Baby Naming Advice
20 Questions Every Baby Namer Should Ask
20 Questions Every Baby Namer Should Ask
May 18, 2024 12:26 AM

  When I was a waitress, we had a trick to help indecisive customers make up their minds about what they wanted to eat.

  If it was the main course that had them stumped, we asked, “Meat or fish?”

  And if it was dessert, the question was “Fruit or chocolate?”

  Now, I realize that those two choices don’t cover the entire universe of options. There’s pasta, and caramel. Vegetarian, and blancmange.

  But in general, dividing the world – of food, or yes, of baby names – can be a fast efficient first step to helping sift through a dizzying number of options.

  To that end, here are 20 questions to ask yourself at the outset of your name search. They may not all strike a chord with you, some questions may step on the toes of others, but you will probably be able to answer many of these questions quickly and instinctually.

  Focus on those questions that for you have easy answers, and write down your choices. That should give you five or 11 or 17 words that describe the kind of name you’re after, narrowing the name universe considerably and helping you arrive at the perfect choice.


1. Plain or fancy?

This can mean a lot of things, but in general, a plain name is one that’s widely-used and easily-understood while fancy is a name that is rare and/or elaborate and/or unconventional – you know, fancy.


2. Past or future?

Rooted in history or newly-minted and forward-thinking?


3. Fast or slow?

By this I mean is it a name people comprehend immediately – Eve – or one that demands more investigation, may be more difficult to spell or pronounce, may literally take longer to say, such as Evelina.


4. Story or no story?

Does your ideal name have a story behind it, either one from literature or history or one that’s personal to you, or does it exist apart from any narrative?


5. Conventionally attractive or attractively unconventional?

Few parents want to give their child an unattractive name, but do you want your name to sound obviously pretty or strong or do you want a name that’s attractive by virtue of its unconventionality?


6. Traditionalist or iconoclast?

Do you want a name that has traditionally been recognized as a name, or a name that’s a name because you or one of the Kardashians say it’s a name?


7. Culturally ambiguous or culturally distinct?

Do you want a name specific to a certain country or culture or do you want a name that’s widely used throughout the Western world: Alice, Milo, Luna?


8. Flow or no flow?

This is the baby name equivalent of caring whether your clothes match. Are you looking for names that will roll off the tongue in a mellifluous combination of sounds and syllables? Or is so-called flow subservient to other considerations like meaning and popularity?


9. Easy or challenging?

This is a different spin on the fast or slow question, but one that may speak to different people. Do you want your child’s name to be easy to spell, pronounce, get? Or would you rather pick a name that challenges people’s memories, outlooks, beliefs?


10. Family or individual?

There are really only two choices here. One is you want a name that honors family in some way, if not directly using a family name, then following a tradition or honoring your family’s cultural or religious traditions. The other choice is that you either don’t care or you actively don’t want a family name.


11. Short or long?

You can count length by letters or syllables, and you can set the demarcation line wherever you want. Many people, because of taste or their last name or other factors, have a decided preference for one of the other, though if you can go either way, that’s fine too.


12. Gender-distinct or gender-neutral?

Most people have a clear preference here, even if they’ve never discussed or even thought about it. What’s your gut? Same for girl and boy names? And why do you feel that way?


13. Nickname or no nickname?

Another one that many people feel strongly about, one way or the other, while some people don’t really care. Maybe you’re choosing a name that comes pre-loaded with lots of appealing nicknames. Or you’re choosing one that either can’t be shortened or that you won’t allow to be shortened. Or you’re just, Isabel, Izzy, Bella, I’m good with all.


14. Warm or cold?

This is a squishier quality than some of the others. Are you attracted to names that are vibrant and friendly? Or do you prefer names that are buttoned-up and formal? Examples: Liam or William, Maisie or Margaret.


15. Everyman or aristocrat?

Many people may be repelled by the idea that some names signal the masses while others are reserved for the classes. It feels like something out of Downton Abbey, and indeed many contemporary names defy antiquated class typing. And yet, deep down, many people if pressed could state an instant preference of the pair: I’d pick the everyman name, every time.


16. Popular or rare?

OK, this is an easy one. Kind of. Though we know via name consulting that people have very different ideas of what constitutes popular and rare. Some people define popular names as those in the Top 10, while others say that’s the Top 1000. Meaning that along with your choice, you have to pick a way to define.


17. Old or new?

Basically, do you want a name your grandma has heard of?


18. Loved or respected?

If a name had the magical ability to make your child grow up surrounded by love or respect, which quality would you pick for them? Don’t worry, in real life, your child can have both. But if you had to put one first, your choice might lead you to a name that evokes the corresponding emotion.


19. Brains or beauty?

Another antiquated idea – our children all can have both, no one has to choose! And yet, if you did…

  Benjamin or Beau?

  Eleanor or Eliana?

  Genius who happens to be gorgeous, or knockout with a Ph.D.?


20. Loud or quiet?

Would you prefer a name that commands attention, that announces your child as a person to whom attention must be paid? Or would you rather your child announce themselves, with a name that lets them define their presence on their own terms. Good examples of this might be Beyoncé and Taylor.


Read more baby name advice


About the Author


Pamela Redmond

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  Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry and Baby Name DNA. The coauthor of ten groundbreaking books on names, Redmond is an internationally-recognized baby name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show, CNN, and the BBC. She has written about baby names for The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and People.

  Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its sequel, Older. She has three new books in the works.

  View all of Pamela Redmond's articlesChevron - Right

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