What not to name the baby

Sophia was the No. 1 name for baby girls in 2011. It comes from the Greek word for “wisdom.” Jacob, the No. 1 name for boys, has its roots in the Bible. Mason, the No. 2 name for boys, means the child of a D-list celebrity. It can also mean a bricklayer or a member of a secret society, but much more important, it is what Kourtney Kardashian named her baby, and she is obviously a role model for young parents. Kourtney is American English for “my mother can’t spell.”

If young parents have one guiding principle, it is this: We will never do anything the way our parents did — we are going to do things right. We will never give our children silly names they will hate. We will never make them eat food they don’t like. We will never make them go to bed early. We will never embarrass them in public. They will have their own space. They will get a high-powered sports car the moment they turn 16. We will never snoop on them or try to see what they’ve been looking at on the Internet.

That lasts about a month. But by then, the damage is done. The parents have already named the kid Snoop or Snooki or Picabo or Hagbard, which is startling when you realize that they have been thinking of names from the moment they knew they were going to have a baby. Aside from those women you occasionally read about who have 9-pound babies and then say, “I had no idea I was pregnant,” no parent slaps his or her forehead as the umbilical cord is cut and says, “Oh, we forgot to think about a name! What should we call the baby?”

No, most couples have been going back and forth on this question for months. They try out possible nicknames that the bullies might use to taunt their child in second grade, making sure the first name and the last name together don’t say something unintentionally funny, like the famously and unfortunately named Texas heiress, Ima Hogg. Some will try to figure out a name that will get the most free baby-sitting from the grandparents. They will pore over books of names, rejecting the old-fashioned ones — Fanny, Maude, Petunia, Ebenezer, Cotton, Richard III — the overused ones and the ones they never liked.

Any schoolteacher can tell you tales of unique and unfortunate names and their many alternative spellings. There is a story making the rounds about a girl named “Female,” pronounced to rhyme with “tamale.”

Most parents are searching for something unique but not bizarre, a name that not everyone in the child’s first-grade class will have. Unfortunately, every other parent is thinking the same way. So they finally pick a name that seems fresh and new, different but not odd, and four years from now find out that half the kids in preschool are named Harper or Mason. “How did that happen?” wonder the parents, Taylor and Austin.

While most babies will still get names that are gender-specific — Sophia for girls, Michael for boys — the rise of the gender-neutral name is very interesting. Is Austin a boy or a girl? Is Mason a boy or a girl? Ashley, Aubrey, Blake, Bentley, Easton? Will it help on a college or job application if it’s impossible to tell if the applicant’s a man or a woman?

What of the hidden meanings of names? Are Bubba and Junior the same as Chad and Brad? Who would you trust to do your taxes? Who would you ask about making killer moonshine? Would you rather marry a Dakota or a Tiffany? Who would be a better-looking groom, Winston or Wally? Does the name say more about the parent or the child?

Jim Mullen’s newest book, “How to Lose Money in Your Spare Time — At Home,” is available at amazon.com. You can follow him on Pinterest at pinterest.com/jimmullen.

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