Naming Your Children

Tim Bray writes about the found poetry of his kid’s kindergarten class list:

The names in my kid’s kindergarten class: Brennan, Edinah-Rose, Fionnuala, Gabriella, Isaiah, Isaiah, Jacob, Joseph, Hennessy, Michaela, Nicolas, Noah, Patrick, Ronan, Sam, Sean, Sophie, Sophie. That’s poetry of a kind, written in the language of parents’ dreams. Sitting down together to start the day, still unsmudged for a few quiet minutes, words can’t describe their beauty. Think you might be able to match ethnic groups with names? Forget it.

This is a delightful list, though surprisngly Anglo-Saxon and biblical for a class of Vancouver kids. Tim’s comment on ethnic groups reminded me of a pet peeve.

I am, in any number of ways, a relatively-conservative curmudgeon. One of those ways is the naming of children. I have no children, and have never meaningfully contributed to the naming of another child. Nonetheless, I have devised a few simple rules for safely naming your kids:

  1. Do not draw on an ethnic tradition that is not your own. This to me smacks of cultural imperialism and a kind of yearning for deeper roots. As a Canadian of many generations, I can sympathize with your lame, vanilla, Anglo-Saxon background. Tough luck.
  2. Do not devise a creative spelling for your child’s otherwise-ordinary name. All you’re doing is making yourself look flaky and cursing the kid with a lifetime of saying, “uh, no, with two i’s”.
  3. As a kind of corollary to #2, don’t use a normal-looking name but insist on an abnormal pronounciation. Unfortuntaly, the kid may do this on their own when they get to college.
  4. Do not manufacture a name. People have been naming children for thousands of years. All of human history has done a better job inventing names than you will. Buy a baby name book and pick one you like.

As I understand it, there are many, many occasions to be creative in the raising of your children. The naming of those children is not one of them. Tim’s list seems to adhere to all my rules. Fionnuala’s parents better have some Irish blood in them, though. You’d think I’d object to Hennessy (an Irish family name by origin, and a cognac), but it sounds to me like a last-name-as-first-name deal. I generally don’t object to these (they were a real trend in the nineties), as they tend to sound genuine and dignified. See also Mackenzie, Harrison, Stewart, etc.

I can feel the warmth of the flames of the world’s Brendi’s and Laquishita’s even now.


  1. As someone who has spent her life saying, “No, it’s Lara, not Laura,” let me implore the parents of the world: Give your kid a name that’s pronounced the way it is spelled!!!

    And if you have a ridiculously hard-to-say/spell last name (mine has two Z’s), stick to simple first names. No goofy spellings, no four-syllable Victorian romance novel things. Your child will thank you for it when she moves to her first apartment and has to say & spell her name 47 times.

  2. My wife and I named our son, “Balthazar.” This name is ethnically incorrect, and possibly greatly exemplified by his red hair. That’s okay though, for his middle name is “Rowan,” which better suits his features. The real crux is the pronunciation though. My wife translates the “th” into a hard “t” while I keep it true to the “th” sound. Being raised with a funny name, I know a little of what it’s like. I had my issues when I was younger, but I really appreciate my name now. It could very well be different had my name been “made-up” or spelled stupidly.

    1. that is the worst name i’ve ever heard. apart from jamie olivers kids. Balthazar sounds like a children’s halloween book character or a werewolf. Red hair? you should have gone with steve, and i can see where you gwt your ideas from. O laugh at me because i have a silly name.

  3. It seems that the trend in recent years is a return to the more biblical and traditional name. Top baby names in the last few years include Emily, Emma, Hannah, Jacob etc.

  4. I also have to say – check out recent naming trends, and STAY AWAY! Nothing is more annoying than having a name so common that you can’t help but develop whiplash because you hear it and instinctively turn towards it 12 times a day. Also, it forces people to create “nicknames,” either associated with your name or not, to differentiate you from all the others who have your name.

  5. Think my family could have used a little more creativity.

    Jean and James had James, Jeanette, Jo-Anne and John. Jeanette in turn had me. Jeanette and Jo-Anne both gave their three daughters the middle name, Anne.

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  7. I had a friend in high school whose parents named all 5 kids in their family with ‘A’ names. Andrea, Aaron, Adam, Ashley, and Aarika (pronounced Erica). Maybe they were thinking of the kids’ place on the attendance list. Who knows.

    Oh, and another rule (unrelated to the above). Don’t name your kid a name that is most traditionally used for the opposite sex. Boys shouldn’t be named Ashley, and girls shouldn’t be named Tony.

  8. Ashley is a boy’s name. In Gone With the Wind (presumably written & set before the genderbending name trend) Scarlett’s crush is named Ashley.

    Kelly is another girl’s name that’s also a legitimate boy’s name, if uncommon.

  9. Oh, I so agree. I don’t even correct people when the misspell my name anymore. Who has the energy?

    And I have to agree with Jen about the problem of having a common name. There were 100 people in my high school class, and six of us were named Staci (all spelled differently, of course). And that’s not counting all the Stacis in other classes.

  10. My mum is called Mhairi – not too uncommon, but when pronounced “Var-ree” as she does, almost impossible to guess the spelling of.

    In fact my Grandmother, her mum, was so adamant that she didn’t want to name her daughter this my grandad practically did it in secret.

  11. I am named “Anne”. I have already felt the misfortune of being one of the two Annes in a class, and I found it quite annoying. I am also absolutely tired of turning my head when someone says, “And”, commonly silencing the d. I tired of this so much that I told everyone to call me Anna instead, which was easier to differ from the word “and”.

    But I still ran into the problem of being “one of the Anna’s” in the school, I decided that I will never, ever name any character of mine a common name. (I will never have children) To add to that, most of the characters I created usually have names with meanings. I usually go through a lot of thought when naming someone.

    My friend, Amy, calls herself by the Japanese counterpart of her name, Ami, even though she’s not Japanese. She just thinks that the name looks and sounds a lot better. (Ei-mi, Amy. Ah-mi, Ami.)

  12. My Family Has a Lot of K’s

    For Example: Kelly, Kaitlyn, Kayla, Kyle, Kristina, Kathy, Kirt, Kiara

    Also My Half Brother Tim is Getting Married to a Girl Named Tiffany … They Said That They Are NOT Going to Name Their Child That Starts With a T!

    And My Great Grandpa, My Grandpa, and My Dad are ALL Named James Gordon Leask … and They ALL Have the Name Gord! Thank God My Brother’s Name is Cody!

    Also My Other Grandpa, My Uncle, and My Cousin ALL Have the Middle Name Edmund!

    My Advice For People is to Name Their Child So That It Doesn’t Blend In With Your Family!

    Example: If You Have a Lot of B’s in Your Family, Name Your Child With an A or a J or Whatever So Long as It’s Not B!

    If You and Your Husband/Wife are Named John and Emma or Something Biblical/Common, Maybe Name Your Child With a Unique Name So Long As It’s Say-able and Spell-able

    Example: Orlando or Ember or You Know!


  14. There’s a girl in one of my classes, ceara (key-ra) and everyone pronounces it si-ara! I think she’s fed up with it! So like a lot of people have said already, name your child so that it is say-able and spell-able.

  15. The trend I detest with the current popular names is the variant of “*ayden”

    Among the top baby names in the US last year were hayden, braiden, brayden, jayden, caiden, cayden, aiden, etc. bleh.

  16. I know a jaidan and a kaiden … I don’t like them (jaidan’s OK, but still) so I would also say don’t name your baby with a name of a person you hate, even if you like the name.

  17. I come from an Irish family, and there was a HUGE debate over how to spell my name. Megen. Meghan. Meagan. Meaghan. Finally, after I was delivered, my mom decided it would be best to give me the simplest spelling of the name. The only problem is, everybody spells it Meghan…Which I hate. I have a lot of friends from other countries and I do LOVE when they pronounce it MEE-gan, rather than MAY-gan.

  18. I love names and how they are chosen. I, myself, cherish family names. I did find myself in a predicament when I was pregnant with my second child however. My eldest daugher is named Mary….I know, terribly common, but a tribute to my own mother. My second child was predicted to be a boy. I truly love the name Joseph and decided that would be the right name for my son. One night I woke in a shock…..Mary and Joseph????? We were going to have to get a dog and name it Jesus!! Thank God my second child turned out to be a girl, who we named Leila after her father’s aunt. Although a very common spelling, she runs into issues with people knowing how to say or write her name. Oh well, I guess there is no true mercy after all.

  19. I agree with all….spell your kids name just the ways its supposed to be…who knew one little letter could cause so many probs….my parents thought MEGEN was norm – everyone spells it wrong.. an instead of en…or they say meee-gen insted of MAY-gan….I could say en over and over and ppl still put an….its messed up things like taxes and such

  20. Goddamn I hate my fucking name. I’m sick of people saying “GEE-OFF” with either a hard or soft G. IT’S JEFF, AND YES I’VE HATED IT SINCE I LEARNED HOW TO SPELL IT.

  21. My boyfriend’s name: Daniel Thomas
    My boyfriend’s brother’s name: Donald Timothy

    Not bad when they use their full names, but when you think of the shortened versions: Dan Tom and Don Tim… come on. Not to mention, Dan and Don? Hard to separate the two!

  22. There is a boy called Jayden in my class and he has 4 little brothers and sisters. 3 of them are triplets and are called Jarryn, Keidan and Shiarne (Shiarne is the girl, the other two are boys) The other girl is called Tanashae. Their mother is called Annalea (don’t know what the father is called) and they are NOT mainly from any ethnic background.

  23. my mom spelled my name really weird. Hanna instead of Hannah. so, i get the abnormal name, whilst my brother gets jack! (but i dont blame his middle name-Harden!)

  24. When my mother named me, she never knew a single person named Ava. Now Ava has been the most popular girls name for the past three years. Every one in three people I babysit has there name spelled Ava or Eva. At least I was the only Ava in school. That was nice of the world. 🙂 and 😦

  25. For a girl:
    Raegyn Cheyne
    Cheyne Destiny
    Kaelan (or Kaylin) Bailey
    Trinity Mae
    Sedona Layne (Lanie)
    Chase (iffie) Melissa
    Chase William
    Danny Kauffman (family name)
    Fallon Jacob

  26. First place for the worst name ever: Genocide.

    2nd place: Sexxy.

    I’m being totally serious, I saw the name on medical cards and prescriptions. If you give your baby a name like this, you should be convicted for child abuse.

    No one gets hurt when someone chooses an alternate spelling or there is a polite family debate about an h in Hanna or Megan. Calling a baby Sexxy or putting Genocide on a cake is beyond sick.

    1. Sexxy? What’s the child’s full name? Sexual, middle name, Harassment because that’s all that child is going to get, especially when that child goes for a job and has the name Sexxy on the name tag they have to wear for work. What were those parents thinking? “Hmm.. I’d like for my child to grow up in the sex industry (stripper, prostitute, phone sex operator or porn star), so I think I’ll name it Sexxy.” What other career could that child possibly go into easily besides one in the sex industry? Can you imagine walking into a store and being helped by someone with Sexxy on their name tag? Or having it paged over a loudspeaker? Or having to introduce yourself over the phone for a company your representing? Did those parents ever stop to think their child might want to become a senator or President? Senator Sexxy? President Sexxy? I don’t think so. Such a shame.

      1. My son’s name is Sexxy and it fits him perfect! As for president, senator, doctor they are called by their last name. He is a straight A student and we picked a name for him that he loves! Don’t worry Mary he is gonna be A-ok 😉 Ps. He already owns a company google him Seriously Sexxy Music!

  27. There is a girl at school. She said, “I’m going to have 3 kids and name them Princess, Fluffy, and Chestina!” I swear this is true. It gets worse. “Princess is a boy, Fluffy and Chestina are girls.”

    Should I laugh?

  28. Growing up in the 80’s, my name was ridiculously common…still is. There were 5 other Sarahs in my PE class in sixth grade. No joke. Worst yet, we all had the same middle initial “E”. I always ended up being called “the tall Sarah”.

    I have a son who we named “Oliver”. I love it because it’s a well known name, easy to spell and say, but not super common…although it has become more common than I would have liked over the past year or so. We’re having another baby soon, and have no clue what we’ll name him/her. Getting some good ideas here 🙂

  29. My full name is ridiculous, so I made all of my teachers in school put down my name on their roster as “Dex.” I can’t stand parents who give girls boy names (like me) and boys girl names. I mean, Ashley for a boy is fine. So is Tony for a girl. But Dexter for a girl? Stupid.

    I hate my parents for that, plus my two horrible middle names, AND the fact that my younger sister has a normal, phonetically-spelled name: Rachel Marie. And me, I’m Dexter.

  30. My mother was torn between Dimitria or Azalea. I got D’Aizia. [Dee-Asia] My brothers’ names are DeShawn, Dominic, Dante, D’marco, and D’wayne. My mother, who’s name is K’Amy [Kay-ah-me] is disappointed in how ordinary the names I’ve chosen for my baby are. Tevaughn for a boy, or Aishani for a girl. Oh. I have a sister named Erin.

  31. I am always wondering why my mom named me such a common name. She said it wasn’t common when I was born, but I know of eight other Desirae’s just near my one little town. Growing up (and still) my name is being misspelled; most commonly ‘Desiree’ instead. I usually say no its ‘ae’ on the never gets old. There are a ton of ways people have tried spelling it.
    In my school there has been three other Desiraes, one which was in my class for a whole year and it drove me insane, for people would say ‘hey Desirae’ and I would turn my head constantly, hearing the reply ‘no not you’. Eventually I just ignored any time I would hear the name being called. Then when someone was finally actually talking to me they would say it really loud to try and get my attention, annoying as heck!
    Also my older brother and my younger sisters name are both unique (around here) and easy. ‘Cord’ for my brother and ‘Kiane’ for my sister. I always think why couldn’t I had a more unique name?
    But, in general everyone must know: names are always changing, the associations with them are all dependant on the listener, and the true meaning of the name is meant by the person giving the name; not others judgements.
    No matter what, there will always be good and bad things about any name. Basically you have to think ‘what is reasonable?’ :/
    Just for reference, I do not think Sexxy is reasonable At All.

  32. Ok some of these names are not great but not the worst I’ve ever seen or heard of. (busstop #17 – yes I’m serious this is somebody’s name) I like the idea of naming your child based on your ethnic background, but you do need to keep in mind where you live and not name your kid that is something nice in one language but means something completely dif in the country you live in!
    I actually love my name and it’s obvious my full )maiden) name: Adriana Croce Marchese, I know my middle name is kinda weird but it is my Grandmother’s name my father was born in Sicily
    my whole family has names like that – my cousins are Mariella, Sabrina, Marina, Francesca, Luciana, Marisa, Francesca, Lonnie, Salvatore (and Salvatore – we called them big Salvi and little Salvi). my brothers are Anthony and Andrew
    my daughters are Isabella Rose and Abigail Eve. I hadn’t heard Isabella that much until the Year my daughter was born – then it was everywhere she doesn’t have any in her grade at school but we have 2 others in my very extended family. luckily they are ones we don’t see very often.

  33. Thankfully my mom spelled my name normal, even though she pronounced it “ON-dree-uh.” My simpleton first grade teacher apparently couldn’t get that down, so she called me “ON-DRAY-uh.” Yeah, I went to that private school for 8 years, being call On-Dray-Uh the WHOLE DAMN TIME!!!

    My solution? When I got to public high school, I insisted on being called Anne-dree-uh. Problem solved, even if my mother took offense.

  34. Wow.. I broke rule number 2 when I named my youngest daughter.. Her name is Jordan but I spelled it Jordanne

  35. When My father got married a 2nd time & Had 2 kids with his 2nd wife I feel left out not because I didn’t get attention, no It was because of my name. My brother’s name is Christopher, mine Whitney. Then children from his 2nd marriage are called Kristen and Cassandra(a.k.a Cassie). So it was Christopher, Whitney, Kristen and Cassie, the ”ka” sound names all but mine. But 8 years ago his second wife left left & now he’s getting ready to get married for the third time (his 3rd wife has a son from a previous relationship named Nathan), and I found out I have a long-lost brother named Dexter. So now the order is Dexter, Christopher, Whitney, Nathan, Kristen and Cassandra. I think it sounds alot nicer now, but boy do I have alot of christmas gift to buy every December!

  36. My husband and I named our daughter Creed. Its one of those names that people say they love or “thats different” (as to not offend). I honestly could care less if people like it or not. We chose the name because we wanted to stay with culture (my husband and I are both first nations) so her name come from the MiqMaq Creed (which by the way means belief)

  37. Hey, I have thought of a couple of names for my kids(in the future) and wondered what ya’ll thought of them:

    Eoin(pronounced E-an, technically a traditional Scotish name)

    Laurian(pronounced like Lorien)

    Micah(boy or girl’s name)

    Cai (Welsh name)

    1. I think the Eoin is questionnable. Absolutely no one will pronounce it Ian. It looks odd and confusing and people may avoid saying it. How about Iain? People will be more likely to figure it out.

  38. Not to offend, but I have a cat named Eoin, and we pronounce it ‘Owen’ because he was named for an Irish friend of the same name…. People will get used to the odd spelling or they won’t but if your cultural background is Irish/Scottish/Welsh etc… I think it’s nice to use traditional spelling. It gives the child a built-in cultural identity… I know a couple of boys named Micah and they are sweethearts. I like the name Cai too.. Was Laurian meant to be for a girl or a boy?

  39. There are seven of us in the family
    Hudson Bentley (Boy)
    Jordynne Marlo (girl)
    Maralee Celeste (girl, pronouced Mar a lee)
    Hendrix James (boy)
    Aspen Isis (girl)
    Colton Bay (boy, Aspens twin)
    Catarinae Breenae (girl, Cat a ree na middle name pronouced Bran eh)

    And yes, I’m aware my mother is crazy. Our last name is really common though, its William. Havin the name An William (nee Winslow), she gave us all crazy names. I like my name though, and I think none of them are TOO hard to pronounce or spell. I’d rather have an ot there name than have a name like Kaitlyn (4 in my class of 30) or Brandon (5). Opinions on my mom’s chaoice of names?

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