The Blog

Let's Be Frank - How It Pays to Choose a Traditional Name for Your Baby

Start considering options and noting them down midway through your pregnancy; ensure your partner does this too if you want to make a united decision. And even if they sweetly say, "It's up to you, love" don't buy it - you'll have to put up with the way they flinch every time they say it if your choice is duff.

I sometimes regret my baby's name. Especially when it gets a response from strangers that can best be described as raised-eyebrow-pitying-look-at-said-baby - so I know a thing or two about the dilemma of picking your child's alias. The name itself isn't some attempt to be all cool, fresh and different - rather the byproduct of two events: we fell in love with the hazy beauty of the area while on a road trip, discovering the state's title was a derived from a poetic word meaning 'place of deep, still rivers'. It had been on our shortlist alongside Lars, Seamus and Iver, and just as equally liked. Then the BBC Radio four biopic we had playing as white noise in the early dawn hours when our baby was at his grouchiest of the author and playwright, infamously a pain-in-the-arse, cemented it. One good reason, one bad.

The thing we didn't think about was what giving him this name would mean for his future. We didn't talk with anyone about our choice, or have any familial traditions to adhere to. Unlike Frank Hudock Jnr. and his wife Jennifer Hudock of Chicago, recently reported in the New York Times as having been offered $10,000 by Frank Jnr.'s parents to name their firstborn son after his grandfather, rather than the more modern shortened form of Maximilian that Frank Jnr. and Jennifer had in mind. Yes, classic names are increasingly being rescued from superannuation by parents, hence the trend for Ediths, Isabellas and Georges, it is often more to do with old romance, Downton Abbey and a certain royal baby. I don't imagine there is much serious contemplation about the long-term implications personally and professionally of these safe-bets. Similarly, I can hardly imagine Kanye and Kim ruminating on the impact upon North's life-chances or her impending brother their names will have.

As new parents now, we are freer now of the traditional family set-up and its mores than we have ever been; the generation currently welcoming babies into the world are the first of its kind. We grew up with the internet, MTV, the rise of celebrity, Myspace and latterly Facebook. We are used to beautifully crafted cinema and television, often US imports, from Game of Thrones to Breaking Bad that has inspired and influenced what the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called our Cultural Capital - in short, how cool, current and important something is. Small wonder then that a novelist who had hitherto produced just one triumphant work of literary genius and the Beckham's daughter have brought attention to a name that had lain dormant almost as long as the namesake author herself - Harper made it's inaugural entry into the annual round up of the100 most popular names released by the Office for National Statistics in August of this year, at number 89. Some of this is down to us now thinking of ourselves in a multidimensional way; we understand the idea of person as brand - it can make all the difference in the competitive jobs market where so many of us now hold good university degrees to be social media smart. A standout name could kick-start your child's status in a world where the impact of their online lives on their real one is only likely to get more pervasive and profound. Better than being one of the 6,649 Olivers or 5, 327 Amelias born last year to be called something esoteric like Linus or Seraphina: these instantly sound exotic, special.

Having a good name is about more than simply opening doors, I think. It is about the qualities we attribute to those names. Hence the rise and perhaps benefit of names historically thought of as Quaker virtue or biblical tropes: Clemency, Faith, Abel or Jacob respectively. In the age of overload, these can be meaningful shorthand for a positive first impression for your newborn wherever they go and whatever they do. They sound nice, and have global resonance too, which helps. I'm a fan of these classic names for the same reason I suspect we like books sitting on our shelves - because they are modest and speak of something timeless. This is the real reason our boy is called Tennessee. And he wouldn't have been named any differently even if his grandparents had said something, presented us with a wad of cash to call him John - or had we given in to some hipster affectation.


1. Start considering options and noting them down midway through your pregnancy; ensure your partner does this too if you want to make a united decision. And even if they sweetly say, "It's up to you, love" don't buy it - you'll have to put up with the way they flinch every time they say it if your choice is duff.

2. Take inspiration from the things you care about. Watch and re-read your favourite films and books, listen to your music library. You may be surprised by some hidden gems and minor characters that appeal.

3. Practice with the Supermarket test: stand at the end of a (quiet) aisle, and call out the names you are thinking of as if retrieving an errant toddler. It's funny how silly some names sound aloud and in such everyday context.

4. Consider all of the abbreviated versions that exist of names, any nicknames these might be used to form and taunt with, and how they work with your surname. Also bear in mind this is not just a name for your little one's early years - but for life. Imagine a fully-grown man answering with dignity to Zowie (David, you should be ashamed).

5. Try to avoid putting all your money on one name. Wait to meet your newborn first and get to know them, preferably for a few days, and listen to your instinct if the name doesn't feel right. To avoid any unwanted pestering from friends and family, simply announce Baby X born etc. promptly after the birth (including on Facebook too if you are comfortable with sharing it here) and state kindly but firmly you think you have chosen the name but want to ensure it fits.

6. Legally, you have to register your child's birth and name within 42 days. However, you can simply note Infant on the paperwork for the interim; just be sure to pop back to the registry office within the remaining days to provide your baby's chosen moniker - beware the cautionary tale of the parents who forgot to do this and only realized when applying for a school place their son was still officially known as 'Baby'. You, or your child should you get it woefully wrong, can always change the given name by Deed Poll.

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