Dear Bruce, I just found out I’m pregnant. What’s a good way to start thinking about names for my baby?

Q: I just found out I’m pregnant. What’s a good way to start thinking about names for my baby?

A: Your first job is to make a list of names that have special meaning for you and your partner. Look through the Social Security Administration’s top 100 names to see which ones appeal to you. (You’ll find that list in most of of my name books.) List any family names you want to consider. If you speak a foreign language, look at names from that country. If there’s a place you love to visit, think whether the name of that town or mountain or river can work as a name. (I’ve been reading a number of articles which suggest that place-names are increasingly popular with celebrities, but don’t let that dissuade you from using one for your child.) If there’s a food or wine you love, think whether it may work as a name. Consider any name from a song, book, or movie you can’t get out of your mind. (As a kid, I loved the “Three Musketeers, but never considered using Athos, Porthos, Aramis or D’Artagnan for my son.)  Think about historical figures, movie stars, literary characters, or sports heroes you like. It helps to use a name book that provides you with hundreds of interesting lists of names to consider (like 100,000+ Baby Names). List all the names you love.
Next, you need to whittle down your list of potential names by considering which ones are most likely to benefit your child from a practical perspective. Does the name make a positive first impression? Is there a risk it will be misspelled and/or mispronounced? Will people be able to guess the gender of your child when they hear the name? Is the name versatile enough to work in formal and informal occasions? Is the name likely to cause teasing? Does it have a meaning that could be meaningful for your child? Does the name have one or more famous namesakes you like a lot? Consult a name book that provides you with practical information about names and star ratings (like Five-Star Baby Name Advisor) to help you decide which names will work well for your child and which ones may cause practical problems.

It will also help to get feedback about your favorite names from a variety of people whose judgement you respect and who are unlikely to lecture you about what you “should” or “should not” do. (Yes, I’m referring to family members who have a nasty habit of dispensing unwanted advice.) Here’s one last bit of advice that may surprise you: don’t be afraid to ask kids in your neiborhood for their take on some names you are considering. They know what’s cool and not cool at their school.

The Name Jenna and Henry Picked for Their Baby Girl: A Mystery, Part One

I’d been putting off* commenting about the name Jenna and her husband, Henry Hager, gave their baby girl–until I learned (from a Glamour blog) that Margaret Laura “Mila” Hager was named after her two grandmothers (Margaret Hager and Laura Bush).

Although Jenna and Henry decided to name the baby after their mothers, they made it clear that the baby’s first and middle names were strictly “honorific.” They will call their baby Mila (which they explained was a combination of their mothers’ two names). This reminds me of Uma Thurman, who gave her baby girl five names and then ditched them all for a nickname, Luna.

What do I think of Mila? When people read the name, they may wonder how to pronounce it: ME-la or MILL-la? And when people hear the name, they may wonder how to spell it: Meela or Milla?  Mila is a short form of names like Ludmilla (Russian/Slavic) and Camilla (Italian). Ludmilla means “loved by the people.” Camilla means “young ceremonial attendant.” In short, Mila is a nickname of Russian/Slavic or Italian origin that will be the primary moniker for the granddaughter and great granddaughter of two American presidents named Bush.

It must have taken some guts to name their baby Mila, but the rest of the baby’s name seems like it was cobbled together to gain support from both sides of the family.  The idea of giving a baby girl a name that will be used only on the birth certificate doesn’t make sense to me. Why not name her Camilla “Mila” Hager and be done with it?

Glamour gushed that Margaret Laura “Mila” Bush is “a cute” name. But it comes across to me as a strange political contrivance which offers the baby girl an official name (which will be used on Mila’s driver’s license and and voter registration card)  and an unoffical name which be reserved for everyday use.

My verdict: two thumbs down.

*The reason I put off writing about Margaret Laura Hager is that the name seemed so lackluster. I had no idea why a seemingly spunky young woman like Jenna would agree to such a tame name.  It wasn’t until I learned that Henry’s mother was named Margaret that I began to understand part of Henry and Jenna’s plan.

But there was something I still didn’t get: Laura Margaret sounds a lot better than Margaret Laura (as evidenced by the fact that there are millions of Irish women named Mary Margaret–and very few named Margaret Mary). So why did Jenna and Henry go with the more awkward name order? My guess is that Jenna put her mother’s name second to get Mila (an unusual Russian/Slavic or Italian nickname) rather than Lama (a funny Peruvian-sounding nickname).

(See my second post, in which I pay closer attention to a clue mentioned, but didn’t fully appreciated, in this post.)

Why Some Celebrity-Baby Names, Like Suri (Cruise), Don’t Become Trendy

Check out this perceptive article from OMG! by Suzy Byrne about how Suri Cruise got her name and why it never became trendy. Byrne takes a look at the popularity of a variety of celebrity-baby names and concludes that publicity can call attention to a name, but if expectant parents don’t like it, they’re not going to use it. (Summarizing it like this, I suppose it sounds obvious. But, the article is both entertaing and informative.)

Naming Help for Couples From Different Countries (Like Michael Buble and Wife Luisana Lopilato)

“My wife is killing me, we fight about the names,” Buble said. “She keeps coming up with names that she thinks sound good in Spanish, like ‘Dirt’… Dirt Buble!” This is the line that got my attention in an article I read in Access Hollywood discussing the “baby-naming battles” in the Buble/Lopilato household. If you and your spouse are from two different countries or are “at home” with two different languages, consider a place name from one of the two countries or a place that both of you love.

Why? People who live in either country will probably have heard of the place and know how to pronounce and spell it. If it’s a charming, attractive or exciting place like Vienna, Geneva,  Rio orReno the name will work in your two countries and pretty much anywhere else you travel. FYI, my son, a travel writer, married a wonderful Swedish woman and chose three “destination names” that have worked well for his three daughters at home (in Sweden), when they visit the U.S. and wherever else they roam.

Dear Bruce, My Family Wants Me to Name My Baby After Relatives. I Don’t Like Their Names.

Q: My family wants to me to name my baby after Uncle Warren or Aunt Zena. I don’t like either name. What should I do?

A: If you check the star ratings for Warren and Zena in 5-Star Baby Name Advisor, you’ll find they both rate 2 stars, which suggests you’re right to be uncomfortable about selecting either name for your baby. If you’re under serious pressure to honor a family member whose name you don’t like, perhaps the best way to do so is to select another name that starts with the same letter. There aren’t many girls’ names starting with Z that are highly rated, but you may want to consider Zoe or Zola, both of which rate 4 stars. Attractive alternatives to Warren that start with W include: William, Wilson, Will, and Wyatt—all of which rate 4 or 5 stars.

However, if you can’t find a name you like that starts with W or Z, you’ll need to take control of the situation by thanking your family members for their thoughtful suggestions and informing them that the choice is ultimately yours to make, not theirs.

Bet You Can’t Pronounce Any of These Irish Names Correctly–Without Peeking

Before you read any part of this post, put both hands in front of your face, so the only thing you can read is this sentence. Good. Now lower your hands a little and you will see a list of three Irish girls’ names and three Irish boys’ names. See them? Good. Don’t peek any lower.

Irish Girls’ Names: Aoife, Caoimhe, Niamh,  Saoirse

Irish Boys’ Names: Cian, Daithi,  Eoin, Oisin

Now, without peeking at anything below this paragraph, try to pronounce every name on these two lists. OK. You’re probably wondering where I found these names and their correct pronunciation: Nancy’s Baby Names. It’s a blog I visit whenever I want to find something interesting about names that’s different from what anyone else is blogging and tweeting about. If you go there, you’ll find a lot more hard-to-pronounce Irish names. You’ll also find lots of comments from inhabitants of the Emerald Isle (and others) about these and other hard-to-pronounce names. Many Irishman are almost as confused about these names as I was.

End of commercial. Now I can show you how you should have pronounced these names, but didn’t. Go ahead and  look below this line at the Irish girls’ names. Then look at the Irish Boys’ names.  Did you get any of them right (I mean without peeking)? If so, good job!

How To Pronounce the Girls’ Names
Aoife is pronouonced (EE-fa).
Caoimhe is pronounced KEE-va or KWEE-va.
Niamh is pronounced NEE-av or NEEV.
Saoirse is pronounced SEER-sha or SAIR-sha.

How to Pronounce the Boys’ Names
Cian is pronounced KEE-an or KEEN.
Daithi (Dáithí) is pronounced DAH-hee.
Eoin is pronounced O-in.
Oisin (Oisín) is pronounced UH-sheen or O-sheen.

To see a revised version of this post which contains 32 hard-to-pronounce Irish names click here.

Dear Bruce: Why Is the Impression a Name Makes So Important?

Q: Why is the impression a name makes so important?

A: When people read or hear a name, an image often pops into their heads. Some
names, like John, have been used by so many people that its dependable,
good-guy image is ubiquitous. Famous namesakes, however, can affect the images
of many names, for good or bad. Because people think of Adolf Hitler when they
hear the name Adolf, it’s not a good name to pick for your child. The most
notorious namesakes for some names may come from characters in books or movies.
Imagine the reaction of the pious woman sitting next to you at church when you
tell her your baby’s name is Damien, if she knows it’s the name of the
devil-like character in the popular horror flick The Omen. And don’t forget that
images can change: Former Mouseketeer Britney Spears’ recent escapades have
tarnished the image of her name.

Because your child’s name is the first thing that people will know about him or
her, it’s very important to choose a name that makes a good first impression.
I’ve analyzed hundreds of thousands of survey responses about the first
impressions names make to create a book on the subject (5-Star Baby Name

Dear Bruce, Are Bert and Ernie Names to Avoid?

Q. How about Bert and Ernie? My mother in law’s maiden name is Bertram and I wanted give that name to my son, but my husband protested, worried about Bert and Ernie jokes. Too bad, it’s a strong masculine name.

A. You’re right. Bertram is a solid name. Practically everyone will call him Bert. And the first thing that comes to mind when most people hear Bert is Ernie. So, it’s a perfect example of a famous comedy duo turning Bert into a joke rather than a good name for a “regular guy.”

What caused me to turn the Bert & Ernie comment into a Dear Bruce column is: it struck me that there are other paired comedy names that might also be awkward to use as names–because people will think of the second name as soon as they hear the first one. To avoid the obvious jokes that might follow, it’s easier to avoid the first name in these comedy pairs: Amos & Andy, Pat & Mike, Bob & Ray, Tom & Jerry, Izzy & Abie, Ole & Lena, Lucy & Desi, Sunny & Cher.

But if you reverse the order and name your first child Andy, that may relieve some of the “pair pressure.”  Amos may not come to mind (not only because this comedy duo was popular in the middle of the 20th century; but because Andy came first. Although Amos strongly reminds people of Andy–Andy doesn’t as strongly remind people of Amos. Come to think of it, I’ve never met or heard of siblings with comedy-duo  names. Probably, because most parents sense the twosome would be a bad joke waiting to happen.