Naming/How to name a child/Considerations

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The primary considerations people tend to consider in choosing a name include:

  • Impression
  • Sound
  • Group identity
    • Ethnic
    • Traditional or novel
  • Popularity
  • Meaning
  • Associated people
  • Ease

Impression[edit]

Discussions of names (baby name books) tend to stress the origins and meanings of names, rather than the impressions generated by names.

In "Baby Name Report Card", Albert Mehrabian measures the impressions name generate by 5 parameters:

  • Ethical-Caring
  • Popular-Fun
  • Successful
  • Masculine-Feminine
  • Overall Attractiveness

...and uses the example of "Chad" as a name producing a very positive impression, while "Bud" produces a very negative impression; both are very masculine.

Note that names can shift gender over time.

Sound[edit]

Group identity[edit]

Popularity[edit]

Popularity is a key aspect of a name; one may distinguish 3 overall categories, namely: very common, very uncommon, and medium popularity. Special considerations apply to names changing in popularity, notably fad names. Unique names are similar in practice to very uncommon names, while foreign names may be more or less popular in different country.

In the US today, a significant number of parents choose names in each such popularity category – the plurality have a medium popularity name, while a significant number have a popular or very uncommon name. In the past (19th century through 1950s), the most popular names were extremely popular (over 20% of children in early 19th century England and Wales had the most popular name – John or Mary, respectively) and very uncommon names (not in top 1,000) were very rare (5% in 1950 US), but very common names have become less popular, while very unusual names have become more popular.

Very common names are easy (to pronounce, remember, or spell), but less distinctive and potentially boring, and often overlap with someone else’s name (hence resulting in nicknames or use of other names); very common names can be common over the long term (a classic, like John or Mary), or can be popular over the short-term (a few years) or medium term (a few decades, like Jennifer from 1960s through 1980s). Very uncommon or unique names are distinctive and interesting (potentially distractingly so), and avoid overlap (they are almost always unique in a given group), but can be difficult to use. Medium popularity names fall between these extremes – they are generally easy (recognizable), if not to the same degree as common names, and reasonably distinctive, though not as unique as very uncommon names.

One issue is medium-term popular names, pejoratively “fad names” – names that increase sharply in popularity to the point of becoming very common, and then decrease sharply in popularity. These result in the name being common in one age group (cohort), but not common over the long term, and becomes associated with a generation. Beyond being very common in one’s cohort, medium-term popular names (like Jennifer) differ from long-term popular names (like Mary) in being more timely, less timeless – thus they can sound more contemporary, but can also sound dated when they are no longer popular. The long-term common names are by their nature stable, and thus a popular name that is not a long-term classic is likely of only medium-term popularity, and thus likely to fall out of popularity in the coming years. Further, once the fad is over – after a once-popular name has dropped out of fashion – people usually avoid it for several decades, as it sounds like a different generation. By contrast, short-term popular names are largely associated with a person, usually a celebrity, but sometimes an event, and tend to last only a few years.

Popularity can be used as a gauge both before or after choosing candidate names: one can choose a candidate name and then check its popularity, to see that it is not too popular or rare – or recently faddish (recent increase in popularity, but not yet very common); or one can look at a range of names in the desired popularity (say, top 10, top 200, top 500–1,000, etc.) and choose among them. One may also look at how the popularity of a candidate name has changed over time – particularly if it is significantly increasing or decreasing in popularity, or was once popular (hence faddish) but no longer so.

Meaning[edit]

Associated people[edit]

Naming after a relative or a celebrity (classical or contemporary) is quite common.

Further, some full names are relatively common, such as John Adams, so one may wish to check if there are any historical figures which may come to find for a given full name, to avoid spurious associations or create intended ones, if this is desired.

Ease[edit]

Ease to pronounce, read, and spell.