9 Mistakes to Avoid When Picking a Baby Name

You have a positive pregnancy test, a good first trimester doctor’s visit, and you have told all your family and friends the exciting news.  Most importantly, you have almost finalized your baby name choices.  Perhaps, like us, you had settled on these names long before you were pregnant – perhaps before you were even married!  No matter how much you think you like the baby name you have picked out, here are nine additional considerations when picking your baby’s name.

Warning!  If we use a real life name you love or have already used, we apologize in advance!  At the end of the day, all names are beautiful because they are how we identify the people we love.  Please don’t take any of the naming advice that follows personally.  The following list consists of some considerations to make before settling on a name.  

Calling your baby by her name before she is born may lock you into using a name that doesn’t seem to work later on.

1.  The Name Doesn’t Fit

Sometimes a name just seems to work with a baby, and some times it does not.  Will your baby come out looking like a Bugaboo*?  In our case, the first time I saw Bugaboo’s face I had instant regret.  She didn’t look like a Bugaboo…but who did she look like?  We had been calling her Bugaboo since we’d discovered she was a girl.  My husband shouted out her name in the OR for all the doctors and nurses to hear.  So there was no going back on our baby name.

If you think you may have regrets about your baby’s name before the birth certificate is signed, do the following:

  • Don’t call your baby by it’s name before it’s born.  I loved calling Bugaboo by her name because I felt we were bonding.  But that’s also what locked us into the name long before we ever met her.
  • Do look for a cutesy nickname to call the baby instead.  For instance, you can call it Sweet Pea or Gummy Bear.  This helps give your child personality and character without locking you into a name or revealing the name to your family and friends.  You could continue to use these nicknames after the baby is born.
  • Do have a few alternate names just in case.  Perhaps you were settled on Sophia, but your baby just doesn’t look like one.  When the time comes, your alternate names of Victoria, Olivia, and Emily may be just what you need.
*Bugaboo is the nickname we use for our daughter.  While a cute and fun name, I don’t actually recommend naming your child Bugaboo.

I know all too well how obnoxious it is to live with the same name as every single other girl that you ever happen to meet.

2.  Too Common

Years ago, when we picked out Bugaboo’s name, it was the #1 girl’s name in the country.  We anxiously watched it tick down to the lower half of the top 10 list and carefully let out a sigh of relief.  My name is Sarah, and I know all too well how obnoxious it is to live with the same name as every single other girl that you ever happen to meet.  (Or at least, everyone you meet knows a Sarah, if they are not one themselves).  Having a unique name, therefore, is as much about protecting your child’s identity as your desire as a parent to stand out and be unique.

But while Bugaboo slowly dissipated from the Top 10 list, it was replaced with other similar names like “Buga.”  And somewhere in the middle there was “Booboo.”  In fact, baby names beginning with B became the trend for Bugaboo’s birth year, and I was surrounded by like-sounding names.  Billy, Bea, Bernadette, Bailey, Buggie…

With a little foresight, we would have perhaps tabled Bugaboo and let it trickle down further on the list.  With any luck, we’d have another daughter someday we could have named Bugaboo when the name was less common.

3.  Too Similar to a Cousin

In addition to being inundated with “B” names, we only discovered after the fact how similar Bugaboo’s name was to her cousin.  For the sake of this example, let’s pretend Bugaboo’s name was “Cadence.”  She has a cousin, “Kayla” who is five years older.

For nine months before she was born,  I spoke about my baby using her name “Cadence.”  My husband would get down next to my belly and whisper her name.  We never even considered that it was similar to “Kayla.”  As soon as Bugaboo was born, “Kayla” slipped out of our mouths!  And we did it again!  It didn’t help that my parents, who spend a lot of time with “Kayla,” were the ones who came up to help around the house.  To this day, I sometimes slip up the two cousins’ names.

On the other hand, what parent doesn’t mix up the names of their children: mixing the name of daughter and father, brother and sister, son and uncle.  It happens.

I couldn’t bear the idea of Bugaboo growing up neck and neck to a cousin with her same name.

4.  Cousin Steals / Steal Cousins

I always told myself that using the same baby name as your niece or nephew didn’t matter.  My husband has about six cousins named John.  I had a cousin Sarah growing up.  It didn’t seem a big deal.  So when my sister-in-law named her daughter “Gina,” a name I had been wanting to use, I shrugged my shoulders.  My own chance to name a daughter Gina would come along, and no one would care by then.

After Gina was born, I realized it wasn’t that easy because family dynamics are always in limbo.  What if the first Gina was the favorite?  What if the second was?  What if the family started separating out the two Ginas with odd nicknames that you don’t like?  (Tall Gina and Short Gina, using middle names, etc.)  Worst of all, what if my sister-in-law thought I got the idea for Gina from her?  I could never live it down.

Bugaboo has a cousin who is 35 days older.  We didn’t know his gender before he was born, and I was terrified he would just happen to be a girl named Bugaboo.  I couldn’t bear the idea of Bugaboo growing up neck and neck to a cousin with her same name.  I even had my parents sign a document stating that we had chosen our baby name long ago.  Fortunately, the cousin was a boy and it didn’t matter.

If a friend or sibling uses the name you want, consider what life will be like for you and your child as you grow older.  If you can live with duplicate names, go ahead and use your dream name!  If you find yourself in a situation where a close friend or relative is pregnant at the same time, consider exchanging names.  Write the names on a slip of paper and trade them at the same time so no one can say they chose the name first.  If the names are the same or similar, talk to each other about how you feel about that.  It’s like a game of chicken – if it really bothers you to have the same name as a cousin, then at least one of you is bound to blink.

5.  Family Implements Odd Nicknames

No matter what baby name you choose, you will probably offend some family members.  There will be those that want a more traditional name, those that want a family name, and those that want a unique name.  Or you could pick a perfectly agreeable name but choose the wrong nickname (or lack thereof).  This has happened twice in my family.  In the first instance, my brother in-law announced that my nephew Charles was to be called Chuck.  That didn’t go over so well with the rest of the family, although they came around eventually.

More recently, my in-laws have taken to calling Bugaboo “Boo.”  Excuse me?  I have never called her Boo in my life!  I still resent the fact that they have pushed this nickname on her.  Of course, the easiest thing to do in this situation is to gently remind the in-laws what the child’s name is – “It’s Bugaboo.”  You may have to be more assertive, “Please call my daughter Bugaboo.  We are not using nicknames at this time.”  (Find out more about managing your relationship with your in-laws).

Another option is to simply choose names that do not nickname well such as single syllable names like Heath, Drake, James, Luke, Hope, and Clare.  There are two-syllable names that also do not have many nicknames either, such as Adam, Lincoln, Reagan, Nora, and Sarah.

You can try to control your family, but you will never be able to control a horde of 8-year-old children.

6.  Peers Implement Mean Nicknames

Perhaps the baby name you have picked seems sweet, original, and perfectly innocent.  This was how I thought about the name Jane.  I loved that it was a feminine form of John, and there is something about the softness of the pronunciation of the “a” that feels peaceful to me.  However, my husband quickly vetoed this name.  “Plain Jane?”  He asked.  “I’m not having my daughter teased like that.”  Also watch out for names that rhyme or seem “too cutesy” with your last name: no “Rich Richards, William Williams” etc.

I see the value in what he said.  You can try to control your family, but you will never be able to control a horde of mean spirited 8-year-old children.  Try to think about how a child would misuse the name you’ve picked.

7.  Catholic Saints

Unique Characteristics

We had already settled on Bugaboo as our baby name, but suddenly my husband came to me and said he liked the name “Gwen.”

“Ooh!”  I said.  “I like it too!”  We started letting the name roll off our tongues, considered if we would put Gwendolyn on the birth certificate, and thought about potential middle names.  (Consequently, for fast food lovers like ourselves, “Wendy” is an acceptable nickname for Gwendolyn).

Then I looked up St. Gwendolyn.

She’s a saint of little fame, but she was known for one thing: having three breasts.

And just like that, Gwen was off the table.  We knew that all our Catholic relatives would look up St. Gwendolyn as soon as we announced the name.  And if our relatives didn’t make the bizarre discovery themselves, poor Gwen wouldn’t be able to endure going to a Catholic Elementary School.

Catholic Saints in Pop Culture

A friend named their son Damien after the great Catholic Saint who worked with lepers on Molokai in Hawaii.  Truly, this is a man whom you would hope your child emulates.  Since we are not big into horror movies, we didn’t know there was a connection between the name Damien and the horror movie The Omen.  I hope their son is sheltered from finding out the connection for many years, but I now hear about this pop culture connection wherever I go.

No matter your religion, consider the religions and culture of the people who are influential in your life.  If you’re not Catholic but your extended family is, consider the connection to Catholic saints.  Look up famous historical figures with the name and its use in pop culture.

Consider what your child’s name will look like on a resume.

8.  Unique Spelling

Another consideration in naming your child is spelling.  Please do not be offended by this, but you really should make an effort to spell your child’s name using the most common spelling.  For instance, spell your son’s name Gary instead of “Gerry.”  First of all, consider what your child’s name will look like on a resume.  Having unique spelling is likely to make the child look uneducated.  If the spelling is wild enough, people will not be able to pronounce it, and so you or your child will always be correcting them.  This is not something your child will enjoy doing.  If this is not enough to consider, just think – you will never find a personalized license plate or pencil for Brittny.

Some spellings do not matter as much, such as Erik vs. Eric and Sara vs. Sarah.  You cannot say with certainty whether either spelling is more popular.  But if there are multiple ways to spell a name, please just consider moving on to another name.  Take it from a Sarah who has spent her whole life being asked if she has an “h” on her name – picking a plain name and plain spelling is just easier for your child!


9.  The Case for a Simple Name

One of the best ways to test a baby name is to consider putting it on your child’s resume or hearing it spoken aloud as the president of a large U.S. Corporation.  What I have to say here is partially just my personal opinion, but it is also the way the world works.  You want to give your child a reasonable, plain, strong name.  It should be easy for any stranger to read aloud and pronounce correctly.  It should not cause snickers if your child is about to give a lecture to a large, educated crowd of business people.

As an example, this is an honest list of the vice presidents in a company I have worked for: Joe, Tom, John, JoAnne, Craig, Greg, Ellie, Catherine, Mike, and Cindy.  Some of the boringness of these names is due to the age of the people who hold them (honestly you have to be at least 35 at least to be in this sort of position).  On the other hand, I believe that their common, easy to comprehend names contributed in part to their success.

If you give your child a conservative name, the worst that can happen is that you or the child becomes a little bored with the name.  If you go for too much flair and flounce, you may be unintentionally closing doors for your child later on in life.  A great rule of thumb is to think of the top 100 names of either gender, or consider the names on souvenir pencils at the last gift shop you stopped at.  There is still a great variety to choose from, but the names will be common enough to help your child stay mainstream.

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  • Amy August 23, 2018 at 2:08 pm Reply

    You make some great points here…though we did choose a unique spelling for my youngest daughter’s somewhat common name….hope I don’t regret that later! Thanks for sharing!

    • admin August 23, 2018 at 3:24 pm Reply

      I’m sure your daughter is very happy with her name – at the end of the day, that’s what matters!

  • Nessly August 23, 2018 at 3:29 pm Reply

    Picking names has been our struggle too. What we did was to pick out a name in relation to when he is made, our honeymoon hence the name where we had our honeymoon. The result is so unique its adorable!

    • admin August 23, 2018 at 3:32 pm Reply

      That does sound fun! I can think of a bunch of cute names we could have used on Bugaboo if we used that convention!

  • Angie August 23, 2018 at 4:51 pm Reply

    We picked a semi-unique name (for America anyway, it’s French), and I still love the name and get compliments on it all the time… Buuuuuut, I realized she’ll be spelling it out and correcting Americans for the rest of her life over it haha.

    • admin August 23, 2018 at 7:44 pm Reply

      She will have a lot of fun if she gets to travel to a French speaking country!

  • Kisha August 24, 2018 at 2:29 am Reply

    These were all great points. My last daughter’s name was not well liked by most people that I told it to before she was born, but, I didn’t waver. I knew from having my other children that it was a mistake even telling anyone before I actually named her because friends and family are so opinionated, but, she was my last one and I was over anxious. But, that would be my tip– keep the name to yourself until the baby is named!

    • admin August 24, 2018 at 3:40 pm Reply

      I absolutely agree! Once the baby is born, everyone will love the name and eventually come around.

  • Stephanie August 24, 2018 at 9:38 am Reply

    Such an interesting list, choosing your baby name is tricky and a lot harder than it looks! For my son we choose my fathers name (that is how it works in my country) but then for our daughter we were sure for her name and then a week before she was born a different name made us completely change our mind, that name suits her perfectly!

    • admin August 24, 2018 at 3:41 pm Reply

      I sometimes wish we had another name ready to go for Bugaboo – for the first two days or so she just didn’t seem like a Bugaboo. But now she’s over a year old and Bugaboo fits her perfectly.

  • Stacy Craft August 24, 2018 at 12:12 pm Reply

    I love picking out names! I chose both of my kid’s names so that there would NOT be a nickname. And now I have created so many nicknames my husband keeps telling me that my baby is not going to be able to learn his real name because I call him so many things!

    • admin August 24, 2018 at 3:42 pm Reply

      My mom said she chose our names so that we would not have nicknames, but my name is Sarah and I’ve been called “Sar.” So you can’t always plan these things out.

  • Mariah November 30, 2018 at 1:34 am Reply

    Haha! I like your “Catholic saints” point; my daughter’s name is Gwendolyn. We’re not Catholic, though, so I had no idea about St. Gwendolyn. And if I had, I’m a big proponent of breastfeeding, so it’s all good. (We did consider Cecily and decided not to use it because it comes from Cecilia, which comes from a Latin word that means “blind.”) I also like Wendy as a nickname, but I don’t like Gwen, which is what anyone who shortens it calls her. We mostly just call her Gwendolyn though.

    • admin November 30, 2018 at 2:38 am Reply

      It’s a lovely name! I like the breastfeeding take on it – maybe we will have to consider it for our next daughter after all!

  • Jack Burton November 30, 2018 at 2:27 am Reply

    When I was young I decided that my first born son was going to be named Joel. A good, solid Biblical name that wasn’t goofy, but wasn’t overused either. I explained this to my wife when we got married, and she was very agreeable as she liked the name also. However, she neglected to tell me that while I got the naming rights she got the pronunciation rights. She is Filipina, and in her culture the name is not Joel, but Jo El — two distinct syllables. He’s lived with that for 42 years now. And yes, he has to spell it out every time he uses it officially.

    • admin November 30, 2018 at 2:39 am Reply

      It’s hard to have to explain your name to people. I know because it’s always, “Sarah with an “h.”” But I like that pronunciation of Joel!

  • Anna December 3, 2018 at 2:16 pm Reply

    Did you really name your child freaking Bugaboo!!!! That is an awful name!

    • admin December 3, 2018 at 6:09 pm Reply

      Haha! It would be, wouldn’t it? 🙂 I just call her Bugaboo online to protect her real identity. Her real name is really, really boring – but I love it. 🙂

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