Choosing your baby's name is a big responsibility – and a serious undertaking. You may have loved a name for years, but it just doesn't work with your partner's surname, or maybe the family name you're under pressure to use is woefully outdated.
Whatever your concerns, try our top tips before you head to the registry office.
It's not unusual
A common name like Jack or Sam, Chloe or Emma, is a safe bet - but having the same name as several of your classmates can be annoying and, if we're honest, a little bit soul-destroying. A name that is slightly unusual does tend to set children apart from their peers, so why not research the 100 most popular baby names and venture outside the top 50 for inspiration? Do proceed with caution, though; a way-out name like 'Zebulon' will certainly make your child stand out from the crowd, but it will also subject your poor boy to a barrage of sci-fi jokes for his entire life.
Keeping it in the family
Giving your offspring a family name can make relatives extremely proud and happy (Great Uncle Herbert will be smiling – or rolling about laughing – in heaven), but it can also cause untold grief. Think through every possible scenario when it comes to family names; if you call your baby after his paternal grandfather, how will your side of the family feel? And face facts – you'll never forgive yourself for bowing to family pressure with a name that sets your teeth on edge. Some children end up with several middle names, just to keep everyone happy, but running out of room on every form they fill in could drive them to distraction. If there are any complications likely to arise from choosing family names, consider avoiding them altogether in favour of a neutral name.
Say it out loud
Ok, so you felt daft calling 'Tiddles' at the doorstep after you christened the cat, but how will you feel yelling 'Sookie' or 'Socrates' across the playground? Try your favourite names for size by saying them out loud, to your friends and family, as well as to yourself. If they laugh, think again. And always have a practice rant (i.e. 'Put that down Archibold or you're going on the naughty step!') as names often show their true colours when you're in the midst of a parental meltdown.
Mix and match
Play around with as many names, and as many permutations of those names, as possible. Unusual spellings can cheer up a boring family name – but they can also be a millstone for your child if no one ever spells their name right. Longer first names quite often work well with shorter surnames - and vice versa. It also makes sense to choose a more unusual first name if you have a very common surname (like Smith or Jones) or tone down an unusual surname with a popular first name. Also think about alliteration (Milly Miller and Sirius Swan are going to be extremely lucky if they get away without being ridiculed) and combining a first name that ends in a vowel with a surname that starts with the same generally isn't the best choice – Ella Atherton and Joshua Adams are pretty hard to get your tongue around.
Check the meaning
Before you plump for the beautiful and unusual name some woman in the park was barking after her toddler, make sure you do your research. Find out what the name means and its origin, in other languages and cultures as well as your own. Also think about pronunciation; a name that will be difficult for others (and your baby) to pronounce might make for an unusual and individual choice, but it can cause problems, particularly during registration at school, in the GP's waiting room and at the altar.
If you're lacking in the ideas department, ditch the baby books and look to the wider world for inspiration. Think about your favourite literary characters, or characters you love from films. Check out your family trees to see if there are any forgotten gems amongst the dearly-departed ancestors. You could even Google old movie stars for a hint of glamour, or take a stroll through your local graveyard if you like older, classic-sounding names.
Have you seen the episode of Friends when Rachel blatantly pinches Monica's baby name? It's shocking. If you have friends and family who have a tendency to copy you, keep your chosen name to yourself until baby is born. Being tight-lipped also prevents well-meaning relatives from trying to influence your choices - or moaning about them. Once the ink has dried on the birth certificate, they'll soon get used to the name you've chosen, and you could do without the aggravation in the latter stages of pregnancy.
Make associations – and compromises
A baby's name should be one you both love and agree on, even if that takes some heavy-duty negotiation. Sadly, it does mean that if the name you have loved for years was shared by your partner's most hideous teacher at school, they are well within their rights to veto it. Similarly, a celebrity or character can effectively 'steal' the name you always dreamed of giving your child; famous connotations just don't go away. Imagine how many Hermiones want to give J K Rowling a good slap? And if there are any Brad Pitts in the world, apart from the one we know and lurve, let's just hope for their sake that the Fairy Godmother of boyish good looks has been kind...
Be prepared, be decisive
Some couples decide that they want to wait until their baby is born before choosing a name - and legally, you have 42 days (six weeks) after the baby's birth to go to the registry office. But if you don't have a list of mutually agreed names in the frame before baby arrives, weeks of wrangling and wavering (in the midst of the life change that is the first six weeks of parenthood) will not only stress you out, but your exasperated family members and friends will be unsettled by it too. And be warned that they may secretly choose a nickname that takes years to shake off; as a result of his parents' indecision, a child I know is still fondly referred to as 'that baby' behind closed doors. Being prepared is a far better option.