Why a Versatile Name Is a Plus for Your Child

My thanks to Linda Rosencrantz for spotting the rising trend for vintage “nickname names” like Winnie, Minnie, Elsie, Hattie, Josie and Alfie, Ollie, Freddy and Vinny that were popular in the Victorian era—and which she discovered on the top-100 list of British names. Perhaps the formal names considered by William and Kate when picking a name for their royal baby may reverse that trend in the future.

But, it’s worth thinking about the reason why the British royals did not consider picking a nickname name, like Georgie, and why there’s a benefit to using Oliver, Frederick, Elizabeth and Matilda instead of Ollie, Freddy, Elsie and Tillie for your child.

The concept of “versatility” is simple. It’s better to pick a name that can be used on both formal and informal occasions (or which works well when the child is young, when the nickname version may be preferred—and when the child is an adult, when the more formal version may be more appropriate).

You may recall Judge Judy. She was probably picked as the star of a courtroomTV show because of her common sense, but it helped that her name seemed so unlikely for a judge. Most judges use a formal form of their name, like Judith and Susan rather than Judy and Susie. Why? Because formal names project a more sober, rational and adult—hence credible–image. Judging legal cases is a serious matter. But “Judge Judy” is a highly memorable name because it sounds as though Judge Judy might a small child or a teen-ager rather than an adult who went to law school and became a real judge.

There are many formal occasions on which it can be a benefit to have a name that projects a serious, sober, rational, credible impression: When you graduate high school; when you apply to college, when you go on a college interview or a job interview, when you send out a resume. I’m sure you can think of other occasions when a name that makes a serious impression would come in handy.

Elizabeth is one of the most versatile names around. If you look at 100,000+ Baby Names, you’ll find scores of variations Elizabeth could use at different times in her life depending on her age, temperament and situation: Bess, Betsy Betty, Beth, Elsa, Elsie, Lizzie, Lisa, Liz and Lizzy are just a few. Elsie seems to have worked pretty well for a cow used in TV commercials to advertise milk, but probably won’t make a favorable impression on a job application if you’re not a bovine creature.

So it makes sense to give your child a versatile name that gives him or her a variety options throughout life. Which is why picking a “nickname name” isn’t as smart as picking a versatile name (even though it may be a rising trend in Great Britain).

 

Jimmy Fallon Gave Daughter Winnie Rose a “Nickname Name”

Jimmy Fallon and his wife Nancy Juvonen Fallon couldn’t be happier as first time parents. Their baby daughter is cute as a button. So is the name, Winnie Rose. Winnie is what pundit Linda Rosencrantz calls a vintage “nickname name.” She discovered an interesting trend in the U.K. where 10% of the top-100 names are old-fashioned nicknames instead of more formal given names: nicknames like Vinny instead of  Vincent, and Winnie instead of Gwyneth.

But after the birth of George Alexander Louis Windsor  which has caused Brits to go gaga over traditional names with a formal vibe, how likely is the trend towards informal “nickname names” going to be on a going-forward basis in the U.K.?

You may have read that  thousands of Brits put off naming their babies until they knew which name William and Kate had picked. And over 20% of those surveyed said they would definitely consider a royal name for their babies.  Names like George, Edward, James,  Diana, Elizabeth and Alexandra create the impression of good breeding, good manners and good character. That’s the benefit of “proper” names.

Which is why nickname names may be cute, but they’re short on credibility when want to put your best foot forward to make a good impression. That’s why I think the Fallons short-changed their daughter by naming her Winnie instead of Gwyneth, Winnifred, Winona or Wynne.  Instead of giving their adorable daughter a strong name that could work well for an elegant movie star or a Ph.D. candidate in Physics, Jimmy and Nancy’s daughter got a name that reminds one of a Teddy bear.

Unexpected Places to Find Baby Names

Unexpected Places to Find Baby Names.

Robin Elise Weiss has come up with a useful and charming list of unexpected ways to discover new ideas for baby names. Here is one of her ideas that took me by surprise:

Obituaries & Cemeteries This is a great source of names that are older, lesser known and seldom used. Certainly you’ll find your Johns and Marys, but you’ll also find Imogene, Clara, Henry, and Caleb. Think of this as looking into someone else’s family tree. If you are lucky enough to have a really old cemetery in your neck of the words, try to look for really old headstones with names that you like.

Here’s why I like the idea: Imagine your mother suggests you name your baby after great grandpa Caleb. Your immediate impulse is to say, “No way!” But if you’re strolling through a cemetery and see a tombstone for someone else’ great grandpa Caleb you can wonder, without any pressure, if the name is hopelessly antique or if it might have some charm that’s worth considering. Cemeteries and obit columns can give you exposure to names from prior generations that might be so old, they seem new again. Like the name Henry.

Hunter Mahon Walked Away from $1 Million to Attend the Birth of His Daughter

I was watching the RBC Canadian Open (golf tournament) on Saturday afternoon when a dramatic and touching moment occurred. Hunter Mahan was 13-under par, on top of the leaderboard by 5 strokes. Suddenly he got a call from his wife who was going into labor. I imagine she asked him if he could join her in hospital for the big moment, if at all possible.

Mahon walked away from a big lead in a prestigious tournament (with a $1 million dollar check for the winner) and flew back to the hospital in time to join his wife for the birth of their baby girl, Zoe Olivia (very early on Sunday morning)–what is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The birth was announced on Sunday when the tournament resumed. Mahon received high praise for flying home to be with his wife a sentiment shared by the viewing audience and the golfers whose chances of winning had suddenly improved.

More good news: The Mahons picked a cute name that should wear well for their daughter. Zoe is a lovely Greek name that means “life.” It’s ranked in the top-35, but it’s not so popular that Zoe’s friends will share the same name. Olivia is an extremely popular name, but it’s also an elegant name that goes well with Zoe and Mahon for use on formal occasions.

It was a pleasure to watch Hunter do the right thing by pulling out of the tournament on Saturday and to learn, on Sunday, that everything had turned out so well for him and his family.

Even though Brant Snedeker won the prize money, Hunter and Kandi Mahon came out ahead–sharing an experience that money can’t buy. But I’d very be surprised if they don’t receive an extremely generous baby-shower gift from the Snedekers.

Royal, Religious and Family Traditions Often Lead to Dull Choices

It was exciting to predict George as the name William and Kate would pick (thanks to the “crowd-sourcing” effect of British betting casinos). And it was a great relief for Brits and people around the world when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stopped dithering and finally announced their royal baby’s name. Although the choice was acceptable to Queen Elizabeth, who undoubtedly had a big say in the matter, let’s face it: George is a fairly dull name.

If you’re picking the name for an heir to the throne or a new pope, it’s important to keep traditional naming constraints in mind. And the benefit of being guided by tradition is that you’ll avoid picking loony names like Bronx Mowgli, Zuma Nesta Rock, Blue Ivy or North West.

As it happens many of the best names you could pick (by which I mean names that are likely to be a pleasure for child and parents to use), are, in fact, traditional names like Edward, Elizabeth, James and Alexandra which were reportedly under consideration for the royal baby (but not for the pope). Why? Because they do what names should do:
-they create a positive impression for the child
-they are versatile (in that they work well for formal and informal occasions)
-they are easy to pronounce and spell
-the come across as timeless rather than being tied to a year or date (when a “trendy” name peaked in popularity)
-and they are not so popular that your child might have several kids with the same name in his play group

Of course, it’s reasonable for parents to consider more uncommon options that will come across as more
unique and memorable for their child. And they need to understand that “taking a flier” on a name they picked up from a restaurant menu or road atlas may not pan out. (You may like cilantro, vacation in Acapulco and enjoy playing Frisbee) but there’s no guarantee that your favorite condiment, vacation spot or game would work well as a name for your child.)

I like the guideline general managers of professional sports teams use when drafting: “pick the best player available,” which I’d modify to: pick the best name available. You can do that by not being overly swayed by a variety of traditions and pressures that most parents are obliged to take into consideration.

In addition to looking for the best name available, I’d also suggest another guideline: “do no harm.” Avoid names that might be harmful, derogatory or a nuisance for your child. Conceivably, celebrities try to pick the best name available, but there’s a good reason why many celebrity baby names produce a “what were they thinking?” reaction from their fans and the media. They can’t imagine that their brilliance, talent and bank account could possibly produce an awful name (even if they were smoking some weed when they came up with Chastity or Dweezil).

They imagine themselves as “trendsetters” and arbiters of all that is cool, hip and trendy. But if you look at the long list of baby-naming blunders self-indulgent, attention-seeking celebrities have produced, you can see why the second guideline (“do no harm”) may be even more important than the first one (“pick the best name available”).

10 Mistakes That Have Caused Celebrity Baby-Naming Blunders

1. Avoid names that sound like names of objects or places or creatures other than people.
Examples: Moon Unit, North, Yamma, Dweezil, Bronx, Fifi Trixibelle, Little Pixie Frou-Frou, Diezel, Ocean

2. Avoid names unlikely to be taken seriously–and likely to promote teasing or bullying.
Examples: Jermajesty, Audio Science, Pilot “Standard” Inspektor, Zeppelin, Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen, Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, Moxie CrimeFighter

3. Avoid names that most people would find difficult to recognize or identify as to national or ethnic origin.
Examples: Ahmet Emuukha Rodan Zappa, Zuma Nesta Rock Rossdale,

4. Avoid names whose first, middle and family names don’t go well together.
Examples: Bronx Mowgli Wentz, Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson, Kal-El Coppola Cage, Daisy-Boo Pamela Oliver, Yamma Noyola Brown

5. Avoid names likely to promote an inflated ego or the impression of an inflated ego.
Examples: Prince Michael, Jermajesty, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince

6. Avoid names that create a sleazy sexual impression.
Example: Alabama Gypsy Rose Jenkins

7. Avoid names that create a criminal or evil impression.
Example: Pirate Howsmon Davis

8. Avoid names that are difficult to pronounce or remember.
Examples: Nakoa-Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa

9. Avoid names that are difficult to spell or remember.
Examples: Ahmet Emuukha Rodan Zappa, Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson, Diezel

10. Avoid names that aren’t versatile enough to work well for both formal and informal occasions.
For example: Daisy-boo, Fifi Trixibelle, Little Pixie Frou-Frou, Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ocean

Discussion: I provided examples for each of the “mistakes to avoid,” to demonstrate the nature and scale of the mistake. For example It’s not a “mistake” to use a “gender-neutral name” like Jordan or Riley. But it’s impossible to tell what kind of creature or thing Moon Unit, Dweezil and Ocean are. I have chosen egregious examples of each type of mistake to demonstrate how difficult or disturbing it would be to be go through life with names that present the child in such a demeaning and unfavorable way.

Consider that the Social Service Administration lists Major, Messiah and King as three of the top-seven fastest rising boys’ names in 2012. The name Major might suggest you come from a military family and the name might be a family tradition (e.g., to honor a grandfather whose military rank was Major.) But George Alexander Louis Windsor won’t be King George for many years if ever–he’s third in line for the crown. So King is a big mistake. (It might encourage your son to demand that his “subject” bow down and kiss his feet every morning, before she pours cereal and milk into his royal cereal bowl). And Messiah? How nice to have a messiah in the family–until you get the psychotherapy bills. These are the kind of big, bad blunders we’re trying to avoid here. (They’re the kind of mistakes you can read about in celebrity gossip columns or watch on TV talk shows almost every day.)

P.S. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that this list of mistakes is part of the training for all recruits to the Baby Name Police. We test candidates for their ability to distinguish  clever, creative names from “joke names” likely to backfire on the child and the parents (who will be stuck with the psychotherapy bills).