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What's In A Name?

When my wife, Anna, and I decided we weren't going to find out the gender of our new baby, we thought it would be a fun surprise and add some excitement to the whole birthing process (as if it needed any more). One thing we overlooked is how this decision doubled our burden of coming up with possible names.

To be sure, choosing the name Rachel for our first child was an agonizing process that involved list upon list, and lots of late night bargaining. But we're very happy with our choice.

And that's a good thing. It turns out that 3 percent of parents regret the name they gave their child, according to 2007 survey by the website Babycenter.com.

To make sure we steer clear of that statistic, Anna and I have gone back to many of our trusty resources, the first being a free one -- the Social Security Administration's list of the 1,000 most popular names. This is great place for getting a sense of all the names out there. It's also good to note that we don't have to fret about being unoriginal if our choice happens to be among the top ten because, in general, baby names are much more varied then they were in the past. When my parents were born, the top ten list accounted for nearly half of all names out there, these days it's less than 10 percent. So, should we choose one of last year's number one names [like] Jacob or Isabella, we don't have to worry about twenty other kids in the neighborhood having the same name.

Of course, there's far more to consider than just popularity. In her many baby naming books, author Linda Rosenkrantz shares the origin and meaning of names and groups them in lists like celebrity names, ethnic names, and names that are associated with everything from hippies to cowboys. Rosenkrantz also has cautionary tips for namers, such as watching out for ones that are hard to pronounce.

When I talked her she warned me about the perils of potential tongue twisters like Sacha Sachs. She told me:

"Samantha Sachs, okay, but Sacha Sachs gets really stuck in your mouth a little bit."

Another thing Anna and I are considering is honoring family and culture. One Jewish tradition my parents followed was naming a child after a relative who has passed away. This explains how I got stuck with the middle name Eugene. While there's always been a part of me that's been proud to carry on the memory of my grandfather, there's also the practical side of me that knew it was best to keep that personal tidbit a secret throughout my teenage years. (Fortunately, for our future offspring it's also a Sachs family tradition to just reuse the initials of relatives.)

The last lesson Anna and I learned from our first baby naming experience: keep our list of potential names on lockdown. It's not that our family or friends are particularly nosy, it's just that Anna and I don't need anyone else butting in with their opinions.

I mean, haven't I just explained that the process of naming your kid is tough enough already?

Rob Sachs is director for the program Tell Me More. Additionally, he hosts the podcast 'What Would Rob Do? An Irreverent Guide to Surviving Life's Daily Indignities.' He's authored a book by the same name.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rob Sachs
Rob Sachs is a director on the NPR news and talk show Tell Me More and hosts the podcast "What Would Rob Do?" (WWRD).