One in Five British Mothers Regrets Her Child’s Name

When I read the title and reading line for the article Amelia Hill wrote in The Guardian: I guessed that the leading cause of “baby-name regret” was caused by picking a popular (e.g., top-20) name and then realizing how many other parents had made precisely the same choices.

Here are two fragments from the article that explain when and why parents begin regretting the names they have chosen:

-“The main reason for regretting the name was that it was too commonly used (25%).”
-“23% began to regret their choice when their children first started nursery or school.”

Why do so many parents fall into the trap of picking highly popular names for their children, (even though naming experts strongly recommend against that)?

Once you are pregnant, you start reading articles and books about baby names (which contain lists of the most popular names); and you also may start reading the birth announcement section of your local newspaper. Your ears are likely to perk up when friends and relatives start talking about their new babies. And when you notice new parents pushing baby strollers or carrying babies in slings, you go over to have a closer look. If you’re lucky, you might even be invited to hold the baby. Naturally, you ask the baby’s name, and say something nice about the baby and its name.

Pretty soon you realize that your interest in anything related to babies is giving you a “good feel” for names and which ones you like. Every time you meet a cute baby and “like” the name you are adding “data” to your very own baby-name “research project”—which includes your feelings about the names of cute babies you’ve cooed over or bounced; the names of babies your friends, relatives and neighbors have just announced; and the cute celebrity babies photographed in “People” and “Us.”

At some point it may dawn on you that the short list of names you are actively considering for your baby includes half of the top-10 list published every year by the Social Security Administration (or the agency in your country that publishes official name statistics).

How can newly pregnant parents avoid picking names they may wind up regretting, when they find out how popular they are? It helps to start your name search by making a list of names you like. They could be names of famous people you admire (e.g., Lincoln and Eleanor) names of characters in books or movies you love (e.g., Scout and Starbuck); names of your favorite actors or Olympic heroes (e.g., Simone and Bolt); names common in the language you studied in high school (e.g., Natasha and Ivan); names of your favorite foods or wines (e.g., Brie and Kale); names of your favorite places to vacation (e.g., Kauai and Siena); or names of relatives you want to honor.

By picking names that have meaning for you, you won’t be sidetracked by falling-in-like with names currently used by your friends, relatives and acquaintances and by the popular names in announcement lists and the media.

Dear Bruce: What is “baby name regret” and what causes it?

Dear Bruce,

What is “baby name regret” and what causes it?

Bruce: Parents who receive negative feedback when they announce their baby’s name may regret the choice soon after making it. However, sometimes it takes a couple of years (or perhaps a decade or two) before a parent discovers that the name they selected was a mistake. You may have selected a very formal name (like Honor) but discovered how awkward it sounds to calm a crying baby Honor because there are no endearing nicknames for that name. You may love the name Elizabeth, but hate it when your daughter is called Beth. Conversely, a name like Missy may work beautifully when she is young, but she may wish for a more “adult” name to put on her college application. Dick may work well—until your son finds out how mean his friends can be when they use that name for teasing. The best way to prevent baby name regret is to consider the practical consequences of selecting the names you like best.

If you’d like to submit a question, please leave it in the comments section here.  

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

When Children Don’t Like the Names on Their Birth Certificates

You will appreciate the convenience of having a solid middle name as a reasonable back-up the day your child decides he or she doesn’t like the name you’ve chosen.

Sources of dissatisfaction are many and varied. Maybe the name:

  • is too often misspelled or mispronounced;
  • is too uncommon and comes across as strange or weird;
  • is so popular, several other children in your child’s class answer to the same name;
  • is too boring;
  • makes a strange or negative first impression;
  • has a literal meaning that is either negative or misleading (for example, a child named Raven with blond hair and a fair complexion);
  • doesn’t have enough formal and informal options that would enable the name to “change” as the child grows up;
  • is a constant source of teasing;
  • or simply doesn’t fit the child.

While choosing a unique, uncommon name can result in many of the problems listed above, choosing a “safe” traditional name can produce a different set of problems. That’s why choosing an attractive middle name that goes well with your last name is a smart move. (Picking a “political” middle name that doesn’t work well as a safety option can be a huge mistake.)

Recently, Uma Thurman named her daughter Rosalind and added four “middle names.” Six months later, she calls her daughter Luna, which was not one of the middle names she gave her. Her daughter is too young to have complained. Thurman must have figured out that none of the names on her daughter’s birth certificate worked quite as well as Luna. (If you’ve read my article on that topic, you may remember I described the four middle names as “alphabet soup.”)

If you or your child has an “aha” moment and decides that the first and middle names don’t work, you need to take action to prevent your child from taking even more radical action (like changing his name to Rocketman). Here are some strategies to try:

  • Come up with different forms of the chosen name; for example, Liam is a short, Irish form of William. Luna is actually a short form of one of the “alphabet soup” middle names Thurman originally came up with (Altalune). In comparison with the original four “middle names” she picked, Luna, though highly unusual, is a major improvement!
  • Try a name-book neighbor, a name that may sound or look similar to the name you’ve chosen but which has a different “vibe.” A young woman with a very popular name, Sara, told me she was tired of it. I came up with Syrah and she’s been a happy camper ever since. In a recent article, I mentioned that a money manager thought his given name, George, was too dull and stodgy. He happily switched to Geo.
  • Many parents pick beautiful names like Alexander or Alexandra and then forbid the child (or the child’s friends) from calling him or her a different version of that name. Big mistake. The beauty of a versatile name is that there are many versions of the name that can be used as the child grows up. Enjoy the fact that your child (or your child’s friends) have come up with a version of the name that they like using.

Guide the process of selecting an alternative name, so it doesn’t go too far astray. Better Alex or Alec than Tralala or Zoot.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

Middle Naming: How to Choose a Useful Middle Name for Your Baby

A middle name can be a lot of things. During the naming process, it can be a “trophy” awarded to the partner whose choice came in second, or a “gift” to honor a relative whose name didn’t merit a first pick. And once your child is born, a middle name can be a great “safety pick” for your child, especially if the first name you chose turned out to be a dud.

Unfortunately, if you make compromises or trade-offs when choosing the  middle name, you and your child may have a poor fallback option, and you may regret not choosing something more appropriate.

Here are some typical problems that can arise when picking a middle name:

  • If you pick a “family” name, it might be old-fashioned or ill-fitting. For example, if you choose your father’s name and it’s “Carroll,” which was once primarily a boy name and is now almost exclusively a girl name, your son may not appreciate having a middle name that sounds like a “girl’s name.” Or if you choose your spouse’s last name and it’s “Pierpont,” your child may be teased as “Richie Rich.”
  • If the second-choice name doesn’t work well with the first name, your child won’t be a happy camper, either—unless you point out that it could be worse, by reading the four seemingly unrelated middle names that Uma Thurman chose for her daughter: Arusha, Arkadina, Altalune and Florence.

As you can see, it’s a lot easier to pick a good first and middle name combination if the middle name isn’t a “political choice.” It helps to think about how the names work together with your last name. Here are some ideas that can help you create a charming and euphonious combination:

  • Vary the rhythm of all three names by choosing first and middle names with different syllable counts. Alison Beth Anderson sounds better than Alison Jennifer Anderson.
  • If the first name comes across as traditional, consider an untraditional middle name, like Sophia Saffron Smith. If the first name isn’t traditional, consider a traditional middle name, like Sage Samuel Smith.
  • If the first name is fairly common, pick a middle name that’s more unique. For example: Michael Marcellus Smith or Catherine Chiara Smith.
  • If you want (or need) to include a name that reflects an ethnic tradition, Irish names like Sean or Kevin will blend more easily with non-Irish names than Irish names like Seamus or Padraig.
  • If you want (or need) to include a name that reflects a religious tradition, try to search for names that won’t create the impression your son is destined to wind up as a priest or rabbi: Joshua or Daniel might work better for the child than Moshe or Yitzchak.
  • If the first name is gender-neutral, pick a middle name that clarifies the gender of the child, such as Ariel Oliver Smith or Jordan Olivia Smith.
  • Why not have some fun and pick a middle name that conveys some personal taste, like a favorite color, location, personal quality you value, or performer? If you love Hawaii, you could try Matthew Maui Smith. If you’re a fan of Cher, you could name your daughter Monica Cher Smith.

Should you follow the current British trend of picking two middle names? The benefit is that you can do more “political” favors. On the other hand, a second middle name can distract your focus from what should be most important—choosing the best first name you can. And it can create the problem of finding four names that sound good together. Compare the sound of Emma Olivia Smith with Emma Olivia Isabella Smith. Does the latter combination sound like it contains too much of a good thing?

I’d like to close by providing examples of celebrity baby names from a few years ago, along with some comments which illustrate some of the practical points I made above:

Keelee Breeze (daughter of Rob “Vanilla Ice” and Laura Van Winkle)
*Comment: There’s something cooling about Keelee Breeze—the feeling you get when you wipe your forehead with a frozen popsicle on a hot summer day. The first and middle names go together brilliantly.

Nana Kwadjo (son of Isaac and Adoa Hayes)
*Comment: A boy named Nana? Unfortunately, he can’t fall back on his middle name, Kwadjo.

Nakoa-Wolf Manakaupo Namakeaha (son of Lisa Bonet and Jason Momoa)
*Comment: Unfortunately, there’s not one child-friendly, simple, easy-to-spell or easy-to-pronounce name in the whole bunch (except perhaps for Wolf).

Ocean Alexander (son of Forest Whitaker)
*Comment: Ocean doesn’t work quite as well for a first name as Forest does. Thank goodness for Alexander.

Homer James Jigme (son of Richard Gere and Carey Lowell)
*Comment: Homer isn’t coming back any time soon—and what’s up with Jigme? Luckily, the child has James to fall back on.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

How to Prevent Birth Announcement Letdown and Baby Name Regret

What’s worse: Announcing your baby’s name to ho-hum or negative responses, or having your child come home from school in tears because of name teasing? What about when your adult child uses his or her middle name because the first name you chose isn’t “good enough” anymore?

These examples of Birth Announcement Letdown and Baby Name Regret are equally bad, if you ask me. They occur when parents don’t do their “homework” and pick a name without considering if it will ultimately work for their child. Books like 5-Star Baby Name Advisor and The New Baby Name Survey Book (Meadowbrook Press) help parents avoid the practical problems that lead to Birth Announcement Letdown and Baby Name Regret.

Birth Announcement Letdown happens when you proclaim your baby’s name to your relatives and friends and immediately get the sense that they don’t love the name as much as you do. You can tell a lot about a name by listening to their knee-jerk, unedited feedback. When you choose a great name, people will say, “I love it!” or “I wish I’d picked that for my baby!” When you choose a less-than-great name, though, people will pause to make sure they don’t say something rude. They might just say, “Oh.” Worst of all, you may receive disbelieving feedback if you pick a name that’s too unique. Think about your own reaction to odd celebrity baby names like Apple. I’m guessing you mumbled, “You’ve got to be kidding!”

You can brush off negative feedback if you suspect it’s nothing more than personal bias (maybe Grandma is miffed you didn’t name your daughter after her). More often than not, though, you should pay attention to not-so-great feedback. For example, you’ll know you picked a name with practical problems if someone asks, “How do you spell that?” or “Is it a boy or a girl?” or “How do you pronounce that name?”

Whereas Birth Announcement Letdown happens immediately, Baby Name Regret may not occur until years later. As time goes by, your child will use the name you’ve selected in a variety of situations—everything from the first day of kindergarten to a job interview. Even if you initially get positive feedback with the birth announcement, your child may discover later on that the name is hard to live with.

If your child’s name is difficult to spell and/or pronounce, it will cause needless irritation every time he or she corrects a teacher, classmate, or future employer. Your child may eventually become resigned to introducing herself as “Sara without an h” or writing her name “Alicia—there’s no ‘e’ in it.” Names that are too formal or too informal can also cause lifelong problems. A formal name like Honor (Jessica Alba’s daughter) may be cumbersome for a little girl, while an informal name like Maddie (Jamie Lynn Spears’ daughter) may be silly for a grown woman.

If you pick a name at the top of the popularity charts to help your child “fit in,” you may be surprised when he or she later complains about sharing the name with several classmates. On the other hand, if you pick a unique name on the theory that it will make your child feel special, he or she may feel like an outsider with a strange name that’s the subject of teasing at school. And of course, if you don’t give much thought to how ingenious children can be about name teasing, you will be caught off guard when your son comes home crying because someone called him “Luke the Puke.”

Perhaps the most insidious cause of Baby Name Regret is when you or your child discovers that the name has an unfavorable first impression. You may not realize it, but people form an impression based on the first thing that pops into their minds when they see or hear your child’s name. When people think of the name Marilyn, for example, they picture a blond, sexy woman like Marilyn Monroe. Is that the impression you want for your daughter? Even if your child’s name isn’t associated with a celebrity, it still creates an immediate impression. A name like Myron has a nerdy come-off your child may or may not be able to shake throughout life.

If you want to prevent Birth Announcement Letdown and Baby Name Regret, there’s no substitute for doing your homework: reading books that specifically deal with practical issues like 5-Star Baby Name Advisor and The New Baby Name Survey Book. It’s the smart new way to select a name for your baby. These books actually do your homework for you. All you have to look up the names you and your partner like best—and then be willing to reconsider your choices based on the practical advice you learned. In addition, you can also pre-test names on friends and acquaintances so you or your child won’t discover a name’s problems too late. With these simple “assignments,” odds are high that you will pick a name you, your child, and everyone else will love.

© 2008 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.