The Baby Name Summit

Congrats, you're expecting a baby! Now, onto the tough part: choosing a baby name. Josie Ortega will help you think through the process and has plenty of tips on how to find the perfect name for your little one.

Baby Name Diplomacy

I’m one of those girls who loved perusing The Baby Name Book since middle school. (When I discovered the Baby Name Wizard? Forget about it. Hooked immediately. )

You won’t be surprised, then, to know that I’d developed solid frontrunner name lists for all of my future offspring, boys and girls. What I hadn’t counted on, though, was taking my husband’s preferences into consideration. It’s the story of marriage, isn’t it?

My cousin and her husband knew fate brought them together when they realized both of them always wanted to name a son Nicolai. When my husband vetoed my number one girl name (Lucy), I questioned what I’d formerly been convinced of . . . were we in fact M.F.E.O.?

Made for each other or not, we had a baby on the way.

I kept the advice of a veteran mama in the back of my mind: If you disagree on names, wait until after the birth to choose. Your husband will be so in awe and grateful that you went through labor, that he’ll let you do what you want.Fortunately, my husband and I came to an agreement by the end of the second trimester, and I didn’t need to resort to that level of manipulation—though I believe mothers across the land should reserve the right to do so. Childbirth is no joke.

Happily, I can report that the baby name battle need not doom your marriage before your family really gets going. The compromise and communication skills we practiced during our Name Summit were a mere foretaste of the teamwork and flexibility that became necessary once our darling daughter arrived!

The Name Summit

By the way, when I say “Baby Name Summit,” that’s accurate: we dedicated an afternoon of our vacation to an agreed-upon process of narrowing down name options. There were index cards, there were vetos, there was name-ranking and a point system.

We now have three kids, and fortunately, subsequent name selections became easier. We discussed our second daughter’s name over beers at Aunt Reba’s lake house one evening. (Still with paper and pen in hand.) Baby number three, a boy, got the simplest treatment. Perhaps due to exhaustion, we just talked about it like normal human beings, on a long drive with the girls asleep in the back seat. No voting or re-counts required.

Baby Name Criteria

Here are a few items we considered during the epic summit that resulted in our oldest daughter’s name, and in the subsequent—calmer—name conversations:

  • Family names: I love family names. You’ve got meaning, roots, background—something bigger than yourself—already built-in. My family is from Tennessee and Texas, my husband is from New York City by way of Mexico, so we had a nice variety of options for family names. But don’t even consider whether it’s possible to please everyone. It’s not, mis amigos.
  • Playground test: Are you comfortable shouting the kid’s name out in public, in front of God and everybody?
  • Blind date test: If you were set up on a blind date with someone of this name—or a job interview for that matter—what sort of idea would you have about the person before the meeting?
  • Popularity: I didn’t want a name that’s incredibly hot right now. We loved the name Zoe, but I vetoed it due to this factor. You can check names databases for the lists of top baby names for girls and boys each year. (Spoiler alert: by the time we got to kid #3, I didn’t mind so much. We're not unique or original.)
  • Meaning: What kind of legacy are you handing your kid from day one? When she becomes the crazy middle schooler perusing the baby name book, what will she take from the meaning of her own name?
  • Spanish/English: Since my husband’s family is Mexican, we were looking for names that could translate well in English or Spanish—or actually, not translate. For example, something like Sophia or Lydia is lovely for native speakers of either. I didn’t want something that’s awkward to say for Spanish speakers (like the J in my own name), and I didn’t want to choose a name so Spanish and en fuego that I’d have to change my own accent when saying it. “This is my daughter, Beatriz.” Love that name, but I would just feel dumb.

Choosing the Right Baby Name

We kept these criteria in mind, but the names we chose don’t meet all of them. (Nonetheless, if you know me IRL, you know that I’ll still judge you for your invented name with unnecessarily changed vowels and extra XXs.)

And certainly, there’s much more to consider: initials for monograms (of course!), potential nicknames, how names sound with your surname, etc. You might prefer a name that conveys femininity or masculinity or prefer one that's unisex. You may need to brush up on etymology or do some historical and cultural research in order to honor your heritage. Do you want an artsy name, a unique name, a popular baby name, a name with certain meanings or values?

In the end, you’ve got to go with whatever you want to do. If a name is popular, so what? Maybe because it’s beautiful!

The Results Are In

Here are the names we selected: Mary Tobin, Inez, and Jack. All are family names: Mary Tobin from my side; Inez named after my husband’s great aunt Inés; and Jack a nickname for John Jacob. Jingleheimer Smith, I know. (Considered that; don’t mind it.) John after many in my family, Jacob from my husband’s family. We also thought “Jack Ortega” could be a future president. No pressure. (Again, I know, I know. Obviously the girls could be president, too . . . feel free to judge me. )

We knew that not everyone would love each of these children's names or “get” them immediately. That’s why they’re in our family, not yours! We love them! And I think they fit these kids really well.

I’ll open up to you even further. Each time, we considered an edgier name—but I ultimately couldn’t handle them: Zuzu (short for Susanna), Zelda (my grandmother’s middle name), and Boaz (would go by Bo for short). I give these names to you freely! Use them! They’re very chic.

We Are Family

Believe it or not, after we’d narrowed the list to two final names at the original Name Summit, my husband was the one who pushed for Mary Tobin, the timeless family name from my side, instead of the trendy, rootless option I had championed. My husband is wise, and together we’d solved our dilemma with diplomatic aplomb. Looks like we were Made For Each Other after all.

Also, I have friends who changed their son’s name several weeks after he was born. So if it takes some pressure off, know that it’s possible to reconsider. It's all been done before.

Do you have the names of all your offspring chosen? How will you, or did you, decide?

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