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How to choose a baby name -  a baby with it's mother.
dads & mums

what’s in a name? how to choose a baby name for your little one

7 minutes

10/08/2021

Choosing a name for your baby is a big decision and it can be tricky to know where to start. To put your mind at ease that you’ve covered all the bases, we’ve put together a guide to the type of things people tend to consider, from name origins and meanings to popular trends and potential nicknames (wanted and otherwise).

We’ve also asked some WaterWipes mums and dads for their own top tips on how to pick a baby name and their memories of the naming experience generally.

As you’ll see, the key to choosing a baby name is to do your research and not let anyone rush you into a decision or indeed talk you out of a decision. Ultimately, if a name feels right, it probably is right (and even your old dad will come around eventually).

  1. Traditional baby names

  2. Unique baby names

  3. Baby name trends

  4. Baby names with meaning

  5. Choosing a middle name

  6. Baby name initials

  7. Baby name regrets

  8. Baby naming recollections

1. Traditional baby names

If you like the idea of a ‘tried and tested’ name that you never have to worry about going out of style, look up ‘popular baby names by decade’, making sure to add the country your child will grow up in. (Popular names in the UK are very different from popular names in the United States or India or Finland, for example.)

From this, you’ll be able to get an idea of evergreen or ‘classic’ baby names – i.e., names that don’t seem out of place no matter what the decade, like Elizabeth, James, Muhammed and Sofia.

2. Unique baby names

If, on the other hand, you don’t like the thought of teachers calling your child by their full name, because there are two other kids with the same first name in their class, then you’ll find tools like the UK Office of National Statistics’ ‘Baby Names Explorer’ or the United States Social Security Administration’s ‘Get Ready For Baby’ very useful. They are interactive applications that show the top names for baby boys and baby girls by birth year (dating back more than a century). If you can’t find your choice of name on there, chances are your child will stand out from the crowd.

You can make the traditional unique, of course, by changing the spelling. Catherine, for example, could become Katharine, Catheryn or Kathryn. And the options for a shortened form (which lots of people automatically do with their name) are also endless: Kate, Cat, Kath, Catey, Kitty, Cathy and so on.

3. Baby name trends

If you do decide to go down the unique name route, then you’ll find inspiration all around you. Lots of people call their children after their favourite character in a classic book or film, while others pay tribute to celebrities, sports stars and royalty. When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge called their third son Louis, for example, the name soared in the baby name rankings.

The solar system, cities and landmarks, your garden and even your fruit bowl are also great sources for baby name ideas. At time of writing, Luna is currently the most-searched-for baby name in a number of countries.

You could also shake things up by using a traditional last name as a first name, such as Kennedy or Cooper – a very popular trend in the United States.

4. Baby names with meaning

Another great source for names is your family heritage. It’s popular now to call children after a beloved grandparent – but why stop there? Explore your family tree as far back as you can go – you’ll be amazed at the fresh ideas this throws up.

Culture is also important to many. You’ll hear lots of traditional Welsh names in Patagonia, Argentina, for example, thanks to its historic Welsh settlement. The internet is your friend here, but there are lots of books you could buy or borrow too.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind. We had a long-standing name picked out for our little boy but when he arrived it just didn’t seem to suit him at all. So we chose another one and have never looked back. Sometimes the baby decides for you...

5. Choosing a middle name

You might find you really like an untraditional baby name but are a little nervous that it will “go off”. That’s where middle names come in for many. While the significance and importance of a middle name differs from person to person, lots of people see it as an opportunity to be a bit more adventurous. It’s rarely heard out loud, after all – unless you’re in trouble with your mum!

Family names are also popular choices for middle names.

6. Baby name initials

As you do your research, you’ll find some names jump out at you more than others – often for no conscious reason at all. Compile a short list and then when you’re happy you’ve covered every avenue, get ready to do some testing.

Firstly, check the meaning of the names you like. Did you know for example that Calvin means “little bald one”? Or that Mallory means “bad luck” or “misfortune”?

You should also say the name out loud, first slowly, then quickly. Does it roll off your tongue when combined with your choice of middle name and surname? Does it sound like something else that could end up embarrassing your child?

Another important thing to do is look at the initials. Do they spell anything you’d rather your baby not be associated with?

Something else to consider is possible nicknames. Try to think of every potential option – are there any that set off alarm bells?

One final tip: if you don’t want your child’s name shortened, then it’s probably best to go with a shorter name.

7. Baby name regret

In the rare instance you do feel like you’ve made a mistake and have baby name regret, don’t worry. You could use your baby’s middle name as their first name, a shortened version of their given name or even a cute nickname. And there’s always the option of legally changing it too.

Ultimately, try to have fun with it. It’s a big decision, yes, but it’s also a hugely privileged one. And watching a child grow into their name is the one of the best feelings imaginable.

8. Baby naming recollections

I was absolutely in love with a name, but my husband vetoed it because he knew a person with the same name at school and they weren’t very nice. I argued that the association would fade as soon as he saw our little one, but he was adamant. Do I have regrets now? Absolutely not. I think it’s really important that parents are on the same page and we ultimately found a name that we both adored.

I went for unusual with my kids and they get very grumpy when we go into shops and they can’t find their names on mugs, keyrings, water bottles, etc. That’s been the only downside though, generally they love being a bit different.

My parents were set on the name Emma until a neighbour politely pointed out that Emma Lloyd sounded a bit like haemorrhoid. That ended that and I’m now Sarah. I also had friends who wanted to call their baby Kaitlin Freya Cooper. It took them a while to understand why people kept asking them if they really liked chicken. Once they realised, Kaitlin quickly became Caitlin.”

My only naming regret is my daughter’s middle name. We opted for a traditional name, but sometimes I wish we’d stuck to our initial instincts and gone for something a bit wilder and more adventurous – as that’s exactly how she’s turned out!

We told my parents the name we were thinking of for our little boy and they flat out said they hated it and would refuse to call him that. It really upset us. We loved it so much though, we went with it. And guess what? Now he’s here and thriving, my parents love it too. I’m so glad we stuck to our guns.”

“Don’t be afraid to change your mind. We had a long-standing name picked out for our little boy but when he arrived it just didn’t seem to suit him at all. So we chose another one and have never looked back. Sometimes the baby decides for you…

If you found this guide helpful, make sure you take a look at some of the other articles on our Parenting Hub:

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