Place Names That Work Well as Names for People

Place names usually fit into three categories. The first category covers most place names: They probably wouldn’t work well for people. For example, Monongahela (the river in Pennsylvania), Sheboygan (the town in Wisconsin) and Georgetown (the neighborhood in Washington, D.C.) aren’t names you’re likely to hear in a kindergarten classroom. The first two names lack the romantic appeal of Paris, the charm of Siena, or the “trendy” image of Brooklyn. They’re also rather long and hard to spell. Georgetown is easy to spell and has appeal—it’s a cool, upscale neighborhood (and outstanding university)—but the suffix    (-town) makes it less appropriate as a name for people.

The second category contains place names that are often used for people—even though they still sound more like names for places. Brooklyn is one example and London is another. Both are gaining in popularity as baby names, though they may not seem as appropriate as, say, India or Georgia. Of course, perceptions can change over time. “Indiana Jones” is probably the reason Indiana is considered an acceptable name for people. Before the movie, few people thought of Indiana as a person’s name. For that reason, I think it’s in that mezzo-mezzo (or comme ci, comme ca) category—it might sound cool to some people, but not to others. Ditto for Boston and Denver.

That brings us to the third category, place names that seem to work easily and well for people. By that I mean, they’re quickly recognized as baby names and don’t cause most people to think, Are you talking about a city or a girl? They’re usually short and sweet and many of them (like Charlotte and Virginia) were names for people before they were place names. Here are some examples:

Names of Countries:
For Girls: India, China, Kenya
For Boys: Cuba, Chad

Names of States and Provinces:
For Girls: Alberta (Canada), Dakota (U.S.), Georgia (U.S.)

Names of Cities and Towns:
For Girls: Charlotte (North Carolina), Florence (Italy), Madison (Wisconsin), Savannah (Georgia), Siena (Italy), Sydney (Australia), Skye (Scotland)
For Boys: (San) Diego (California), Frisco (Colorado), Reno (Nevada), Rio (Brazil)

Names of Bodies of Water:
For Girls: Bristol (Bay), (Lake) Louise
For Boys: Hudson (River and Bay), Nile (River), Rocky (Mountains)

Two observations:

1. I think you can easily see the difference between the names in the third category (place names that work well for people) and the names in the first category (place names that don’t).

2. I hope you can see that the names in the second category (place names commonly used for people that are kind of, sort of, pretty good for people) don’t work quite as well as the names in the third category.

I want to encourage you to think about the difference in suitability of place names for people—and what factors make them work (or not work). Does the place sound like a name for a child? Does it make a positive impression? Will it lead to teasing? Is it easy to spell and pronounce?

My son, a travel writer, was born in the U.S. and now lives in Sweden. When thinking of names that would make a positive impression in both countries for his three daughters, he selected place names that were easy to spell and pronounce, and familiar to people in both countries, and they’ve worked very well.

So if you’re thinking of picking up a globe, spinning it, and finding a city, state, country, body of water or group of mountains for your child’s name, keep in mind that most place names don’t make comfortable, charming, cool names for people. And clunky place names, like Turkey or Greece (even though you may love visiting those places) could turn out to be a bad trip for your baby.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

Dear Bruce: How does “branding” affect the selection of a name for your baby?

Dear Bruce, 

You’ve been quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying: “We live in a marketing-oriented society. People who understand branding know that when you pick the right name, you’re giving your child a head start.” How does “branding” affect the selection of a name for your baby?


Bruce: Some names identify your child to people in a positive way; some names identify your child to people in a negative way. Mention the name Bertha, and many people instantly think “Big Bertha”—to some extent because of Callaway’s Big Bertha drivers. Mention Tiffany, and many people instantly think of elegance and good taste—to a large extent due to the image and reputation of Tiffany & Co. From these two examples, you can see that a product name and/or corporate name may or may not produce a strong name for babies.

For example, most people would agree that selecting a name like iPod, ESPN, IBM, General Electric, or FedEx would not be a good choice for either a boy or girl. On the other hand, Lauren may remind people of Ralph Lauren, which projects the image of an attractive, well dressed person with good (and expensive) taste. Ditto for Ashley, which projects a similar image based on the Laura Ashley brand of clothing.

But there’s more to “branding” than associating your child with a commercial product or company name. When you select a name for your child, you are associating your child with the current image of that name—an image that often is influenced by a famous celebrity or newsmaker or historical figure. For example, the name Bridget may call to mind fictional character Bridget Jones, a lovable, if neurotic, “singleton.” Elvis may call to mind Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll who was also known for excesses toward the end of his life. Same goes for Britney, a name that’s strongly associated with Britney Spears, whose image has gone downhill in recent years, thanks to her well-publicized lack of self-control.

In other words, you can choose a name that’s associated with a commercial product or corporation, a name that’s associated with a famous individual, a name that’s associated with a place (e.g., the name Paris is associated both with a charming city in France and yet another out-of-control celebrity whose adventures have landed her in jail), a name that’s associated with nature (e.g., Crystal), or a name associated with a value (e.g., Grace or Joy).When people learn the name of your child, the first thing they’ll think about are their own associations, thoughts, and/or feelings about that name.

Of course, there are lots of other factors parents need to consider when naming their child: how the name fits with their last name, what nicknames are likely to be used, what the initials will be, whether the name can be easily spelled and pronounced, whether the name’s gender association is clear or confusing, and so on. But after considering these and other factors, the ultimate choice should be based on the best interest of the child.

To find a name for your child that will give him or her a head start in life, parents need to know how the names they’re considering come across to others. Marketing people depend on this knowledge when they select names for new products and new companies they’re launching—and so should parents.

If you’d like to submit a question, please leave it in the comments section here.  

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

A Great Baby Naming Advice Gem via Fit Pregnancy

Here’s a great baby naming advice gem from Jeanne Faulkner R.N. at Fit Pregnancy:

My best advice is to choose a name that both you and your partner love and that you wouldn’t mind being called yourself. Imagine what it will sound like called out the back door at dusk, and whispered in the middle of the night. Try it out using your angry voice because I guarantee you’ll shout that name more than once.  Then, plug it into a resume and imagine it on a diploma or the cover of a book. If it still holds up after all of that, well then, you’ve got yourself a name. Oh, and one last piece of advice – be careful with those initials, will ya?

via For The Love of Baby Naming: Holiday Inspired Names – Fit Pregnancy.

Baby Names to Avoid

Instead of giving you ideas about what to name your baby, in this article I’ll do quite the opposite: detail how to avoid the kinds of names likely to hinder or annoy your child.

1. Avoid names that are likely to cause teasing. Bullies look for ways to get under their victim’s skin. Here are some of their dirty tricks:

  • Teasers love names that are associated with either private body parts (like Fanny, Dick or Peter) or bathroom functions.
  • Teasers like to rhyme and will give your child a new name (like Pooper Cooper, Fat Matt, Skinny Minnie, and Tricky Dicky).
  • Teasers might give your child a new suffix or last name (like Frank Enstein, Pat The Bunny, or Frank Furter).

2. Avoid names associated with heinous historical villains (like Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Ivan the Terrible). Ditto for fictional villains (like Count Olaf from “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”).

3. Avoid names of celebrities whose popularity has (deservedly) gone “south” (like Paris, Lindsay, and Lance).

4. Avoid names that are difficult to spell and/or pronounce (like Siobahn and Hieronymous).

5. Avoid names that sound like impolite words (such as Jorge, which when pronounced properly sounds like “whore hey;” Helga, which includes “hell;” and Rich, which invites rhymes with “witch” and an unflattering b-word).

Of course, when you’re picking a name for your baby, you’re usually thinking positive thoughts as you imagine a handsome or beautiful child growing up happily. That’s why it helps to Google every name you’re considering to learn its “famous namesakes” (historical and fictional), which will help you imagine the associations that come to people’s minds when they hear it.

Another good idea is to try out the names you’re considering on schoolchildren–either relatives or neighbors. Instruct them to tease a child with each name. They may come up with taunts you never imagined.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

How to Pick a Unique Version of a Popular Name

Every year, expectant parents eagerly await the Social Security Administration’s latest Top 100 lists for boys’ and girls’ names in the United States. Many parents-to-be like the security and familiarity of popular names. However, it’s important to note that the popularity issue cuts two ways: Psychologists say a child with a popular name seems to have better odds of success than a child with an uncommon name, but a child whose name is at the top of the popularity poll may not feel as unique and special as a child whose name is less common.

Perhaps a good compromise is to select a unique version of a popular name for your baby. This involves taking a popular name and customizing it with a touch of individuality. Here are some tips to help you do just that:

1. Choose a Variation.

One easy option is to look for variations of a Top 100 name you like. For example, Jake and Kobi are variations you might want to consider for Jacob. If you’re worried that William is too popular, you might want to consider Will and Liam. For girls, Emilia and Emmaline are forms of Emily.

2. Choose a “Name-Book Neighbor.”

Find a popular name in any baby name book, then scan the names around it to find the “name-book neighbors.” These names contain some of the same letters and sounds as the popular name, but are often more unique. For Olivia, you’ll find Olinda and Olympia. For fellas, a name-book neighbor of Matthew is Mathias, and a name-book neighbor of Michael is Micah.

3. Change the Spelling.

If you like the sound of a popular name but want to give it a unique treatment, an easy trick is to change the spelling. You can make the change as subtle (Hannah to Hanna) or dramatic (Michael to Mikkel) as you wish. The main concern, however, is that changing the spelling of a traditional name may lead people to misspell or mispronounce the name—which could be a daily inconvenience for your child.

4. Combine Names.

An additional way to put a unique twist on a popular name is to combine it with another name. You can make a double name separated by a space or a hyphen, such as John Paul or Mary-Kate, or you can make a single name, such as Michaelangelo or Emmalee. If you want to add a personal touch to a combination name, combine your own names or the names of special relatives. If your names are Carl and Linda, combine them to get Carlinda. If the grandfathers’ names are Daniel and Steven, combine them to get Staniel. The possibilities are endless—but keep in mind that sometimes the results can be quite silly.

5. Add a Prefix or Suffix.

Adding a prefix or suffix to popular names is especially prevalent with names of American origin used by African American families. Common prefixes are Da-De-Le-La-Sha-Ja-, and Ta-. Common suffixes are -a-ia-ina-ita-la-en-o-ta-te-us, and -y. When you add these to popular names, you get unique versions such as Lakayla, Deanthony, Sarita, and Josephus. Throughout history, the suffix -son has been used to link a father’s name to a son’s name, as in the case of Jackson and Jameson. These names are commonly used as first names for boys and girls. Borrowing from this custom, you can add a twist to a popular name (or perhaps your own name) by adding -son.

6. Use an Ethnic Variation.

If you like the name John but find it too popular, consider giving it an ethnic spin: Sean (Irish), Zane (English), Gian (Italian), Hans (Scandinavian) Janne (Finnish), Honza (Czech), Ian (Scottish), Janek (Polish), Jan (Dutch and Slavic), Jean (French), Johann  (German), Jens (Danish), Juan (Spanish), or even Keoni (Hawaiian). For girls, Katherine has many interesting ethnic variations, including Kasia (Polish), Ekaterina (Russian), and Kathleen (Irish). You may choose an ethnic variation to reflect your heritage, or perhaps you’ll simply choose an ethnic name on its own merits. (Just be careful when you pair the first name with your last name; you might get strange results like Juan Kowalski.)

As you can see, there are several ways to make a unique version of a popular name. With these techniques, you can stray a little or a lot from a popular name, depending on your comfort level and your imagination. In the end, you may come up with a name that’s the best of both worlds.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

Looking for a Name with Canadian Roots? Try a Place Name

Note: Several years ago I wrote and published “The Very Best Canadian Name Book.” Naturally, it sells mostly in Canada. I wrote the article below for a Canadian website. I doubt if it’s ever been seen “south of the border,” but I’m sure there are millions of Americans who were born in Canada or who visit Canada and have a special feeling for the country. (Count me in the happy visitor category.)

If you’re looking for a name with Canadian “roots” for the baby you’re expecting (or the baby you hope to have someday), consider the idea of picking a Canadian “place name” (the name of a Canadian city or town, body of water, or mountain). Place names can provide an interesting (and patriotic) alternative to traditional “Jacob and Emma” names more commonly chosen by parents. To quickly find out if this idea appeals to you, browse through the list of Canadian place names I’ve provided below.

Cities or Towns

Girls: Brooks, Celista, Courtenay, Fernie, Joliette, Nicolet, Regina, Surrey; Boys: Brandon, Duncan, Dryden, Estevan, Merritt


Girls: McKenzie, Mercy; Boys: Burnett, Dawson, Hudson, Walker


Girls: Alouette, Azure, Brunette, Nicola; Boys: Benson, Cameron, Fraser, Perry, Trent


Girls: Lajoie; Boys: Decker, Duffey


Girls: Sarita; Boys: Bond, Frederick, Owen, Parry


Girls: Celeste, Garnet, Isabel, Luciana; Boys: Bryce, Forbes, Hector, Odin, Palmer, Steele, Temple, Thor

Now that you’ve looked over the list, if you like the idea of picking a Canadian place name but don’t see the perfect name for your child on the list, you might want to hunt down a Canadian road atlas to find a lot more names with Canadian geographic roots.

Let’s discuss some strategies for making a wise choice. It’s important to find the balance between a unique, out-of-the-ordinary name and a name that’s so different, it’ll make people wonder, What were they thinking? (That’s the reaction most people have when they look at a list of names selected by celebrities for their babies.) Notice that I overlooked some obvious place names, like Alberta (a province), and instead chose a number of out-of-the-ordinary names like Decker and Lajoie (lakes) as well as Bond and Sarita (sounds). These names are unusual, but can work well as a person’s name (in addition to being the name for a city or lake or mountain). They’ll reflect well on you for having made a savvy choice and will reflect well on your child because they’re likely to make a favorable impression on his or her behalf.

I left out certain Canadian places that wouldn’t work well—names that are unlikely to: come across as suitable for a person, reflect glory on the parent who selected the name, or make a positive first impression for the child. For example, it’s hard to imagine anyone naming their baby Moose Jaw or Medicine Hat—even an attention-craving celebrity.

You’ll need to keep in mind that you’re diving into the deep end of the “baby-name pool” when you consider names that are unlikely to rank among the 1,000 most popular names and which may rarely, if ever, have been used as names before. When you go outside the pool of popular baby names, it’s risky to base your decision solely on your own views and those of your spouse/partner or your extended family. You need to ask yourself (and others) what kind of first impression the names you’re considering will make. It helps to poll kids, young adults, and old-timers so you can quickly get beyond that small circle of friends or relatives who are dying to influence your baby-naming decision. Talk about the name with people you’ve just met as well as with people you’ve known for years. When you mention the names you have in mind, study your respondents’ body language. Are their tones of voice, facial expressions, and pupil sizes reinforcing or contradicting the words they’re saying?

If the responses you get are mostly positive (based on what people say and don’t say), you just might have accomplished what many parents fail to do: picking an appealing name that reflects your Canadian roots which you and your child will enjoy using every day.

© 2008 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

How to Come Up With a 5-Star Name for Your Baby

A few years ago, I published my favorite name book, “5-Star Baby Name Advisor.” I’m writing this blog to explain what makes a 5-star name and to provide you with some examples, so you’ll know what to look for and why this process is worth the effort.

When I came up with the idea of 5-star names, I was trying to invent a fairly objective way for parents to rate names so they could increase the odds of choosing a satisfactory moniker for their child (and create a feeling of accomplishment for themselves, for having picked a winner).

I thought, if parents understand the factors that affect how a name will either help or hinder their child, they’ll be able to make a more rational, objective choice. This can help them avoid painful arguments about subjective likes and dislikes, which will make the naming process more fun and increase their probability of choosing an excellent name.

Another plus to this approach is that it gives parents ammunition against suggestions made by friends or family members who are more focused on honoring a relative or saint (who may have an awkward, esoteric, dated or archaic name) than on the benefit to the child of having a strong name.

When I created “5-Star Baby Name Advisor,” I set up a quantitative scoring system for each of the name attributes listed below. For the purpose of this article I suggest parents use a +1 to -1 scale to figure out a score for each factor that makes intuitive sense. (Otherwise you’ll need a lawyer to handle the negotiations and a computer to handle the calculations.)

1. Meaning: Take a look at the meaning of each name you’re considering. Most meanings are fairly inconsequential. But some are great (Jamila, for example, means “beautiful”) and some suggest that a name isn’t right for your baby. (If, say, you have a dark complexion like I do, you may not want to name your daughter Jennifer or Bianca, which mean “white or fair.”)
Scoring: Rate from +1, +1/2, 0, -1/2, to -1 based on how positive or negative the meaning is. (Note the meaning of most names is usually OK rather than very positive or very negative, which is why using a neutral rating of 0 or a rating of plus or minus ½ point will be appropriate for most names.)

2. Impression: This is very different from a name’s meaning. You can look up a meaning in any name book. But you can only look up an impression in either “5-Star Baby Name Advisor” or “The New Baby Name Survey Book” (which you should be able to find at any online bookseller). If you can’t get hold of those books, “check the vibes” by looking up famous namesakes and asking friends, “What do you picture or think of when you hear the name _____?” Some impressions are easy to discover: The name Marilyn brings to mind a glamorous, sexy, blond bombshell like Marilyn Monroe. The name Marian brings to mind a quiet, unassuming, and dark-haired librarian who is intelligent and well meaning, like the character from “The Music Man.” If you haven’t seen the movie “The Exorcist,” you might not know that Damian has a “satanic” image. That’s why you need to ask friends and consider Googling names you like—to see which famous people or fictional characters pop up first; those famous namesakes affect the impression that names make. You’ll find that certain names (like Adolf or Elvis) make very clear impressions. You’ll also find that the impressions some names make have deteriorated recently (Lance) or in the last few years (Britney and Paris).
Scoring: Rate from +1, +1/2, 0, -1/2, to -1 based on how positive or negative the impression seems to be.

3. Gender Clarity: All things being equal, it’s better to have a name that is clearly masculine or feminine. That way, teachers and classmates won’t be surprised or entertained when a kid named Carroll turns out to be a boy instead of the girl they were picturing. I know that gender-neutral names are becoming increasingly acceptable but, while they can be charming, they introduce an element of risk.
Scoring: Rate from +1, +1/2, 0, -1/2, to -1 based on the name’s gender clarity.

4. Popularity & Trend: Names that are extremely popular (on the top-15 list) can create the impression that a name isn’t “unique” to a child. If your child has a top-15 name that’s shared with several children in his or her class, it can create problems. Likewise, if your child has a name that’s so uncommon it’s either unknown or seems strange to classmates, that could create problems.
Scoring: After taking into account problems caused by names that are “too popular” and “too unfamiliar,” give names rising in popularity a positive rating; give names declining in popularity a negative rating. Rate from +1, +1/2, 0, -1/2, to -1 based on popularity and trend.

5. Versatility: It’s great to find a name that will grow with your child. For example, look at the name William: As a baby, he can be called Willy; as a child, he can be called Billy; as a young adult, he can be called Bill or Liam; and as an adult (perhaps a lawyer or professor) he can be called William. A female name with tremendous versatility is Elizabeth. If you give your child one of these names, he or she will have a lot of formal and informal options, including a number of perfectly acceptable adult options like Bill and Will or Beth and Liz. Bruce only has one option: Brucey. A child named Honor has no options. (What do you call baby Honor? I have no idea.) Take a look at any name book that lists variations to get a handle on the name’s versatility.
Scoring: Rate from +1, +1/2, 0, -1/2, to -1 based on how many formal and informal options a name provides.

6. Spelling: Hard-to-spell names are an inconvenience and a bother for the child. Sara(h) is a name that’s popular spelled both ways, but people named Sarah often say “Sara without an h” when asked their name. Alicia/Alisha/Alycia is a name that could be spelled three-going-on-thirty ways. Ditto for Cayla/Caela/Kayla.
Scoring: Rate from +1, +1/2, 0, -1/2 to -1 based on how easy or hard the name is to spell.

7. Pronunciation: Hard-to-pronounce names are also an inconvenience and a bother for the child. Some names are almost impossible to pronounce unless you “know the trick.” Folks in Ireland know that Siobahn is pronounced “sha-VON.” Surprised? People familiar with saints’ names may know that Ignatius is pronounced “ig-NAY-Shus” but others may not. Imagine how annoying it would be to have your name mispronounced by most people who read it.
Scoring: Rate from +1, +1/2, 0, -1/2 to -1 based on how easy or hard the name is to pronounce.

Now you know that 5-star names:
  • have an acceptable meaning, at the very least
  • make a positive impression
  • have gender clarity
  • are trending up in popularity (but aren’t “too popular”)
  • give the child and parents lots of options (nicknames)
  • aren’t hard to spell
  • aren’t hard to pronounce.

With this information, it should be fairly easy to understand the difference between 5-star and 1-star names for boys and girls.

5-star girls’ names: Allison. Christine, Diana, Grace, Lily, Maya, Olivia, Sara(h), Vanessa

1-star girls’ names: Blinda, Candi, Eunice, Fifi, Lorena, Myrna, Siobahn, Tanith. Urania

5-star boys’ name: Adam, Carter, Daniel, Jason, Matthew, Oliver, Nicholas, Ricardo, William

1-star boys’ names: Bilal, Cletus, Dorcas, Hussein, Ignatius, Kane, Og, Schuyler, Wiley 

You should be able to see how little-known names can create a negative impression; come across as strange; and cause spelling and pronunciation problems (opening the door to lots of teasing—which is tough on kids).

Think about how the names Urania and Og will seem to others on the first day of school, a graduation ceremony, a blind date, or a job interview. By imagining these situations, you’ll see how the seven factors above can help you find a name that will be a plus for your child throughout his or her life.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.