Choosing Your Baby's Name

Newborn baby


Baby names are very important to most families. The name that you chose for your new baby will be a name that he or she carries for a lifetime, barring some legal maneuvering on their behalf later in life. You will need to find a name that will fit them as an infant, a growing child, a young adult, and finally, even in old age. The test of time is the ultimate test of a name, though most people wind up coming to terms with names they may not have originally loved well before they age.

In addition to the sheer weight of naming another human being, you (most often) have to do it with someone else's opinion—sometimes, even more than a single someone. This makes the task of naming a baby very difficult. To help you figure out what you need to consider and how to best go about the process, we've got some things for you to think about when looking at baby names.

Where to Find Baby Names

When you go to name your baby, you may already have a long list of girl names, boy names, and gender-neutral names already started, though this isn't always true for every family. Many people take baby name inspiration from a variety of sources. For many, this includes:

  • Baby name books
  • Online directories & naming tools
  • Family names
  • Pop culture (actors, movie characters, musicians)
  • Historical figures

You will spend at least some time planning for a name for your baby. Referencing an alphabetical list of names can let you systematically check off names you do not like and keep track of names that you do. You might instead prefer to pick one name you like and find others that sound or look similar and build your own list from there.

Things to Consider When Naming a Baby

It might sound simple to just pick a name and run with it. You can do that, of course. But it's worth considering a few things before making it official:

  • Initials: You may want to make sure that you aren't giving your baby initials that spell something rude or odd. Think Aaron Simon Samuels or Clarie Octavia Wilson.
  • Nicknames: Think through potential nicknames people could give your child and make sure you not only like them but that you feel good about how they match with your last name.
  • What did you name the siblings? You may want to consider giving your children names that "go together," as they'll often be said in the same breath. Plus, it may be difficult to explain to your kids why one has a super unique name (say, Zaphod) when his brother's name is Bob.
  • Does it have an offensive meaning? Some states and countries actually have laws that prevent you from naming a child anything that is considered a historical problem, like Adolf Hitler, Satan, etc.

Arguing With a Partner About Baby Names

You may also find that you and your partner do not see eye to eye when it comes to baby names. Do not panic. This is fairly normal. It's also a great reason to start talking about baby names really early on. The more time you have to have conversations about it, the less stressed you'll feel.

​One method that works well if you have a partner who is continually rejecting names is to ask them for a list of boy and girl names. Those they include can be ranked in any manner they wish. It certainly narrows your choices, but it can prevent a lot of frustration when you don't otherwise know what they consider to be a "good name."

This can also be a starting point. For example, let's say your partner says that Paula is a name on their list. Perhaps you're not fond of that name, but think Paulina is a great name, or that Paul would be acceptable on the boy name list.

Sometimes the arguments get heated. If you can't decide on a name together, decide a way to name the baby that is agreeable to both of you. For example, some families allow the mother to choose the girl names and the father to choose the boy names. You may also agree to have a third party, usually a family member, choose a name. An example would be each grandmother would submit a name and you would decide as a family the order in which the names would be placed. The good news is that baby naming doesn't typically get this far in the process.

Family Traditions in Baby Names

Family traditions may play a big part in how you choose to name your child. You may have a long history of using a naming pattern. For example: The first boy always gets the middle name of the paternal grandfather, and the second boy gets the middle name of the maternal grandfather. You might also do the same with daughters and the grandmothers. This is only one of many examples.

Using a junior naming convention may also be something that interests you. Some families have very long lines of juniors, which start, typically after the junior, with Roman numerals. If your family hasn't previously done this, it's a great way to create a family tradition. Though it is often seen among male members of the family, females can do it as well.

You may also wish to consider traditions that could involve:

  • Honoring deceased relatives
  • Maintaining a brand of initials (the same initials for all in the immediate family)
  • Naming the child with a virtue you hope to instill (faith, hope, charity, etc.)
  • Creating a unique name, either out of a combination of family names or words

On the other hand, people decide to ditch family traditions in baby naming all the time. That is completely acceptable, no matter what your family tries to tell you. Before you move ahead, it's worth considering how to manage any potential family disappointment that may come.

If you decide to announce the baby's name before the birth, you may find that hearing the news early at least gives your relatives some time to come to terms with the decision you've made. They may use this time to lobby to change your mind. This may or may not phase you, but be prepared.

You may instead choose to wait until after the baby is born to announce his or her name. This can have the added element of surprise to it. If anyone could be majorly upset, you may consider telling them that you are planning to break tradition ahead of time (even if you don't share the actual name you've selected). If they are disappointed, try to be understanding, but firm in your commitment to your baby's name.

Choosing a Middle Name for Your Baby

The vast majority of American families choose a middle name for their babies. The nice thing is most people feel less stressed over the middle name. This can be the place to hide the familial name that you're choosing out of a sense of obligation and not because you love it. It is also a place to have a little bit of fun, if you feel like the first name is a bit formal, or put a "safety name," in case your child grows up to dislike his or her first name.

Which Last Name Should You Use?

The last name that you use for your baby may be subject to the law. In some states and countries, the family name given to a baby must belong to the father, if known, or the mother or the father. Other places allow for more choices, particularly if you are not married to the father of the baby.

Some families use the last name as a place to combine names for their children. You might have parents with different last names who choose to hyphenate them for the child to indicate the joining of the two families (e.g. Mary Smith-Jones). Some families choose a whole new name.

Birth Certificates and Legal Issues With Baby Names

A birth certificate is issued for every live birth in the United States. Typically, the paperwork is filled out by the place of birth (i.e. the hospital birth center, etc.) in conjunction with the doctor or midwife. How long you have to do this will vary. It is important to note that babies who are born in the hospital are often given a fancy piece of paper with the baby's footprints; this is not an official birth certificate.

One question many people have is if they have to have decided on a baby's name prior to leaving the place of birth. The answer is typically no. This allows those who wish to name their babies at religious ceremonies to do so, though some opt to name sooner and simply not disclose their selection until the time of the ceremony. Check with the birth certificate clerks at your place of birth or the Department of Vital Statistics where you live for specifics about the laws that govern your birth.

While some countries have many laws that pertain to what you can name your baby, the United States does not have many laws of that nature. The laws that are on the books in America are usually more about not using pictures or symbols, or how many characters you can put in a name. Most of this is based on practicality, but occasionally someone will make the news because a judge is trying to make them change a name.

Religious Considerations for Baby Names

Religious obligations for naming a baby vary greatly. You should talk to your pastor, priest, rabbi, or clergy about specific customs. This may include naming the baby after a set of religious figures within your religion.

An example of this would be Catholicism, which sees a lot of its members using saint names or other names from the Bible for their baby. While it may not be a requirement for the legal name of the baby, it is often a strong tradition.

Some religions also use additional names that are not used on birth certificates. These are often bestowed after birth, such as at a naming ceremony.

Baby Naming Ceremonies

Some religions talk about not only what to name the baby, but when to name the baby. For example, Jewish families give their infant their legal name as well as their Hebrew name at a ceremony after the birth. For boys, this is usually done on the eighth day at the Brit Milah. A baby girl is typically named at some point after two weeks at a Brit Bat. Even within Judaism, there are differences in when and what is done at the ceremony. Talk to your clergy to decide if you wish to have a naming ceremony for your baby, even if it is just a religious naming.

A Word From Verywell

No matter how you opt to do it, choosing a name is an important task. Your baby will have to live with your name for the rest of his or her life, or until they decide to change it (which they can legally do at age 18). That sounds like a lot of pressure, and we suppose it is. But remember that, at the end of the day, parenting is mostly about intuition. Trust your gut and remember to enjoy making this special decision.

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Article Sources
  • Larson, C.F.W. (November 2011). "Naming Baby: The Constitutional Dimensions of Naming Rights". George Washington Law Review. 80 (1).