What's in a Child's Name? A Lot

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005

All Names Considered

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith

The birth of Ruth Richman's first child ended two exhaustive processes -- a 20-hour labor and a nine-month search for the perfect baby name.

In fact, it wasn't until she and her husband, Ken Kornbluh, of Evanston, Ill., were gazing at their daughter in the delivery room that Richman asked, "So does she look like a Sophie or an Emily?" Her husband said Emily. The doctor and labor nurses said Sophie. Sophie she became.

With all the names out there and the advice pushed from family and friends, choosing a name can be overwhelming. When it comes right down to it, couples are really trying to figure out the feelings and experiences that name will create for their child. Impossible to predict ahead of time, right? Not entirely.

Here's what the real baby-name experts -- children themselves -- had to say about their own names, their memories, and the advice they'd give prospective parents. Listen up. Your child might say the same thing someday.

Unusual Names

"I kind of like my name," says Taryn Gross, 8. "I like that when I sign cards, I can just write Taryn because nobody else in school has the same name. It's kind of like having a secret. But I don't like it because I can't find any bracelets, necklaces, or pins with my name on it. It's not very popular."

"When I was 7 or 8, I didn't like my name very much because it wasn't common," says Claire Alden, 14. "So I made up this name with all these Disney characters -- Princess Leah-Ariel ... I can't remember the rest. And I made my mom call me that. Now, I like my name. I like the sound of it and that it's not common."

"When someone says, 'You know Elisha?' it's not like people ask, 'Which one?' " says Elisha Hall, 14. "It's very unique and different, and that's good because I'm a very unique and different person. It fits."

"I wouldn't want to have the same name as a bunch of people," says Chance Foreman, 17. "I like my name, and most of the time people say it's cool."

School Life

"I don't know anyone in my whole school whose name is Megan, so all I have to do is write 'Megan' instead of writing my last initial with a period," says Megan Pike, 8. "And it only has five letters in it, so it's easy to write."

"I just hate my name," says Alexandra (aka Alex) Gross, 11. "It's so long, and it has an X in it. You can't do anything with Xs, like when you make acrostic poems with the letters of your name. And sometimes before people meet me, they think I'm a boy and call me Alexander. It's kind of annoying to correct them."

"When I was in preschool and kindergarten, there were three or four Jameses, and we would get confused who the teacher was calling," says James Bruski, 14. "There were two James B., so she would point at us. It was kind of frustrating, so by third grade people started calling me Bruski. Sometimes I wish I had a more unique name."

On Tradition

"I go by my middle name," says Franklin (aka Hyrum) Mann, 13. "My grandpa's name was Franklin Howard. My dad's name was Franklin Harold. And my name's Franklin. It's kind of annoying when someone says your name and two people answer."

"I like my middle name, Marie, because I was named after my mom," says Caitlin Pike, 8. "Her name is Anna Marie. People say, 'You're Anna Marie's kid,' and I say 'Yup, that's me. That's my middle name.'"

"I'm named after my great-grandma, and lots of my aunts are also named Elizabeth," says Elizabeth Franklin, 14. "I think it's cool it could stay in the family for generations. And famous people have it -- Elizabeth Taylor, Queen Elizabeth, Elizabeth Hurley. ..."

"My dad's father died a few years before I was born, and his Hebrew name was Eliezra, so Elisheva is the girl version," says Elisheva (aka Elli) Simon, 14. "I'm glad I'm named after my grandpa, and I like that I'm almost the only person in Hebrew school who actually has a Hebrew name. I feel special."


"I like my middle name, Elizabeth, because I can be called Sara Elizabeth or Sara Beth," says Sara Pike.

"I like that I can get so many nicknames from my name," says Suzanna Zifkin, 15. "I can't even count them anymore. Like Suzie, Zanna Danna ... and my name backwards is Hannazus, so some people call me Hanna or Zus or Suiza or Suaz."

Special Meanings

"My mom visited England and met the real Queen Elizabeth, and I'm named after her," says Elizabeth Austin, 14. "When I was little, it made me feel special because my mom said I had a queen's name and called me Princess or Queen."

"My dad's parents and family are from Texas, and I got my name from Tyler, Texas," says Tyler Hart, 14. "I think it's kind of cool that there's a place I'm named after."

"My parents didn't pick a name until maybe my second day out of the hospital," says Suzanna Zifkin. "It just makes my name more unique, that they went through all these names and then came up with Suzanna."

The Power of a Name

"My name is Jordan, but all my life, I was never Jordan. I was Michael Jordan," says Jordan Freise, 26. "I'm his name ... his image. People automatically assume I play basketball, even though I hate it. It makes me want to change my name."

Advice for Prospective Parents

"Give them something you think they'd like, not only something you think would be cute, because they'll have to live with it their whole lives," says Elisheva Simon.

"Think about how the name is put together and try taking it apart into different sections," says Tyler Hart. "Think about what other names they could call him or her, like that kid Gaylord, who kids called The Gay Lord."

"I think you should stay in the normal circle of names, but I would put some meaning behind the name," says James Bruski. "Don't just throw a name on a kid and say, 'Here's your name. We don't have anybody in our family named James.'"

Beyond Dakota Is ... Sicily?

In parents' quest for the perfect name, the trends appear to be going in two opposite directions, says Linda Rosenkrantz, co-author of Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana: What to Name Your Baby Now.

"On the one hand, there's this enormous push for uniqueness among a lot of parents," Rosenkrantz says. "They don't want a popular name anymore. They want a name that only their child will have."

In fact, parents have become so obsessed with originality that they've become increasingly secretive and possessive of names they're considering, says Rosenkrantz. "They want this name to be their child's and nobody else's."

Perhaps it's a backlash from classrooms past, filled with 10 Jennifers and Jessicas, she says. Case in point: a group called The Society for Preventing Parents From Naming Their Children Jennifer. The group had its own Web site until it closed "because, frankly, some Jennifers got a little too weird," according to a notice on the group's former home page. Another group wears its anxiety in its name: "Asylum For Those Named Jennifer Who Have Gone Insane From Meeting Too Many Others Named Jennifer."

The possibilities of creative names stop only with one's imagination: names of spices, such as Saffron and Cinnamon; exotic places, such as Sicily and Vienna (no longer merely Dakota and Sierra); and words such as Sailor (Christie Brinkley's daughter), Seven (Erykah Badu's son) and True (Forest Whitaker's son). Unique spellings, especially for boys, are also more common, such as Caden/Kaden/Kayden.

Some are pure fancy. Others have personal significance, like the place a couple honeymooned. One woman delivered her son in the car on the State Road 84 bridge en route to a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last December. The couple named him Bridges.

Another growing trend: girls with traditional male names, such as Cameron and Elliott (the daughter of rock star Sting). "Not just ambisexual names," explains Rosencranz. "That's something that parents should be aware of because once a boy's name starts being used for girls, it stops losing its strength as a boy's name."

If you're not the adventurous type, don't worry. Couples are also returning to traditional names that haven't been used since the turn of the last century, such as Grace, Natalie, and Claire, says Rosenkrantz. They're also rediscovering family names, like a great-grandmother's middle or maiden name, and ethnic names, such as Connor or Isabella.

The Top names of 2001 -- just in case you want to avoid playgroups packed with tots bearing your child's moniker -- Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Andrew, Joseph, Anthony, Tyler, and Daniel for boys, and Emily, Hannah, Madison, Samantha, Ashley, Sarah, Elizabeth, Kayla, Alexis, and Abigail for girls.

Rosenkrantz is betting on these newcomers to start climbing the charts and creep into the next generation of preschool classes: Dylan, Maeve, Kennedy, Felicity, Ella, Eva, Jade, Jada, and Gwyneth for girls; and Spencer, Dermot, Leo, Holden, Crispin, Gus, Truman, and Zanden for boys.

All Things Considered

When Wendy Malkin and her husband, Joel, were considering names for their daughter, Talya (aka Tali), they had a tough enough time agreeing on something themselves. Their mistake? Telling too many other people before the baby was born.

"At one point I really loved the name Hannah, and they said, 'Oh, if you do that she'll be a blank blank blank because it's such a stern sounding name.' They really feel it should be a familial decision," Malkin laughs. Eventually the pressure forced her to abandon the name, which she doesn't regret anymore, but did at first.

"I'd say, if you're really set on your name and it's a little bit unusual, I wouldn't share it with many people," says Malkin. "Or if you're not feeling strong about it, don't tell -- because people do look at you funny. Just say, 'Here's What's-Your-Name' when the baby's born, and then they can't say anything."

It could be hard enough for the two of you to reach a consensus. Everyone has their own images and memories of names (omit former boyfriends and girlfriends right off the bat), and men and women often have different perspectives on name choices anyway. Women tend to be more adventurous, while men are more apt to stick with a few traditional ones.

Lansky suggests combing baby books, birth announcements, even names of characters in film and TV, then create a list of your 10 favorite names. Swap lists with your spouse, and rank those choices. Make a new list combining the top five or six, and haggle. "Ultimately, it has to be something both parents feel good about," he says.

One veteran mom discussing names on the Internet says her husband always puts potential names on a business card first, just to try see how it looks. Lansky says that's a great strategy, especially for girls, since women's names that project a cutesy image may not be advantageous in the adult world.

"You want to pick a name that will help your child put his or her best foot forward, like a good suit of clothes," Lansky says. "Remember, names don't make a child unique. Biology, parenting, and life experiences do."

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