Things to consider when naming your child

First, can I draw your attention to the title. It says "Things to consider". Not "How to" or "What not to do" or "...for Dummies". I'm not trying to be pushy here, I'm not about to tell you which name to choose for your kids, or that you absolutely CANNOT choose certain names. That would be stupid. I'm simply going to draw your attention to some aspects of name-choosing that might sway your decision; aspects which, if overlooked, could lead to a decision you (or, more importantly, your child) might regret. Discard the advice if you wish, but at least consider it.

I have the horrible feeling that despite this disclaimer, I will still end up offending or at least inadvertently insulting a lot of people. Apologies to anybody who finds this personally offensive - I would never make fun of anybody's name. Others, however, would. That's the point.

  • Check all the obvious abbreviations. Do the initials spell a word out? A friend of a friend was going to call her child Claire Oona Willis, until she thought better of it. I also know a JIM. We call him Jim. Jim doesn't seem to mind this, but a different person might take offence at it. Then there's Catherine Penn: "Cat Pee".

  • Check the pronunciation. Timothy Muggli abbreviates nicely to "Tim Muggli" i.e. "Tim Ugly".

  • Are there people in your family with the same initials? Two people in a friend's household had the initials ABM. They were forever opening each other's mail. This is particularly tricky if two children have the same initials. (In an adult-child situation, it's easier, of course. Only one of the two is likely to receive bank statements, for example.)

  • Remember that you will have to shout this name in public. When your kid misbehaves, or runs off, you're gonna have to run after him and shout his name. Can you imagine doing this with a child whose first name is Phoenix? Or Galadriel?

  • Look it up. Some names may sound very pretty and feminine or masculine, but when you find the nearest word to Morticia in the dictionary I daresay you may think otherwise. A friend of a friend was considering the name "Placenta".

  • Check the gender. Seriously.

  • Check the spelling. Can you imagine going through life constantly correcting other peoples spelling of your name, because they got it right and your parents didn't? Another friend teaches a girl named Tarnya. Not the more correct "Tanya" with a long "aa". Tarnya.

  • Check the pronunciation. Another friend of a friend wanted to call her child "Wye-vonnie". The name she actually wanted was "Yvonne", pronounced "ih-VONN". These last four apply even if you're absolutely certain. You may be surprised to find that a name you thought was commonplace is actually totally fictional.

  • Consider diminutive forms. Billy is okay for a child, but would it be appropriate to call an adult man "Billy"? A pensioner?

    • If you call your child Richard, he will be called "Dick" at some point in his life, whatever you do. This isn't grounds for ruling out the name, but is definitely worth considering.

  • If you name your child after somebody else who lives in the same house, confusion will reign. "Hi, can I speak to Frank, please?" or maybe "Frank! Come to the kitchen!" are just two of the many possible situations in which you might regret naming your son Frank after Frank. Making Frank the kid's middle name might be a better possibility.

  • The longer the name is, the fewer standardised forms you can fit it on. There are a whole lot of forms you and your child will end up filling in over the course of your lives, and many of them will only provide space for a limited number of characters. Having to use an extra sheet for your name - or to include all three middle names - can be demoralising.

Some names have been changed.