How to choose the perfect baby name

·8-min read
Photo credit: Getty Images/ Liudmila_Fadzeyeva
Photo credit: Getty Images/ Liudmila_Fadzeyeva

Naming a baby – as a parent, you're responsible for choosing a part of someone's identity that will usually stay with them for life, and that can be daunting.

Olivia and Oliver retained the number one spots in the most recent Office for National Statistics figures (2019), having been so since 2016 and 2013 respectively, but you may wish to choose a slightly more unusual moniker for your little one.

With boys' names, parents are opting for shortened versions of traditional names with the likes of Alfie, Freddie, Charlie and Theo all making the top 20 well ahead of the originals. As did Archie, the name chosen by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

While, intriguingly, eight of the top 10 names for girls end in 'A': Olivia, Amelia, Isla, Ava, Mia, Isabella, Sophia, and first time top ten entrant, Freya.

For girls in particular, the trend for 'old-fashioned' names has caused a remarkable wave of come-backs. Names like Elsie, Violet, Ada and Ivy have all reentered the top 100 in the last 10 years, having dropped off the list way back in the 1930s, and 2019 saw Mabel make its first appearance since 1924.

The name game is fascinating and often unpredictable, but how do you get it right?

We spoke to a range of experts to help you pick the best baby name for your child, guiding you through the process, from inspiration to decision making, and even revealing what to do if you think you've made a mistake...

Photo credit: olesiabilkei - Getty Images
Photo credit: olesiabilkei - Getty Images

Where to find baby name inspiration

Adaptable and ever expanding websites and blogs have taken naming resources to a whole new scale. But how do they do it?

Chloe Robinson has always had a passion for names, ever since diligently bestowing monikers on her childhood doll collection. She's kept a growing list ever since, and after seeing unanswered calls for truly unique baby name help online, she created an Instagram page, BabyNamesWithLove, to share her imaginative ideas and inspire new parents.

Pay attention to the world around you, because Chloe says there's inspiration to be found in the most unexpected places: "Road signs, game characters or even colours of paint." She recalls moving into her apartment and spotting 'Dusky Gem' among her paint samples, or chancing upon a 'Thorne Crescent' while out walking. Both were ready made name combinations; a speciality of hers.

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She draws on online resources too, of course, following other naming pages and tipping website Nameberry as her main tool, spending her evenings going through its name lists and articles.

Is your baby name unique?

Choosing a unique baby name — if that's what you're looking for — is hard because you need one that's going to stay original.

We spoke to another name curator, Lauren, who runs the PerfectBabyNames page — which has grown to over 11,000 followers in just two years — for her insights on fast moving trends.

She regularly sees booms in 'unique' names, often attached to celebrities, TV or movies: "I have seen this a lot with 'overnight success' names. I’ll see a large group of babies named something that wasn’t previously on the charts and that name will jump to the top 20."

Lauren only heard the name Stormi once before Kylie Jenner (the youngest Kardashian) named her daughter that in 2018. Now she knows three baby Stormis personally and has parents every week telling her they've chosen the name.

But age, it appears, plays a factor. Harper (mainstreamed by the Beckhams) is now the 7th most popular girls' name among mothers under 25, but for over 35s it plummets to 69th.

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While your average Joe/Joana in the UK will name 1.9 bundles of joy, writers of fiction can easily name hundreds of times as many people during their careers.

When naming her characters, author Clare Fuller thinks about the time they were born, and whether the fictional parents would have been influenced by pop culture, which is easier in retrospect.

For example, it's likely, she says, that the '60s boom of 'Jacqueline' was down to Jackie Kennedy, but she doesn't think it's always intentional.

"I think children get named after those people without the parents necessarily even being aware of it; just names that have seeped into their consciousness. If you've come up with a name, try and work out where you got it from, and who else might be calling their child this? How common will it become?"

Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives - Getty Images
Photo credit: Michael Ochs Archives - Getty Images

Looking for the name in lists and baby naming advice helps you see whether it's more popular than you think. If it's not in the top 1,000 baby names, you know it's really rare.

Lauren of PerfectBabyNames says she's seeing a rise in double barrel first names in the quest for individuality, as they allow you to create something unique without having to use super bold choices.

Check the popularity of your family's baby names over the last 100 years

Have a play on this interactive graph from the Office for National Statistics and find out...

Does your baby's full name work?

Combining your chosen monikor with your surname and middle names shouldn't be an afterthought. There might be fabulous names on your list that are just not going to work in full, or that might have other associations.

Chloe learnt the hard way after putting together the name Azura Blue for her naming page's recommendations, which she later found out was a cleaning service.

And writer Clare was halfway through Unsettled Ground, featuring the Cedar twins Jeanie and Julias, before realising her character was named Julias Cedar; a mistake she then worked into his character, but in real life you'd probably want to avoid...

Once you've done your research and made sure you're not naming your baby after a cereal bar or a garden centre, how does it sound as a name?

Clare's process for her characters is to 'practise' their name: "You've got to say them out loud and write them down on paper and kind of answer the phone in that name; almost act it out to see whether it's right. Because it's going to be there forever."

Photo credit: GoodLifeStudio - Getty Images
Photo credit: GoodLifeStudio - Getty Images

Discussing your baby name with friends and family

Post-natal Doula April Knell knows or thing or two about what parents go through and says you have to have a thick skin when sharing name ideas, as not everyone is as diplomatic or considerate as they should be.

While some territorially keep name choices a secret to make sure they aren't stolen, most share them as part of the process.

"Friends, family and even strangers can have quite strong opinions," warned April. "Sometimes, we share the names we like for validation and approval; it can be a hard pill to swallow if people don't like it. But I'm a big believer in instinct; go with what you want, because you don't want to end up looking at your babies and thinking, 'This name is just not right.'"

Photo credit: PeopleImages - Getty Images
Photo credit: PeopleImages - Getty Images

Making that final baby name decision

While in April's experience most parents decide while pregnant, some wait to meet baby with a bank of names ready. A handful of times she's seen decided parents make a u-turn once baby arrives, but it's not common.

Legally, you have six weeks to register a baby and commit to a name. April herself took a week to decide on her youngest's, trying out her choices and seeing which stuck. She's known some take it right up to the six week deadline, using 'bub' or 'peanut' in the meantime.

"One of the women I'm thinking of, she's very laidback, she was just like, 'Oh, it'll come, it'll be fine, we'll find something.' She was happy with her name at the end, but it took her a while to get there.

"You'll know. You'll get that feeling."

Photo credit: Orbon Alija - Getty Images
Photo credit: Orbon Alija - Getty Images

Can you change your baby's name?

You can, and you shouldn't feel shame or guilt, as it's an established process. Here's Emma Waterhouse, Writer and Head Moderator at Nameberry.com, to explain how...

There is a 12-month period when changes to the child's forename(s) can be made. This can only be done once and must be done by a parent or legal guardian.

In England and Wales, the cost is currently £40, plus the cost of any new documentation. Both the fee and the application form should be submitted to the original registry office. After a name change has been authorised, new paperwork showing the original and amended details will be sent out.

After 12 months, any name changes must be made via deed poll. Everyone with parental responsibility must consent to the changes, and they will not be added to the birth certificate.

And in the end...

While it comes with a lot responsibility, naming a child is a privilege. Enjoy it.

Though it may feel like a monumental challenge, just remember, every single person you've ever met, had someone who managed it.

And, after all, there's always nicknames...

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