Baby Names For Dummies book cover

Baby Names For Dummies

By: Margaret Rose Published: 05-27-2005

The fun and easy way to name the new bundle of joy
Brimming with over 5,000 names, from traditional to unique, this is the perfect reference for parents-to-be looking for naming guidance. It features a an impressive assemblage of options for both boys and girls-from Biblical, medieval, and Shakespearean names to musical and international names-along with a list of today's most popular names and the favorite names of previous decades. Each entry contains variant spellings as well as the name's meaning, history, and derivations. Plus, fun sidebars offer examples of celebrities who chose unique names for their little ones and perfect suggestions for future political leaders, artists, and movie stars.

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Finding Baby Names from Places and Natural Features

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Given names (first names) and names of places have a long history of cross-fertilization. Places have been named after the people who lived there, and people in turn may be named (or at least nicknamed) after the places they live. Some names have cycled through the process more than once! Taking a peek at the naming patterns Given names that are taken from place names or the names of natural features turn the usual naming pattern on its head. Instead of girls getting all the fun, this group of names is more often given to boys. The reason is simple: Most of these names first turned into family surnames, and the practice of turning surnames into given names has traditionally benefited boys more than girls. There are exceptions to this pattern. Names of countries are often considered feminine (or at least often look feminine). So names like India and China tend to skip the surname step and go straight to being girls' names. Even when the name doesn't end with that telltale "a," a country name like Brittany is more likely to enter the field as a girl's name. Names from descriptions of natural features like Cliff, Rock, or Glen may be taken from surnames, but just as often they may be given for the image of strength and ruggedness they project. More recent place-name borrowings may follow more than one rule. Sierra (mountain) may be given to boys as a natural feature and be given to girls because of the "a" at the end of the word. In some cases, a given name may be identical to a place name without having a direct connection. Paris, as a girl's name, is most likely inspired by the glamorous city, but as a boy's name it connects historically with the Paris of Greek mythology. Florence (whether for boys or girls) comes from an old Roman family name rather than from the city. Taking your proper places Proper names of places usually refer to a specific location. Generally they start out as surnames for families that lived in those places and only later are taken up as given names. In some cases, though, these names started out as personal names that were later used to name locations. ALTON: (m) English; various origins such as "old town," or "Alf's town". The name is not well known, although it enjoyed a rather steady mild popularity throughout the early part of the 20th century. Alton Locke is the hero of Charles Kingsley's novel by that name. Alton Brown is the host of a popular cooking show called "Good Eats." ASHTON: (f, m) English; ash tree town. The name became suddenly popular for both boys and girls in equal numbers starting in the '80s, but in an unusual twist, the male popularity continued rising while the female use has dropped (perhaps diverted to ASHLEY and ASHLYN). Just as there is a general pattern of names ending in "-ley" becoming girls' names, names ending in "-ton" (or in "n" in general) seem to be associated more with boys. Bearers include actor Ashton Kutcher and early horror fiction writer Clark Ashton Smith. Variant: (f) Ashtyn. ASIA: (f) Greek; East, where the sun rises. Continent names are rare as given names, despite the fact that continents have always been personified as female (as in the Greek legend of Europa and the bull). This name has become popular in the last couple of decades. Bearers include Italian actress Asia Argento. BLAIR: (f, m) Gaelic; a plain, a field. Unlike many place names, this increases in popularity for boys through the 20th century. The feminine name has had some small popularity in recent decades. The timing isn't right for the horror film The Blair Witch Project to be responsible, but a character of this name on the TV show The Facts of Life is more likely. BRADLEY: (m) English; broad meadow. Like most place-based surnames, this began with occasional use in the nineteenth century. Charles Dickens gave the name to the character Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend. The significant boost of popularity the name saw in the '50s and later may have been partly in honor of World War II general Omar N. Bradley, but the name was also swept up in the general fashion for boys' names beginning with "Br-" and continues in high popularity through the end of the century. Variant: Bradly. Diminutive: Brad. BRITTANY: (f) English; the English name for the region of Brittany in northern France. The origin is the same as the name Britain. The name first hits the charts in the '70s and explodes in popularity, reaching number 6 in the '90s. Pop singer Britney Spears rides the wave but doesn't seem to have caused it. Like the other popular late-century names starting with "Br-" this seems to have been the right sound at the right time. Variants: Britany, Britney, Britni, Britny, Brittaney, Brittani, Brittanie, Brittany, Brittnee, Brittney, Brittni, Brittnie, and Brittny. Featuring the natural world in names While proper place names usually refer to a specific location, words for natural features are more generic and refer to an entire class of locations. As surnames, they often arose to distinguish neighbors: John who lives at the ford rather than John who lives by the meadow. But these given names may also be taken directly from the ordinary words, rather than from surnames. MEADOW: (f) English; a meadow, a grassy field. The name has begun being used as a given name only recently. It's the name of the daughter in the TV show The Sopranos. RIDGE: (m) English; a ridge, a line of sharp hills. The name has shown up very rarely in the last decade or so. This and the following RIVER may be rare cases of taking boy's names directly from ordinary words. RIVER: (m) English; a river, a water-course. The name has had increasing popularity only in the last couple of decades. One likely source of inspiration has been actor River Phoenix. ROCK: (m) English; a rock, a stone. This name may be in the current category under false pretenses and instead be an Englishing of the Italian name Rocco. Both Rock and Rocky became popular just as Rocco faded in the mid-twentieth century. The name of movie star Rock Hudson was direct from the stone, however, being one of those Hollywood publicist's inventions. Pro wrestler turned-actor "The Rock" (real name: Dwayne Johnson) is as solid as his nickname implies. Variant: Rocco and Rocky. SIERRA: (f) Spanish; a mountain range. This name shows up abruptly in the '80s and climbs the charts rapidly. Sierra has a strong outdoorsy feel, not simply from the meaning, but from association with the environmentalist Sierra Club. Variants: Ciarra, Ciera, and Cierra. WADE: (m) English; a ford, a place where you can wade. The name has been consistently popular throughout the 20th century. There is a minor character in Gone With the Wind named Wade, where it is said he was named after the surname of his father's commanding officer.

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Building a Baby Name with a Template — or Not

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

The overall structure of the name may seem like a pretty standard template in our American culture, but that doesn't mean you can't do something different when choosing a name for your baby. Use the following sections to discover your own unique name template, or just stick with the standard first-middle-last template with a splash of nickname thrown in. Legal names: First and last names To understand the variety of names available and some of their histories, it helps to know something about different types of names. In American culture, there are two basic types of "official" names: surnames and given names. Surnames are fixed names shared by a family and usually inherited from a parent. Given names are chosen for each individual (normally by a parent, although people sometimes choose their own later in life). Whatever you call your child on everyday occasions, some version of the name will be your child's "legal name" — the one filled out on official forms. Given names and surnames may be treated somewhat differently on a legal basis. Surnames are expected to be fixed and stable: If you shorten your given name from Jonathan to Jon, it's less critical than if you shorten your surname from Johnson to Johns. If you're a member of a couple that have both kept your original surnames, the birth of a child may be the point where you decide that something must be done. But whether you've already combined your surnames or plan to do it for your child's name only, a double-barreled surname brings its own issues. When you analyze how the name sounds, the surname will be the equivalent of that piece of enormous furniture that you have to arrange the rest of the room around. You will, in effect, be giving your child four names and will need to take them all into account when considering sound, rhythm, initials, and the rest. And yet there are practical reasons for having both parents referenced in the child's name. So, if the two of you are using different surnames and you don't want to saddle your child with a hyphen, this is one of those times when a middle name can come in handy. Middle names Middle names behave like given names in both legal and social terms: They are chosen for the individual rather than being shared automatically based on family ties. Historically, the middle name had a number of specific functions, but today you can think of it as a "second chance" in designing a name. If you can't make up your mind between two names . . . use both! If both parents have their hearts set on a particular name . . . use both! If you're torn between giving your child a cutting-edge, fashionable name and something more traditional and conservative . . . do both! The middle name can be a wonderful safety valve against putting all your naming eggs in one basket. But there are also some traditional uses for the middle name that you may want to consider. In some communities, one of two given names is reserved for a name with religious associations: the name of a saint, or a name indicating a particular devotion. When Catholics use a confirmation name as part of the legal name, it may become the middle name. It's still the case that a child's surname is most commonly inherited from the father, so the middle name is sometimes used to bring in the mother's family name or some name traditionally used in the mother's family. Socially, we usually distinguish between first names (the name a person is normally called by) and middle names (an additional name that may or may not be used in combination with the first name). At various times, there have been informal rules about what the middle name should be and how it should be used, but today it's pretty much a free-for-all. No one will think twice about someone going by the middle name instead of the first name. Nicknames Nicknames may be a diminutive form of a person's given name (so-called because they're either shorter than the original name or because they originated as affectionate childish forms of the name), for example, Tom for Thomas. Another type of nickname may be something unrelated to the legal name, such as Ronald Reagan's nickname Dutch. Although you can't predict which nicknames of the second type may attach themselves to your child, you may find yourself considering what diminutive nicknames your name choice may lend itself to. If you definitely want your child to have a nickname, try the following naming ideas: Pick a name that already has nicknames associated with it. If the name already has nicknames associated with it, you can give your child a variety of options of what to be called. Keep your eye on the "old standard" names. Usually, the more popular a name has been and the longer it's been around, the more likely it is to have nicknames associated with it (and the more different ones there are likely to be). So old standards are a good choice if you want to offer your child an array of nickname potential. Conversely, if you want to discourage the use of nicknames, try these naming strategies: Pick a name that currently has no nicknames associated with it. If you want the name you pick to be used as your child's name, this is one way to make sure it is. Pick a relatively new name. Newer names generally haven't had a chance to develop nicknames yet, or haven't been popular enough to need them yet. Pick a single-syllable name. This won't prevent nickname suffixes being added if people really want to. Jade could, in theory, be turned into Jadey. But one-syllable names are less likely to come with existing nicknames attached. Pick a name that originated as a nickname for some other name. Although people may mistakenly use the original form of the name instead, they aren't likely to substitute a different nickname for the one you choose. If you do pick a nickname to be your child's first name, you eliminate options. A woman named Margaret has the option to go by Margie or Meg or Maggie or Peg. A woman named Margie or Meg or Maggie or Peg doesn't have the same social permission to go by Margaret or one of the other nicknames. A man named Thomas can be Tommy as a boy, Tom to his college friends, and return to Thomas if he has a profession where a little extra gravitas is an advantage. But a man named Tommy has to make it fit all occasions. Just as you can use middle names to expand your child's options, the careful choice of a formal given name rich in nickname potential can give you the best of both worlds. Additional names Particular communities or cultures in the U.S. may use other categories of names. Catholics may take the name of a particular saint as a "confirmation name," but it would not normally be used every day or become part of the legal name. Observant Jews will have a Hebrew name, which may be the original form of their everyday name, or may be unrelated to it. It's not at all uncommon for people of Chinese, Japanese, or Korean heritage to have a name in their ancestral language and an "American name" as well. Often the two are similar in sound, although unrelated. For example, a woman with Hsiou- as the first part of her Chinese name may use Susan as her American name.

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Being Aware of the Negative Side of Baby Names

Article / Updated 03-26-2016

Right now, you're probably feeling very possessive about your child, which is only natural because you have all the control (and responsibility) over what your child's experiences will be, including the choice of a name. But while it would be silly to pick a name that you don't like, it's just as important to put yourself into your child's future shoes and try to make sure that he or she will like it as well. Watching out for naming pitfalls So you call yourself a rebel or unconventional or a nonconformist. Well, just because you don't want to follow naming rules or patterns when choosing a name for your child, doesn't mean that just anything goes. And on the flip side, just because you plan to follow the rules doesn't mean you won't make any mistakes. You can avoid common mistakes that parents make when picking a name for their children: Start anywhere except the beginning of baby-name lists. Have you ever wondered why there seem to be so many people with names beginning with A? Baby-name lists are usually organized alphabetically. Most people don't read through the entirety of "500,000 Baby Names" before starting to fall in love with a few choices. This means that, statistically, people who pick names this way are more likely to pick a name earlier in the alphabet. Know where your name ideas come from. If a name "just comes to you" and you can't remember where you got the idea for it, try to find out more about the name. Especially in the case of unusual or invented names, chances are you didn't simply come up with it off the top of your head. If you can't remember where it came from, how do you know it doesn't mean (or refer to) something embarrassing? Find out if it was a product name, or a small town in Eritrea, or the latest obscure espresso drink. If the name is at all questionable, you can be sure that at some point in your child's life, she will run into someone who recognizes it. Check out the current popularity (if any) of a name you are considering. You'd be surprised how many parents first discover that they've picked the current No. 1 name when their child hits pre-school and then wish they had chosen something less common. Names move quickly up and down the charts these days, so you can't assume that you'd automatically know whether a name is in the top ten. Discuss and consider names for both genders even if you're absolutely sure what gender your child will be (even ultrasound has been known to be wrong). There's nothing quite like going through life named Adam solely because your parents thought you were going to be a girl and when push came to shove, the only source of inspiration they had at hand was a Gideon Bible. (Not that there's anything wrong with Adam as a name, of course!) Knowing how names may shape a child's experience When considering possible negative consequences of particular names, you usually think in terms of childhood teasing. But there's a darker side to the first impressions of names. Scientific studies have shown that people respond very differently to certain names or certain types of names. You may have heard about experiments where different names were put on the same homework assignment and given to multiple teachers to grade. Names that were perceived as "old fashioned," like Bertha or Marmaduke, were given lower grades on the average. The problem is, "old fashioned" is a relative term. When those studies were first done, Emily and Ethan would have been considered old-fashioned names, now they're as current as can be. Names with novelty spellings can also fare badly. Sindee may be considered inherently more frivolous than Cindy. Diminutives are seen as less formal and so less serious than the full forms of names. Jimmy Carter made a bit of a stir by using Jimmy rather than James in politics. (At least he had the choice — name your son "Jimmy" and it's harder to go in the other direction.) You want to give your child every advantage . . . but there comes a point when you wonder whether maybe you ought to be challenging these attitudes instead. When it's a matter of someone considering a name "too old-fashioned," you can chalk it up to personal taste. But the same types of scientific studies show even stronger effects if a name looks "too African American" or "too Hispanic." If you're thinking twice about naming your daughter Shanika (whether you're African American or not) because you're worried that her resumes may end up in the second stack, or if you're really wavering between naming your son Jose after his grandfather, or going with Joseph instead because it'll make teachers think he's smarter, are you making a rational decision for your child's best interests or surrendering to prejudice? There is no good answer to this problem because we can't make prejudice disappear except in our own actions. Decide for yourself whether to make this consideration a factor in your choice of names.

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