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How to Name a Child

A thoughtful approach to naming your future adults.

A name can be one of the greatest gifts a parent gives a child. Our name follows us all throughout life. Through grade school, recreational sports, and personal events, our name is written thousands of times. As we get older, it’s memorialized in email signatures, on business cards, and archived on the internet. It is linked to our identity, forever.

It can be a tool to advance our opportunities or a limp we have to continually overcome.

As my wife and I wrestled with naming our children, 2 daughters as of 2018, this reality weighed the heaviest. While seemingly superficial to most, I couldn’t escape the vast usage of a name over time. Also, growing up with a last name that most people mispronounce, I can’t help but speculate about the impact that can have over decades.

So, I put together a rough framework that guides our naming decisions.

General Tests

Spell Test

When you hear it, can you spell it correctly?

For each of our daughters, it’s the first question I asked family and friends once I share a name we were considering. The objective, be able to spell a name correctly after hearing it once.

There is no need to swap an ‘i’ for a ‘y’ or throw in a double consonant.

Pronunciation Test

When you see it, can you say it correctly?

Psychology has already done the work of proving the value of calling someone by name. How much more valuable is hearing your name when you don’t have to constantly correct people? Also, if it’s easy to pronounce people are more likely to use it.

Length Test

Does it fit within the box?

How many forms do we complete in our lifetime? Hundreds? Thousands? A short name has the value of fitting inside the boxes and doesn’t take too much effort if you had to bubble in a Scantron test. It’s not much, but the ease matters.

Nickname Test

Are there low hanging insults?

Children can be cruel and creative. There’s no sense in giving them ammunition against your child. I personally like the name Richard, but the common nickname of ‘Dick’ means it fails the Nickname Test. ‘Peter’ and other phallic synonyms are also out.

Also, alliteration is out. ‘Lauren Lopes’, ‘Larry Lopes’, and ‘Leighton Lopes’ just don’t fly.

Initials Test

Do their initials spell something?

This one is obvious. When their initials are used, the initials should either form something positive or nothing at all.

Also, due to a popular monogram style that places the initial in different orders, it’s worth jumbling them up and trying to pass the same test.

Domain Test

Is their ‘.com’ available?

Welcome to the 21st century. Whether they use it one day or not, the investment of $10/yr to own the ‘.com’ version of their name is worth protecting someone else from getting it. Personally, I own morganlopes.com and morganjlopes.com. Why? Today, I use them but when I bought them it’s because I didn’t want anyone else to have them.

Uniqueness Test

How common is it?

At this point, the list of possible names has dwindled considerably. Making sure it’s unique will ensure they’re able to stand out among their peers. It is worth noting however, uniqueness isn’t worth breaking the Spell test. The name, not the spelling should be what’s unique. Remember, no swapping an ‘i’ for a ‘y’ or throwing in a double consonant.

Female Considerations

Gender Neutral

Is gender immediately obvious?

At this point, it’s a well known fact that humans have subconscious biases. A popularized research study identified that this even plays out on work resumes. Applicants with female names are less likely to get an initial interview. Right or wrong, it’s subconscious for a reason. Hoping to give my daughters as many advantages as possible, gender neutral names even the playing field on paper.

Bonus Points

Worthwhile Meaning

Does it stand for something?

Somewhere around when they learn to use the internet, they’ll likely look up what their name means. Perhaps they can’t find anything but imagine the elation if it means something exciting.

Discovering my own name means ‘warrior of the sea’ took on an extra special connotation when researching about polar explorers (a major influence for our first companies name). The entreprenuers of their day, the leaders of these polar expeditions were masters of the sea.

‘Avery’, our first daughter’s name, is associated with wisdom.

‘Rowan’, our second daughter’s name, means ‘red one’ or ‘fiery one’.

Near the front of the alphabet

When they line up, who is first?

In elementary school, teachers often prompt the children to line up by their name. It’s a simple exercise in alphabetizing. You’re fooling yourself if you think years of being near the front doesn’t make a lasting impact.

For Rowan, we had to punt on this consideration. One of our top picks, though starting with a ‘B’, would have presented the obvious appearance of using names to ordering our children. A, B, C… in this case, the negative seemed to outweigh the subtle benefits of being near the front.

Important considerations after baby #1…

Family origins.

Whether present or absent, is it consistent?

If the first child’s name has strong ties to the family lineage, the other should have that too. It seems trivial as adults but children see the world through a different lens and often arrive at value defining conclusions.

Closing

As you can imagine, with these rules and consideration, naming a child  requires a tremendous amount of effort. Circling back on the idea that they’ll spend the rest of their life with it, I found it especially worthwhile.

The question will inevitably come, “Hey dad, how it you pick my name?” I look forward to scooping my little one up and whispering in their ear, “Very carefully my dear, because you’re worth it.”