Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What's in a Name?: 3 Tips for Naming Your Kid

Parenting is hard.  Everyone screws it up, at least a little.  I've always said that your first kid is your practice kid.  The one that you make all the mistakes with, before doing a hopefully better job with your next kid.  This might be because I'm a second child myself, and I like to think my parents did a pretty good raising me.  To their credit they did a good job with my older brother too, or at least the best they could.

I have two children, and I am very proud of both of them. I would say I'm doing a pretty good job as a Dad, but I will be the first to admit I'm far from perfect. I even like to joke that my oldest child Brayden is such a "practice" kid that we should have named him "Mulligan."  

The point is that anyone can be a parent, with absolutely zero qualifications.  We require you to pass a test and get a license if you want to drive a car, but if you want to be responsible for another human being you just have to forget to use birth control.  Even parents who actively want to have kids and read up on how to be a good parent often have little to no real world experience before they take a helpless child home from the hospital, or if you are like my wife, a birthing center.  One of the obvious flaws in this model is that one of the most important decisions you make as a parent is also one of the first... giving your child a name.

Of all the choices you make for your kid, their name is the one that will follow them through the rest of their lives, and beyond.  It will be how they identify with their peers at school, possibly impact what type of job they have as an adult, and will be chiseled onto their tombstone after they die.  Yet this important decision is given to. Young, inexperienced parents thousands of times every day.  No wonder so many of them screw it up.  

Of course I'm not saying that your parents gave you a bad name, unless it's Francise in which case you have my sympathy, but there are many mistakes that new parents routinely make while picking names, and in hopes of saving some of the future generation from a rough life I'd like to share some of them with you.

Tip 1:  Be Original
My wife once asked me if I wanted to name our son Ryan Jr, and I couldn't say NO fast enough.  I have never been a big fan of naming your children after yourself, unless you are a member of a royal family and want to maintain the image of a stable government.  Perhaps this is because my Father is a Jr and he's never been a big fan of that suffix.  First of all, adding a Jr to your own name is just lazy writing.  That says that you don't have an original idea for a name, or worse you are trying to extend your importance to future generations by forcing them to carry your name for their entire life.  That's what surnames are for. My last name connects me to my children, and they don't need a first name to make sure everyone is extra clear.  

In some cultures children are given a paternal and maternal surname.  I think that would be a great idea for our society as a way of providing more value to the contributions of women in the family.  As it is now women don't get a family name to fall back on, which might explain why I have never met a woman who has Jr. In her name.  On top of all that, Junior has a lesser value in the English language, it devalues the efforts of your kid and forces them to live in your shadow.  Don't be that parent, put some effort into your child's name.

Next you need to take a look at the list of the 20 most common names for your country in the past year, and make sure you don't use any of them.  I know you like the name Kendra, but this year so did everyone else.  That means a child with that name will have two or three other kids in their same class with the same name.  As a Ryan who was in a class with two other Ryans and a Brian I can tell you that gets old really quick.  The worst part is that those children will often start being referred to by a nickname to avoid confusion.  Then it doesn't matter how much you liked the name Kendra, your daughter will only respond when you call her Kat, or something equally ridiculous.  

Tip 2:  But Not To Original
Randomly jab a few butttons on your keypad and I guarantee somewhere there is a person with a name that is close to that.  There's nothing wrong with getting creative with a name, but stay away from the absurd.  There was once a couple who named their child ABCDE (pronounced Ab-se-day).  Not only is this name going to confuse everyone who ever reads it, but it wasn't even that original.  Around 5 children in the US are given this name every year, proving that every original idea has already been thought of by someone else, even the bad ones.  

What's more, studies have shown people with more common names such as Mike or Cindy, are much more likely to get a job offer than those with exotic names.  Perhaps this is because there is a stereotype that parents who name their kid Philestio didn't do the best job raising them.  Or maybe it's an establishment thing where guys named John are much more likely to hire people named John because that feels familiar to them.  

Tip 3:  Spell it like it sounds
Some parents try to split the difference between familiar and unique by using a common name with an uncommon spelling.  These are the Jeni, Myke, and Jeralds of the world.   What these parents forget is that most of the time, when people will hear your name they will need to write it down.  Every time you make a reservation, or fill out an application you will have to explain to them that it's Mary with an "i".  I know that seems like a minor issue, but it's also an annoyance that they will have to deal with hundreds of times each year.

Similarly don't pick a name that's hard to pronounce when you read it for the first time.  When that happens you are never sure when someone is talking to you.  

"Brit party of 4." 

"Do you mean Brythe"

It also helps if you can avoid names that sound similar to other common names.  Growing up with the name Ryan, people were constantly asking me if I actually said "Brian" when I introduced myself.  This is a mistake I made with my son Brayden.  I thought it was somewhat unique until I started telling people and they started asking me if I was really saying "Brandon" or "Braydon".  I don't think that would have affected my choice of a name, but by the time I realized the problem it was too late to do anything about it.  

In short, be able to say it when you read it, spell it when you hear it, and not copy others too much.  Once you have the name down, you can go forward and screw up the other parts of raising your kid. 

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