How to choose a baby name: A new parent’s guide to baby names

Congratulations, you’re expecting a beautiful new member of the family!  And while preparing to welcome baby is an exciting time, there’s also plenty of decision making in your near future, too. And one of the biggest decisions you’ll make is choosing a baby name. While certain names rise and fall in baby name popularity, there’s only one name (or maybe two) for your little one. So how do you decide what to keep on your baby name list?  

The good news is, while it may sometimes be a point of stress or disagreement, the entire process really can be a fun, joyful journey. This baby name guide will help you figure out how to choose a baby name that’s as perfect as that little bundle you’ll soon be holding. 

How to choose a baby name

No matter how excited you are to welcome that bundle of joy into your life, choosing a name is one of the trickiest tasks for most parents. Here are a few of the most common issues that can cause you to cross off names on your baby name list.

Step 1. Talk with your partner

This may seem obvious, but if you’ve had a baby name picked out since you were a teenager, talking about it with your partner might change your point-of-view. Baby naming involves a lot of back and forth and this or that, and having your partner on the same page with the process, not just the name, is key. Talk with your partner about how you want to make the decision. Important things to consider include: 

  • Will you know the sex of your baby in advance? If you choose to not know the sex, you may want to generate a list of gender-neutral baby names, or have a list of possibilities for either sex. 
  • Keeping things honest (even if it’s a family name, it’s okay to tell your partner you don’t like it).
  • Flexibility: try to keep an open mind while not getting your heart set on one name only. 

Step 2. Decide who to include in the decision-making process

This one is so important, even though it’s part of Step 1, it’s critical enough to be called out on its own. Before you start the conversation with anyone who isn’t your partner, make sure you and your partner are in full agreement on who is in on this decision. 

For most couples, it is down to them to make the decision, but if your family wishes to have another person involved that is totally okay, as long as you and your partner are in agreement. Whatever you do, don’t let too many people weigh in on your names (see number two in common problems below).

Step 3. Make a list

Like so many things in life, baby naming benefits from the fine art of list making. Even if you’re brainstorming names out loud at the dinner table, trust us: you will forget several of those names before you ever think about deciding. Making a written list, whether that’s a shared google doc or a whiteboard at home, can help track and enjoy the process. Not sure where to begin, try starting with:

  • Meaningful places you’ve been together. Think of towns, countries, and people you’ve met on trips together. 
  • Family names. 
  • Objects, hobbies, or events you love or enjoy together. 

Step 4. Find out the baby name meanings

As you start finding names you like, you’ll want to do some research behind the name’s meaning and origin.You may want to choose a name based on the meaning, such as a name that signifies intelligence and wisdom. Or you may want to find a name from a place, thing, time, or culture you hold dear or identify with, like these baby names based on plants or month-themed names, like June-baby names.

Step 5. Say every name out loud

A beautiful name on the page (or on your list) may look perfect, but what happens when you say it out loud? A few things to consider. 

  • How does the name feel rolling off your tongue? Is it a name you can hear yourself calling out for years to come? 
  • Does the name have a cute nickname version? Can it be more than one name (for example, the name Henry can be Hank, Richard can be Rick, etc.)
  • Do you and your partner say it the same way? It’s okay if you don’t! It’s just important to hear each other say it. 
  • Can you pronounce it correctly? For example, you chose a beautiful Irish baby name only to discover you’re saying it wrong. 
  • What does it rhyme with? Honestly, it’s not a deal breaker but if you’ve chosen the name Lou you’ve got to contend with the fact that school kids are going to know it rhymes with “poo.”

Step 6. Consider Multiple Names

Many parents decide to give their baby a second (middle) name, and some even choose more than one. If you can’t make up your mind, try two names together to see if they work as a first and middle name.

Step 7. Pick Your Name, Sort of

While some people choose their baby name in advance and have a sign for the nursery to prove it, it’s okay to not know 100% until you meet your child. You can narrow it down (we highly recommend you narrow it down) but if you’re really down to two or three names, decide when you meet the little one. 

You don’t legally have to put the full name on the birth certificate before you leave the hospital, though it’s certainly easier. In fact, many states actually allow new parents six to 12 months to make a legal name change to a child’s birth certificate without any fees, however legal name changes after that may require fees and a lawyer. 

Common issues when choosing a baby name

No matter how excited you are to welcome that bundle of joy into your life, choosing a name is one of the trickiest tasks for most parents. Here are a few of the most common issues that can cause you to cross off names on your baby name list.

Issue 1. Not agreeing with your partner

This can happen for a variety of reasons (now you know the name of every ex your partner has ever had), including all of those listed below but not agreeing with your partner on what to name the baby you’re having together can cause stress and chaos. Choosing a baby name is one of the first parenting decisions you’ll make together, so consider it practice for the many compromises to come.

Issue 2. You told people too soon and they hate the name

You’re excited to share the name, so excited you told your mother-in-law as soon as she asked, only to receive a funny look you know means she hates it. Or your brother laughed at the name. Whatever the response, it’s common for excited parents-to-be to share the name they’ve chosen way too soon, only to be met with less than enthusiastic response. And while we believe it’s not up to friends and family to give your baby a name, negative responses can weigh heavily on a parent’s mind.

Issue 3. Everyone keeps mispronouncing the name

Whether it’s siblings, parents, or even between you and your partner, it feels like everyone close to you seems to say the name wrong. Spelling and pronunciation aren’t always straightforward, either, so it can become problematic and possibly cause you concern for the future.

Issue 4. Your bestie chose the name, too

You just found out your pregnant friend chose the exact same name as you. Ugh! 

Issue 5. The name became too popular or it’s used in popular culture in a way you don’t like

This could come up in a variety of ways. For example, the name might be used for a major technology brand (ahem, Alexa). Or a celebrity you aren’t a fan of chooses the name for their child. Misappropriation can also be an issue, for example if you chose a name that is appropriated from a culture you or your spouse doesn’t identify with. Or the name might just be too trendy by the time your baby is born. (A great reason to have a second option picked out!).

Moms talk about how they chose a baby name

“We had all these boy names picked out. I had a list. But sometimes that list goes out the window. When I went into labor it was around sunset in Boulder, CO. My room faced the mountainside of the flatirons. As the sun was setting, the sky was this beautiful, deep indigo. 12 hours later he was born. As the sun was rising, it was still the same beautiful deep indigo color and it was a magical sight. I named my son Indigo Skye. My family basically thought I’d lost my mind and joined a cult or something crazy, but now everyone loves it, including my son. Sometimes what doesn’t make sense to others, does to you in that moment. I don’t regret it, and the best part is that my son, now 21, loves his name and all the young girls do too.” —Misty, Snarky Breeders

“My husband and I liked literally zero of the same names. There was not one name that both of us loved and the other didn’t hate. So we settled on naming our first girl after both of our moms; her first name is my mom’s middle name and her middle name is my MIL’s name. And our son after our dads; his first name is my FIL’s and his middle name is my dad’s.” —Ana, Not the Nanny

“When we went to name our baby girl, we had decided to name her after my great grandmother, Sadie. After we put Sadie Grace on the birth certificate, I kept looking at her and thinking to myself, “She’s not a Sadie.” Two days later we changed her name to Cooper, which was the backup name for our son 5 years earlier. She is such a Cooper and I can’t imagine her as a Sadie.” —Holly, From the Bottom of my Purse

Baby Name Ideas

Now that you understand factors to consider when choosing a baby name, common issues when choosing a baby name and you’ve heard from real moms about how they chose their baby’s name, now it’s time for the fun part: actually choosing your own baby’s name. We have dozens of ideas from unique baby name ideas to popular baby names that won’t go out of style.

Unique baby names

Popular baby names

Girl names

Boy names

Gender-neutral baby names

Baby names by month or season

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Today’s Parent is Canada’s #1 source for parenting content that informs, inspires and builds a sense of community. We help parents celebrate the happy chaos that comes with having a family and remind them that they are not alone. If you’re trying to conceive, pregnant or have children from newborn to ages 9+, you’ll get insightful information for all ages and stages on discipline, health, behaviour, education, plus easy and nutritious recipes and so much more.

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