Friday, May 25, 2007

Naming Babies: An Early Introduction to Parental Responsibility

[This post has been brought to you by an internet meme (an idea that is traveling, in this case much like a game of tag). My instructions for this post:

Give the meaning of your kids’ names, and write about what or how or why you gave the name to your kids. Tag five people to play along and leave a comment at their blog to let them know they have been tagged.

To follow this meme backwards, see Judy's name post at Goodyblog. To see it progress follow the links at the end of this post.]

Sometime, very early in our marriage, we started playing a hypothetical name game in the car. We'd pair different names with our distinguished surname (Jones). Within moments it became apparent that long O names or names with a initial consonant and o pairing could create problematic circus clown variety nicknames: Jonas Jones becomes Jo-Jo, Noah Jones becomes No-Jo, Howard Jones- Ho-Jo. The only long O dominant name we liked paired with Jones was Orlando (already taken). There was one girl's name that I would break this rule for, but then I heard the dulcet tones of Norah Jones and consigned yet another promising name to the discard pile.

During the car game one of us would propose a name and then we would both viciously attack it in typical schoolyard fashion.

One of the most important taunt tests for a name is RHYMING. Jake, snake, fake... you get the drift. My brother (slightly older than the tidal wave of Christophers) was named after our adventuresome forefather Christopher Peter-Fox [last name omitted]. Old Christopher preferred the nickname "Crit" above all over others, so my parents sentimentally passed this nickname on to my brother. As a result, my brother spent more of recess in the office for fighting than on the playground. Whatever you do, please very carefully reconsider any name ending in -it or -uck if your expect your child to possess the power of hearing. Kids are not known for civil society; please don't put your child in a head-on collision with childhood conflict.

DUAL OR LITERAL MEANINGS: Okay, so kids aren't literary sophisticates, but they will work hard to get a really good insult. Names with English meanings or homophones (or near phrases) can be problematic. I loved the name and associations of Minerva- but the dream of a little Minerva Jones died with "You're stepping on my last Minerva!" It's not that funny, but it still springs to mind when young Ranger is treading on thin ice. It would get old for her fast. Cliff, Seymour, and any other name from a childhood book title jokes is probably a troubled direction. (If you're missing this allusion and don't know who wrote "Under The Bleachers" good examples are available here in titles 1-15)

VIRTUE NAMES: This is probably the most controversial statement ever written to Baby Toolkit, and I am putting on my helmet for the rain of hell-fire this will attract, but we are firm believers that virtue names and natural tendencies toward rebellion are not well matched. It has been my experience that Graces are clumsy, Hopes are pessimistic, and Chastitys are... well... not. I fear that a generation of Nevaehs will be pure Lleh. If you have one of these names and embody the appropriate characteristic- then your parents were wise and granted you a perfect name. If only all parents could be so wise.

We actually considered giving our children a middle name that was a deplorable vice (probably picking from the seven deadly sins) in hopes that they would rebel against the name's intrinsic expectations. But Minerva Selfishness Jones would probably incur way too much explanation in future years.

COMMON NAMES: These are great and actually recommended for pairing with stylish and distinctive last names like Holiday or Czekajewski. While they're fully functional for any child in daily life, the pairing of a common first and common last name can cause identity confusion.

When I was in grade school in a small rural community, there were 2 John Miles in my class (we referred to them as M or J- their middle initials). Jim has had perpetual problems with his very common name causing mistakes: like when he was mistakenly sued for child support of 3 children (one older than himself) at the ripe old age of 13 -or- the time all our mail was swapped for months with that of a felon so we got his parole notifications and he got our paychecks (we were lucky, he was reformed and brought us our mail when he couldn't get the post office to straighten the mess up).

ALWAYS GOOGLE: So your embryo's name sounds great, but are you missing some vital information? It's easy to learn now (as opposed to later when the ink on the birth certificate is dry) what people with your child's name have been up to in the past.

Unfortunately, Google can't see into the future. Jim Jones decided to kill a multitude of his believers years after my husband Jim had been given the same moniker. And seriously, if a Google search can save your child a lifetime of Kool-aid jokes, it's definitely worth the effort.

The same admonition goes for names heavily tied to popular fictional characters- I have heard everyone's bad Stallone impersonation "Adreeee-uhnnnnnn!" for three decades now. It's beyond tired. And my friend, Francie "Francis the Talking Mule," would probably second that opinion.

AND NOW- I'm not telling you Ranger's true name. Maybe it's because I read too much Elfquest in adolescence, but I think he deserves his own privacy in the next decade when mean spirited 6th graders discover that parent blogs are rich with personal information.

We did change his blog name from BabyGeek (which he'd outgrown) to Ranger in honor of my grandfather, a career member of the Forest Service.

There are three baby name books that really stand out as exceptional to us.

The Baby Name Wizard offers meanings and "sibling names" which are names of the same style or tone. It also documents the popularity of a name throughout the last century of US census data. Their online Name Voyager tool is phenomenal (and was recently covered on Goodyblog) and their Name Wizard blog is simply fascinating.

The Baby Name Survey Book and its soon to be released update The New Baby Name Survey Book are great for seeing general perceptions of a name. I don't think this book heavily influenced our name choices, but we had the best time reading it. This book would make a conversation piece at any cocktail party. Go to the library and check it out immediately.

The Perfect Baby Name Book: Finding the Name that Sounds Just Right looks at how sounds work together. It's great at breaking large linguistics concepts down understandable ideas in a just a few introductory pages, and then it sorts the names in a workable manner. Looking for a two syllable long O name with the emphasis on the second syllable? Then this book is perfect for you. Its short title is shared with another, more traditional baby name book, so make sure you get the one written by Walker & Reyes.

- Don't tell anyone the names you're really considering unless you want frequent, thorough, and (often) completely irrational criticism. [This goes double if you have any teachers in your family. Kids ruin lots of names for teachers, but your mom is going to forget immediately about Gavin the Terrible when Gavin the Grandson assumes the name.] Some people can offer good criticism, but it's very hard to hear at times, so choose your confidantes wisely.

-If you can't announce that you're keeping names secret and stick to secrecy, choose RED HERRINGS. Jim and I have already started list for any future pregnancies. We have actually chosen names so painful and odious that everyone will be relieved when we reveal a socially acceptable name. We'll attribute this change entirely to a last-minute change of heart- allowing us to reuse our red herrings in any subsequent pregnancies.

-Choose a name that you're willing to say at least a million times a day, because you will use it all the time. You will probably even have to scream it in public at times.

-Stealing names is a grievous offense. If you're using the name of another child in your social set, think through your relationship with that family. Will you see them often? How inconvenient is a shared name going to be at gatherings? Have they worked to choose a really distinctive name? If they have spent time finding an usual name, then they will probably resent your co-opting it.

-FIRST TIME PARENTS: Seriously, people are going to grind the names you love and have carefully chosen into dust. Don't tell, or be prepared to take the slings and arrows. This is actually a good introduction to parenthood. You're working feverishly choosing a name that you child will, for at least a short period of their life, curse you for giving them while you suffer from immense criticism of your carefully chosen names. The naming criticism is NOTHING compared to the PARENTING ADVICE that is headed your way. Learn to flip a little switch in your brain and work on a Mona Lisa smile- they will serve you well as you're about to be hit by an avalanche of unsolicited (and even unsound) advice. Stand your ground (unless it violates the -it or -uck rhyme rule). It's your child and you have to live with them when they hate you and their name.

Please watch meme as it travels to Jenni & Jeremiah at (check out their recent Sippy Cup Showdown- all BPA-free!), Jodi at The Mom Tech Review (a great blog for the geek parent set), Jill of Jill's Place (offers the story of her kids great names) and more blogs to be announced soon. If you blog and would like to be a part of this meme, email me (babytoolkit[at] or leave a comment and I will put a link right here.

***Baby Toolkit is a sometimes stream-of-consciousness commentary of some opinionated geek parents.  We are Amazon affiliates, so a portion of any purchases made through our Amazon links helps pay our ISP charges (thank you!).


Unknown said...

A) I'm glad I tagged you instead of getting tagged by you, because I would hate to have to follow that amazing post.
B) You're like a genius. I thought this was kind of a banal subject. You made it totally interesting and funny and completely useful
C) You're a genius not "like" a genius
D) And you just whipped that off, just like that?

Julie said...

On name-stealing: My family still has not forgiven the people that stole my cousin Kendall's girl-baby name. I don't even remember those people's real names anymore; they are "The Name Thieves" when mentioned in casual conversation. Poor Kendall. She also lost her first choice for boy names (when her step-brother got to it first) and her second choice for boy names (when my grandmother deemed it "too gay"). Which surprised all of us, since we were not aware that names had sexual orientation. :|

And I hope you tell me your real names the next time you're pregnant! You know I am supportive.

Anonymous said...

The story of my wonderful kids, Lauren Nicole and Sam Ryan, is here.

KrisyDH said...

Hey loved your blog, like many mom's to be when I was in Jr High i already had my daughters name picked, my husband however was not a fan of my pick but when she arrived he took one look at her and agreed that her name be Jayde Anne Elaine Hannell.Jayde being my long thought of name and the middle names are the of both our mother's. luckily no one really critisized our pick well except for the odd "you must watch AMTL".
but i couldn't imagine her by any other name.And on the name stealing thing I'm sure my neighbor would have stole my name if she wasn't having a boy. as she stole my room decor ideas and she practically runs right out and buys every toy i arrive home with. well the jokes on her b/c i at least had my baby first.That's one thing she can never get. till next time all the best and happy name hunting!

Anonymous said...

Totally agree on the not telling the name before the kid is actually out - it's kind of amazing how seriously people will try to get you not to use a name just because they don't like it. Really, is there anything wrong with 'Sandy Rivers' or 'Candy Berre'? I mean, sheesh.

Jeremiah McNichols said...

I love it! I blogged this meme here, thanks for tagging us!

Ele at abitofpinkheaven said...

Great website, enjoyed trememdously!

indywriter said...

I missed this while on vacation.

My family is like a vivid illustration of so many of your points. Like my unfortunate cousin Tucker, who has loads of name-related fun in store.

My folks told everyone that asked that they were going to name me either Hillary Grace or Fester Bruce, red herrings that left people guessing.

And my youngest has a name that some might think was stolen, as there is a girl at our church just 6 months older with the same name. They never told what they were having or the names they had picked out, so the first I heard of it was when their Lily Cathleen was born. We had already picked out baby names before I was pregnant. I think it may have annoyed them a bit when we named our little girl Lillian Kathleen, but our name was in honor/memory of two beloved family members. Had we just "liked" the name, we probably would have changed it. But I love family names, so If my Lily Kathleen isn't going to see your Lily Cathleen everyday, I'm keeping it.