10 Expert Tips To Choosing A Baby Name: The Tot Baby Naming Guide

Are you struggling to select a name for your forthcoming bundle of joy? Make a cup of tea and settle in – I’m here to help. I’ve been writing about baby names for more than five years now – some even call me an “expert” on the topic! – and I’ve learned certain cold-hard truths along the way. Many parents have told me in hushed tones about their baby name regret and the shame it causes them. Some fall prey to trendy options and realize shortly after inking it on their child’s birth certificate that it was a mistake. Others feel pressured to uphold a family naming tradition and end up with a name they hate. And then there are the parents who just can’t agree, so one parent ends up begrudgingly giving in to the other. You don’t want to be any of those parents. To help you avoid these traps, I present to you my top 10 baby-naming rules. So whether you’re looking for girl names or boy names, you’ll pick the right one for your little one.  

How to pick the perfect baby name

My tips on choosing the right baby name include:
  1. Avoid passing trends
  2. Remember that classic names don’t have to be boring
  3. Take a look at your family tree
  4. Honor your culture
  5. Look up meanings
  6. Contemplate all possible nicknames
  7. Consider the importance of the middle name
  8. Don’t forget about the initials
  9. Say it out loud
  10. Don’t stress too much
Read more about each of these rules below.  
  1. Avoid passing trends

  Your baby’s name should stand the test of time. Ask yourself: Will this moniker sound completely ridiculous in 10 years? Will other children be tempted to chant it in a taunting tone in the schoolyard? Will my child have to spell or explain their name every single day of their lives? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, nix it. Trends to avoid include grossly misspelled names (think Jakxsen and Rybekkah), random punctuation that serves no purpose (Prin’cess and D’Lilah), pop-culture references (Khaleesi and Katniss), word names with a strange spelling twist (Diezel and Spontaniouse), and out-there hipster names (Amadeus and McCoy). A large body of research has shown that unusual names are associated with less positive outcomes in life. A Marquette University study found that people with common names were more likely to be hired and researchers at the University of New York discovered that people whose names were easier to pronounce occupied higher positions. It’s important to distinguish between names from different cultures and the invented or butchered epithets I’m describing here. They’re two very different beasts and one would hope that the former wouldn’t be frowned upon by employers or subject to discrimination.  
  1. Remember that classic names don’t have to be boring

  When I suggest that you stick to classic names, I’m certainly not implying that everyone should name their children Peter, Paul and Mary. How dull would that be? There are plenty of striking appellations to choose from that have been around for centuries but remain relatively obscure. Think Celeste, Ophelia and Willa for girls, and Edwin, Miles and Silas for boys. Some beautiful African American choices include Aaliyah, Imani and Tiana for girls, and Jaylen, Malik and Zion for boys.  
  1. Take a look at your family tree

  Another great place to seek inspiration is within your family tree. Perhaps your parents have old records of family names or one of your family members has created a family tree online. Have a look to see if anything catches your eye. There’s something really special about choosing a name that you not only love, but that also has a strong significance for your family.  
  1. Honor your culture

  Choosing a name from your cultural background is a beautiful way to honor your heritage. Spanish stunners include Marisol and Javier, French beauties you might like are Elodie and Laurent, and early African-American names that may strike a chord include Cato and Temperance. An online search for names from your culture is bound to turn up at least one that you love.  
  1. Look up meanings

  This step is imperative so that you don’t end up choosing a name with a meaning that horrifies you. You might love the sound of Giselle, for example, but did you know it means “hostage”? Or that Cecilia means “blind” and Cameron means “crooked nose”? Yikes. You may decide that you love the moniker enough to overlook the meaning, but be prepared to laugh it off when someone inevitably asks you the significance of your child’s name. You could prepare a one-liner such as, “It means ‘blind’, but that felt right because my grandma was blind so we chose it to honor her.” Deliver it with a straight face and watch people’s jaws drop (if you dare).  
  1. Contemplate all possible nicknames

  One mom I spoke to told me that she named her daughter Regina – pronounced “Re-JEE-na” – because she loved the regal sound of it. Sadly, Regina’s classmates were quick to nickname her “Regina Vagina” and “Ra-jay-jay Va-jay-jay.” Sigh… why can kids be so cruel?! It’s a good idea to brainstorm possible nicknames with your partner or another trusted family member or friend to ensure there isn’t some shocking possibility you’re overlooking.  
  1. Consider the importance of the middle name

  You may choose your child’s middle name based solely on the fact that it fits nicely with their first and last names, but you could also use it to honor a family member such as a grandparent or a beloved aunt. It’s also a nice place to “hide” a family tradition. A friend of mine married a guy called Richard and all the men in his family for something like 12 generations had been named… you guessed it… Richard.  My friend didn’t want to insult anyone in the family, but she did NOT want to name her son Richard XIII. Don’t ask me how she did it, but she somehow convinced the family that the tradition had gone on long enough and that her son should be called Damian Richard. Phew!   
  1. Don’t forget about the initials

  This might sound petty, but your child’s initials are another crucial consideration. Alyssa Sydney Scott (A.S.S.), for example, is NOT a good idea. Nor is Fiona Mary Lawrence (F.M.L.) One ashamed mama admitted to me that she realized too late that her daughter’s initials – F.C.K. – could potentially be construed as a bad word. She’s waiting with bated breath until her daughter starts school and hoping nobody notices! Write down the initials of all the name combos you’re considering just to be sure.  
  1. Say it out loud

  Do the first, middle and last names have a rhythmic flow when you say them out loud? Hunter David Jackson sounds nice, but Jackson Grayson McMasterson…not so much. While you’re at it, do a Google search to make sure there aren’t any sordid characters that carry the same name as your unborn child. The last thing you want is for people to say, “Wasn’t there an adult movie star called that?!”  
  1. Don’t stress too much

  If you do make a mistake and regret the name you chose, don’t panic – you have options. You could use a nickname for your child forevermore and forget that their real name exists – for example, your clever invention ‘Nicoxavieriah’ could simply become ‘Nick’. Or you could use their middle name as their first name – hence the importance of choosing the middle name wisely. And if worse comes to worst, you can always change your child’s name legally. It requires a lot of paperwork and some fees, but it’s not impossible. Happy naming!  

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