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!