Expert explains the science behind baby-naming and why Italian names are on the rise

When it comes time to choose a name for the newest addition to your family, the task can seem daunting. Should you go traditional or pick something unique? Gender neutral or clearly boy or girl?

Bruce Lansky, author of 5-Star Baby Name Advisor, along with many other baby name books, offers his advice to parents who want to pick the right name for their little one.

In your book you rate 1,800 different names on a five star scale. How did you determine how many stars each name received?

There are about six or seven factors I based the stars on. The first is first impression. I did a survey of about 1,000 people online asking them what comes to mind when they hear a particular name. So the impressions were either favorable, neutral or unfavorable.

Another consideration is when you tell someone the name, if they ask, “How do you spell that?” That tells me the kid will have a spelling problem, even if you choose the most popular spelling. If you’ve sent out a birth announcement and someone says “How do you pronounce that?” you know you have a practical problem as well. These are all problems that could create a mark down in the rating.

I also looked at whether a name was gender confusing and if the popularity was increasing or decreasing. When a trend goes down people are saying, “I found a more appealing alternative.” What the rating does really tell you, mostly with practical issues, is whether this name will be more of a joy than a pain in the bottom.

What trends are you currently seeing with baby names?

Boys’ names are usually more traditional and girls’ names are more cyclical, but with both there are “choice clusters,” which describes names that are up or down in ’07 from ’06. Clusters that went up-Gabriella and Isabella, and my sense is that people like names with Italian/Spanish romance to them and the –bella ending.Sophia and Sophie, which was the number one rising name, and Audrey and Aubrey both also rose dramatically.

On the boys’ side, the one big choice was Jayden and Brayden, although interestingly Caiden was down. If you look into top 100 you see these mini trends where people like sound-alike names. Cooper and Wyatt are also on the rise, which are both cute and different with a Western flavor.

What advice do you have for parents who are looking for a “different” name?

It’s a great thing for people to strive for, but the odds are low of finding a unique name that is miraculously great. On the other hand, the odds of getting a good response when you try a name out and it’s popular are high. My encouragement goes out to people who want to look for names in odd places, and I encourage you to try, but I also encourage you to do your homework and figure out every possible thing that could go wrong with that name.

“Boy did I have a hard time trying to convince my husband not to name our son after him-Roosevelt Jason. I borrowed one of my friend’s baby names book and I found Jadon. I told him that the name would be just like his middle name except we were changing the “s” to a “d.” He finally gave in. I wouldn’t have been able to stomach Roosevelt as my child’s first name, no matter how distinguished it sounds.”

Tameika R. Randle

“My husband was not as eager to start the baby naming process as I was so it took quite awhile. Late in my pregnancy, I had a dream in which I called the baby Sarah. So I told my husband her name was Sarah and that was that-she had to be named!”

Penny Pierce

“My husband is Italian so he really wanted Italian names. My second child was a girl (and) we were undecided between two names. Unfortunately his father passed away suddenly, thus throwing me into preterm labor. When my daughter was born, we were still undecided on which name to give her. On the back of (my father-in-law’s obituary) was an advertisement for a play, the name, Isabella. That was one of our two names. Thus my daughter is Isabella Athena (my middle name).”

Alexandrea Baietto

“My oldest daughter is named Alaina June. The meaning and origin varies by spelling, but it is Irish and means precious and beautiful. June is after my mom who passed away when I was 8½ months pregnant with Alaina. My middle daughter is Abigail Grace. Grace was from the song “Amazing Grace.” Abby’s due date was 9/11/01, and although she didn’t appear till 9/29 the song was heard a lot during that time and reminded us of the amazing grace of God. My youngest daughter was named Marisa Joan. We struggled for three days on a name at the hospital for her-my husband came up with Marisa and we all agreed as a family that we like the name. Her middle name, Joan, is after her grandmother on my husband’s side.”

Karen Mowinski

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