What’s Her Face

Abigail or Isabelle? Izzi or Zoe? Amelie or Clementine? My wife and I are expecting a baby girl at the start of the new year and we’re faced with the age-old challenge of choosing a name. It’s a daunting task for someone with a background in creating brand names. Phonetics, meaning, word origin, association, distinction, and brevity are just a few of the things we use to measure the strength of a name for our clients. But naming a baby has it’s own set of challenges and so I thought I would share a little of what I’ve learned so far.

Off Limits

Certain names should be retired like the Weather Service does with hurricanes. We’ve all seen how certain brand names can become so ubiquitous that they define an entire category like Q-tip. It’s an unspoken rule that when a person’s name reaches an extreme level of notoriety that name goes on a sort of copyright list. What are the odds that your little “Einstein” will grow up to unlock the mathematical riddles of the universe? Name em’ “Jesus” and let the persecution begin. Pick “Lidia” and hope she doesn’t become “the tatooed lady,” thanks Marx brothers.

A Boy Named Sue

Lots of parents decide on a name without knowing the sex of the baby. There are two fields of thought here. One camp thinks the sexual ambiguity of the name is a safe bet and all the rest of us think it’s just a form of prolonged torture. The term gender-neutral is a little misleading. I’ll admit there are some names that seem to work for boys and girls but they usually all lean one way or the other. The deciding factor is usually in the phonetics. Hard sounding vowels and consonants make a more masculine name and soft sounds make a better feminine name.


Star Persona

We all secretly want our babies to be famous and everyone gets a little star struck from time-to-time but should that fascination become an obsession, your list of baby names might sound more like movie credits. In fact, one of my coworkers did just that. She and her husband mulled over the names of countless actors in leading roles along with names of all the unsung filmmaking heroes like key grips, gaffers and focus pullers. A little girl named after a “best boy?”

Cross Reference

One couple chose their baby names by creating lists independently and then they compared them to see which ones they shared in common. This is a great approach for those prone to argument over ownership. What could be more democratic? When your child asks who came up with the name you can say “we both did.”

Making A Name For Yourself

Let’s face it, sometimes parents just botch the job. Maybe they don’t realize the novelty will wear off with a name like Moonbeam or maybe they think they’re being clever with a pairing like Dick Butkus and who knows what Englebert Humperdinck’s parents were smoking.

Like a company after a merger, sometimes a fresh start is in order. There’s nothing like a new name to do the trick. Celebrities are known for shedding their pedestrian names. John Simon Ritchie sounds like an accountant but Sid Vicious could only be an anarchist rock god. Cordazer Calvin Broadus drinks milk through a straw but Snoop Dog is sippin’ on gin and juice.

Hanna Fanna Bo Banna

Does your name pass the schoolyard bully test? Is it an instant garbage pail kid? Watch the first name and last name combo too. Anita Bath will never be able to get her hands clean enough and is certain to become a germaphobe. Be sure to check the initials. Antoine Stuart Smith avoids them at all cost.

Beware Of The Focus Group

Maybe the best piece of advice I can give is to avoid the “design by committee” approach. We encourage our clients to keep their team of decision makers to a minimum. The more family and friends you invite into the process of naming your child the harder you’re making it for yourself, and more importantly, the less it becomes about a personal decision. A short anecdote from a friend could ruin your favorite name. Izzi, isn’t that the character from Grey’s Anatomy? We’ve decided not to share our name until after the baby’s born for this reason.

Without an H

Avoid gimmicks. If you spell your childs name one way but want it to be pronounced another then you’re asking for constant misspellings on report cards and mispronunciations during role call.


Momma Loves Shortnin’

It’s in our nature to save time. It’s FedEx, not Federal Express. Let’s say the average amount of times per day you’ll call your child’s name is five. Multiply that by 365 days a year until he or she is 18. You’ll end up saying your child’s name at least 33,000 times before they leave for college. It makes sense why mom’s remove a syllable or two. Keep this in mind. Clementine = Clem. Sounds like a shellfish stuck in your throat.


The strongest names are those that carry meaning. Companies with story names have a strong foundation to build on. Man’s hunger for knowledge is embodied in the name Apple. Nike celebrates the competitive spirit with the name of the goddess of victory. Books on name meanings and origins are a good starting point but a name from a piece of literature or poetry could really inspire your child! Maybe Phineas from “A Separate Peace,” or Atticus from “To Kill a Mocking Bird.”

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