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.

Brooklyn’s Rise Brings Popularity as a Baby Name, But Locals Say Fuhgeddaboutit.

A highly readable article by Michael R. Sisak of Associated Press about Brooklyn (whose rise in appeal as a popular borough of New York seems to have produced an extraordinary rise in interest in Brooklyn as a place name for girls) provides an interesting new perspective on place names.

It turns out that Brooklyn has moved up in the popularity rankings from #912 in 1990 to the top 30—where it seems to have leveled off over the past three years. The strange thing is, according to Sisak:

“Of the 41 states where Brooklyn is now the most popular girl’s name beginning with B, New York is not among them. Real Brooklynites say naming your child Brooklyn is strictly for out-of towners.”

 Sisak tells the story of a girl named Brooklyn Presta who was born in Kansas and now lives in Brooklyn.

“Brooklyn Presta says her parents in Kansas were thinking unique, not New York, when they named her. Now 26 and living in Brooklyn, Presta says she often gets questions about whether she changed her name to fit her chosen borough. ‘It’s kind of crazy to be Brooklyn in Brooklyn, Presta says.’”

Apparently, Brooklyn is an appealing name for girls—as long as you don’t live there. If you live in Brooklyn, fuhgeddaboutit. I wonder if that’s the case for girls named Madison who live in Madison, Wisconsin (or work on Madison Avenue) or girls named Charlotte who live in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

FYI, Madison is currently the most popular place name for girls. It rose from #627 in 1985 to #2 in 2001–a rise fueled by interest in the mermaid character played by Darryl Hannah in “Splash.” Twelve years later, the name is still among the top ten girls’ names, but it’s now #9.

Charlotte was ranked at #306 in 1984, the year “Splash” was released. And it was ranked #307 fifteen years later in 1999. That must have been when the “place-name” trend (popularized by Madison) caused parents to realize that Charlotte was a place name in addition to being a literary name (made famous by Charlotte Bronte, whose popular romance novel, Jane Eyre, was published in 1847). Since 1999, Charlotte has ridden the “place-name” trend all the way up to #11–and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Charlotte hop into the 1014 girls’ top-ten list when it is published by SSA next May.

Speaking of the SSA popularity statistics, my recent article about the most rapidly rising girls’ names in 2013 mentioned fifteen girls’ names that were streaking up the list. (And because both Brooklyn and Madison both seem to have peaked, the place-name baton seems to have been passed on to names like Ireland, Milan, Phoenix, Asia, Dakota and Londyn, and others.)

P.S. I’d love to hear from you if you have a place name and you live or work in that place. Is your experience like Brooklyn Presta’s? Or is it different? In my most popular article about place names, I discuss places that sound like they would be appropriate as names for people and places that might not work well for people. But I didn’t discuss what it’s like to live in a place you’re named after. If that describes you, please write a comment.

 

 

 

When You Ask Friends For Feedback About Names You Like, Do You Worry Someone Might Steal Your Best Name?

Nancy’sBabyNames.com has a wonderful post called “When Did Baby Name Stealing Begin?” It’s wonderful because it includes a video clip from an episode of “Sex in the City” in which Charlotte and her three friends go to a baby shower for a woman named Laney, whom Charlotte believes stole the name Charlotte has been planning on naming her first baby since she was 11 year’s old.

It may interest you to know that I advise pregnant women to consult their best friends for feedback about the names currently high on their lists. Last week, I wrote a post about Kristin Cavallari, whom I advised to study the eyeballs of friends when she mentions baby names she is considering. Eyeballs function like lie detectors. Mouths may lie; eyeballs don’t.

But when I tell women to consult their friends, ” I sometimes get this response: “When I was pregnant with my first baby, I consulted my friends. One of them liked one of my names so much, she stole it and used it for her baby. Next time I hear that story, I’m going to ask: “What better proof could there be that you’ve come up with a winner?”

Think about it this way:  No real friend would steal a name. So any “friend” who wanted to steal your best name would no longer be your friend. She’d be an ex-friend. And being ex-friends, you wouldn’t run into each other often. So the damage done by her theft would a lot less than the service of validating your best name.

So, don’t use theft as an excuse to avoid discussing your best ideas with your best friends. And definitely do click on the “name-stealing” article so you can watch the “Sex in the City” clip (from 1998). It may surprise you to discover that the stolen name in the clip is not the greatest name on earth; it’s a name Charlotte fixated on when she was 11-years-old.

Place Names That Work Well as Names for People

Place names usually fit into three categories. The first category covers most place names: They probably wouldn’t work well for people. For example, Monongahela (the river in Pennsylvania), Sheboygan (the town in Wisconsin) and Georgetown (the neighborhood in Washington, D.C.) aren’t names you’re likely to hear in a kindergarten classroom. The first two names lack the romantic appeal of Paris, the charm of Siena, or the “trendy” image of Brooklyn. They’re also rather long and hard to spell. Georgetown is easy to spell and has appeal—it’s a cool, upscale neighborhood (and outstanding university)—but the suffix    (-town) makes it less appropriate as a name for people.

The second category contains place names that are often used for people—even though they still sound more like names for places. Brooklyn is one example and London is another. Both are gaining in popularity as baby names, though they may not seem as appropriate as, say, India or Georgia. Of course, perceptions can change over time. “Indiana Jones” is probably the reason Indiana is considered an acceptable name for people. Before the movie, few people thought of Indiana as a person’s name. For that reason, I think it’s in that mezzo-mezzo (or comme ci, comme ca) category—it might sound cool to some people, but not to others. Ditto for Boston and Denver.

That brings us to the third category, place names that seem to work easily and well for people. By that I mean, they’re quickly recognized as baby names and don’t cause most people to think, Are you talking about a city or a girl? They’re usually short and sweet and many of them (like Charlotte and Virginia) were names for people before they were place names. Here are some examples:

Names of Countries:
For Girls: India, China, Kenya
For Boys: Cuba, Chad

Names of States and Provinces:
For Girls: Alberta (Canada), Dakota (U.S.), Georgia (U.S.)

Names of Cities and Towns:
For Girls: Charlotte (North Carolina), Florence (Italy), Madison (Wisconsin), Savannah (Georgia), Siena (Italy), Sydney (Australia), Skye (Scotland)
For Boys: (San) Diego (California), Frisco (Colorado), Reno (Nevada), Rio (Brazil)

Names of Bodies of Water:
For Girls: Bristol (Bay), (Lake) Louise
For Boys: Hudson (River and Bay), Nile (River), Rocky (Mountains)

Two observations:

1. I think you can easily see the difference between the names in the third category (place names that work well for people) and the names in the first category (place names that don’t).

2. I hope you can see that the names in the second category (place names commonly used for people that are kind of, sort of, pretty good for people) don’t work quite as well as the names in the third category.

I want to encourage you to think about the difference in suitability of place names for people—and what factors make them work (or not work). Does the place sound like a name for a child? Does it make a positive impression? Will it lead to teasing? Is it easy to spell and pronounce?

My son, a travel writer, was born in the U.S. and now lives in Sweden. When thinking of names that would make a positive impression in both countries for his three daughters, he selected place names that were easy to spell and pronounce, and familiar to people in both countries, and they’ve worked very well.

So if you’re thinking of picking up a globe, spinning it, and finding a city, state, country, body of water or group of mountains for your child’s name, keep in mind that most place names don’t make comfortable, charming, cool names for people. And clunky place names, like Turkey or Greece (even though you may love visiting those places) could turn out to be a bad trip for your baby.

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