Tips on picking the best baby names

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While it doesn’t quite match the pain of childbirth, choosing a name for a new baby can nevertheless be agonising.

Such an important decision can weigh heavily on parents-to-be, because whatever they choose will, of course, identify their child for life.

And while a baby’s name ought to be simply one both parents like, the truth can be far more complicated than that.

Siobhan Thomas, author of Best Baby Names 2014, featuring more than 8,000 names and their meanings, says that in addition to finding the ‘perfect’ name and both parents agreeing on it, they will often want to make sure that the name’s not too popular, that it goes with their surname, and that the initials don’t spell out something undesirable.

“My key piece of advice when parents are choosing a baby name is to consider the name in full, with the surname, and apply it in their minds not only to a baby and young child, but to a teenager and an adult in different scenarios, like a graduate trying to find a job,” advises Thomas.

“Even if you think it’s wrong to judge people on names, that doesn’t mean other people won’t judge them.

“It’s the first thing people know about you, and often the only thing they know. It can definitely be detrimental to first impressions.”

Every year, certain names rise in popularity, and often go out of favour again just as quickly.

Thomas stresses there’s no accurate way to predict which names will be popular, but they’re often related to events that occur during the year. For 2014, it’s predicted names from TV programmes may influence choices, with names like Anya and Darcey (from Strictly Come Dancing) and Finn (from Breaking Bad) all having gained popularity over the last few months.

That said, surprisingly, the birth of Prince George in July isn’t thought to have sparked a multitude of baby Georges, although it’s always been a popular traditional name and was 12th in the 2012 list of baby names published by the Office for National Statistics.

Thomas points out: “Many people want something a bit unique for their baby, so he’s not the third George in class, for example.

“But it is likely the name will now see a fresh boost to its popularity.”

Traditional names generally feature high in the popular names charts, and Thomas suggests that next year might see classic names like Oliver, Olivia, Grace and Jacob continue to be placed near the top of the charts.

She points out that while names like these, and ‘royal’ names like George, William and Harry might not have been climbing in popularity, it doesn’t really matter as they were already in the top 10 anyway.

“Every name comes and goes in the chart, but the newer ones tend to be fleeting and the traditional Royal names will never stray far from the top,” she says.

According to Babynames.co.uk, where Thomas (the author not the boy’s name!) is a senior editor, other names that have become more popular recently are Esme, Jonah, Poppy, Addison and Reuben.

However, the most popular names aren’t always the ones parents want to choose. Thomas, opted for more unusual names for her new baby, Austin Richard Hayden, who was born at the end of November, and for her two daughters, Erin Rose, aged three, and Cora Elizabeth, aged two.

Straying a little away from traditional names is why many parents decide not to tell wider family or friends the name they have chosen until after the baby’s born, as chances are some members of the family won’t like it.

“That takes the sparkle off it a bit, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter, as once the baby’s born they’ll forget they didn’t like the name,” reassures Thomas.

Name associations are also important, she says, for reasons that can be as simple as people thinking certain names are too ‘posh’ or too ‘common’, usually through personal experience.

Another reason for discarding a name you and/or your partner like may be that a friend has called their baby by that name.

“I wouldn’t name my children the same name as any of my friend’s children, even if I loved the name,” admits Thomas, “and I think a lot of people feel that way.”

She says one of the more unusual names she’s heard is Geronimo, although she points out that while it’s quite a strange name in the UK, in other cultures it’s derived from Jeremy and isn’t seen as particularly strange.

The name Hashtag, however, reportedly given to a baby girl in the US last year, is perhaps universally bizarre, she concedes.

“There’s no law in the UK to stop that kind of name being used, although there is in some other countries,” says Thomas.

“I think the number of people who would actually give their child a ridiculous name is quite small, although some people’s definition of ridiculous is broader than others.”

As a final warning, Thomas says: “Children can be very unkind to each other, and if they have a name that makes them even more easy to bully, that’s something you’ve inflicted on them and it’s something that parents need to consider very seriously.”

Top 10 boys and girls names for 2013, from babynames.co.uk

1. Noah; Ava

2. Oscar; Freya

3. Oliver; Isla

4. Jacob; Grace

5. Isaac; Amelia

6. Dylan; Ella

7. Ethan; Eva

8. William; Olivia

9. Harry; Alice

10. Jack; Mia