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Embarrassing initials, off-putting meanings, overpopularity… when it comes to naming your baby, the potential pitfalls are plentiful. And while we don't want to make this Herculean task any harder than it has to be, it's better to discover trip-ups now than after the birth certificate is signed.
So run your top name choice through our list of baby-naming pitfalls and see how it fares. If it doesn't hit any snags, you may have a winner.
1. The nickname trap
You've probably already checked out how your baby's proposed first name flows with the last name. But remember to check out how any potential nicknames sound with the last name as well. "Our favorite name was Benjamin, but the short form, Ben, combined with our last name, Ito, sounds like Benito. Not so good," says one our site dad-to-be.
Of course, you don't have to let this pitfall stop you, especially if you're in the no-nickname camp. Just go into it with your eyes open. While the names Theodore Stead and Charles Puck are respectable and dignified, Ted Stead and Chuck Puck are, well, considerably less so.
2. Embarrassing initials
Alison Sarah Smith is a perfectly lovely name until you notice the initials. So is Samuel Andrew Davis. Whether you want to let initials stop you from using a name is, of course, your choice – but by checking them out first, you'll avoid any rude awakenings later. "I felt that I had a good solid name until I realized that the initials spelled I.L.L.," says one our site mom-to-be. "Back to the drawing board."
And don't overlook monograms, in which the last initial is flanked by the first and middle initials. "I wasn't thinking of monograms when I named my little girl," says one mom. "Sorry to say, her monogram is LSD. She's 11 now and all of her friends have monogrammed everything, but I can't bring myself to put LSD on her book bag or sweatshirt."
3. A lifetime of corrections
"Sigh. I guess it's time for me to face it. My daughter, Isla (pronounced 'eye-la'), is going to be forever correcting the spelling and pronunciation of her name and cursing us for having to do so," says popular our site blogger Betsy Shaw.
Actually, whether or not this is a true naming pitfall is up for debate. Many of the most beautiful names lend themselves to mispronunciation.
But if you're leaning toward a name that's not so common, you may want to post it in our baby names discussion group and see how others pronounce it. If several people pronounce it a different way than you prefer, think about whether you or your child will find it a nuisance to correct people. If that doesn't seem like a bother, go for it! If it does, it's time to consider some less-tricky names.
Wondering just how popular your first choice is? Thanks to the Internet, the answer is at your fingertips. When we surveyed over 4,000 parents and parents-to-be about their naming process, we found that 8 percent of those who plugged their name choices into a search engine changed their mind as a result of what they found – and overpopularity was one of the most common reasons for the switch.
"Our first choice turned out to be the number one name in the most recent census," says one mom. Another explains, "I didn't want names in or near the top ten, so we crossed off the names on our list that we discovered were super popular."
Yet another survey participant found that her favorite name had recently been given to a celebrity's baby. Anticipating a star-powered rise in popularity, she tossed the name into the reject pile.
One easy way to gauge the popularity of your top choice is to look it up in our Baby Names Finder. You'll see the name's rank now and how it's fared over the past decade – plus get suggestions for similar names if you want to find a twist that's more unique.
5. Problematic name pairings
If your unborn baby has an older sibling or two, try this exercise – say your baby's potential name together with your other children's names, as in, "Mark and Sandy, time for bed!" If the combination has a nice ring to it, great. If not, well… it's something to think about. You'll be saying their names together a lot.
"I made the mistake of naming my daughter Ella," says one mom. "On its own, it's a beautiful name. However, her older brother's name is Sam. When you say their names together, Sam and Ella, it sounds like a food-borne illness. 'Salmonella, lunch is ready!'" Oops.
6. Humiliating email handles
It's not easy to picture, but one day, your cute little bundle is going to ditch the pacifier and acquire an email address. And when he gets a job or goes to college, he may find himself stuck with an embarrassing email handle, because many workplaces and institutions use a standard formula – like the first initial and last name – to assign email addresses.
"Frances is a lovely first name, but with the last name of Atkins, it makes an email of [email protected]," says one mom. And that's not the only one – just consider poor Edward Atwood and Ursula Glee. Again, just something to think about.
7. Names not to live up to
What if you found out that your 5-year-old had the same name as a porn king? If you want to avoid this fate, it's time to fire up your favorite search engine. Enter the full name you're considering and see what you get.
"The first-name-middle-name combo we chose was the stage name of a porn star," says one mom, who went for a different choice. Another mom says, "One name we considered, when combined with our last name, brought up thousands of criminals nationwide with the name!"
8. So-so meanings
Not all names have beautiful meanings, so this is another good thing to research. "I learned that Marijka meant 'bitter' and crossed that name off our list," one mom says. Another mom explains, "The first name I liked meant someone that grows beans. Not quite what I was looking for."
Luckily, it's easy to find lots of name meanings in our searchable Baby Names Finder. Take a look before you set your name choice in stone.
The bottom line
Even if you keep all these factors in mind, no name is pitfall-proof. On the tongues of inventive grade-schoolers, Elizabeth easily becomes "Dizzy Lizzie," Hannah turns into "Hannah Banana," and Josh morphs into "Squash."
Unfortunately, there's no way to avoid this. As one our site mom explains, "My brother's name is Michael – you can't get much more straightforward and traditional than that – but he got his fair share of 'Michael, Michael, motorcycle, turn the key and watch him pee.'"
But don't let hunting for potential pitfalls freeze you into indecision. "What's important is that you and your partner love the name," says one our site parent who's also a teacher. "I'm seeing more and more unique names in my classroom every year (which I love) and less making fun of the names by the time the kids reach fifth grade. Go with what you want – it's your child!"