talk about this before choosing namesNames are abundant and they’re free. We are spoiled for choice.

This sounds like a good thing, but we all know that infinite possibilities and relatively few constraints makes choosing hard.

So if you’re not sure where to start – or if you’ve started, but nothing feels right – do this instead.

Think about your name.

What do you like about it? What’s frustrating? Would you choose it for yourself? Did you ever want a different name?

Because even if you’ve never thought about names for your future children a day in your life, nearly all of us have given our own names at least a passing thought.

That makes them a good guide for naming children of our own.

Were you frustrated by spelling your name K-R-I-S-T-I-N every time?

Don’t name your daughter Madelyn. Evelyn might be a better choice.

It’s not always obvious which names come with multiple spellings. And if you’ve always known the name spelled Aidan, it might surprise you to realize that Aiden is far, far more popular in the US now.

How do you check? Visit the US Social Security Administration – or the authoritative index for wherever you’ll raise your children – and search the list.

Searching on “mad” reveals Madelyn, Madeline, Madilyn, Madeleine, Madelynn, Madilynn, Madalyn, Madalynn all in the Top 1000, as well as Madison, Maddison, and Madisyn.

SSAChloeCleoKhole screenshotSome names are trickier to search, but in the US, looking up a specific name can also help. Chloe might be #24, but Khloe is #137, and Cleo ranks in the Top 1000, too.

But what if the only name you can agree on is Madelyn? Choose the dominant spelling.

It won’t solve all of your problems, but it will increase the odds that others will think of it as correct. And, in this case, it’s Madelyn that’s most popular right now, so you’d be in luck.

Did you love telling the story of your unconventional family middle name?

That might be a tradition to carry on.

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to using family names or starting fresh – no matter what the grandparents might think. It’s a personal decision for every couple.

Maybe your parents shrugged off family naming customs, finding them confining – but you’ve spent years tracing your family tree, and would love to re-claim some of those heirlooms. Family names can be great choices, for so many reasons.

But if you dreaded introducing yourself with your unusual family name, hated waited for that pause when the teacher couldn’t pronounce it, went to great lengths to reduce middle name Wilberforce to a W on your official forms? Then no amount of pressure from family members – on either side – should push you into making a choice that you know makes you uncomfortable. Starting fresh can be great, too.

And if one partner likes family names and the other just can’t? Consider these nine creative ways to honor a loved one, but still find a name you can both embrace.

Were you envious of the kids with popular names like Ashley and Jessica? Then maybe naming your daughter Olivia or Ava isn’t such a bad thing.

At some point, we decided that naming our children a Top Ten name was a Big Mistake. Our child would be one of four in his kindergarten, and we would feel bitter name regret forever and ever.

This isn’t how it works.

In fact, gauging a name’s popularity – current or future – is pretty slippery.

Here’s another example of why thinking back on your own experience is such a big help. If you were one of three Ashleys, and it drove you batty, well … then naming your kid anything in the current Top Ten is out. But if you didn’t mind? Then name your son Liam. You already know you’ll (probably) be charmed when you meet other boys with the same name.

It might be the essential conversation to have with your partner.

Suggesting names, only to have them shot down, is frustrating. But that happens to so many couples, with one partner listing names … Hayes, Milo, Finley, Jacob … while their partner scowls, shrugs, or responds with a snort.

But talking about our names – the things that happened with them, what we liked, what we grew to appreciate as we grew older – is different. We can both contribute to the conversation equally. There’s not necessarily a goal, either, and there’s no right or wrong answer.

It sets the stage for a better, richer conversation about why your partner finds Milo unthinkable for a son. Or why you’re so wild about Hayes. That wacky, out-there suggestion that keeps coming up? Maybe you’ll understand it better after talking about how names have worked – or not – in your own lives.

We reveal things about ourselves when we talk about our own experience with names, things that we don’t share when we’re just giving a thumbs up or down to dozens of names on a list.

It might not immediately result in you both agreeing on The Name, but it will help create a solid base to make a good decision. And that’s a great way to start!

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter. You can subscribe below. And thanks to Dani for encouraging me to put it into a separate blog post!


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Baby Naming Advice: Talk About This First

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Loved this in the newsletter, and loved reading it again!

    Making it a blog post genius (so easy to send the link to friends!).

    Thank you!

  2. Great list!!!
    May I add some things?
    Discuss The Surname Situation.
    Search what you can do legally with names: can you change a baby’s name, until when? How many middle names can you have? What are the rules when naming in your country/region? (You might be surprised).

    Basically, be aware of your options!

  3. My husband and I did this. I chose to go by my full name because my nickname is extremely common for a popular name. I liked not going by my last initial in school and being the only one with my name. My husband has a popular name with a different spelling and he hates having to spell it all the time. Our kids are named a little farther down the popularity lists but with the most common spelling. This helped us both with the naming conversation.

  4. Love this!!
    To add to your point about the taboo Top Ten, having a Top Ten name nowadays really isn’t the same as it was years ago. For example, in 1991, a whopping 4.3% of girls were named Ashley or Jessica (the top 2) while in 2019, fewer than 2% of girls were named Olivia or Emma. In all, nearly 14% of girls were given a top ten name in 1991, but only around 7.5% in 2019. So even if you grew up as one of 4 Jessicas, it likely won’t be quite as noticeable for your child

  5. So true! All of the things that are important to me about a name by are the things that bugged/bug me about mine! And I have loved having a middle name option to use (it was supposed to be my name but my mom told my grandma and she got talked out of using it. Which is why I am strongly team don’t tell people the name until the kid is born. It all goes back to my relationship with my own names!) While it might seem limiting with both partners adding in their 2 cents about what they don’t want in a name, it’s helpful to hear from someone who’s lived with a I-only-go-by-my-nickname style nickname, or with more syllables than yours, or anything that adds to your understanding of names.

    That’s something really cool about the comments section on your name posts Abby, many of them, especially for the unusual ones, have feedback from people with the name, basically reporting what it’s like to have that name!