Were you really surprised when you heard that Beyoncé and Jay-Z plan to copyright the name for their blessed baby Blue Ivy? I wasn’t. Particularly after reading gossip about the personal meaning layered into the name. Blue is Jay-Z’s favourite colour, and the number four — Roman numeral IV, get it? — is significant to both parents. Running down to the trademark office might be more than most of us are willing to do, but stressing over just the right name for our kids is something most parents can relate to.
Find a name that can grow with your child
Obviously you want a name that will suit your child, but also, hopefully, inspire her. 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. But 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.
Read more: How to choose a baby name>
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. 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 his middle name, Max, came from Rebecca’s father, Morris. Sounds like a thoughtful compromise, right? “This caused a lot of tension with my father’s side of the family and things have not been the same since.”
Read more: Baby names: Should you ask for input?>
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, such as, ‘Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness. We’ve already chosen a name for our child that we feel pretty decided about. Why don’t you tell me what you like about that name?’ And, she says, if you’re a couple, make sure you present a united front.
Keep an open mind
When trying to decide on a name while maintaining domestic peace, Moreau recommends keeping an open mind. Start 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 to recognize the baby’s heritage with the name? Are there family traditions you’d like to honour? And, above all, tread lightly when shooting down your partner’s suggestions.
Keep your options open
Moreau also thinks it’s a good idea to keep a couple of options open 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 days.
Don’t tell anyone!
And I would add to that list: 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). I couldn’t bear the look of displeasure that would transform my sweetest friend’s face if 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.”
Take your time
In the end, my husband and I were somehow able to narrow our choices down, but agreed to give ourselves a few days with our daughter before naming her. When our girl arrived her feisty personality was evident immediately. 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 Ben and I both love. In retrospect, I don’t know why I thought we could come up with the answer before actually meeting our baby. 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.