Whole Parenting Family

What’s in a Name? My Take on Baby Names


SuperBoy helps his dad write the initials of the Magi on the Feast of the Ephiphany with a blessing for those who enter into our house. Speaking of names (great transition, right?), how’s it coming on picking a name for your baby? Did you know that everyone has an opinion about your baby’s name? Whether they share it or not, they’re judging. Inside. And either they approve whole heartedly, are luke warm, or think you’re a derelict parent for your selection. What’s in a name?

We Catholics recently celebrated the feast day (because we love a good feast day!) of the Baptism of Our Lord. Jesus was once a baby, baptized, and given the name that the angel told his foster father to designate. Jesus, what a great name! The priest’s Sunday sermon was about names and name trends and the significance of a Christian name (either Biblical or a saint’s name). It got me thinking, which got me writing, and here we are. (And yes, when I asked SuperBoy what his uncle & aunt-in-law should name their unborn baby, he said, you guessed it, Jesus.)

Baby names for us need to encompass three things in my opinion: family names (unless you’re saddled with a whole lotta Murgatroyds), spellable, and the actual name you’re going to call them.

1) Family names (or names with a story).

I’m biased toward this because all five kids in my family have a family name, or a story behind their name. I’m named after a great aunt. Look through old photo albums; ask your folks or aunts & uncles. Get a good list going of all the family names. Then slash & burn the ones you can’t stand. And cross-compare between both sides. Then make a “never name your child this name” list (ours would include Ursula–my mom didn’t believe me that my future daughter’s nickname would be the Sea Witch–hello? Little Mermaid??).

Then check the Social Security Administration’s list for popular children’s names. Then weigh whether or not you want a popular name for your baby. How many kids in his or her class will share that name?

Whatever you do, please, please, don’t name your child after a dead dictator (remember that family whose kids were named after Hitler et al??). Also, please don’t name your child Storm and hide his or her gender from them (remember THAT story?).

2) Spellable.

Don’t try to be creative in the spelling of your child’s name. It just means your child will always have to correct people or endure lots of birthday cards, wedding invitations, and the like with the incorrect spelling of their name. If the name has natural derivatives (Kathy versus Cathy–from Kathleen versus Catherine), cool. If you’re going out there, on that limb of spelling, save the expression for the middle name.

And speaking of middle names, go for broke! We’re all sporting family Irish last names as our middle names. No one gets it, or how to spell them, but it’s special.

I think it goes without saying no one should name their child a vulgarity or slang for a private part, or the like. I hope (pray?) you all are on the same page about those restrictions. And watch out what the initials will be. Think mean kid at school. Think how the first & last name will sound and be pronounced. Try to be a poet. Look for consonance & alliteration.

3) Name the real name.

Our parents had this interesting notion of legally naming us names, but calling us derivatives of those names. It made sense to them (hey, it was the 70’s and 80’s!), but was perplexing and confusing for our teachers and even ourselves. So if you want to call your child Nell, don’t name her Ellen. Name her Nell (I still love you, Mom & Dad!). Something like Charlie from Charles is a more natural nickname. If there are entirely different letters from the original name to the nickname, maybe just name them the nickname. I knew a guy in law school whose name was . . . well let’s say it was Branson (it wasn’t). He went by Jim (this part is true). It was confusing. And perplexing. And sometimes both.

This all being said, our son is a junior and goes by his middle name. But HEY at least he doesn’t go by a nickname OF his middle name! We also opt for names that have a patron saint at least loosely attached so the kid has someone to latch on to when he and she discover the need outside help to escape from their crazy parents.



  1. Lydia on February 1, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Great post! I’m trying to figure out a baby name for our new baby and this post definitely gave me some food for thought. Your last point was especially interesting to me, because I feel the opposite. Name someone Eleanor and call her Ellie, because you may want a cute nickname for a little child but, as my mother says, childhood is short and your daughter may want a more professional name as an adult. My mother’s name is Mary, and if we name this baby Mary, we will call her Molly :-).

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 1, 2013 at 11:40 am

      That’s so funny you feel the opposite! Out of four girls, all of us with two names, if you will, only one still uses both names. Two of us changed our names (one from Mary to Molly!), and the third never ever ever responds to her childhood nickname. But I think your mother has lots of wisdom. I definitely have a hang up from having to explain and defend that my name wasn’t Ellen, but Nell because no one ever called me Ellen–not even when I was in trouble!

  2. Peg Conway on February 1, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    I completely agree with your criteria and we mostly followed it, though our daughter’s name is Kieran, and by the time she was three hours old, I’d spelled it numerous times. She would spell it for people by the time she was two, “my name is Kieran, K-I-E-R-A-N, Kieran”, because she’d heard me say it so often. My given name is Margaret, which my parents chose because they wanted to call me “Peggy.” I was probably 12 or 13 before I realized that was actually my name. Sometimes I wish I was called that.

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      I love that name! Kieran: totally beautiful. And smart that she knew to how to spell it quickly because then anyone who met her would know it so soon. That’s so funny about your own name realization. That was the same for me with Ellen and Nell. It took a long time before I knew what my name REALLY was!

  3. Andrea on February 3, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Great post! I just discovered your blog today, I am looking forward to reading more!

    • Natural Mama Nell on February 4, 2013 at 9:44 pm

      Welcome, Andrea!!