The pressure to find the perfect name for a baby can feel intense, especially with a first child. Recently, a friend told me about how stressed she is that she’s already 20 weeks into her pregnancy, but she still doesn’t have a name picked out. I can relate to that anxiety; I remember those early days in my first pregnancy when choosing a name felt like one of the hardest (and in some moments, the most fun) decisions that I’d have to make. But as my friend ticked off her name ideas that included Bexely and Basil, I realized that the growing trend to go with super unique names is one that I’m happy I skipped. Picking out conventionally standard names for my kids turned out to be a great choice for us.
Don’t get me wrong, I have zero judgement for parents out there who embrace the unusual when it comes to naming their children — and it’s important to point out that “unusual” and “conventional” will vary across cultures and communities. Bexely is the kind of name I would have put on my list for the thrill of it, but never would have pulled the trigger. Staying in the safe lane and going with a name that can more easily blend with the status quo is what I actually wanted, believe it or not. Unique names and spellings can be interesting but I think there can be a happy medium where there’s just enough mix of familiarity and uncommonness to mark a name as wonderful without it being a kid’s defining feature. I realize this may be an unpopular or old fashioned opinion, but I see the value in sticking with names that don’t raise any eyebrows. Yes, even if that makes me truly vanilla and boring.
For each of my three pregnancies, my husband and I went through the same naming rituals. Every time either of us heard a name we loved, we’d add it to a long list of potential names. At first, all names were on the table (Basil was on there, as well as Miamour — which made it to the list once after a serious surge of hormones). But every single time, that list would quickly get whittled down once we started asking some questions. For example, what kinds of nasty nicknames could a group of fictional future kids on an imagined school playground come up with to taunt our child? Were there any examples of historical or otherwise famous (or infamous) figures that had the same name but did awful things? And then the worrywart in me: What if having a too-creative name would hinder our kid’s ability to land a job or get into a great school?
I know I’m not the only one to wonder about this. In one study, researchers showed that people with easy-to-pronounce names are evaluated more positively than those with difficult-to-pronounce names. Is that fair? No. But it feels like proof that I was right — for me — to cross all those names off my lists. And while there are millions of examples of people with unique names who have grown up to be perfectly successful in life, as a mom with the responsibility of choosing a name, this worry felt real to me.
Also, I asked myself: Who would benefit from a wildly unique name anyway? It’s not like my kids got a choice in the matter, so was this really for me? My gut kept telling me that there was something pretentious and annoying about this idea of forcing her name to stand out. My goal wasn’t to register a Banjo or Ke$ha to preschool someday. My goal was to find a special name that fit well in my family. With my family’s Irish and Scandanavian roots, my priority was classic names that could nod to our heritage.
My friend once pointed out that I could choose classic English names but use old, historical spellings to make them a little more unusual. For example, I loved the name Eleanor when we were considering names for our daughter, and my friend suggested that using the version Alia-Aenor would give the name some pizazz. I loved the idea… in theory. Eventually I just had to accept that I just couldn’t add flair to any names and not wince a bit; so we went with Eleanor. Plain old Eleanor. And I love it. Our other kids are Finn and Maxwell. No ancient spellings, easy to pronounce, and just common enough that almost everyone has heard of them.
In the end, my husband and I are pretty pleased with our name choices. They seem to suit our kids pretty well, though maybe kids just grow into their names whatever they are, which is just as likely. We even know a kid named Basil, and his name suits him pretty well, too! As my kids grow into their names and their personalities take shape and evolve, I am glad that I chose not to give them names that would stand out as something separate from them. Even if that means that there will be another Maxwell in my son’s class one of these days. I can live with that.
Besides, there are always nicknames.