Q. My husband likes simple names, such as Sarah, while I'm leaning toward something more inventive, like Sahara. How can we resolve our differences?
A. First of all, remember that picking a name for your baby can be a lot of fun. You'll both have to compromise in the end, most likely, but whichever name you decide on, your child will ultimately inhabit it. Not only will the name you choose come to define your child in your mind, but your child will come to define the name as well.
A good way to look for a compromise is for each of you to make two lists: one with both of your very favorite choices and the other with those that are totally out of the question. Agree beforehand that both of you will respect the other's out-of-the-question list. You'll find that you eliminate names from consideration for reasons both frivolous (this name recalls the boy in your kindergarten class who picked his nose) and meaningful (an ex-boyfriend answered to it or religious tradition forbids it).
By comparing your lists, you might come upon a specific name you both like and you can start to discover the types of names that fall into your mutual comfort zone. As you listen to each other explain which ones you like, you'll see—perhaps for the first time—an image of the kind of person you envision your child to be. Such issues as gender identity may arise: Many moms prefer girls' names that are strong and somewhat androgynous and softer, gentler boys' names. Dads, on the other hand, often prefer the opposite approach: frillier names for girls and classic ones for boys.
Some couples use more straightforward methods of resolving name disputes. You could have one partner pick the firstborn's name and the other pick that of the next child, for instance. Or throw caution to the wind and flip a coin to see who gets to choose the first and who the middle name.
Q. I like unusual names, but I don't want my child to be seen as an oddball. Are there some out-of-the-ordinary names that are easier on kids than others?
A. Definitely. First, though, let it be said that in recent years the line between unusual and ordinary has unquestionably blurred. Names that might have been considered over the top not that long ago—such as Genesis, Elvis, Deja, and Destiny—have now popped onto the entry levels of Most Popular lists.
A lot of the response to a name will depend on where you live. There may still be places where Madison and Max are considered cutting-edge, while in others, Mingus and Memphis might not raise an eyebrow.
A couple of tips: You could get creative with spelling and give an original spin to a more traditional name. A child whose name is Jayson is unlikely to be teased because he doesn't spell it Jason, for example. Or you could come at a popular name at a slant, changing Cheyenne to Cayenne. And if you like the currently trendy place names, you might do well to stick with the unusual but recognizable Savannah rather than travel all the way to Ireland.
Q. What's the best way to deal with unwanted advice and pressure from family and friends?
A. The bottom line is that this is your child and the final decision should rest with you, no matter how "helpful" your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends want to be. As your due date gets closer, the name pressure often grows more intense and difficult to deflect. Not only can families besiege you with their ideas ("Great-Aunt Martha hinted to your cousin DeeDee that she's hoping you'll carry on her name"), but they can also become ultracritical of your ideas ("Jake for a baby? Your Uncle Harry, whom you never met, once knew a Jake in the army, and he..."). To get them off your case, be polite and tell them you appreciate their input, then make the decision on your own.
But do try to think about their suggestions with an open mind. Maybe you could honor a beloved relative or family friend with your child's middle name rather than her first name. Or put your own twist on a family name, softening Martha by using Marissa, for instance. Or perhaps your great-aunt has a wonderful surname that would make an interesting choice.
A naughty but effective method for fending off pushy relatives and friends: Explain that it's a lost cause. Even if you haven't already decided on a name, tell them all that you've done so but you can't reveal it yet—it's a secret.
Linda Rosenkrantz is the author, with Parenting contributing editor Pamela Redmond Satran, of Baby Names Now: From Classic to Cool—the Very Last Word on First Names.
Popular names, Secret names, Nicknames
Q. How can I determine whether a name is so popular that there will be several of them in my child's class?
A. First of all, if you really like a name, don't worry about whether or not there will be duplicates. A thousand years' worth of Johns, Marys, and Bills have survived without a problem. And if you pick a popular name, you can at least be assured that no one will make fun of it.
But if you're committed to the idea of using a name your child won't have to share with anyone, do some local snooping. Nothing beats on-the-spot observation—swing through your neighborhood playground and keep an ear out for what moms and dads are calling their toddlers, ask neighbors about their children's friends' names, or get hold of the class lists at some local preschools.
Q. Should we tell people our name choice before the baby is born?
A. This is a personal decision; there's no should-or-shouldn't answer. If you make what feels like a definitive choice early on, you may want to share it, giving your child a head start on a solid, public identity even before he's born. This will also close the door to all those well-meaning suggestions others will be pressing on you (see question #3). But bear in mind that even if your decision feels final, you still might hit on something you like better further along or find that when the baby is born he simply doesn't look like a Leo.
Some parents prefer the elements of surprise and privacy, keeping their choice to themselves until the last minute. Others feel proprietary about their selection and reveal it only after the baby's birth because they don't want anyone in their circle of family and friends to use it before they do.
Q. Can I control nicknames? I love the name Katherine but don't want my daughter to be called Kathy.
A. Although you can insist from day one that Katherine be called just that, and most people will respect your wishes, there will always be someone who'll call her Kathy. And there may well come a time when your daughter herself will opt for Katie, Kate, Kath or Cat.
If you really don't like the prospect of a nickname, you can try to avoid it by choosing a name that on paper at least appears to be nickname-proof, like Brett or Morgan. But the fact is, no name is immune: You could end up with a Brettie or a Morg.
Ethnic names, matching names, cross-gender names
Q. I'd like to choose an ethnic name, but will this lead to playground teasing?
A. America, more than most countries, has an open attitude toward ethnicity, a tendency that's likely to increase in years to come. Names once considered exotic, such as Natalia, Adriana, Annika, Yasmine and Enzo, are found on increasing numbers of birth announcements. This is now a country in which there were more little boys named Khalil than Stanley born last year.
Less of a concern than teasing from other children is mispronunciation by teachers. Problems pop up most often when imported names require a specific accent to be pronounced correctly or are spelled differently than they're said, like the Irish Sinead (shin-AYD) or the Polish Andrzej (ahn-DRZHEY).
Of course, one of the reasons to give a distinctively ethnic name is that it will stand out and identify your child as being a member of a specific group.
Q. I want to give our baby an old family name, but will it end up seeming too fusty and grandma-ish?
A. You happen to be giving birth in the right decade. Old-fashioned names are quite trendy right now. Those that hadn't been used much in more than 100 years—such as Abigail, Isaiah, Claire, Ella, Elijah, Julian, and Julia—are rapidly gaining in popularity, as are the "virtue" names Hope, Grace, and Faith. If one of them has the added advantage of linking your child to her family heritage, forming a strong, comforting continuum, so much the better. And remember, too, that a name that may seem dated to you may have no associations for someone born in the 21st century. Matilda? What a cool name!
Q. I have a 2-year-old named Cole, and a friend told me that his brother-to-be's name should "match." Is this true?
A. Although most parents shun the twin-type naming patterns of the past, as in Sharon and Darren, they still seek names that are harmonious in terms of sound and style. After all, you (and others) will often be saying them in tandem. But the fact is that merely because of your taste, the names will probably end up matching, at least stylistically—since you'll have chosen both of them. Few families are likely to end up with a Charlotte and a Makayla. Yet because matching is in the eye—and ear—of the beholder, there's no real wrong answer.
If you have specific ideas about which sibling names can be used together, remember to think about future combinations when you're naming your first baby. The first name sets limits on later possibilities in ways only you can foresee.
Q. Are there problems with cross-gender names?
A. Although there have been ambigender names for centuries—such as Crystal and Emma, which both started out as boys' names—never has the trend been as widespread as it is today. There's no way to know by their names whether a Jordan, Morgan, Bailey, or Taylor is a girl or a boy.
But once a name is shared by the sexes, it tends to inevitably shift more into the female column. Most likely that's because few parents want their son to have a name that even hints at girlieness, while such biases don't exist in the same way for girls.
Either way, your child will grow up with his, or her, name as a matter of course. And regardless of what you end up naming your kids, you'll love them for who they are, no matter what they're called.