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

Bays

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

Rivers

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

Lakes

Girls: Lajoie; Boys: Decker, Duffey

Sounds

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

Mountains

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.

“Mr. and Mrs. Fit” Are Expecting

There’s a high-energy couple who visit their parents in sunny south Florida for the holidays, around the same time I go down there for vacation every year. I see them running, biking, or rollerblading around the neighborhood on sunny days and working out in the gym on rainy days.

I often hear grumbling from older neighbors as the “Fits” speed by. “There go the health nuts,” they complain. Me? I often bike with the couple, when my busy tennis, golf, and yoga schedule permits. I wasn’t surprised when “Mr. Fit” invited me to join him on a twenty-mile bike ride one day, to eyeball a well-juried art fair with plenty of great street food, and then bike back.

was surprised when “Mrs. Fit” opted not to join us on the trip. At the first red light, Mr. Fit explained that his wife’s stomach was acting up, and it might be related to the fact that she was—“EXPECTING!” he shouted, to be heard over the roar of an oncoming bus.

He used our ride to pump me for suggestions about appropriate names for a child probably fated by DNA to be athletic and healthy. (If not, he hoped the name might have the effect of encouraging the child in that direction.)

While biking along a quiet, beachfront road, I asked him who his favorite athletes were and we came up with some names that might work for a boy or a girl, in the following categories:

Soccer Player Names

Girls: Mia (Hamm), April (Heinrichs)
Boys: Landon (Donovan), Wayne (Rooney), David (Beckham), Lionel (Messi)

Tennis Player Names

Girls: Serena (Williams), Chris (Evert), Martina (Navratilova)
Boys: Rafael (Nadal), Roger (Federer), Novak (Djokovich)

Skier Names

Girls: Lindsey (Vonn), Picabo (Street)
Boys: Bode (Miller), Bill (Koch)

Swimmer Names

Girls: Summer (Sanders), Dara (Torres)
Boys: Michael (Phelps), Ryan (Lochte)

Runner Names

Girls: Jackie (Joyner-Kersee), Lolo (Jones)
Boys: Jesse (Owens), Carl (Lewis)

Mr. Fit loves biking, but you never know when one of your favorite cyclists will admit to doping, so we thought it would be safer to leave out that category.

We also decided to consider the following categories, more loosely related to being out in nature and living a healthy lifestyle:

Mythological Names

Girls: Diana, Athena
Boys: Mercury, Thor

Nature Names

Girls: Skye, Rain, Heather
Boys: Forest, River

Animal Names

Girls: Lark, Robin
Boys: Colt, Jay

Place Names

Girls: Carolina, Virginia
Boys: Indiana, Dakota

Health Names

Girls: Eve (“life”), Vita (“life”)
Boys: Vitas (“alive, vital”)

Active Names

Gender Neutral: Chase
Boys: Tripp, Hunter, Skip, Walker

While biking we tossed out scores of names, so after quenching our thirst (me with a cold beer; Mr. Fit with fizzy water), we decided to write down the names we still liked. Of course, with pencils in hand, it was easy to add new names to the list and cross out those that seemed too odd or clunky.

Mr. Fit was happy that we came up with so many names that might inspire his son or daughter to live a healthy lifestyle. I was happier that we had come up with some names that “Fit Jr.” would, in all likelihood, feel good about because they would be well-received by others.

When you think about the kids and teachers Fit Jr. will meet on the first day of school; the college admissions counselors who will read Fit Jr.’s applications; and the people he or she will meet during the process of dating and finding a job after college, you realize how many people will be forming quick impressions about Jr.—partially influenced by whatever name the Fits select. In my opinion, it matters less that the name creates a “fit” or “healthy” impression than that it creates a positive impression overall.

Although some of the names (Vita and Vitas, for example) may seem odd to some people, there’s nothing odd about Carolina, Diana, Eve, Jackie, Lindsey, Skye, or Summer; Bill, Ryan, David, Chase, Forest, Hunter, Michael, Roger, or Tripp. And I think a number of the other names on the list are also worth considering.

If this subject interests you at all, once you’ve considered the fitness and health aspect of the names listed above, focus on what it’s going to be like for your child to live with the name you choose. That’s the most important test for any name. And it’s a good way to make sure that the name you give your child comes across more like a help than a hindrance.

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

Icelandic Girl Gets to Use Her Given Name

I’ve just read a fascinating report about an Icelandic girl who had been denied the right to use her given name, Blaer, by the court. (Like many countries, Iceland has rules about what parents can name a baby.)

At the age of 15, Girl Bjarkardottir (her legal name) went to court to win the right to use Blaer, which the court had deemed “not feminine” enough. My first take was, What a #@&! law! As if “Girl” is a better name than “Blaer.”

My second take is, Blaer (which means “gentle breeze”) is a lovely name. I’m guessing it’s pronounced something like Blair (a gender-neutral name from Scotland that means “plains dweller”).

Which name do you like best: Blaer, Blair, or Girl? If I lived in Iceland, I’d pick Blaer. I’m guessing parents in Iceland are celebrating Blaer’s victory. I won’t be surprised if a lot of Icelandic girls born in 2013 are given the name Blaer—because it’s a beautiful name and because it’ll give a little #@&! to the archaic Icelandic baby name censors.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
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Kara DioGuardi Has Waited Years for Son Greyson James Carroll McCuddy

Former “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi and her husband Mike McCuddy struggled for years with infertility. But now, after using a surrogate, they are finally the proud parents of son Greyson James Carroll McCuddy.

When I read “Greyson,” my first thought was, Is that the town in England where Tarzan was born and raised? Unfortunately, I was thinking of Greystoke; Greyson doesn’t have that kind of glamorous image.

Greyson is an English name—an alternate form of Grayson, which means “bailiff’s son.” In the U.S., bailiffs are court officials who maintain the peace and insure the safety of trial participants. In Britain, they function as sheriff’s deputies to serve writs or make arrests. Or they manage large estates.

If I had waited years for a child and were as grateful as DioGuardi and McCuddy seem to be, I would pick a name that shouts either “Hallelujah” (which means “Praise the Lord”) or “We’re so darned happy!” from the rooftops. Not Greyson, a rather “grey” and dull name that describes a fairly dull court or law-enforcement functionary.

As for the two middle names, James is a 5-star name and Carroll is the kind of name that probably reflects family obligations (but has the unfortunate side effect of sounding like a girl’s name).

I recently read an article about the use of two middle names. Apparently it’s “the thing to do” in England, where the rationale seems to be: using two middle names makes it easier to take care of family obligations. It’s less likely that an aunt or uncle will feel “left out.” On the other hand, picking two middle names could actually increase the amount of lobbying and jockeying for position among family members.

In my view, trying to juggle family politics while picking three names takes the parents further away from the main goal: picking one name that will make a great impression for your child.

Before I give my final opinion, I want to come clean: Kara was probably my favorite “American Idol” judge. She was extremely knowledgeable about pop music and excelled at verbalizing her ideas in a way that was both helpful to the singers and insightful to the audience. She encouraged singers to “go for it”; not play it safe. So it is with no disrespect that I render my verdict, for the reasons stated above: Two thumbs down.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
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February Baby-Naming Themes: Pick a Winner

If there’s a chance your baby might be born during the month of February, here are some naming themes to keep in mind: This is the month of the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, and the Oscars.

I’ve uploaded a number of baby-name lists on Ranker.com that you can visit for ideas. What’s cool about Ranker is that you can add any names you like that fit the list’s theme and then “re-rank” the list to put your favorites on top. The new names you add and the new rankings you enter will affect the rankings for the next person who views the list.

Keep in mind, you’re not being asked who was the greatest president, Super Bowl hero, or Oscar winner. The question is: Which names might be a winner for your February baby?

I‘ve picked my own favorites, which I’ll share with you. After reading my picks, go to Ranker.com and “vote for” your favorite names in three of the four lists below:

Names Inspired by Valentine’s Day

My favorites:

1. Amy
2. Juliet
3. Candace

Presidential Baby Names

My favorites:

1. Lincoln
2. James
3. Andrew

Baby Girl Names Inspired By Oscar Winners

My favorites:

1. Elizabeth
2. Katharine
3. Grace

And, although I don’t have a list of Baby Boy Names Inspired by Super Bowl Heroes up on Ranker, here are my favorites:

1. Bart
2. Roger
3. Troy

Which names do you like best for your February baby?

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