1. Find a name that can grow with your child
You obviously want a name that will suit your child, but also, hopefully, suit her throughout her life—a name she can grow into. Rosie is adorable for an apple-cheeked preschooler, but she can switch to Rose when she passes her bar exams. You don’t want to be too trendy either. Names that sound oh-so-original when you’re in your third trimester have a way of becoming ubiquitous by the time you’re doing the school run.
2. Prepare for pressure
For many parents, the pressure to come up with the perfect name for their baby is matched only by the headache of dealing with family and friends getting in on the action. But don’t saddle your child with a name you don’t like out of obligation. When Rebecca Cohen’s* first son was born, she and her husband, Daniel, decided to follow the Ashkenazi-Jewish custom of using the first initial of a deceased relative as a way of honouring that person. “The origin of this tradition is that you want the child to take on the traits of that person, which is quite beautiful,” she says. “Since Daniel and I both lost our dads early, we knew we had to choose with care.” Their son Ezra’s first name came from Daniel’s father, Eli, and Ezra’s middle name, Max, came from Rebecca’s father, Morris. Sounds like a thoughtful compromise, right? Not when everyone thinks their side of the name should get the first spot. “This caused a lot of tension with my father’s side of the family,” Cohen says, “and things have not been the same since.”
3. Come up with a plan
Whether you’re facing these land mines as a single parent or as a couple, family therapist Michelle Moreau proposes coming up with a plan for dealing with the friendly—or not-so-friendly—suggestions from others. “You should prepare a bit of a rehearsed script,” she says. One of the ways you might deflect, Moreau suggests, is to say, “Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness. We’ve already chosen a name for our child that we feel pretty decided about.” And, she says, if you’re a couple, make sure you present a united front.
4. Have an open mind
When trying to decide on a name while maintaining domestic peace, Moreau recommends starting by brainstorming as many options as possible. “One parent should carefully listen to the expectations behind why their partner thinks a name should be considered. Likewise, insist that this same courtesy is given to the other parent, too.” It’s also key to establish what’s important to both of you. Do you want the name to recognize the baby’s heritage? Are there family traditions you’d like to honour? Above all, tread lightly when shooting down your partner’s suggestions.
5. Keep your options open
Even if you and your partner agree on a name, Moreau recommends preparing a list of alternatives and not deciding until the baby has actually arrived. Newborns may not look much like who they’ll become, but you do get a sense of their personalities even in those first few hours or days.
6. Don’t tell anyone!
If you’ve settled on a name, keep it to yourself. People simply can’t help telling you what they think, and opinions on names are as subjective as they are useless. Everyone knew some awful guy in high school named (insert the name at the top of your list here). Personally, I couldn’t bear the look of displeasure that transformed my sweetest friend’s face when I mentioned a name she didn’t like. I actually had another friend say, “I’m not sure how I feel about that,” after I told him the name we had already given our new daughter. I bit my tongue but felt like snapping, “Who cares how you feel about it?” Why do we have such big feelings when it comes to names? “Our choices for our children’s names tend to be very personal,” says Moreau. “Names are really a reflection of what we like as individuals.”
7. Take your time
In my case, my husband and I decided to narrow down our choices, and then give ourselves a few days with our daughter before naming her. When our baby arrived, her feisty personality was almost immediately evident. She just wasn’t a soft-sounding Sofia (our first choice). Instead, we kept coming back to Esme—pronounced Ez-may—in part after a J.D. Salinger character my husband and I both love. The experience taught us that we really had to meet our baby before making a final decision on her name. Did any of this insight help us when we had to play Name That Baby for the second time? Not a chance.
*Name changed by request.
A version of this article appeared in our June 2012 issue with the headline “We’re not telling,” pp. 101-2.