If you have a baby on the way, the first two things most people will ask you is whether you know the sex and do you have a name... We chose to find out the sex of our baby as early as possible to narrow down the potential candidates for a name - halving the arguments seemed sensible to us! But even a problem halved hasn't gone away altogether, and beyond the decision to bring them into the world, naming your baby is pretty much the most fundamental choice you're going to make for them. What you decide now will likely still be affecting their lives in fifty, sixty, seventy years time... So no pressure then.
We found some rules helped - at least to narrow down the contenders for us...
Decide early, and stick with it.
I met someone recently who'd decided with his wife that they didn't want to pick a name until they'd seen their baby, as their choice might not fit. Not to be too blunt, but when you're baby is born, it will look like a squashed, wrinkly baby monkey and you will be exhausted and emotional. This is not a situation to help choose between Steve and Alan. Pick one. Now.
The guy I spoke to about their baby? After a week without a name, his wife and he settled on Chip for their baby. Decide early, and stick with it.
Will they survive the playground?
This is one that is close to my heart having grown up with a name that rhymes with a lot of early playground insults (sick grew into thick, by eight it was dick, with high school came prick... Maybe they just didn't like me much?). What does it rhyme with? Do their initials spell out something you'll wish they didn't (poor old Patrick Oliver Osborne)? How about abbreviations - young Michael Hunt was such a nice boy, but he became very withdrawn at around the same age his friends began to insist on calling him Mike. Kids. Are. Evil. Don't give them any ammunition.
Could they be prime minister?
Say the name out loud. The full name. Imagine it being read out on the news - which of these sentences does it fit into:
XXXX met the queen this morning to express his intention to form the next government.
XXXX met the police this morning to express his sorrow at last week's mooning incident.
You might not ever, ever want them to be prime minister, but if the name fits into the context of the first sentence better than the second, they'll probably be ok with it whatever they turn their hand to.
Is it a fad... And do you mind?
We always think of fad names in the here and now, for instance current trends towards classic sounding names like Alfie, Jack and Fred, or names from pop culture, Miley, Britney and Elsa in the past decade. But think about some old ladies you know: Ethyl, Mildred, Phyllis were the fad names of their day (the thirties) and now they live in an age-group ghetto. You might not mind seeing eight heads turn around in the playground when you shout your child's name if you love the name enough... But if it's something that's super popular this year, and has been a rising star for a year or two, it might disappear into obscurity within a decade and leave them with a thirty-something's name, then fifty-something one, then they'll be their generation's equivalent of Ethyl.
Give them a choice.
My full name is Nicholas. I don't like it. When I was a baby I was known as Nicky. I hate it. Luckily, my parents gave me a full name and I really like one version of it, Nic. This seems only fair to me: you're making a choice that is going to massively impact on your child's life: by not pre-emptively abbreviating their name, you open up a tiny bit of that choice to them. You might love them being called Joey... But give them a chance to decide themselves, calling them Joseph gives them access to Joe, Joey, hell even Seth if they try real hard. Don't be selfish, give them a choice.
Even if you follow all of the rules above, you could still sharp intakes of breath when you introduce little baby Harold to his paternal grandparents, the Shipmans. Or when the Goodwins introduce little Fred to their friends eyebrows might be raised... There's a reason some names disappear altogether, and while we might all realise that calling our baby Adolf, Mao or Pol is poor form (though oddly Joseph, Kim and Robert are all still ok), unless you have kept on top of current affairs assiduously for the last century, something embarrassing might have slipped through the net, if not through the Net. So check.
If your name has passed all of those tests, all you've got to do is hope a Royal doesn't name their kid the same thing in two weeks time, or someone with the same name isn't discovered bothering goats in a Wiltshire field next month, and you've got a winner.
Oh, and want to know what name we eventually went with? You'll have to start reading about my adventures as a stay-at-home dad on my own blog, www.280days.co.uk to find out!