Naming children

September 2007

Dear Dave,

You'd better hurry up and think of some names. You don't want Squiggly to become the permanent way of referring to your second child. That would be quite embarrassing for everyone concerned. Maybe not as embarrassing as some of the alternatives but not really a name you want to be shouting loudly in the swing park, nonetheless.

I have discovered a list of all the first names given to children in Scotland last year. Granted, some of them are Gaelic (mostly the ones with far too many consonants) and some are ethnic (mostly the ones with far too many vowels), but there are still plenty of 'interesting' choices in there. What are some parents thinking?

I can see the advantages of giving a child a name that is fairly rare. Having two children with the same name in a class at school is pretty confusing. Lewis was even best friends with another Lewis for a while which led to lots of awkward 'my Lewis'/'your Lewis' conversations with the other Lewis' mum. That's worth avoiding.

You don't want to have something so unusual that people just go, 'Pardon?' when you say the kid's name, though. Aardvark, Zephyr and Asphyxia are simply not great choices. Fun as it might be inventing a new name, chances are that it will not be nearly as much fun to live with. If you want something a little different, go for a name that's slightly out of fashion or from another culture instead. Check the lists, however. You might think a name's not that common but it might just be that everyone with that name is under the age of three and none of them happen to go to the same parent and toddler groups as you. I've never met an Alfie but there were over 3000 born in the UK in 2006. Maybe they're all in London. Or maybe there will be five in Sam's nursery class. Watch out - they're coming to get you.

Don't make a common name unique by changing the spelling. Avoid Kaytee, Sera, Bobb and Androo. Just imagine the problems Squiggly will have giving her details over the phone in later life. ('Yes, Rachel - with a 'y', two 'l's and a silent 'q'.')

Make sure you're happy with the shortened form of any name you choose as well. For instance, if you call the kid Alexander, you'd better be OK with Alex, Xander, Sandy, Alec, Al, Lex and goodness knows what else. Upon reaching puberty, the kid will almost certainly adopt whichever version you like least and then go and mooch around on street corners while wearing a black hoodie. Other grubby teenagers will approach you looking for Big X. Be polite.

Also watch out for unfortunate initials that spell rude or embarrassing words. Give Squiggly a middle name starting with 'J' just to be on the safe side.

Avoid embarrassing middle names that you think no one will ever find out about. You might have sentimental reasons for it, but Squiggly won't thank you when his worst enemy discovers that his middle name is Petunia, Babylon5 or Bowser.

Oh, and if you're thinking of having any more children, don't use up all your best names at once. We gave Lewis and Fraser two middle names each and ran out. If Marie had been a boy, I don't know what we'd have called her. Chewbacca, maybe. Or Bubbles. We were really stuck.

Good luck with choosing. I remember Fraser's name didn't seem real for a couple of weeks after he was born. It felt like an incredible responsibility deciding someone's name. Perhaps it was our first understanding of the power we would have in shaping him as a person and in controlling his life. We could have called him Bermuda Archibald Teacake and I don't think anyone would have been able to stop us. (Apparently, in the UK, the registrar can only complain if a name is offensive. Offensive to whom, is somewhat unclear, but feel free to experiment).

Luckily, we resisted everything outlandish and Fraser suits him well enough now.


It was almost as much stress as choosing his first hairstyle.

Yours in a woman's world,


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