Dear Bruce, I just found out I’m pregnant. What’s a good way to start thinking about names for my baby?

Q: I just found out I’m pregnant. What’s a good way to start thinking about names for my baby?

A: Your first job is to make a list of names that have special meaning for you and your partner. Look through the Social Security Administration’s top 100 names to see which ones appeal to you. (You’ll find that list in most of of my name books.) List any family names you want to consider. If you speak a foreign language, look at names from that country. If there’s a place you love to visit, think whether the name of that town or mountain or river can work as a name. (I’ve been reading a number of articles which suggest that place-names are increasingly popular with celebrities, but don’t let that dissuade you from using one for your child.) If there’s a food or wine you love, think whether it may work as a name. Consider any name from a song, book, or movie you can’t get out of your mind. (As a kid, I loved the “Three Musketeers, but never considered using Athos, Porthos, Aramis or D’Artagnan for my son.)  Think about historical figures, movie stars, literary characters, or sports heroes you like. It helps to use a name book that provides you with hundreds of interesting lists of names to consider (like 100,000+ Baby Names). List all the names you love.
Next, you need to whittle down your list of potential names by considering which ones are most likely to benefit your child from a practical perspective. Does the name make a positive first impression? Is there a risk it will be misspelled and/or mispronounced? Will people be able to guess the gender of your child when they hear the name? Is the name versatile enough to work in formal and informal occasions? Is the name likely to cause teasing? Does it have a meaning that could be meaningful for your child? Does the name have one or more famous namesakes you like a lot? Consult a name book that provides you with practical information about names and star ratings (like Five-Star Baby Name Advisor) to help you decide which names will work well for your child and which ones may cause practical problems.

It will also help to get feedback about your favorite names from a variety of people whose judgement you respect and who are unlikely to lecture you about what you “should” or “should not” do. (Yes, I’m referring to family members who have a nasty habit of dispensing unwanted advice.) Here’s one last bit of advice that may surprise you: don’t be afraid to ask kids in your neiborhood for their take on some names you are considering. They know what’s cool and not cool at their school.

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