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The name game rules

If only it were as simple as choosing something you like. Mother-of-two Louisa Wilkins says naming a new baby is a complex and hugely important task

Louisa Wilkins
Image Credit: ANM
“No wonder so many of us are secretive with our shortlists until after the birth... it’s harder todiss a newborn than a combination of letters.”

One of the most stressful things about being pregnant, in my mind, is the baby-naming process. Is it cute enough for a child, but strong enough for an adult? Does it have any strange connotations? Do the initials spell something inappropriate? What will it be shortened to? On top of that, just because two people are having a baby together, it doesn’t mean that they agree on names. Often they don’t, and for multiple reasons. “I knew a boy called Nigel who was always snotty”; “My ex-girlfriend’s mother was called Jenny, so that would just be weird.” So, how do parents decide?

When I was pregnant the first time around, we had a strict veto rule, meaning if one person disliked a name, it was off the list. No questioning, or justification needed. It was just gone. This led to a strange trigger-happy use of the veto. We were dashing each others’ suggestions willy-nilly, without much (if any) pause for contemplation, simply to give our own suggestions an easier route to the top of the list. We weren’t doing it out of malice, we simply have very different tastes in names.

While I was into the more ethnic/hippy names, like Anouk and Aurora, Rafe and Dylan, my ex was more into more traditional names like Rachel and Lucy. And for boys, he had just one name he liked: Jack. “It’s strong. My son will be Jack.” I started dropping my preferred names into conversations, or saying them out loud like I had Tourette’s, hoping if he heard them enough, they would grow on him. I guess it worked, because when our daughter was born we called her Kaya. When our son was born, I repaid the favour and we called him Jack.

As is always the way, they have grown into their names and now I couldn’t possibly imagine them being called anything else. Kaya is a bit kooky, while Jack could not be a more solid little chap. But with regular reports suggesting that names have an impact on personality, grades, success, ability to get a job and more, you can’t help but wonder what children you would have ended up with had you gone for different options.

As Laura, would she have been more obedient? Or as Jessica, more bouncy? As Zachary, would he have been more outgoing, or as Jeremy, more shy? I’m not sure, and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your child’s name may influence other people’s expectations of them. And while, as parents, we don’t care what other people think of our kids, it could make a difference to their future.

A survey by British parenting club, Bounty, found that half of all teachers make an assumption about a child’s naughtiness based on their name, with the most naughty-implying names including Callum, Connor, Chardonnay, Crystal, Chelsea – and Jack. (Rule number one: do your research.)

As adults, an easily pronounceable name can mean career success; experts at the University of Melbourne found that lawyers with names that were easy to pronounce moved up the legal ladder more quickly. (Rule number two: keep it simple.) Then you have the desire to be different, which, according to Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard, most of us have. She says that, while in previous years people were happy to call their children the same, regular names (John, Sarah and David, for example) now, she says, we aren’t – and this has opened us up to ‘baby-name hostility’ (other people expressing negative opinions about our name choices).

No wonder so many of us parents are secretive with our short-lists until after the birth – we’re protecting ourselves from hostility – after all, it’s much harder (and meaner) to diss a newborn than to diss a combination of letters. (Rule number three: don’t discuss your names with anyone.) The theories about kids’ names are endless. So, whereas naming a new pet is hours of fun, naming a new baby can mean months of anxiety (not to mention marital disagreements).

But really, when it comes down to it, does any of this matter? The American child named Hashtag (yes, really) may get teased, but no more than the child with ginger hair. And, no doubt, when the millions of children with Twilight-inspired names (Bella, Cullen, Jacob) grow up, they will watch that old, rubbish film and feel mortified, but they’ll get over it. And when the royal baby is born, it will spark a naming trend, which original-name-snobs will guffaw at.

But as long as you think you’ve chosen the right name for your child, and both parents have played a part in the process and are in agreement, it’s OK, right? “Right”, says my ex. “Kaya is perfect for her. But I wish we’d called Jack Dylan. He’d make a great Dylan.” And so we have our baby-naming rules: Do your research. Keep it simple. And consult nobody. Not even your husband.