.
- This is where my head gets into the weeds a bit with linguistic construction. Kathleen is particularly fond of Naomi, which yes, is a nice name, but doesn’t roll off the tongue as nicely as Bethany. I think it has to do with the “ao” diphthong that shifts the rhythm of the name when put together with Celmins. I think Naomi is a great name for people with single-syllable last names. Like, Naomi Watts. Solid name. I like the name enough to keep it on our short list, but Kathleen’s going to have to talk me into it, I think.
- Poppy and Kylie come to mind.
- At least when it comes to fun stuff like this. She can keep the serious stuff under wraps.