How to name your baby

We haven’t settled on a real name for Little Wilb yet, but I thought I’d share some of the baby-naming strategies I’ve been mulling over recently.  It’s an intimidating responsibility, and one which is not without its pitfalls.

Aside from dropping the poor kid on its head or leaving it at a bus stop, giving a baby a bad name is one of the worst crimes a new parent can commit.  This is after all, the handle your child is going to carry with it for the rest of its life (assuming it doesn’t change it by deed poll out of desperation at some stage) and it will blame you for the name you chose as the root of all its various incompetencies during its teenage years anyway regardless of how inoffensive you thought it was at the time.

Here are a few strategies you could use to try to avoid the most obvious perils on the road to the registry office.

Strategy 1: Choose something popular.

This appears to be a good strategy for avoiding ‘Darius syndrome.’  Darius syndrome is the fate which befalls names which are a bit different but perfectly fine, until somebody of the same name becomes famous and ruins it for everyone due to their astonishing lack of talent/downright evilness.  You might be all set on Darius, having found it in a baby name book and learnt that you are naming your little bundle after a Persian emperor, and then along comes… Darius, and you’re scuppered.  To illustrate this point further, here is a graph of the popularity of the name Adolph (variant of Adolf) in the 20th Century.

If you were naming your child in April 1889, as Mr. and Mrs. Hitler were, Adolph or Adolf would have been one of the most popular names going.  And, if you’d looked it up in the baby book (assuming such things existed back then) you would have been reassured to learn that your baby was to be blessed with the qualities of a ‘noble wolf.’  Not surprisingly the popularity of the name took a bit of a nose dive in the late 1930’s, and has now more or less disappeared out of the charts.

Whilst there’s not much you can do to predict a fascist despot ruining your baby’s name, sticking to popular and somewhat more middle of the road names will probably ensure that your child doesn’t end up with every introduction resulting in a raised eyebrow by the time he reaches his mid-teens.

Strategy 2: Choose something ‘different’.

The down-side of strategy 1 is that you don’t want to go for the same name as every other parent in a 30 mile radius, lest your baby ending up thinking it’s name is actually ‘MattB’ by the second year of school, so as to distinguish him from MattA, MattC and MattD.  But then I heard recently about a girl who was the second ‘Sienna’ in her play-group, so there really is no predicting which direction trends will travel in.  Unfortunately, a ‘different’ name is only different at the point of naming, and if everyone has the same idea, then you’re stuck with a permanent initial stuck on the end of your name for the next 16 years.

Also, when you’re going for different, don’t forget that you may be shouting your chosen collection of syllables 20 or 30 times a day.  It’s worth considering this before settling on Philomela or something equally long and difficult to articulate in a crisis.  Bear in mind that it needs to be easy enough to shout quickly and at volume across Tesco’s car park when your adorable toddler is on the brink of slamming a shopping trolley into somebody’s Peugeot.

Strategy 3: Choose something topical

I don’t know if the parents of the several thousand 18-month old ‘Obamas‘ are regretting it yet, but they have managed to combine the pit-falls of strategy 1 and 2 in one fell swoop here.    You can bet your bottom dollar that there will have been a lot of parents who fancied naming their children Obama following his election in 2008, and those children will no doubt end up as ‘ObamaA’, ‘ObamaB’ and ‘ObamaC’, so as to avoid confusion (see Strategy 2.)  There is also the danger that Obama’s popularity will take a further tumble, and then the name doesn’t seem like quite such a clever idea after all.

Even if his presidency is a resounding success, it’s not like this will rub off on any of the baby Obamas, because we just don’t associate people with their name-sakes.  Do you think of the silver screen stars when you meet an Audrey or a Marilyn?

Strategy 4: Choose something cool.

The best place for picking up cool baby names is undoubtedly your local Apple store.  Have a bit of a mooch around, pretend to be shopping for an iPod or something, but secretly you are looking at the employee name tags for inspiration.

Choose the guys who have chosen to wear long sleeved t-shirts under their  staff t-shirts.  They are undoubtedly the coolest.  If you’re really lucky, you might find one who’s also wearing a scarf, an unfeasibly large pair of headphones around the neck and a baseball cap.  Check out the name on the end of that lanyard, and you’re onto a winner.

I hope I’ll be able to settle on a name myself at some point in the near future.  If in doubt, at least give the poor scrap a sensible middle name, so that they can choose that instead if Griselda doesn’t float their boat.


Author: Rachel Wheeley

Comedian, podcaster, full time Mum, based in London, UK

11 thoughts on “How to name your baby”

  1. Here are my words of wisdom . . .

    Each baby carries its own name. As you get to know it as a person, you will know what it is called. (‘It’ because this is a generalised principle.)

    Give it lots of names. S/he doesn’t have to use them all and can drop them and pick them up at will and shuffle them about a bit – but it gives choice and allows for mistakes and puts an element of naming into the hands of the person who is named.

    There is a synchronicity in naming. No point in chosing a not-so-used name on purpose because all sorts of other parents will be chosing that name at the same time oblivious that it is drifting through the ether and they will all end up with the same name and in the same class anyway.

    Take care about initials so they dont end up as R.I.P. or A.M.P.M. – or spell a word I wouldn’t like to write here.

    Don’t name after a relation.

    Don’t be bullied into naming a child before you are ready. It’s amazing how pressing people can be.

    An extra name can be added in up to a year after the child is registered (I think this is still the case) so all is not lost if you get it wrong at first.



    P.S. ‘Little Wilb’ sounds like a nice name to me. Spect it will stick for a bit whatever he’s called.

  2. My daughter is called Nevada, after the US state, which people from the East Coast think is terribly funny, and make horrible jokes about nuclear testing. But I thought Nevada was beautiful, in a very strong and independent way, and that’s kind of how my daughter is too, strangely enough.

    When I went to register her birth, and spelled out the name, the registrar paused and said: “Now you do know you can change the name within two years if you have second thoughts, don’t you?”
    I said: “What are you trying to say?”
    She said: “Oh, nothing.”

    I never have had second thoughts. Nevada is Nevada (or Nev, as her friends call her) and it’s impossible to think of her as anything else. She might have been Arizona, but luckily I remembered that Arizona means Arid Zone, which isn’t very nice, whereas Nevada means snowy.

  3. Don’t be bullied into naming a child before you are ready. It’s amazing how pressing people can be.

    My uncle took so long to name one of his sons that the registry office started writing him threatening letters, demanding that he do so forthwith. His response was ‘what are you going to do? Take him back?’

    Fortunately it seems that you’ve got six weeks to register a birth in England – it’s only three in Scotland.

  4. ooooooh!

    You are grappling!

    Not sure we gave it quite so much thought but you seem to have lived with it reasonably well….

    I too think he’ll be little wilb for a while.

    He’ll be gorgeous what ever you decide and I love your blog!
    M Xx

  5. Love your blog, Rach, and I well understand the mental gymnastics that you and Tom are going to be going through in not many weeks from now; always assuming, of course, that you haven’t yet actually determined baby Wilb’s lifetime’s handle: perhaps you have? and are quite properly keeping it (?them) to yourselves until the appropriate time.

    Aeons ago (well 1967, actually) Sylvia and I went through the same agonies that you and Tom are currently experiencing; eventually we came up with the brilliantly original Sarah, which hadn’t of course been in vogue since the 1910’s.

    So just how was it, then, that in her first primary year there were, as I recall, three other sets of parents who had arrived at the same brilliantly original Sarah. Did they really call her SarahT?

    And now I also have a delightful sister-in-law with that name . . . and innumerable clients who come on the phone saying “It’s Sarah here” – which gets my mind racing trying to determine just which Sarah it is amongst the dozen or more that I deal with most months!

    Second daughter, Helen’s, name was also going to be truly different, don’t yer know? So how about Helen P and Helen J and a myriad of other lovely Helen’s who pass my way most months.

    Piers (he was nearly Aiden) is a bit different; but then Mr and Mrs Morgan went and spoilt it all, didn’t they, by giving their pratt of a son the same name . . . c’est la vie.

    Incidentally, on an totally different subject, I’m inclining to re-name no 19 Marmalade’s End – and I blame it entirely on you, Rach!

    Like ‘cos I kept on telling your ma how very good your Christmas marmalade was, so she’s gone and got into marmalade mode, too! (can you imagine?) – and we’re going to have the kitchen extended to allow us to store all of the hundreds of jars of equally excellent marmalade that she’s made this week.

    Could Marmaduke feature in your thoughts? Sdifferent, isn’t it?

    Thinking of you.

  6. Online friends who we meet in real life still call the Small Boy Bernard, which confuses the hell out of him because he doesn’t know he has an online pseudonym.

  7. as you know it took us 6 weeks to come up with a name for baby number 4 (the point at which you legally have to register a childs birth in the uk) and then luckily while we were sitting in the office we decided to add a name… so, she used one name for the first year and i discovered i thoroughly hate it when spoken with an english accent… so then decided to use the other for the second year although i still use the initial name when speaking spanish to her as do my entire side of the family as they can’t pronounce the other! i can’t believe however how many of both names there are about.

    number ones name is totally unusual and i like that but how many times in a lifetime do you want to have to correct spelling and pronounciation?

    whatever you choose rach, i’m sure it will work and let’s face it you can always change it or just shorten it or give them a nickname…..

    sorry for talking so long too!

  8. Actually, what I should have said was: “CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!”
    If my sums are right, and they’re probably not, does that make it a February baby? What a great time of the year to have a birthday, just when everyone is feeling a bit bored and up for a party. And you’ll never have any of that “will we risk having it out of doors, or should we play safe” nonsense.
    Both of mine have birthdays that always seem to fall in the Easter holidays, which means half their friends are always away.

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