A Break-the-Rules Guide to the Perfect Baby Name

Who says you have to choose a name before your child''s birth, or honor his great-grandfather by calling him Irwin? Buck tradition and borrow the techniques that follow--you'll find a just-right title for your tot.

By Paula Kashtan

Buzz Your Two Favorite Names in a Blender!

Landing on a name you absolutely love is definitely cause for a happy dance-unless your husband absolutely loves another name. "You can't live in two different towns, and you can't have two different names, and we all know that getting to choose a child's middle name isn't the same," says Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard. You could take the "you name this baby, and I'll take the next one" route, but that assumes you'll have more than one child and requires one partner to have a heck of a lot of faith (and patience!).

"It's tempting to think, 'I'm giving birth to him, so I should get the final say,' but remember that the name is a powerful bridge to bonding with your baby," Wattenberg says. "No one should have to cringe or feel angry when saying their baby's name. A name shouldn't represent a loss."

A better alternative: Combine your favorites! "I liked Lilliana and he liked Ella, so we put them together as Elliana," says Krystle Bailey, of Atlantic City, New Jersey, who has a 1-year-old. Elliana is an example of what Wattenberg calls the Renesmee effect (referring to the Twilight character whose name merges Rene and Esme). "It started with celeb mash-ups like TomKat and Brangelina, but parents are applying it to baby names." Look for names with lots of vowels-they tend to work best as a hybrid.

Bypass a Family Name

It's always a nice tribute to name a child after a beloved grandpop or great-aunt, but while some old-fashioned names are back in a big way (think Jacob, Sadie, and Ava), others...aren't. And even if a name is socially acceptable, you might not like it. Fortunately, you can honor a relative without resigning your munchkin to a moniker you're just "meh" about, says Marcia Layton Turner, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to 40,000 Baby Names. "You could use your relative's name as a middle name, or consider names that are similar."

Ginger Anderson, who lives in San Diego, chose both fixes for her now 2-year-old. "We knew my son's first name would be Chase, and we wanted his middle name to be from my side of the family. Problem is, my family tree is overrun with Virgils, Elmers, and Richards. Not exactly my taste." So Anderson craftily joined the first syllable of her dad's name ("Ri" from Richard) and the second syllable of his middle name ("Lan" from Alan) to create Rylan. "It may be a stretch," Anderson says. "But Chase Rylan has a much better ring to it than Chase Virgil or Chase Elmer!"

You can also commemorate, say, your dearly departed Uncle Donald with what Wattenberg refers to as the "nicknamesake." You aren't into Donald but like Don? Land on another name that has the same nickname-such as Donovan-and you have a distinguished name that's a resounding tribute to Uncle Donald.

If you want to acknowledge your mom or aunt but are expecting a boy, don't be afraid to do some gender bending. "Most traditional male names have a female equivalent-just add an a," Wattenberg says. "But today more parents are going in the other direction, female to male." For one mom, playing with letters brought a solution: "My grandma died four months before my son was born, and I wanted to carry on her name, Olga," says Sarah Gobel, of Shoreview, Minnesota. "With a little rearranging, we came up with Logan for our son."

Put Last Names First

A first name isn't the only way to memorialize someone dear to you. Consider giving your baby a relative's last name, if it's a solid one. Mary Lynn Murphy, who lives in Pelham, New York, named her daughter Dempsey, her mom's maiden name. "Dempsey was born a little more than a month after my mother passed away, so it had huge meaning for our family." Many parents are taking this approach. "It used to be that only simple English surnames could be first names, but that's changing," Wattenberg says. Still, she admits, there is a limit to the surname-as-first-name trend. "You're not going to find lots of little Rosenblatts running around." Just as first names can be manipulated, though, last names can be too (think: calling your son Samuel in honor of Sammartino).

Meet the Kid

Arlene Green, of Chester, Virginia, and her husband had trouble coming up with anything that sounded right. So they jotted a list of about ten names they liked well enough and decided to wait until their baby arrived. "After my son was born, we read our list to him, and he opened his eyes at Kennan. So he actually named himself."

Taking the wait-and-see approach makes sense, given that the more you ruminate on a name (or any word, for that matter!), the funnier it sounds, Wattenberg says. When you let your cherub's sparkling personality or skeptical furrowed brow light the way, you can hit on a name that's not only perfect, but perfect for him. After all, as Wattenberg says: "The 'perfect name' is really a myth. If you can accept that it doesn't have to stand out above all the others to be a great name, you'll have an easier time settling on one."

Creatively Reflect Your Cultural Roots

With so many ethnically inspired names topping the charts these days, there's no such thing as a name that sounds too ethnic. But if you'd prefer to celebrate your ancestry while giving your child a more culturally common moniker, pick a name from your heritage that has an Americanized nickname (say, Luc for Gianluca). This way, "your child's name can reflect his ancestry without being hard to pronounce," Turner says.

Or focus on the middle name, as Amy Yang, of Sacramento, California, did for her two-year-old son. "My husband and I wanted a Hmong name in honor of our ethnicity, but I wanted an American name, too, since our son will be born and raised in America." And what did they come up with? Noah Nruag Naag, a cultural hybrid reflecting their cutie's unique heritage.

Plug Your Ears to Critics

If you announce your name before baby is born, prepare for the peanut gallery to opine. With a first name like Jason, there didn't seem to be much for Alyssa Knapp, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, to worry about-until her husband started lobbying for the middle name Danger. "He thought it might help him pick up chicks when he gets older. I was skeptical but changed my mind during my labor. It was long, and we had a few scares where his heart stopped, so Danger fit perfectly." Knapp proved easier to convince than their folks, though. "Both sets of grandparents thought we were joking."

When Jennifer Weinbaum, of Atlanta, decided to name her daughter McKenna, for her maiden name, she faced similar protests. Weinbaum's own parents thought it would be odd to call their grandchild by their own last name. "I loved the name too much to change my mind," Weinbaum says. "Now my family has come to embrace it."

So should you reveal baby's name before she's born? On one hand, "wouldn't you want to know if everyone thought your name was ugly?" Wattenberg asks. "Your child is going to have to live with it!" Then again, because most moms find out the baby's gender in advance, it's fun to have a surprise at birth (aside from the baby herself, that is). As Wattenberg says, "You need something to announce!"

You might want to bounce your top contenders off a few confidantes. Still, whenever you disclose baby's name, criticisms are common. "Older folks don't have a sense of how kids on a playground will receive a name, but if your cousins with young kids tell you the name has a fatal flaw, take that into account," Wattenberg says.

When it comes to considering others' opinions, there's one last question to ask yourself: Are you genuinely worried that you chose a bad name or are you mostly concerned about making other people happy? If you and your partner love it, Grandmom can live with it. A grandkid by any name will smell just as sweet!


This article first appeared on Parents.com.