Rule #1: Personal taste isn’t so personal
We live in a shared culture, with experiences that shape our likes and dislikes. That means overlapping taste. It’s unnerving to discover that the quirky name you’ve always happened to like is now a chart topper. Whatever happened to individual style?
Before you panic and name your son Aloysius, remember that communal taste is really a good thing. That shared perspective gives names their style and nuance. Use the backdrop of your social group, your community, and your generation to choose names that make the kind of statement you’re looking for.
Rule #2: Not all last names are created equal
In names, as in clothes, the key is to choose the styles that flatter you. Run down this basic checklist before you make your final choice.
Rhythm and rhyme: A full name is like a line of poetry. Watch out for singsong rhythms and tongue twisters. Try looking for names that echo the sounds in your surname. For example, the shared “uh” sound makes Hunter Sullivan sound more natural than Hunter Flannigan.
The “Justin Case” syndrome: A perfectly reasonable first name can meet a perfectly reasonable last name and create something perfectly ridiculous. When you have a candidate picked out, say the full name out loud repeatedly to look for hidden land mines. Include nicknames too— Benjamin Dover is one thing, Ben Dover quite another.
Meeting in the middle: Look carefully where the end of one name meets the beginning of another. Jonas Sanders will be heard as Jonah Sanders. Alexander Anderson sounds like a stutter.
Special cases: If your last name is a common word, avoid alliteration. Jenny Jumps and Walter Wall sound like characters from a children’s picture book. If your last name is a common first name, choose first names that won’t make you sound inside out. Nicholson Thomas, for instance, is asking for trouble. And if your last name just is trouble (Rump, Hogg, etc.), use the rhythm of a long, rolling first name to draw the emphasis away from it.
Rule #3: All naming is local
Money, geography, ethnicity, and education all swirl together to form “microclimates” of style, with local spikes in the use of particular names. You can look up Ezra and say, “Ah, popularity rank #342, I won’t meet many Ezras.” But if your friends have kids named Levi and Ezekiel, you should expect to see Ezras on your block.
Rule #4: Other people’s opinions matter
Those crazy friends and relatives? They are going to be your baby’s friends and relatives. Don’t let them bully you, but don’t completely ignore them either. As a group, they represent the society that’s going to be hearing, and judging, your child’s name for a lifetime.
Rule #5: Choose the name you would like to have yourself
If you were starting life today, knowing everything you know about the world, is this the name you would want to represent you? If so, you can feel confident that you’re giving your child the best birthday present possible, one that will last a lifetime.
Adapted from The Baby Name Wizard, Revised 3rd Edition: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby by Laura Wattenberg. Copyright © 2008, 2009, 2013 by Laura Wattenberg. Published by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.