If you’re wondering how to pick the perfect baby name, there are a few common-sense rules to follow: don’t try too hard to be unique like too many celebrities we know (looking at you, Grimes and Elon Musk), stray away from first names that are too similar to last names (hi, Robert Robertson.) And, if you’re not Pete Wentz, your child doesn’t need a name like Bronx Mowgli. But baby names can go south in ways that you may not be able to predict in the moment, which means that choosing the right baby name is a bigger responsibility than you might initially realize.
The initials test can be a helpful tool when picking out a baby name. If you don’t think about it, your beautiful little Hannah Aileen Grant could be called Hag for the rest of her life. Have you considered how much nickname potential your baby’s name might have? Little Michael might be lovingly referred to as Micky, but Micky turns to Hicky real quick, and little Dick won’t have a fun middle school experience. I guess no one does, though? No name can protect your kid from all hardship, so don’t spend too much time thinking of every possible cruel iteration of every baby name you like. You’ll kill yourself doing so.
Even the “safest” baby names, classics like William and Elizabeth, come freighted with their own personal histories and associations. Putting your baby names through a barrage of tests can help you identify any glaring red flags. But if there’s a name your heart is set on, no matter the results you get below, stick with it. Try as you might, there is no perfect baby name. We can only do our best to minimize our kids’ chances of being bullied and legally changing their names once they move out.
1. When Choosing a Baby Name, Consider the Initials
Do the first letters of the first, middle, and last names spell anything? If your last name starts with an “S” then you may want to start with something other than Ashley Susan. Oh, you’ve already thought of that? But have you considered the formal monogram, in which the last initial appears in the middle, bigger, with the first and middle names on either side? Then again, maybe saving the cost of little Felicia Tina Anthony ever wanting anything monogrammed with F.A.T. is something you consider important.
2. To Pick a Name, Play the Baby Name Rhyme Game
Because Shelly might be smelly and Doug may play with slugs, but Drew, at least from word on the street, eats a lot of poo.
3. Run the Name By a Clever Grade-Schooler
Yes, kids will bully other kids in the schoolyard for any reason. At the same time, you don’t want to give them all the help they could ever need to get started. To figure out how quickly a name could morph into playground fodder, give your favorite name(s) to a clever 10-year-old you know. Ask them how many nicknames they can come up with. If he generates 10 in less than a minute, keep looking.
4. Cross-Check Names Against Trending Celebrities
If you’re deadset on an uncommon name and there’s a match with the breakout new star of the L.A. Lakers, a new Kardashian baby, or a character in an emerging prestige tv series, know that people in the future might assume you named your child after this person. Just think how many parents of Kylies and Kendalls neglected to perform this test 10 years ago and regret that decision now.
5. When Choosing a Baby Name, Ask Alexa: Is It Google-able?
I have an un-Googleable friend named Faith Will. For her entire adult life, searches for her name have come up empty. The only good thing are the constant reminders she receives that her faith will move mountains. (Also, if she ever does anything horrible that makes national news, potential employers may not find out.) So Google the full name you want for your child and see what happens.
6. When Picking Out Your Baby’s Name, Think Big Picture
It’s important to consider the totality of a name — how do all the pieces hang together? Does the last letter of the first name collide with the first letter of the last name in a way that’s confusing? Give it some thought. Jonas Salk had to cure polio for people to stop thinking his first name was Jonah.
7. Speaking of Smart Assistants: Anticipate Upcoming A.I. Names
Alexa is a beautiful name. It’s also a giant pain in the ass if you find yourself calling it aloud anywhere near Amazon’s clever home assistant. Just think: In a few years, virtual Alexa may be even more ubiquitous than she is today. That means that in homes and businesses nationwide, whenever anyone calls her name — or your daughter’s name — frustration will abound. Unless, that is, little Alexa is a whiz at trivia and/or great at setting kitchen timers.
8. Screen the Baby Name for Overpopularity and Trendiness
Of course, you shouldn’t care what other people think. But your kid may not be as strong as you. So, just to be safe, Google “most popular baby names” and consider avoiding the ones at the top of the list. While some kids may not want to stand out as the lone Luigi at their school, they also don’t want to be one of six other kids with the same name, all of whom respond when the teacher calls it.
You might also want to avoid popular baby names that have appeared out of nowhere. They tend to wane quickly in succeeding generations. So yes, Braden and Jaden are trendy now — as are Aiden, Caden, and the assorted other -dens — but they will nail your child to a specific generation faster than those emails you received last week from Esther and Marvin revealed that they were not sent by millennials.
To top it off, maybe Google “baby names people hate” and, for your child’s sake, at least consider reconsidering Neveah (Heaven backward), which perpetually tops the list along with (yep) Jaden or Braden for the boys.
9. Perform the Email Test on Your Chosen Baby Name
Does the first initial spell anything when joined with your last name? William Anchor sounds like an awesome choice — until it gets him assigned email@example.com and he has to look for a job with it.
10. When Choosing Your Baby’s Name, It Only Matters What You Think
This is the easiest, but most important, test. If you found the perfect name and you love it, that’s all that matters. Surprisingly, this is not a test everyone puts their favorite name through.