Have You Considered Giving Your Child a Gender-Neutral Name?

I read a VOA article by Katy Weaver that changed the way I thought about naming in general and middle-naming in particular. Katy wrote about how gender identity doesn’t have to be in a name.

Parents are increasingly using gender-neutral names for boys and girls. Gender-neutral names can have the effect of giving girls a “stronger” persona and boys a “softer” persona–which can be good for both genders.

Here are the top-ten gender-neutral names from the 2016 Social Security Admin. popularity survey: Charlie, Finley, Skyler, Justice, Royal, Lennon, Oakley, Armani, Azariah and Landry.

If you’ve read my annual-trend reports you’ll know that girls are increasingly being given names with an “a”-ending (like Ava) or a soft consonant-ending (like Abigail or Harper)–and less of the most popular girls’ names have “i” or “y”-endings (like Zoey). “A”-endings and soft consonant-endings come across to most people as stronger than “i” or “y”-endings for girls.

At the same time, more of the most popular boys names use soft consonants like Liam Noah, and Mason–instead of hard consonants like Michael, Luke and Jack. It’s not surprising that parents are giving boys names that sound softer at the same time they are giving more boys gender-neutral names like Riley and Charlie (both of which have “y”and “i” endings).

So just as the trend towards stronger names for girls and softer names for boys is playing out on top-ten lists, it makes sense for parents also to consider the use of gender-neutral first or middle names for children of both genders. Not only are gender-neutral names stronger for girls and softer for boys, they also allow parents to give their children a choice about how they want to come across to others (based on how they feel about themselves).

In articles I have written about middle names, I have suggested that parents use middle names as a way to give children a choice about what they want to be called. If parents want to give their child an unusual first name, they should consider giving their child a less challenging middle name.

One of my younger brothers decided to abandon his first name, Andrew, and switch to his  middle name (Mitch) when he was still in elementary school. I waited until I was in graduate school to switch to my middle name.

Millenials are a lot more accepting of gender differences than my generation was, so it makes sense to give children a choice of names, one of which is gender-neutral. That gives children an opportunity to select a name that represents how they feel about themselves at any point their lives.

One way to provide children with gender options is to choose names for them that are rich in nickname variations. For example, Alexander and Alexandra have variations children of both genders can choose from as they grow older, including Alec, Alix, Ali, or Zander. When you’re using a baby-name book, look for names that have a long list of variations.

To help you in your search for appealing gender-neutral names, check out the latest edition of my book 100,000+ Baby Names.

How to Overcome Baby-Naming Anxiety

I just read a charming article by blogger Melissa Dell who struggled with the task of finding a name for her child–so much so that she became extremely anxious when the copy of 100,000+ Baby Names she ordered did not arrive.

Her article illustrates how she and her husband used my book to discover names they liked and call them to each other’s attention–so they could focus on names they both liked, which they would then discuss.

They took turns spending time with my book and highlighted names on pages they marked for each other’s attention. Then they traded the book back and forth so they could look at the highlighted names and initiate discussions about them.

Melissa’s article helped me understand the value of a book like mine in comparison with searching for names online. I’m happy to report that Melissa and her husband found 4 names they both liked, but they have not made a final choice yet. I’ll update her article when I find out which name she chose (and why).

I should probably mention that her article contains a number of photos to illustrate how they used the book.

What’s in a Name? Answers to 7 Questions.

I recently answered some baby naming questions for Alicia at Bottle Poppin’ Mama.  Check out her questions below and feel free to leave one of your own in the comments.

  • How do you conduct your research in compiling this list of names?
  • What are your most popular Boys & Girls Names predictions for 2016?
  • What do you think of the gender neutral naming phenomenon?
  • How influential are celebrities/pop culture when it comes to naming children?
  • Why do you think we are seeing a resurgence of more classical names?
  • How do parents rate the importance of a unique name/unique spelling?
  • What is a good approach to deciding on a name for a child when family members can’t agree?

To read my answers check out “What’s In A Name?” at Bottle Poppin’ Mama.


These Are a Few of My Favorite Recently Popular Names

Every year we add the latest newly popular names to 100,000+ Baby Names, so people considering them for use can look them up and learn about their meaning and origin. Specifically, we add names which have gained enough popularity to be added to the Social Security Administration’s lists of the 1,000 most popular boys’ and girls’ names.

Many of the newly popular names are new variations of names already on the list, such as Lorelai, a variation of Lorelei. Some are familiar only to people who watch  certain TV shows, like Khaleesi, a name popularized by “Game of  Thrones”. (Needless to say, the problem with names like Lorelai and Khaleesi is that they are often difficult to spell and/or pronounce.)

Some newly popular names are place names, like Maylasia and Ireland. Some are the last names of celebrities and athletes, like Anniston, Lennon and Beckham. And some are combinations of two names that just sound good together, like Lillyana.

Just for fun, I thought you might enjoy a quick look at some of the most appealing newly popular names I’ve come across over the last few years. However, instead of giving you the precise origins and meanings I use in my book, I’ll just mention the reason I think some of these names might be of interest.

Newly Popular Boys’ Names Over the Past Few Years:

Baylor (the name of a great, Texas university)
Beckham (the last name of an English soccer star)
Dash (a name that implies speed and energy)
Nash (the name an old car brand and a game-theory expert featured in “A Beautiful Mind.”)
Ronin (a feudal Japanese samurai)
Rylee (a fun new spelling for Riley)
Tiago and Thiago (a Brazilian basketball star who plays in the NBA)
Xavi (a nickname for Xavier and the name a Spanish soccer star)

Newly Popular Girls’ Names Over the Past Few Years:

Anniston (the last name of the actress who played Rachael  in “Friends”)
Elliot (a boys’ name that’s now being used for  girls)
Everly (the last name of two famous brothers who made music in the ‘50s and ‘60s)
Henley (the location—on the Thames river—of a rowing race between Oxford and Cambridge)
Journee (the French word for day)
Juniper (an evergreen shrub whose aroma can be found in gin)
Lennon (the last name of one of the most famous Beatles)
Lillyana (a combination of two names that sound great together)
Malaysia (a country that has become a name for girls)
Oakley (a sporty and cool brand of sunglasses)
Sutton (an upscale street on Manhattan’s chic east side)

9780684039992 100,000+ Baby Names is available in stores and online.


5 Baby-Naming Pitfalls to Watch Out for

I thought I knew all the basic “rules” of baby naming. But when I read Bhadra Kamalasanan’s article, I realized there are a few “pitfalls” I hadn’t considered. So here is Kamalasanan’s list of pitfalls and how to avoid them, with a focus on providing examples for each. (By the way, I’m purposely using Kamalasanan’s topic headings and examples–except when no examples are provided.)

  1. Attention-Seeking Initials. Kamalasanan uses Bhumika Chaudhary as an example of an “initial problem.” However, few North Americans would be troubled by having B.C. as initials. I can see how that might suggest “Before Christ,” but that’s not likely to be a major source of embarrassment. Probably a more appropriate example would be B.J. (an off-color expression which perfectly illustrates initials you don’t want to inadvertently give your child).
  2. A Lifetime of Correcting People. Kamalasanan cites Anyta as an example of the kind of name that will cause spelling problems that are likely to be a constant source of annoyance to your child. For example, every time Anyta gives her name to a bank clerk, a new teacher or a hospital nurse, it would be more efficient to introduce herself as “Anyta with a y” than to correct the inevitable misspelling. However, I would been much more impressed if Kamalasanan had also suggested that parents avoid names whose pronunciation is likely to be mangled. For example, the correct pronunciation for the Irish girl’s name, Siobhan, is sha-VON. (Go figure!) I’ve written a post about Irish names that are almost impossible to pronounce correctly, unless you’re an Irish baby-name expert.
  3. Embarrassing Email Addresses. This is one “pitfall” that I haven’t written about (and neither has anyone else, as far as I know). There are two ways that email addresses are commonly created. If your child’s email address is created by putting the initial of his first name in front of his last name, then Frank Arty’s email addresse would be farty@email.com. However, if your child’s email address is created by putting the initial of his first name after his last name, than Frank Arty would have nothing to worry about. But using this second type of email address, Ron Bone would have big problem (pun intended), because his email address would be boner@email.com. Since it took me about 15 minutes to come up with two examples to illustrate this “pitfall” Kamalasanan has warned us about, I’d guess the likelihood of coming up with a name for your child that produces an embarrassing email address is about one out of a million. That explains why nobody but Kamalasanan has written about this “pitfall”—as far as I know. Unfortunately Kamalasanan doesn’t provide any examples, so we’ll never know if this is a common problem or was simply added to “pad” Kamalasanan’s brief list of pitfalls.
  4. Knotty Name Pairings. Kamalasanan has discovered another pitfall I wonder about. I’ve written about sibling names that go well together (for example names, from the same ethnic source), but Kamalasanan warns about names that don’t sound well together when you, for example, call both of your children to lunch. According to Kamalasanan, “you don’t want it to sound like a wild [call] from the jungle”. Because Kamalasanan gives no examples of any two names that would sound like Tarzan’s “African yodeling,” I think North Americans can safely dismiss this “pitfall.” Conceivably this may be more of a problem in languages other than in English. So if the names your neighbors call their children at dinnertime sound like “calls of the wild” avoid giving your children those names and/or take Kamalasanan’s fourth pitfall seriously.
  5. Over-Popular Names. As soon as you’re expecting, you start to notice parents pushing baby prams or carrying their baby in a sling or back pack. And you have to know the name of each baby you see. You read the baby announcements in your local paper and the names you like best turn out to be among the top-ten boys’ and girls’ names in your neighborhood or on your block or in your newspaper market. Kamalasanan recommends you avoid picking a top-ten name for your baby. I suggest you avoid a top-25 name. That way, you’ll pick a name you actually love rather than a copy-cat name you think you love. (Another way of making this point is that if you think you love a name that is on the SSA top-ten list, it may not be “true love.” You may have been influenced more than you know by the personal survey you have been conducting.

How Two Cognitive Scientists Named Their Babies

I found an extremely intelligent and well-written article in the form of an NPR blog by Tania Lombrozo that discusses the process two cognitive scientists used to name their two children. Since she is one of the scientists and her husband is other, she writes with conviction and confidence about a process she claims worked effectively and efficiently for the purpose intended.

I was impressed by the large number of comments written by readers of this particular blog post. Most of them were upset that Lombrozo referred to her two children as Baby #1 and Baby #2 instead of disclosing the names she and her spouse came up with. But a few commenters realized that the whole point of the article was that the “Lombrozo Baby Naming Method” will produce different results for different people, so it doesn’t matter if you like or dislike the two names they came up with for their children. What matters is that the method she followed worked well for her because it was based on criteria that were important for Lombrozo and her husband.

In this post I’m going to summarize their process so you can consider taking a similar approach. I trust you won’t be angry at me because Lombrozo chose not to disclose the names she and her spouse chose for their children. With me as a buffer, you can focus on her process and her claim that both parents are pleased with the names they selected.

The First Step of Data Collection:
-Peruse lists of baby names on websites.
-Investigate meanings and origins.
-Look up name frequencies.
-Pick favorites and solicit feedback from family members (to check for cultural associations or meanings in other languages).

Second Step of Data Collection:
-Browse academic research to find out how names affect bearers.
-Use a crowdsourcing platform to discover whether a few dozen strangers have strong feelings about any of the names tested and to discover what respondents imagine to be the personality and the nationality, ethnic or religious background of people with each name tested.

The Final Stage of Data Collection:
-Each spouse rates the couples’ favorite names based on how well they think each name would fit or work for:
-a Nobel laureate in science
-a rock star
-the secretary general of the United Nations
-a CEO
…using those ratings to calculate a career potential index for each name.

Most parents aren’t quite so well organized about the baby-naming process. The Lombrozos are to be commended for coming up with a data-collection process likely to yield useful results.

Here are some of the ideas I like best:

1. They verbalized the importance of coming up with names that would “open doors” rather than “close doors” for their children.

2. They took steps to determine the cultural associations family members and strangers had with the names they liked best—using an open-ended approach (e.g., “How would you describe a person who has this name _____?”. And they asked whether any of their respondents had strong feelings about any of the names (as a way of looking for strong positives or negatives). That way, they could avoid names which might not be appropriate for their children and which had strong negatives associated with them.

3. They selected a few possible careers for their children and tried to imagine how the names might work for each career path. Not knowing whether their child might be a CEO, a diplomat, a scientist or a rock star, they tried to imagine how their favorite names might work for each of those possibilities.

Most of the readers who commented about their article were upset that Lombrozo didn’t share the names they came up with by using this process. Precisely what they named their children is irrelevant because if you use the same process, you will undoubtedly come up with different names because you and your spouse are probably not cognitive scientists and probably don’t have the same ethnic/national/religious background as Lombrozo and her spouse.

For example, you would undoubtedly pick different “favorite names” to investigate during the “first step of data collection.” Hence crowd sourcing during the “second step of data collection” would produce different results. And, the “final step of data collection” would undoubtedly consider a different group of names for a different group of careers.

This summary, as well as the link to Lombrozo’s article, will help you think about the process of selecting a name for your baby in an intelligent manner—whether you follow the same approach I’ve outlined or come up with your own unique approach.

P.S. I wouldn’t have found this article if it hadn’t been for Tina Ray @raytinamu  who just started following me on Twitter. I decided to find out more about her and clicked on an article she sent me about baby naming–which I liked enough to write about Thanks Tina.      

New Year’s Resolutions for Baby Namers (A Quick List of Dont’s)

On New Year’s day I’m putting off writing my own New Year’s resolutions to dash off some resolutions for you. (Apparently, I haven’t outgrown my life-long habit of procrastination.) Here is quick list of don’ts based on posts I’ve written recently:

-Don’t pick a name that will come across as a joke (like North West).

-Don’t pick a weird name (like Shalini or Bronx Mowgli).

-Don’t wreck a perfectly good name by changing it so it will be hard to spell and pronounce (like Wilyam or Quaren).

-Don’t pick a name likely to subject your child to teasing or mockery (like Cricket, Rekker or Adolf).

-Don’t believe names promoted in blog posts are “cool” (like Neri, Sula or Tulsi) unless you’ve seen the data.

-Don’t believe or follow trends predicted for 2014 if the trends seem counterproductive (like giving girls boys’ middle names–or vice versa).

-Don’t name your child after a currently popular celebrity, because celebrities’ images can change almost overnight (like Miley or Lance).

-Don’t name your child after a character in a currently popular TV show, because TV shows’ images can change almost overnight (like “Duck Dynasty”).

-Don’t fear discussing names you like with friends, because you’re scared someone might steal the name. (Theft would confirm one of the names you like is cool.)

Happy Naming New Year!

“Please Don’t Give Your Baby a Weird Name” by Shalini Miskelly

“Please Don’t Give Your Baby a Weird Name” was written by Shalini Miskelly, a Guest Blogger for Baby Center.  I’d very much like to encourage you to read the whole article, which is why I am providing you with a link that will enable you to do just that.

But before you click on the link, I’d like to tell you why I feel strongly that parents thinking of giving their unborn son or daughter an unusual name should consider Shalini’s plea on behalf of shy and introverted children. As you may know, my perspective on names is fairly practical: What kind of impression does the name make? Is it easy to spell and pronounce? Is it versatile enough to work in both formal and informal situations? All these perspectives create a very strong bias against names that are likely to make your child’s life more difficult instead of opening doors and smoothing the way for your child.

But Shalini’s personal dilemma has been exacerbated by the fact that in addition to having a strange-sounding,  unfamiliar given name, she also has no middle name to fall back on. And her surname is confusing; it could easily be confused with “Miss Kelly.” (No, Shahini Miskelly is not Irish.). It’s very hard for parents and friends to imagine how difficult an unusual name–that comes across as strange or weird or confusing–can make life for a shy and introverted person. So, if you’re an expectant parent who is thinking of giving your child an unusual name please, please, please read Shalini’s guest blog post and save your child a life-time of unnecessary  anguish.

I’d like to give credit to Nancy’s Baby Names for writing about Shalini Miskelly’s plight in a way that enabled me to find her blog post. I often go to that website to find poignant and perceptive stories about names.

P.S. I scheduled this post for New Years Day as a sort of “resolution” for parents who may not realize that unique (aka weird) names can traumatize shy, introverted children.