August 27, 2015

Your Choice Made Simple: A Baby Name Game for Expecting Parents

I can't believe I'm about to say this, but my husband and I have chosen a name for our little girl, due in four months. I'm so excited, we both love her name, and we actually had a lot of fun making the choice. I just have to share how we did it!

I've written about how hard choosing a name is before, and I'll say it again: choosing a name can be tough! I'm surrounded by names every day, and I fill my spare time with reading about them, researching them, and writing about them. So how does a person obsessed with names even begin to make a choice? I'm going to tell you our secret for making it pretty easy.



You may need to do a little ground work first. If you already have a big list of names you and your partner both like, skip to the third step below.

First, write down your favorite names separately.
Keep this part fun! Sit down with a name book (that's not too long) if it's helpful. Don't pressure yourself or overthink things. If you like the sound of it and can see it on your child, it goes on the list. When all is said and done, you probably have a pretty long list. That's good!

Have your partner do the same thing, separately from you. Don't try to influence each other just yet.

Next, write down the names you had in common.
Compare the lists you've made and only write down names that appeared on both. My husband and I had a list of 15 names that we both happened to like. That's pretty good! If you and your partner only have a few, don't panic. That just makes your choice easier! If you want more in the pool, agree to disagree about the names you love for the moment.

Third, write down every name you both like on index cards.
Write down one name per card and keep them as uniform as you can, on the same kinds of cards and in the same pen/marker. My husband and I allowed for emergency write-ins before the exercise. That turned out to be pretty important, as two of our last minute favorites that we'd overlooked ended up in our top five!

If you are planning on finding out your baby's sex, wait to play this game until after that anatomy scan. Otherwise, play it twice—once for a girl and once for a boy.

Let the games begin!

Keeping the mood light and having an open mind here is key. It may help to think of this as a way to pick your top two names if you aren't ready to settle on just one. Put on some happy music, grab your favorite name book, and keep an internet connection handy. Oh, and set aside a couple of hours. Here's how you play the game.


  1. Shuffle the cards (face down).
  2. Flip over two of the cards and stop there.
    Consider and discuss those two names and choose your favorite (together!) among them. You'll be surprised at how simple this is! In the beginning the game is fairly easy, unless you happen to get two of your absolute top choices pitted against each other. If that happens, they can both go back in the keep pile during the first round.
  3. Put the eliminated name in a discard pile. This can be a tough moment. But if you love Logan more than Nathan, there's no need to keep Nathan in the running. Then put the name you liked best in the keep pile.
  4. Start over with two new cards.
    Repeat until you've gone through all of them. If you have an uneven number, put the single card leftover at the end in the keep pile and then start the process over again. 
  5. Reshuffle the keep cards, face down. And repeat from step 2.
Rounds two and up can be tough. You may want to look ahead to my tips on discussing the merits of a name. At this point, you and your partner should eliminate a card every time, no matter what. I want you to know, I feel your pain—when my husband and I were confronted with a pair that we loved, we both groaned as soon as it came up. But as it turns out we really didn't love two names equally, and there was a pretty simple deciding factor every time. Try to keep an open mind and think about how exciting it'll be once you've found the right name for your child together.

That's it! You'll end up narrowing down the options until you arrive at your number once choice. We saved our top five names as a keepsake, but we're almost 100% sure we'll be writing down our top pick at the hospital. It's amazingly simple and, from my experience, it's actually fun!

By the way, you can repeat this game with a stack of middle name choices as well if you'd like. For us, the middle name was very quick and pretty painless to discuss.

Discuss the merits of a name.
Some things to help you choose between names include...

  • Sound: Say the names out loud, say them with your surname, pretend you are calling them to come inside for dinner, practice introducing them as your son or daughter ("this is my son, Ethan"), and say them with any of their sibling names. Consider whether the names sound very similar to other names and if they'll be mistaken a lot at first (and whether that's important to you) i.e. Would a Maisie be heard as Macy quite often? And if so, does that matter to you?
  • On paper: Imagine how they'd look on a family letter or Christmas card (Love, the Emersons ~ Brian, Lisa, Caroline, and Maxwell). Will teachers be able to read the name easily during roll call? Think about initials too.
  • Nicknames: Consider any nicknames that come from the names in front of you, and how much you like those. If one name has a nickname and one doesn't, talk about whether you prefer the name to be straightforward or to have versatility. (It's all a matter of preference.)
  • Meaning (of all kinds): Look up each name's meaning and see if you personally connect with it. Then broaden that discussion. Is the origin of the name special to you? Are there family members with the name? Does it reflect your faith or values? Answering these questions will help you discover any reason one name may be more dear to you than the other.
  • Popularity: If you're concerned about the popularity of your child's name, look up where it ranks. But be careful here—there's nothing wrong with choosing a popular name (or vise versa, choosing a very rare name) if that's what speaks to you the most. It may help to know that when I was born, my name was the #20 name for girls, but I never had to share it with another girl in my class.
  • Pop Culture: Look up the names on Baby Name Wizard if you have hit a tough spot. Pay attention to the comments, and any celebrity icons or fictional characters that have this name. If there are any negative associations, decide how important they are to you.
  • Roadblocks: Is it too similar to your own name, the name of a cousin, etc? Do you have a bad/weird association with it? Is there some sort of unfortunate teasing potential? If there's a roadblock with one of the names, now is a great time to make sure you've thought about it.
  • Perfectionism: Even though I seem to love just about every name out there, I can also see the flaws in every name. There's no such thing as the perfect name, just the perfect name for your child. Your top choice may have one factor that you wish were a little different, like it's a bit more popular than you'd like, for example. It's all a matter of deciding what's important to you and what doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. It will all be worth it to call your child by their name for the first time.
  • Conflict: If you and your partner can't agree on a name, it should probably go in the discard pile. In the end it would never work for your child's name to be one that you or your partner just can't get on board with, so keep in mind there are lots of other names out there that will soon have your heart melting. 
Basically, once you're down to your top five names it's best to make sure you've really thought about and discussed the names to help you in any tough spots. My husband and I love making the decision by considering the sound first, then meaning, then popularity. You'll probably intuitively know what priorities you have for a name as well.

Pretty simple, huh?
Sometimes we were shocked to see how incredibly easy it was to choose between two names, and factors that we'd never thought about before made things really clear. That usually happened when we said the names out loud. If swooning happens even over a name you didn't expect to like as much as the other, go with the one that made you swoon. Listen to your heart, people!

So, where'd we get this idea? The short answer is my husband is awesome. The longer answer is that he's a licensed therapist and this paired comparison technique (or pairwise comparison) is used to help people because we can all get a little overwhelmed when faced with too many options, but when we have just two it becomes a lot easier. Or as I like to say, it's kind of like baby naming magic.

We loved using this method instead of trying to pick out our one-and-only from a huge list. I hope you do too!

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