Sorry: There Are No Nickname Proof Names…


…But There Are Assumed vs. Optional Nicknames

A few years ago I remember an expectant mother lamenting that she loved the name Samuel, but hated Sam. She was pleading to the internet community, looking for validation.

“Can I name my son Samuel and avoid having him called Sam?”, she asked hopefully.

So many people were willing to tell her what she wanted to hear.

If you know me, you know I am not one to tell people what they want to hear.

I was the lone dissenting voice.

Something to remember when picking a name: When kids become older, the name becomes theirs not the parents.

The parents give the name, but the kid owns it.

Maybe this mom can successfully insist on Samuel for a few years, but once her son becomes older, if he decides he prefers to be called Sam, there’s little she can do.

Compounding this problem is that, for Samuel, Sam is the assumed nickname.

Names with assumed nicknames are like package deals. I would suggest to parents who don’t love the assumed nickname to avoid these names no matter how much they love them. (If the parents also happen to love the assumed nickname, that’s a different story.)

Few names are nickname-proof, but some names that have optional, and not assumed nicknames.

What does that mean?

Since the most recent Reader Q&A Video post was about an unwanted nickname, now seems like a good time to discuss assumed vs. optional nicknames.

Some names have assumed nicknames. This means that there is only one, possibly two nicknames that are widely used and are often assumed.

Then there are optional nicknames. Optional nicknames are ideal in my opinion. These names either are very unusual with one or two little-known nicknames or they have so many nicknames that most people won’t assume any of them.

The infamous Elizabeth is one of these names that has so many nicknames that no one should assume someone named Elizabeth goes by any of them.

But Elizabeth is an easy example.

An example of a name that is very unusual to the point where few people would know any nicknames is Bisma. (There were 6 Bisma’s born in the US in 2012.)

And of course there’s the name from the most recent Reader Q&A video, Philomena, another unusual name. The name is susceptible to being shortening due to its length, but there are a few options: Philly, Philo, Mena, Mina, Millie, and possibly others. Due to the unusualness of the name and the number of nicknames, none of them can be assumed.

Do you want other examples of names with optional nicknames?

Of course you do.

Here are some former UBN Spotlight Names that fit this category.

And if you are not familiar with Spotlight names the list may look a bit eclectic to you. That’s the idea. Some of these are part of a Spotlight Name series such as Great-grandparent Names and Unfairly Dated Names. (You can learn more about these series by visiting the UBN Spotlight Names page.)

(Each name links to the original post.)

Name Spotlight Name Series
Aida Spotlight Name
Aletha Spotlight Name
Amos Spotlight Name
Amy Unfairly Dated
April Unfairly Dated
Balthazar Spotlight Name
Begonia Spotlight Name
Bianca Spotlight Name
Blythe Name To Watch
Casimir Spotlight Name
Clive Spotlight Name
Eartha Spotlight Name
Effie Spotlight Name
Etta Spotlight Name
Farrah Failure to Launch
Heather Unfairly Dated
Helen Great-Grandparent
Hillary Failure to Launch
Humphrey Unexpectedly Familiar
Lara Failure to Launch
Lavinia Spotlight Name
Lottie Great-Grandparent
Mack Failure to Launch
Marlon Spotlight Name
Mary Spotlight Name
Mindy Failure to Launch
Ocie Great-Grandparent
Ophelie Spotlight Name
Perry Spotlight Name
Phaedra Spotlight Name
Rafe Spotlight Name
Rhea Spotlight Name
Roscoe Spotlight Name
Ross Spotlight Name
Tennessee Unexpectedly Familiar
Wallis Failure to Launch

It’s worth repeating: I can’t claim these names are nickname proof. A nickname proof name is one without any nicknames.

But as UBN reader Elizabeth recently discovered, there is no such thing as a nickname proof names. There will always be people who insist on finding a nickname for everyone.

What I am saying is that these names don’t have assumed nicknames. While 90% of Michael’s are called “Mike,” the names on this list don’t have that fate, the fate of an assumed nickname.

Names with optional nicknames do have a downside: these names may be more susceptible to unwanted nicknames from friends and family.

But like I said to Elizabeth (who was disappointed that family members had shortened Philomena into “Philly”): you can’t control what other people call your child, but you can control what you call your child and you should keep calling your child whatever you like.

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Photo Credit: seanmcgrath via Compfight cc

The Little Known Truth About Long Name Lists


I ditched one of my “brilliant” ideas. (I decided to focus on another one of my ideas instead.)

When deciding what to publish on UBN, and what to put in the circular file (otherwise known as the trash heap), I strive not only to entertain, but help my readers as well.

This rejected idea was an expansion on my surprising name series. Here the posts in this series:

I thought, “If 4 or 5 surprising names are good then 100 or even 1000 surprising names must be better, right?”

A “brilliant” idea was born.

I planned to write a series of ebooks called 1000 Surprising [insert theme here] Names.

The possibilities were endless. I was getting giddy.

And then—inevitably—problems arose.

I’m not the type to abandon every idea once the inevitable roadblock strikes. But in this case, I decided to re-evaluate this “brilliant” ebook series idea.

Here were the two biggest problems which are related:

Problem 1. Finding 1000 names to fit any given theme was one thing, finding 1000 *good* names (while sticking to the theme) was quite another.

Problem 2. Long name lists might be entertaining, but are they truly helpful to expectant parents? This may seem counterintuitive, but I’m not sure long name lists are really all that helpful.

More than once, I have come across parents struggling to find a baby name who said they had considered what seemed like “just about every name in existence.”

My evidence is anecdotal.

But I have found a study that supports my anecdotal evidence. The study doesn’t focus on baby names, but rather jam.


If you are not familiar with this jam experiment, which has been cited often by marketers and psychologists, here’s the story:

Using samples of jam at a high-end grocery store, Columbia University professor Sheena Iyengar tested which customers were more likely to buy: those presented with a large number of choices or a small number of choices.

One Saturday, a group of customers was given a choice of 24 jams to sample. The following Saturday, the other group was given a choice of six jams to sample.

  • The 24 jams attracted 60% of customers, but only 3% of those people bought any jam.
  • The six jam display attracted 40% of customers, but 30% of those bought jam.

While the display with 24 jams attracted more people, the display with six jams convinced more people to buy.

In another Iyengar study, participants presented with a box of six chocolates were more likely to be satisfied with their choice than those who were presented with a box of 30 chocolates. Those presented with 30 chocolates were more likely to feel remorse after making their choice.

Iyengar, who has built a career studying how people make choices, supports a belief that most people like the idea of many options but, in practice, feel more confident about their decisions after choosing from a small list of options.

How Does This Apply To Baby Names?

While the theoretical number of baby name choices available to Americans hasn’t really grown in the past few decades, the number of socially acceptable choices has.

Before 1997, the top 1000 US baby names were not publicly available and accessible at any time on the internet. Maybe once a year the top 10 or top 20 US baby names were published in the newspaper.

The number of baby name books available has also expanded in the past couple of decades. A search on Amazon with key words “baby names” under the “books” category results in over 34,000 choices (at time of writing).

And yet even with these extensive choices, baby name regret is on the rise, according to Laura Wattenberg, author of The Baby Name Wizard book and blog.

Wattenberg’s belief that more baby name options lead to more baby name regret is supported by Professor Iyengar’s jam and chocolate experiments. (And I’m getting hungry.)

I suspect many options = buyer’s remorse might stem from people’s fear of closing doors.

The 24 jam display gave the customer 23 chances to get it wrong. I speculate that analysis paralysis set in which led to customers opting out of purchasing jam. With the six jam display, there were only five chances to get it wrong, reducing the risk of commitment and therefore convincing more customers to buy.

Of course no parent can opt out of picking a baby name.

Sure, you might have more time than you think to pick a baby name, depending on where you live, but sooner or later baby needs a name.

And if you are looking for a baby name, would a list of 1000 botanical names really help you? How about 1000 nickname names or 1000 astrological names?

Sure these books would be fun to read, but I believe UBN readers are smart and expect more. They appreciate entertainment but realize that finding that one right name is better than wading through name list after name list.

UBN readers want practical information on names ahead of the curve.

Practical information on names ahead of the curve does not exclude name lists. There will still be name lists on UBN because I know that reader’s love them, but name lists will focus on quality over quantity.

And that’s the story behind why I decided not to do the 1000 Surprising Names ebook series.

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Jam Image Credit: By jammmick [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Video Presentation: Visiting The 80 Year Rule


Recently I shared with Nameberry readers which names from the 1930’s are most likely to come back in style within the next couple of decades.

Why did I focus on the 1930’s?

Because the 1930’s was about 80 years ago, positioning these names for revival based on the 80 (or 100 year rule). This rule is based the theory that popular names recycle every 80-100 years–or every four generations.

This site was created to help parents find names ahead of the curve. Understandably, to find these names, I sometimes rely on the 80-100 year recycle theory. But this theory is more complex than simply recycling the top ranking names from 80 years ago.

I explain why this is in my video presentation, Visiting The 80 Year Rule.

This presentation shows how top ranking names from 80 years ago stuck around a lot longer than they do today, and why this affects the 80 year rule.

Bonus: The video presentation also includes an “Alternative Universe Top 20”.

In this alternative universe, 2012’s top 20 girl names still change at 1933 rates.

See the presentation and become an UBN email follower by entering your email address below.

How To Confidently Name The Child You Haven’t Met


Afraid to commit to your baby’s name before giving birth?

You’re not alone.

One big concern of many expectant parents is the pressure to find that perfect name that will suit their child for life. Considering that much about an unborn baby is unknown, finding a suitable name can be a tall order.

Many UBN readers expressed this concern when I asked email followers to share their biggest baby name challenges.

This concern is also shared by blogger Kelcey Kintner who wrote about baby name regret on parenting blog Alpha Mom.

Convinced that she was having a boy with her second child, Kintner hadn’t considered many girl names. When her suspicion turned out wrong, she hastily picked a name for her daughter that never seemed right.

Finally after six months, she got up the courage to broach the subject of a name change with her husband. He finally agreed to the name change, and her daughter adopted a new moniker at age 8 months.

Kintner is very happy with her choice and feels the new name, Summer, suits her child better than the original name, which she never mentions.

I’ve come across many parents who have considered a name change for their baby and I began to realize the practice may be more common than I thought.

And while a name change is no walk in the park, thankfully the option exists for many.

One warning: if you are considering a name change for your baby, the sooner the change is made the better, but certainly the change should happen before the baby’s first birthday.

But understandably, most of us would like to avoid changing our baby’s name.

And not everyone who is dissatisfied with their baby’s name chooses to change it.

Kintner spoke to another regretful mother who grew to accept the chosen name was meant for her baby, despite her initial misgivings. Kinter writes:

By the time Banks and her husband came up with a new name, she felt like her daughter had grown into her original name so they decided to stick with it.

This same mom (who is identified by the pseudonym Melissa Banks) did express concern over the pressure she felt to pick her baby’s name:

But Banks does think moms should be given more time to hold, feed and get to know their baby before being pressured into picking a name.

And another commenter to Kintner’s article, who simply referred to herself as “A”, echoed feeling this same pressure:

“The hospital comes in with the paperwork before you even get a second to shower after labor!”

The question is: where does this pressure come from? Is there really a rule stating that all babies must be named before leaving the hospital or is this a myth?

In the U.S., the answer varies by state, but in most cases, you are allowed to leave the hospital with a nameless baby. The deadline for picking a name for the birth certificate varies by state and there may be fees involved for selecting a name after certain deadlines.

Hospitals are known to pressure parents to pick a name before heading home with baby. And picking a name the day your baby is born simplifies the paperwork. But if you arm yourself with research from your local government offices, you may not have to cave to the pressure.

With that said, I have always been the type who felt most comfortable picking a name long before my children were born. My belief is that most people grow into their names, even if they don’t fit a certain stereotype for any given name.

But I have come to empathize with expectant parents who worry about whether a name will fit their unborn baby. After all, there is so much mystery surrounding an unborn baby’s appearance and personality.

Adding to the predicament is that a name that perfectly fits a sweet newborn, may be inappropriate on a 50-year-old. I can certainly understand the apprehension behind picking a name that will fit a child for life.

For people who are worried about a name fitting their baby, I suggest the following:

  1. Think of the names you like without worrying too much about whether they fit at first.
  2. Ask yourself if you or your partner could live with the name. Could you pull off the name? Eliminate any names that seem out-of-place.
  3. Imagine each name on your (and if possible, your partner’s) relatives. Could your relatives pull off the name? Eliminate any more names that seem out-of-place.

Without knowing who your baby will become, the best you can do is test drive the name on your baby’s relatives since most people tend to be like their relatives. (At least in appearance and certain mannerisms.)

And in the end, perhaps coming to the hospital with a list—but not a long list—is a good idea. A list of 3-6 names is enough to give you options without resulting in overwhelm.

And hopefully take comfort in knowing that, as with every other parenting decision, you did the best you could.

Readers: Do you feel more comfortable picking a name before or after your baby is born?

References for legal timeframe for picking a name:

Photo credit

Why Friends & Family Make Lousy Baby Name Consultants

crazy-babyBaby names is a topic where almost everyone passes judgement.

But having the strongest opinion doesn’t make someone the most qualified.

While some expectant parents prefer to keep their baby name list to themselves, others poll everyone they know for suggestions and feedback.

The selection-by-committee approach may make sense to some people. The argument is that friends and family can give the expectant parents an idea of how the name will be perceived.

Now your friends and family are probably good people. However they shouldn’t have the last word in your baby’s name. In most cases, your friends and family have their own biases and agendas.

Their Biases

People from older generations are more likely to have dated tastes. They may not understand the appeal of many names that were in the top 100 last year, such as Serenity.

Your family members from older generations might scoff at many fashionable picks and instead suggest names that were fashionable when they were having kids–names that are most likely a generation or two behind.

In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with some names that are a generation or two behind, but if you want a name that is appropriate for your child’s generation, steer clear of your Mom’s suggestions of Brittany and Crystal, and your Grandma’s suggestions of Barbara.

Unless you are going for a retro name and even in that case, other names from earlier generations such as Heidi, Tara or Susan would make better choices for a modern baby. This is because Heidi, Tara and Susan are examples of names with a timeless or cross-generational style, meaning these names are more likely to come back in style soon.

You also want to avoid every friend and family member ruining every name on your list because they had a bad personal experience with the name.

For example:

Charlotte could be your grandfather’s buddy’s nasty stepmother.

Isaac could be your co-worker’s cousin’s bratty toddler.

And so on…

Their Agendas

Your peers may be having kids of their own. If they are the competitive sort they will either:

  1. Keep the names they really love to themselves and suggest their second choice names.
  2. Make a note of your contender names and poach them for their next baby.

And family members who are done having kids have their own agendas.

Your family might have naming traditions that you may not wish to continue or you may wish to put your own stamp on an old tradition. Maybe you prefer to begin your own tradition. If any of these situations sound familiar, your family may not understand your personal preferences.

And even if there are no naming traditions in the family on either side, certain family members may see your baby as an opportunity to pass on a name they never could.

Your mother-in-law may jump at the chance to suggest you name your son after her favorite grandfather. But if you or your partner never knew this grandfather or dislike his name, you should feel in no way obligated to use it. Yet if your mother-in-law is strong-willed, you might dread the fall-out from your independent decision.

Due to their own biases and agendas, friends and family will more likely suggest names that are in one way or another meaningful to them, and not necessarily you.

The Solution

At this point, you might be wondering if I am suggesting that you keep all names between you and your partner.

The risk with that is the chance you could overlook potential problems with a name.

The ideal is to share your baby name challenges with an independent adviser who can be your sounding board.

That’s why I’m offering private baby name coaching on Upswing Baby Names.

I have had the privilege of helping UBN readers with their baby name dilemmas in the past. From these experiences, I developed a reputation for being honest about a name’s drawbacks yet still sensitive with my client’s individual tastes and needs.

Unlike a Q&A blog post, private consultations are completely confidential. There’s no need to obscure your last name, an important consideration when choosing any name, for fear your baby name questions will be found by friends and family through online searches.

If you or anyone you know is struggling to find the right name, go here to learn more.

And I understand you may have questions, which in that case you can contact me here.

FYI: If I get the same questions often, I will put them into a FAQ.

Naming a newborn baby is one of the first major parenting decisions you will make, one that can be fraught with anxiety, but it doesn’t have to be.

I firmly believe that the right names find the right people. I love to help overwhelmed parents feel confident that they have found that right name.

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