First and foremost, let me preface this by saying that I’m a huge advocate of choosing whatever the hell baby name you want. If you love it, use it. It doesn’t matter if nobody else likes it. It doesn’t matter if it’s “for girls” or “for boys.” It doesn’t matter if you choose a creative spelling, or a name so common that there’s two in every preschool class, or a name so unheard of that it gains internet fame by making one of those “weird baby name” lists somewhere.
Bottom line: it’s your baby, and therefore your baby name choice.
That being said, though, there are several things that may give you pause when you’re making the big baby name decision. If you’re choosing a middle name, you can relax about it a little bit, because middle names are kind of like the closets and cabinets in your house — not many people ever see them. But for the first name, the one your child will predominantly go by, it’s important to make a few key considerations before you give it the green light.
1. Does it have too much (or unnecessary) punctuation?
Sure, Ky’leigh is more visually interesting than Kylee, and M’Kenzie is just as easy to pronounce as Mackenzie. However, the general public is not gonna automatically know that there’s supposed to be punctuation in there, which will likely sentence little Lee-Roy to a lifetime of correcting people (or just dealing with the wrong spelling). And for kids like André and Zoё, the special punctuation in their names (officially known as “diacritical marks”) could present problems on official documents like passports, because some computers don’t recognize the characters. If the punctuation isn’t 100% critical, it may be best to leave it out. People will still know how to pronounce François and Chloé if you spell them Francois and Chloe.
2. Is the spelling too ambiguous?
Take the name Malin, for example. It’s of Scandinavian origin, and in those countries it’s typically pronounced MALL-in. But it could also be MAY-lin. Or the “Mal” could be pronounced like the one in Mallory. This is a beautiful name, so it — and similar names with multiple possible pronunciations — shouldn’t automatically be disqualified as your baby name choice. People can learn to pronounce it the way you want. But if you’re not willing to deal with constant questions and corrections, you may want to pick something a little easier to identify.
3. Is it hard (or undesirable) to live up to?
Naming your kid after a trait or virtue is definitely on-trend right now (here’s looking at you, Saint West), but some names are a lot to live up to. What if Rebel’s name precedes him (or her!) and gives teachers and would-be employers a false impression of his level of compliance? What if Rocket or Blaze turns out to be as mellow as a tree sloth, and is burdened with a name that just doesn’t fit? What if Champion consistently feels the pressure of living up to his name, whether he can or not? Names like Hope and True are virtue names that are better because they showcase one virtue — not a general commentary on the kid’s entire personality.
4. Is it cultural appropriation?
This is a tricky one, because there are so many beautiful names from other cultures, and most people don’t purposely set out to name their kid something that will offend others. But much like you shouldn’t wear a sacred ceremonial garment from another culture as a fashion statement, you also shouldn’t use a name unless you’re sure you aren’t stepping on any toes. If you’re not sure, here are three questions to ask yourself — a cultural appropriation “litmus test,” if you will:
– What is my culture’s relationship to the name’s originating culture? If you’re a white American of European descent, naming your daughter Saoirse (which is Irish) or your son Gaspard (which is French) is no big deal. But naming your kid something of, say, African or Native American/First Nations origin is problematic, since white culture has historically oppressed and enslaved theirs.
– Is the name sacred? Cohen is a perfect example of a name that sparked backlash for this exact reason; in the Jewish culture, a “Cohen” is a priest and a patrilineal religious title, and a non-Jewish person using it as a first name can be considered sacrilegious. Do some research into the background of a name, even if it’s from your own culture, to make sure it isn’t irreverent or blasphemous.
– What is my personal connection to this culture? If you want to use a name from another culture solely because it “sounds cool,” or you just heard it somewhere and liked it, slow your roll; a non-Japanese person shouldn’t name their daughter Kamiko just because they’re an anime fan. But if you have a deeper connection somehow — you’ve converted to Islam, for example, and want to use a name of Islamic origin, or you’re American by birth but spent your childhood in Egypt — it’s much more acceptable.
5. Is it too long?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with long first names — it’s why baby names like Alexander and Elizabeth have been on parents’ shortlists since, well, forever. And there’s nothing wrong with giving your child a hyphenated first or last name, or two middle names. But little Elizabeth-Anastasia Eleonora Caroline Brantley-Millbanks might run into some problems on down the line, whether it’s a name (or two) being left out of an official document or just the hassle of saying/spelling what is practically an entire paragraph. Even if you’re going to call her “Liz” for short.
6. Is it for impact or shock value?
I get it, we all want to name our kids something that will make them stand out from a crowd. But there’s a big difference between a baby name that is simply unique, and a baby name that makes an impression in a negative way. We’ll look no further than the U.S. Social Security Baby Name Database for examples. Last year, 320 boys and 28 girls were named Aryan (a term that has been used by hate groups, most notably the Nazis, for decades). 46 boys and 16 girls were named Riot. 14 boys were named Shooter; 11 were named Arson; six were named Slayer. If you’re considering a name based on the reaction it will get … just don’t.
Again, your baby name choice is just that: your baby name choice. But though you might have to field questions on spelling and pronunciation and issue explanations for the first few years of your child’s life, it’s your kid who will ultimately be saddled with those burdens. You don’t want to sentence your offspring to years of hassle or embarrassment because their name is offensive, or confusing, or so long that it requires people to take a breath between middle and last.
The name might be yours for now, but it’s your child’s for a lifetime. Consider the long term when you make your choice.
For baby name inspiration, advice, and a comprehensive baby name database, check out Scary Mommy’s baby naming section!