Baby names

The name game

Who knew that choosing a baby name was such a perilous process?

By Jacq Hennessy
The name game


“I hate my name, Mommy,” said my four-year-old, her lips curdled into a pout. “Why did Mia get the nice name and I got the yucky one?”

I was blindsided. I had imagined any dissatisfaction resulting from my deperate rifling through international name lists, surveying friends and family, and lengthy troll of baby-name websites wouldn’t arise until at least 15 years from now -- when she, for instance, joined that cult. Or decided she needed more letters to fit across her partner’s chest tattoo.

Besides, what could she possibly have to complain about? I always thought my twin sister, Jill, and I were the only ones deserving reparations, for being named after a hapless pair of nursery-rhyme water fetchers.

“I don’t like it,” she insisted. “I want a new one.”

If only my daughter realized how those words tore at my very core. If only she knew how tirelessly I’d tried to predict every permutation, every sociocultural connotation and any rhyme with a swear word. I had taken up the charge of baby naming with the solemnity of one who had seen too many celeb kids named after a piece of fruit or the Sanskrit word for stomach upset. After all, your name will forever be your first impression. And you’re stuck with it for life.

You may think choosing your baby’s name will be fun. In the beginning, I did, too. But as I learned, baby naming is a road riddled with politics, pressures and pitfalls. Read on for how to avoid the insanity.

Hold your baby names close

For every name you like, someone you know will have been annoyed, offended or traumatized by a person bearing the same moniker. My most trusted friend pooh-poohed Olivia because it also happened to be the name of a character from some obscure British comedy, whose Cockney screech was as horrifying as my 65-pound pregnancy weight gain (which spurred my husband to refer to me as Big Mama). Then there’s my great uncle’s aversion to Charlie, which reminded him of a long departed classmate. As my uncle put it, “Bad seed. Never came to any good.”

Not that I’m totally uninterested in anyone’s seed, or Eliza Doolittle dialect, but neither have anything to do with me trying to find a name for my child that won’t get her beaten up.

The best way to avoid everyone else’s name baggage, I’ve since learned, is to simply ask for their suggestions and advice while never revealing your short list. And never listen to anyone else’s hysterical name aversions, especially if it’s to one of your favourites. Because as much as you love your friends and family, they should be sharing any burning resentment toward all Johnnys (because of the one who scalped their troll doll in grade four) with their therapist, not you.

Get over the originality trap

I see friends performing gymnastic contortions to pull the most unique name out of their nether regions. Face it: There is no such thing as a truly unique name that some heavily botoxed, half-sober celebrity hasn’t used to quench her insatiable thirst for attention. Apple? Check. Sage Moonblood? Check. Kal-El? So 2007.

So, if you fear becoming one of those parents who find themselves bleating, “I swear Ella wasn’t in the top 10 when we picked it!” don’t worry. It’s all been done before. And if it’s a name you thought hadn’t been done in a while, like Noah, Ava or Esme, it’s safe to say other parents have long beaten you to the everything old is new again track as well.

What matters most about a name isn’t necessarily its cool factor or originality, but whether or not you truly like it for your child. Honestly, if you’ve always loved Jack, yours won’t be any less special if there are two others running around kindergarten. Yes, he’ll sometimes have to be known as Jack C. or Jack S., but isn’t that better than writing “Pilot Inspektor” into his gym shorts? Do you really want the kind of attention for your kid that a name like Fifi Trixibelle would offer? A name like that’s not original, it’s ammunition.

Juniors (Really? You couldn’t think of a new name?)

I’ll get a lot of flak from traditionalists on this one, but you might want to rethink making one of your children your name clone. This holdover from women-and-children-as-chattel days isn’t as much a name as a footnote. While it’s great for the original holder in an I-wanna-live-forever sort of way, it’s not so great for the receiver, who can only exact revenge if he eventually repeats the insult with one of his own kids.

Take the above-mentioned Jack C., one of three in his kindergarten class. At least he’s got his last name to distinguish himself while he’s at school. Then there’s my husband, a junior. For his entire life, he will get his dad’s mail. He will suffer a raft of humiliating nicknames, such as Little Terry or Taffy, just to avoid family confusion. And, worst of all, he’ll forever wonder why watching that episode of The Rockford Files all those years ago was more important to his parents than coming up with a new name for him.

Be aware of any negative associations

One of my friends still has a tough time being taken seriously as a marketing analyst. Her parents emigrated from Hong Kong to Toronto before she was born, and became infatuated with a name they thought couldn’t be sweeter or more Canadian: Candy.

There’s no predicting which way some names may be interpreted in the future. Who knows, maybe names like Dorcas, Destiny, Lexus and Beulah will someday be the beacons of intelligence and distinction. But until that day, stick with names that don’t conjure images of the scarier side of the Catskills or nine-inch Lucite heels. (That said, I scanned some popular names for dancers and found that both of my kindergartners will be performing tomorrow night at the Paramount Gentleman’s Club in Vancouver.)

Names can’t be saved like theatre seats

Show me a mom who says, “You can’t have that name, it’s mine, and I’m due two weeks before you!” and I’ll show you someone who thinks she can hold off sunrise through sheer force of will.

Outside of immediate family — where things can get a lot more administratively sticky if two people share the same name — all bets are off. Unless someone can produce a patent for a name, they’re public domain, baby. And if you and your friend happen to fall for the same one, you should simply congratulate each other on your mutually impeccable taste and realize that this isn’t a bizarre contest in mommy one-upmanship. That, and pray to God you go into labour first.

Like a bad '80s song, listen to your heart

Don’t let anyone dissuade you from a favourite name — whether it’s a close friend, relative or obtrusive Today’s Parent Pregnancy article (ahem). There is, however, one person who should probably be on board: your partner. Besides conceiving your children, this is one of the most intimate and creative acts you can perform together. Case in point:

“I really like Rose. My great-grandma’s name was Rose.”

“You wanna name our kid after a plant? We’ll have enough problems with your side of the family’s collective IQ hovering around the inanimate object level. What about Anne?”

“That’s about as boring as dinner with your parents. I’ll raise you Anna, with Rose as the middle name — and call it even.”


Compromise with your partner should always be possible, whether it’s admitting he may be right (that naming your son after your favourite Backstreet Boy is probably sentiment gone wrong), the two of you doing a little give-and-take with the middle names, or sending him out to get you a Diet Coke while you quickly fill out the birth registry certificate.

You gotta have faith

In the end, no matter what rules you break or follow, choose the name you want. While you can’t predict how your child will feel about her name, at least you’ll love it. Which brings me back to my present predicament: my four-year-old who hates hers. Did she think it too trendy or current? Not enough history or staying power?

“Actually, I do like my name, Mommy. I just wanted to be Mia so I could be old enough to go to grade one, too!”

“I’m glad. Because I really like your name, too, Eve.”

This article was originally published on Jan 10, 2011

Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners

I understand that I may withdraw my consent at any time.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.