Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Name Game

One of my favorite pastimes is dreaming up baby names.  I have scrap pieces of paper tucked in hidden drawers and pages of old diaries that are full of names.  Names of my future children.  Usually girl names.  There have been a few gems that have withstood the test of time, but for the most part they came and went.  In elementary school I loved NKOTB and I loved "ney" names (i.e. Britney and Tiffany).   Middle school brought about my first/last/only spiral perm and a new favorite name: Amber.  My favorite names from high school and college, Autumn and Lexis, were all about uber uniqueness (or so I thought).  At the moment I'm into classic, but less common names.

In retrospect the history of my favorite names reflects the history of popular baby names in general.  Alas, I'm a complete follower.

Here are some ideas and resources to find your perfect baby name.  I'm warning you now, this is a long post.

Heritage names - These are family names.  And not just the Jr. versions, but also the names that started way back at the trunk of the family tree.  You probably know the first, middle and last names of your grandparents, your parents and your generation, but what about your grandmother's grandmother's name?  Or your dad's great granduncle's name?  So, figure them out.  Start inquiring of your parents and grandparents.  There is usually one historian in every family, seek him or her out and get the scoop on all the first, middle and last names through the generations.  Middle names and even last names can make especially great name choices because they will be both unique as first names and still sentimental.

Nationality names - These names are traditional within a certain nationality.  If you are Italian-American and your spouse is Italian-American, perhaps you want to celebrate your Italian heritage by choosing a classic Italian name for your first-born.  I found a great website for this search.  At you can search names based on nationalities (the "origin" dropdown menu).  Maybe your baby was conceived in Wales and you want to choose a Welsh name or your engagement happened in New Orleans and you want to choose a French name. 

First Letter and Letter Ending names - Choosing a name based on a starting letter is commonplace.  Some parents want to name all of their children with names that begin with the same letter.  Maybe you're a fan of alliteration and want the starting letter of his/her first name to be the same as his/her last name.  Whatever your reasons, searching through names that start with a certain letter (or letters) is fairly easy.  Most baby name books are organized alphabetically.  Here is a resource if you want to pick a name that ends with certain letters, again I'm referring you to  This time use the search prompt "Name Ends With." 

Nicknames - Start with the nickname and find the full name from there.  If you like the name Ella, but want something longer consider Isabella or Marchella.  The website has nickname lists (for boys and girls) that are alphabetized by the nickname and list all the "full" names that are associated with each nickname.  I hadn't a clue that "Bo" was a nickname for William.  It is.  For more girl's nicknames, has a list of full names and their nicknames, with each full name having several nicknames.

Names with Meaning - Choosing a name based on a meaning is a lesser explored angle.  Usually people choose a name and cross their fingers that they love the meaning.  If you're having a lot of trouble finding THE name, try the reverse approach.  What is an important characteristic that you hope for your child - wisdom, beauty, strength?  Again with the search.  There is a "meaning" search prompt that will automatically consider synonyms and alternative forms of the characteristic (i.e. strong, strength, warrior, etc.). 

Favorite Movie/Book names - Consider the handful of best books that you've read over your lifetime.  The truly memorable stories.  What were the main characters' names?  What were the secondary and discreet characters' names?  What about the author's name? is a great resource to look up character lists and author names.  The same goes for movies and  I adore the movie Love Actually and have considered (still consider) naming my daughter after one of the characters, Aurelia.  You can also check out the lists of Pop Culture Names on, there is an entire list dedicated to werewolf names...

Historical Names - One of my favorite finds for baby name searches is the Social Security Administration website.  I'm not kidding.  It contains an official list of the top 1,000 first names for every year after 1879. For example, in 1880 the top girl's name was Mary and top boy's name was John.  No surprises there.  Perhaps you're a huge fan of Mad Men, check out the top names from the 1960s.  Look at the top names in the years that your grandparents were born.  Or 1901, the turn of the century Americana names (still Mary and John). 

Rare Names - Again, I refer you to the Social Security Administration website.  If you want a rare gem, scroll down to the bottom of the lists.  In 2009 Mustafa (for boys) and Mireya (for girls) were the 1,000th most popular names.  It's a pretty safe bet that when 2-year-old Mustafa starts preschool in a couple years he'll be the only one in his class.

1 comment:

lia said...

I am obsessed with baby names! But getting married has been a total game-changer since now I have to match the first name to an uber-long uber-italian last name!