Break the baby name rules

Picking a name for your baby is sometimes really easy — but for many new parents, it can be a minefield. While the choice is ultimately up to the parents, it can often seem like everyone has an opinion on names — and whether it’s a kindly uncle dropping hints that he’d like junior to be named after him, or grandparents demanding that family traditions be upheld, choosing the right name for your bub can be tough.

If you’re trying to find the perfect name for your new arrival, take heart: we have some advice that may help make the big decision much easier for everyone involved.

Buzz your two favourite names in a blender!
Landing on a name you absolutely love is definitely cause for a happy dance — unless your partner doesn’t love it and is really keen on another name instead. “You can’t live in two different cities, and you can’t have two different names, and we all know that getting to choose a child’s middle name isn’t the same,” says Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard (Three Rivers Press, $32.99) You could take the ‘you name this baby, and I’ll take the next one’ route, but that assumes you’ll go on to have more than one child and requires one partner to have a whole lot of faith (and, of course, patience!).

“It’s tempting to think, ‘I’m giving birth to him, so I should get the final say,’ but remember that a baby’s name is a powerful bridge to bonding with your newborn,” Laura says. “No-one should have to cringe or feel angry when saying their baby’s name. A name definitely shouldn’t represent a loss.”

A better alternative is to combine your favourites. “I liked Lilliana and my husband liked Ella, so we put them together as Elliana,” says mum-of-one Krystle Bailey. Elliana is an example of what Laura calls the ‘Renesmee effect’ (referring to the Twilight character whose name merges Rene and Esme). “It started with celeb mash-ups such as TomKat and Brangelina, but parents are applying it to baby names,” she says. Look for names with lots of vowels, as they tend to work best as hybrids.

Bypass a family name
It’s always a nice tribute to name a child after a beloved grandpa or great aunt, but while some old-fashioned names are back in a big way (think Jacob, Grace and Ruby), others not so much. And even if a name is socially acceptable, you might not like it. Fortunately, you can honour a relative without resigning your munchkin to a moniker you’re just a bit blah about, says Marcia Layton Turner, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to 40,000 Baby Names (Alpha, $19.95). “You could use your relative’s name as a middle name for example, or consider names that are similar.”

Try a bit of creative thinking
Mum-of-one Georgia Anderson chose both fixes for her now two-year-old. “We knew my son’s first name would be Chase and we wanted his middle name to be from my side of the family. Problem is, my family tree is overrun with Barrys, Wilbers and Richards. Not exactly my taste.” So Georgia craftily joined the first syllable of her dad’s name (‘Ri’ from Richard) and the second syllable of his middle name (‘Lan’ from Alan) to create Rylan. “It may be a stretch,” she says, “but Chase Rylan has a much better ring to it than Chase Barry or Chase Wilber!”

You can also commemorate, say, your dearly departed Uncle Donald with what Laura refers to as the ‘nicknamesake’. You aren’t into Donald but like Don? Land on another name that has the part of the name you like – such as Donovan – and you have a distinguished name that’s a resounding tribute to Uncle Donald.

If you want to acknowledge your mum or aunt but are expecting a boy, don’t be afraid to do some gender bending, either. “Most traditional male names have a female equivalent — just add an ‘a’,” Laura says.
“But today more parents are going in the other direction, female to male.” For one mum, playing with letters brought a solution: “My grandma died four months before my son was born and I wanted to carry on her name, Olga,” says Sarah Gobel. “With a little rearranging, we came up with Logan for our son.”

Put last names first
A first name isn’t the only way to memorialise someone dear to you. Consider giving your baby a relative’s last name, if it’s a solid one. Mary-Anne Murphy named her daughter Dempsey, her mum’s maiden name. “Dempsey was born a little more than a month after my mother passed away, so it had huge meaning for our family,” she says.

Many parents are taking this approach. “It used to be that only simple English surnames could be first names, but that’s changing,” Laura says. Still, she admits, there is a limit to the surname-as-first-name trend. “You’re not going to find lots of little Robertsons running around!” But just as first names can be manipulated, last names can be, too.

Wait until you meet your little one
Annette Green and her husband had trouble coming up with anything that sounded right, so they jotted a list of about 10 names they liked the sound of and decided to wait until their baby arrived. “After my son was born, we read our list to him, and he opened his eyes at Kennan. So he actually named himself.”

Taking the wait-and-see approach makes sense, given that the more you ruminate on a name (or any word, for that matter!), the funnier it sounds, Laura says. When you let your cherub’s sparkling personality or sceptical furrowed brow light the way, you can hit on a name that’s not only perfect, but perfect for him. After all, as Laura says: “The ‘perfect name’ is really a myth. If you can accept that it doesn’t have to stand out above all the others to be a great name, you’ll have a much easier time settling on one that you both find appealing.”

Creatively reflect your cultural roots
With so many beautiful, ethnically inspired names out there, there’s no such thing as a name that sounds too foreign. But, if you’d prefer to celebrate your ancestry while giving your child a more culturally common moniker, pick a name from your heritage that also has an ‘Australianised’ nickname. “This way, your child’s name can reflect his ancestry without being too difficult for him to pronounce or spell,” Marcia says.

Plug your ears to critics
If you announce your name before your baby is born, prepare for the peanut gallery to opine. With a chosen first name for bub like Jason, there didn’t seem to be much for mum Alyssa Knapp to worry about, until her husband started lobbying for the middle name Danger. “He thought it might help him pick up chicks when he
gets older. I was sceptical but changed my mind during labour. It was long, and we had a few scares where his heart stopped, so Danger actually suited him perfectly.” Alyssa proved easier to convince than
either of their folks, though. “Both sets of grandparents thought we were joking when we told them his name.”

When Jennifer Weinbaum decided to name her daughter McKenna, her maiden name, she faced similar protests. Her own parents thought it would be odd to call their grandchild by their own last name. “I loved the name too much to change my mind,” Jennifer says. “Now my family has come to embrace it.”

So, should you reveal baby’s name before he’s born? On the one hand, “wouldn’t you want to know if everyone thought your name was ugly?” Laura asks. “Your child is going to have to live with it!” Then again, because many mums find out the baby’s gender in advance, it’s fun to have a surprise at the birth (aside from the baby himself, that is). As Laura says: “You need something to announce!”

Who should you spill the beans to?
You might want to bounce your top contenders off a few confidantes. Still, whenever you disclose bub’s name, criticisms are common. “Older folks don’t have a sense of how kids on a playground will receive a name, but if your cousins with young kids tell you the name has a fatal flaw, take that into account,” Laura suggests.

When it comes to considering other people’s opinions, there’s one last question to ask yourself: are you genuinely worried that you have chosen a bad name or are you mostly concerned about making other people happy? If you and your partner love it, Grandma will live with it. A grandchild by any name will smell just as sweet!

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