Fun Friday Question: What name “rules” have you heard?

ETA: I forgot to start out by wishing you all a happy feast of St. Anne and St. Joachim!! I just finished a novena to our wonderful patroness St. Anne, which I offered for all of you and your intentions. ❤ ❤ ❤

I regularly hear from parents that they can’t use this name or that name because of some name “rule” they’ve heard or created in their own minds. I don’t mind rules at all, if that’s what you’re into! Name rules can help narrow down a long list of possibilities, and help clarify for parents what characteristics are important for them in the names they end up choosing for their children. Sometimes rules are even best served by being broken — for a parent to break his or her own rule in choosing a name for their child shows some real love for the chosen name — how wonderful! For my husband and I, our rules include (1) strong, saintly name, (2) gender specific, (3) traditional spelling and pronunciation, (4) sounds nice with last name, (5) honors family, (6) hasn’t been used by our siblings for their children (though this is more because we don’t want to offend others and less because we don’t want first cousins to share names), (7) fits with our older boys’ names in terms of style and feel, and (8) has a good nickname.

But these are all very subjective. In fact, I’m not sure “rules” is the right term — “preferences,” even “strong preferences,” even “non-negotiable preferences,” might be better.

Then there are the Objective Rules, of which there are … none. I’m not talking about requirements of the faith, like how for Catholics there’s the rule against bestowing names that are “foreign to Christian sensibility,” or how most Ashkenazic Jews won’t name babies for living relatives (though I’m very interested in hearing about “rules” in other faiths and cultures!), I’m talking about objective American naming rules. There are recommendations, sure. Bits of wisdom, yes. Cautions and advice, plenty. But rules? I’m not talking about “computers won’t allow for accents on official documents,” I’m talking about rules like:

–> The first and last name can’t start with the same letter (alliteration).

–> The first name and last name can’t have the same number of syllables (especially when it comes to one syllable).

–> A daughter shouldn’t have the same name as her mother.

–> You can’t give your child the same name as your niece/nephew/cousin/cousin’s child/friend/neighbor/acquaintance’s pet.

Those are some that I’ve heard explicitly from parents, or sometimes they’re only alluded to when parents are explaining their name dilemmas, and it makes me feel badly because sometimes parents get themselves all tied up in knots over things that they really don’t need to worry too much about. Swistle deals with this regularly in the letters parents write to her, and Abby from Appellation Mountain has tackled this as well (I love this):

I stumble across rules for naming children all the time. Sing along with me: no invented names, spell things correctly, use names for the appropriate gender … and on and on and on.

But language is slippery, and rarely obeys our efforts to put it into a neat little box. The same person who insists that names must have roots and be spelled properly will love Ryan (a name new to the US Top 1000 in the 1940s) and Connor (a 1980s debut … and didn’t the single ‘n’ spelling come first?)

Just recently a worried mother asked me if it’s true that first names and last names can’t have the same number of syllables, which actually inspired this post, so I compiled a list of famous people (real and fictional) with such names, which I think is a good demonstration of how little such a thing matters.

I’d love to hear from all of you: What “rules” have you heard? Did they affect your naming process and decisions? What preferences do you have that are non-negotiable? Have you ever broken one of your own rules? Happy Friday!


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon — perfect for the expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady in your life!

34 thoughts on “Fun Friday Question: What name “rules” have you heard?

  1. I am a rule person our kids have:
    1. At least one saint’s name
    2. At least one name honoring a deceased relative that we loved (only broken with our saint, and we only have one option left)
    3. At least one Irish name
    4. Girls have two middle names (because we couldn’t agree on a middle name for thr first girl)
    5. No duplicates among living family members
    6. No invented/trendy names
    7. No ambiguous gender names
    8. Girls have at least one Marian name

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My girls MUST have a 2 syllable, short and sweet first name followed by a very feminine longer middle name. Why? Because I’m crazy. Cannot for the life of me pinpoint exactly why I made this rule, but I can’t bend on it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am not a parent or even close to becoming one so I don’t have really any rules. But one thing I have a strong preference towards when thinking about future names is a name only having one pronunciation. I prefer this because to me, if I pick a name, lets say Madeline (mad-uh-lyn) and everyone uses the mad-uh-line (like the book) pronunciation, that feels like a whole different name and then the name I chose isn’t even getting used. It also feels like it would be frustrating to have to constantly correct people on the pronunciation.

    I also feel this way about spelling but to a lesser degree. I would prefer a name I chose to only have one spelling but if when I’m naming a future child, Catherine is all of a sudden my favorite name, I won’t nix it because of the existence of the K spelling!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My husband has a pronunciation bugaboo. He (a very chill, introverted guy) gets angry when he talks about words and names that aren’t pronounced how they look or that he can’t figure out how to pronounce. Go-to example is “Sean.” It actually makes him mad.

    I’ve told him that he is lucky I’m not going to insist on irish names because those are the type that get him riled up. But currently on my list is “Gerard,” mostly because of the saint, not bc it is my favorite name ever, and the pronunciation trips him up. Might be able to sneak it in as a middle but I am not sure.

    So that will be a big one for us. The only names on our list that he has outright rejected have been due to pronunciation. (“Aurelia” is another one.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Originally I wanted my kids names to not have obvious nicknames, but we named our 4th after my mom and ended up not minding nicknames so much after all.

    All of our kids have first and middle names have an obvious feast day. Meaning one that you’d see in the missalette if you turned to their day and the priest would likely celebrate his or her feast day at Mass if you attended. I would like to continue that if we have another. But while it may be a preference it’s no longer a rule. The pool of names is a bit too small that way.

    The only rule I think we still have is that the name sound like it belong with the other kids.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My “rules” are gender specific – I really don’t like it when you can’t tell if a person is male or female in written form and also must flow really well with and without middle name. I prefer names with nicknames associated with them, but sort of broke this rule with #2, Fulton. We gave him a middle name of Anthony so that way we could pull of Tony if we want, but have actually been using Finn as a nn for now. It isn’t as obvious so we have to explain it to people who we want to call him that. His name also would break some people’s rules about his the syllables. We have a 2 syllable last name and it starts with F, too so no issues with alliteration here. I actually quite like it. To me it gives it better flow!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My rules (not quite the same as hubby’s):

    1) the name must have history. I’m not saying consistent use throughout history or always have been used as a first name. Rather, simply, there is some background to the name that reaches further in time.

    2) Saintly. I want every child of mine to know their special name saint. I’m open to some stretching in this regard but only a reasonable amount.

    3) a name in that sweet spot, familiar but not very popular. This one is very hard to define and achieve.

    4) not repeated in close family, friends and pets.

    My hubby’s rules are: no place names (except he doesn’t know that would rule out Victoria, his current #1), no month names, nothing too “old” or “weird” and no repeating names of kids from high school.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How’s this for random rules…

    For the first name: Two syllable, five letter saint names starting with a VOWEL.

    For the girls, the first name cannot end with an A.

    Names must be traditionally associated with a sex of male or female.

    The girls have for a middle, three syllable names ending with an A.

    We broke the rule with our son, as I couldn’t in the end use the Efrem spelling for him. He is Ephraim. 🙂 It’s fine though. Rules are for breaking, and realistically we just wanted a little challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. After have 3 girls, I realized that I fell into a pattern, but I certainly didn’t start out with these “rules.” They evolved over time.
    1. Strong saint name
    2. Named for at least 1 or 2 women in the family
    3. I love formal names with a nickname so:
    3a. 4 syllable formal name
    3b. 2 syllable nickname.
    3c. Nickname ends in the “y” or “ie” sound
    4. The formal name has an “L” sound (not sure how I ended up here!)
    5. Not a very common name
    6. Middle name can’t be a noun (Grace, Faith, Rose, etc) – this is my husband’s rule.

    Girls 1-3 are Luciana Marie (Lucy), Elizabeth O’Fallon (Ellie), and Magdalena Jane (Maggie). We’re expecting our 4th girl and we’re considering Karolina, Maristella, Cecilia, and Gabriella. We only have 1 boy, but if we have more, I think we’d stay with the letter “J” and add John and James to go along with Joseph.

    P.S I think I first heard the names Karolina and Maristella on consultations here and promptly fell in love. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My ‘rules’ have definitely evolved. I’ve realised that a lot of things I thought were important are actually fine to be broken.

    1. Has to be a classic name with a tradition of relatively common use.
    2. I like an obvious nickname for boys to avoid nicknames based on physical attributes (I’m Australian).
    3. Biblical name with a positive Christian association.
    4. Standard, classic spelling.
    5. Everyone has a family name – named for a positive namesake.

    Rules I’ve broken:
    1. Not too popular (I’ve used top ten)
    2. No matching initials (I have 3 boys with the same initial)
    3. Family names in the middle (1 has his grandfather’s name as his first)
    4. Sibling names similar (1 of mine has two middles)
    5. Must have an obvious nickname (1 girl doesn’t).
    6 Syllable rules – one of mine has a 2,2,2 name and I love it!

    Overall I don’t regret any of the rules I broke but I do regret one of the rules I kept (#3 a saint’s name would have done the same thing and would have given us more girl choices). I don’t have a Marian name (love Mary) because the three I decided to call Mary were all boys :).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really love reading about the rules you’ve broken! And also, the fact that you don’t regret breaking rules, but you do regret keeping one of them … I’ll be thinking on this for a bit, that’s a really good thing to ponder!

      Like

  11. Wow this is fun!
    I know a family with some interesting rules: Biblical names, names that only exist in one gender (so no John,because of Jane, for example), and short names. But no rules about repeating sounds or initials (some of them are repeated).

    To me, it’s important to have an obvious patron saint, no repeating family names and no rhyming with the last name.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I needed to make rules for our names; otherwise, there’s too many to choose from.

    1. Must be a Saint’s name. No fudging this. Lourdes does not equal Bernadette to me, etc.
    2. Must come from a Romance language.
    3. Three syllables are preferred, but must be at least two.
    4. Must be able to shorten to an eco-vintage nickname. (This one was an accident, but after three kids fitting the mold, the rest will have to follow, too.)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hello! Long time lurker, first time commenter. My fiance and I aren’t parents yet so it’ll be interesting to see how we adapt our rules in the future but at the moment we have a few when throwing around potential names. Our rules are a bit odd so I’ve tried to explain why we have them where I can.

    1. First names have to be recognisable, saintly, easy to say/spell and cannot start or end in the same letter as last name (so no alliteration or running together of sounds).

    2. All saints’ names must be pre-Schism because he’s Greek Orthodox and I’m Anglican, so those are saints we share. Patron saints should be very obvious (stretching things isn’t really a done thing in Eastern Orthodoxy, so it’s best to name your child directly after their patron saint. For example, if you wanted your little girl’s patron to be St. Anne, you would call her Anne or Anna).

    3. All children have 2 middle names: the first middle must be a word name which embodies a sentiment or concept we’d like our children to value (e.g. mercy, charity, justice, pilgrimage, endeavour). The word name is because my parents used unusual word middle names for me and siblings, and it makes a common first name a bit more lively. It’s also a good icebreaker!

    4. The second middle name is a saint’s name that can’t be a first name for any reason, or an honour name. This is where we put saints’ names honouring those we love whose names aren’t really usable as a first name (usually for breaking the “can’t end in A” rule, e.g. Barbara, Apollonia, Perpetua).

    Also on top of these are more common rules like “initials can’t spell out something bad” or “don’t name a child after someone famous” (last name is associated with a well known author, so we definitely can’t use their name as a first name!)

    Example names to illustrate our rules: Theodore Pilgrimage Alban Lastname & Madeleine Mercy Perpetua Lastname.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Saints names are a must. After we had a Leo seven years ago we loosely said we wanted popes names for boys. That rule did not stick as our next boy is Thomas. So now my husband is insisting we should have doctors of the church only as we have Maria, Leo, Therese and Thomas. It isn’t going to work if we have a girl in the future as the only one I’ll agree to is Avila. Hildegard is too bold for me, not a fan of any Catherine variations and can’t use Teresa with a Therese already. Just realised under his “rules” I can’t get my much wanted Frederick. Guess the rules need to go 😜

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s