At some point in our lives, most of us have found ourselves sitting in front of a web browser about to Google search our own name, just to see what pops up. But why? What is behind this curiosity? In other words, why do we care about our names so much that we allow them to extend beyond a group of letters and into our identity and who we feel we are?
It’s safe to say that a name is more than just a name. This cliché holds itself to be truer now more than ever before, since there’s an upwards trend in parents wanting to pick out names that will make their newborns stand out in a crowd. No longer are names chosen based off of what’s popular. In fact, it’s quite the contrary.
The name is meant to be as individual as the person it’s suited for (or the other way around, depending on how you look at it.) This means encapsulating an ethnic heritage, maybe a particular place, or an important relative, or perhaps some other quality that the parents want to highlight. There’s scientific evidence that certain names can create an “implicit egotism,” in which like a self-fulfilled prophecy, someone follows the name they were given. (Heck, just think about Usain Bolt.)
Since the possibilities are basically endless, choosing the right name can feel rightfully overwhelming. Sure, there’s an unlimited number of words out there, but is there such a thing as a truly unique name? The answer is, unfortunately, no. This may or may not shock you, but there are actually tons of babies named Unique each year.
But don’t let that scare or corner you when choosing your baby’s name. According to Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard, remembering this can actually empower you. “Use the backdrop of your social group, your community, and your generation to choose names that make the kind of statement you’re looking for,” she writes. It’s not the name itself, but the context of the name that gives it meaning. To even start navigating these waters, try choosing a style category that speaks to you, such as names with an antique charm, like Eva or Oscar, or the names of literary or artistic characters, like Isolde or Bram.
Another important reminder to ensure that you don’t get caught up in beating your pregnant friend to the naming punch is to think of your last name, which actually contributes to the name’s individuality. “A full name is like a little line of poetry with rhyme and meter,” Wattenberg says. She suggests names that echo one or more of the sounds in the last name, like Hunter Sullivan over Hunter Flannigan. Avoid alliterations and pay attention to how nicknames roll off the tongue with the surname. And make sure nothing sounds like a stutter or hidden landmine, à la Ben Dover.
When it comes to honoring family through namesakes, get creative. Instead of naming your son Donald like Uncle Don(ald), try Donovan, and he can still go by Little Don. Or if you don’t want to fight with your sister about naming your kids after Grandpa Charles, one kid can go by Charlie and the other by Chaz. Use a maiden name as a middle name, or even as a first name if it fits, like Glover or Harper. You never know what you might come up with, and how you can put your own spin on one of our most beloved things in life: family.
But in addition to all of the above, the most important piece of advice that Wattenberg has when it comes to choosing your child’s name, which is pretty much with them for the rest of their life, is to choose a name you would like to have yourself. Ask yourself, “If you were starting life today, knowing everything you know about the world, is this the name you would want to represent you?”
Illustration: Marie Guillard