Royal, Religious and Family Traditions Often Lead to Dull Choices

It was exciting to predict George as the name William and Kate would pick (thanks to the “crowd-sourcing” effect of British betting casinos). And it was a great relief for Brits and people around the world when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stopped dithering and finally announced their royal baby’s name. Although the choice was acceptable to Queen Elizabeth, who undoubtedly had a big say in the matter, let’s face it: George is a fairly dull name.

If you’re picking the name for an heir to the throne or a new pope, it’s important to keep traditional naming constraints in mind. And the benefit of being guided by tradition is that you’ll avoid picking loony names like Bronx Mowgli, Zuma Nesta Rock, Blue Ivy or North West.

As it happens many of the best names you could pick (by which I mean names that are likely to be a pleasure for child and parents to use), are, in fact, traditional names like Edward, Elizabeth, James and Alexandra which were reportedly under consideration for the royal baby (but not for the pope). Why? Because they do what names should do:
-they create a positive impression for the child
-they are versatile (in that they work well for formal and informal occasions)
-they are easy to pronounce and spell
-the come across as timeless rather than being tied to a year or date (when a “trendy” name peaked in popularity)
-and they are not so popular that your child might have several kids with the same name in his play group

Of course, it’s reasonable for parents to consider more uncommon options that will come across as more
unique and memorable for their child. And they need to understand that “taking a flier” on a name they picked up from a restaurant menu or road atlas may not pan out. (You may like cilantro, vacation in Acapulco and enjoy playing Frisbee) but there’s no guarantee that your favorite condiment, vacation spot or game would work well as a name for your child.)

I like the guideline general managers of professional sports teams use when drafting: “pick the best player available,” which I’d modify to: pick the best name available. You can do that by not being overly swayed by a variety of traditions and pressures that most parents are obliged to take into consideration.

In addition to looking for the best name available, I’d also suggest another guideline: “do no harm.” Avoid names that might be harmful, derogatory or a nuisance for your child. Conceivably, celebrities try to pick the best name available, but there’s a good reason why many celebrity baby names produce a “what were they thinking?” reaction from their fans and the media. They can’t imagine that their brilliance, talent and bank account could possibly produce an awful name (even if they were smoking some weed when they came up with Chastity or Dweezil).

They imagine themselves as “trendsetters” and arbiters of all that is cool, hip and trendy. But if you look at the long list of baby-naming blunders self-indulgent, attention-seeking celebrities have produced, you can see why the second guideline (“do no harm”) may be even more important than the first one (“pick the best name available”).

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