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What Not To Name The Baby PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rick Epstein   


A long time ago, two guys thought they could make some money helping people name their babies, estates, stores and companies. “But what’ll we call our consulting business?” one of them asked. “I don’t know,” the other one said. And that was that.


I was one of those guys. I forget which one. But since then, I’ve been instrumental in successfully naming three babies, two cats and a half-pound of tropical fish. So I think I have the credentials to wave a few red flags at expectant parents who are in the process of naming their babies.


1. DON’T PERPETUATE A BAD NAME. Sure Aunt Agatha was a great gal, but that doesn’t make Agatha a wonderful name. Chances are that Aunt Agatha would have been even more wonderful if considerate parents had given her a name that didn’t sound like someone coughing up a furball.


2. DON’T REJECT A GOOD NAME. A good name is a good name, and if someone objectionable had it before, so what? Your child will breathe his or her own magic into that name and its previous owners will be quickly forgotten.


3. MAKE IT EASY TO PRONOUNCE. The U.S.A. is largely a nation of immigrants. But if you are considering an ethnic name for your baby, you may have to choose between sentiment and practicality. Do you celebrate the land of your ancestors or give a name that works well here?


Years ago, a young Norwegian cousin of mine came to live with us for a year. Her name was Elisabeth Matheson, and when anyone asked her name, she’d say it the way she would back in Norway – really fast and like it was a question:


EeLEESaBETmataySOHN? To the American ear, her name was as beautiful and incomprehensible as a snatch of birdsong.


Early in her visit, pronouncing her name in the American way, I said, “Elisabeth, have you noticed that no one seems to understand your name? You are saying it in Norwegian, and Americans can’t catch it. So they are missing a basic tool for getting to know you.” She was here to mingle with the populace, so she took my advice and said it like a gringo.


My point is that person’s name is the handle by which the world will pick her or him up – and I mean that in a good way. So you might not want to bestow a name that will be alien and hard to say and remember.


Also, don’t give your children names that require accent marks or typography not normally available on American keyboards. Elisabeth’s sister is named Gorlin – only there’s a diagonal line through the O. Try and get satisfaction on THAT at the state Motor Vehicles office!


One final note on ethnicity and the American melting pot: Whatever you do, never forget the recipes of your homeland. People fight over religion, politics and language, but eating delicious food is a celebration of diversity that can be embraced by Republicans and Democrats alike.




A. It would make for continuous mix-ups of mail and phone calls. You end up with a family wasting its time indignantly pointing to a “Jr.” or a “Sr.” or different middle initials. I think the time to avoid mix-ups was at birth.


B. Most Juniors insist on the “Jr.” at the end of their name, not because they like it, but because it’s the only part of their name they can call their own.


C. Sometimes it works out. Certainly Martin Luther King Sr. did well giving his name to a baby whose intelligence and courage would eventually earn him a national holiday. And the first Theodore Roosevelt would’ve been proud to see his name carried into the White House. But sometimes it goes badly. Hank Williams may have been the greatest country music writer and singer ever. When he named his son Hank Jr., he should’ve guessed that the boy would grow up to write bitter songs about “livin’ in the shadow of a really famous man” and whining, “I’m just doin’ the best I can.” His name invites comparison and critics can be cruel.


D. Once there’s a Junior in the house, he is often called by a silly, juvenile name to differentiate him from Dad. So a boy grows up being called Skippy, Chip, Rusty, Jojo, Butch, Buddy or Buster. These are good names for dogs, but bad names for humans. But even after Senior has gone to his reward, the aging child is still called by his silly dog name.



So there’s my advice, offered for what it’s worth. Feel free to ignore it. Many have, and with good results.



Rick can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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