Most people go through the same considerations when thinking about baby names. I like this, I don’t like that, this name is pretty, that name is ugly, another is wimpy or slutty, or stupid. When you consider naming for one moment, it’s an embarrassment.
My own given name was chosen for a few reasons. Firstly, it, like me, is scottish and scottish names seem to sound right together. Secondly, my parents thought that it couldn’t be abbreviated, which has largely been successful. Finally, they liked how it sounded. I’m not sure how aware they were, but my name translates in Hebrew to “God’s Gift” or “Gift from God” which is at least misguided and at most hilariously ironic. They also chose a name whose popularity is almost uniquely stable over the decades. There are two major criteria that people consider when choosing names for their children and neither names sense.
1. I want my kids to have a unique name.
You look around and see the homogenous mass of Bobs, Joes and Sams and you think, nay you know, that your offspring will be better than all that. Your child deserves a unique name, if only so they don’t have to be one of two or three in their class in primary school. That said, you don’t want to choose a name that’s so obscure that it makes your child the target for bullying or mockery. You want to strike a balance.
The problem is, you’re not as special as you think you are and and people all choose names that are in the same range of slight obscurity. All the Angelas, Tracys, Karens, and Susans born in the 60s and 70s thought that Sarah, Katie, Laura, Leah, and Lindsey were adequately unique choices. In my 12 years in public school I never had an Angela, Tracy, Karen or Susan in my class but almost every year I had at least one Sarah, Katie, Leah and Lindsey. Because name popularity moves in waves and you probably aren’t creative enough to break out of the culture you inhabit, the only way to ensure that your kids won’t be one of three in their class is to name them something that is common among your peers, or better yet, your parents peers. It’s always noteworthy when I meet a twenty something named Fred, Albert, or Melvin.
2. I don’t like that name!
Every name you hear stirs up emotions. You knew a girl named stacy at university and she was a slut. You dated a girl named Erica and she broke your heart. A guy in your kindergarten class named Dan used to eat applesauce every day with his mouth open. All those names are out. I knew a really nice girl named Evora so that’s in.
What’s wrong with this? Well firstly, why do you think that the most important feature of another person’s name is that you like it? Shouldn’t you be choosing a name that they will like? Or a name that their peers will like? To assume that your preference is a factor at all in the choice of your child’s name is incredibly arrogant. Furthermore, people tend to just trust their preferences without knowing where they come from. For example, I associate the name Kim with Kim Kardashian and Li’l Kim and Kim Jung Un. It’s not that I am not acquainted with some lovely Kims, it’s just that your brain builds associations based on how much of an impression someone makes and how recently they made it. Trish might be a perfectly fine name but you wouldn’t name your daughter Trish the day after your neighbour Trish runs over your dog. But as soon as your child has a name, the impact they have, and therefore the association in your mind, will be a positive one. Your child will not be awful because of a negative association. So the sane choice is to erase a negative association by choosing a name that you hate.
Perhaps more importantly, a name is a title and a title, however obscure or meaningful, becomes meaningless once it’s familiar to you. In time it’s meaning disappears and it’s just the word for the thing it’s attached to. If you have always known the band Led Zeppelin you may have never considered that it’s an interesting oxymoron. So your child’s name will not have the nice connotations that it had during your initial baby-naming conversation for more than a few short moments. However it will have connotations for every person that your child meets for their entire life. That’s thousands or tens of thousands of people who will each take away an impression as impactful, or more impactful than yours. You ought to choose a name likely to have no connotations for the thousands of people your child is likely to meet. Your likes and dislikes ought not come into it.
So in summary, when you name your child, you should choose a name that is common in your age group, choose a name that you hate, and choose a name with no positive or negative connotations among the public. Don’t be selfish.