The Great Name Debate

I was 7 or 8 years old, walking circles through the handbag section of TJ Maxx, desperately searching for my mom, when to my relief, I finally heard her calling for me just a few racks away.


I found her quickly, and right next to her, I also found a woman with a very concerned look on her face.

“Sonni? That’s a boy’s name!”

The comment didn’t bother me, even then. For a kid who had, at that point, already endured years of comical and derivative riffs on her name—Rainy, Cloudy, Sony—it was hardly offensive, but it did ring odd to me even then that a total stranger felt so compelled to share her opinion so candidly.

Despite the mostly-harmless teasing I got (relentlessly) while growing up, I love my name. It has a special meaning. It’s my dad’s nickname, and his dad’s nickname too. The running family joke is, I’m the son they never had. Since ultrasounds weren’t standard for most moms during pregnancy back then, my parents were hoping for a boy. But I came out very much a girl, they thought, what the hell, we’ll name her after her dad anyway.

Gender neutral names like mine are nothing new; if anything these days, they’re downright common. But stories like this are proof that the names we give our children are powerful, lifelong labels that evoke associations not only for the child’s family, but also from the world around them.

So given my own experience, it’s only natural I’d be extra sensitive to the full power of a name.

Parents often spend months debating the perfect name for their kids, but it’s hard to find one that fits just right. How do you pick the name that’s just right? Here are just a few ideas that could lead you in the right direction:

1 –

One of the more popular name-idea sites out there. With categories like “Classic,” “Cool” and even “International,” you can browse names by so many options. You’re virtually guaranteed to find a name you haven’t heard of before.

2 – Favorite singers…

…or authors, or poets, or actors, etc etc. Considering the names of people whose work or lives you admire gives your child’s name meaning beyond just “liking the way it sounds.” I heard a mom calling after her son Maverick at the park the other day. Tom Cruise would concur—that’s a cool name.

3 – The family tree

This seems obvious when it comes to first names, but something you may not have thought of: Consider last names, too. Does your mother’s maiden name have a ring to it? What about your mother-in-law’s? Or maybe a great aunt or uncle you’ve never met? Do a little research into your own family tree, and see if anything stands out.

4 – Favorite places

Paris is now a much-used girls’ name. Ireland is also as beautiful a name as its place of inspiration. A personal favorite of mine is Italia. And how about the adorable name Manhattan—Hattie for short? Close your eyes and daydream: What’s your favorite place? Any way to make it work as a name for your baby?

5 – Gender neutral FTW

Shout out to my fellow first-generation gender-neutral-named ladies. There was a time when it was a little awkward for us girls to have a traditionally masculine name. But these days it’s downright adorable to for a sweet baby girl to be a Billie, Charlie, or Sam.

6 – Mashups

Advanced level chutzpah only, but how about mashing up your and your partner’s first, or last names? I’ll use my and my husband’s names as an example: Andrew + Sonni à Anson. … Hmm. I actually kinda like that. Now we might have to have a fourth kid… Nope, never mind.

For all you expecting parents out there, have you come up with The List yet? Anyone else out there have a unique story behind their names? I’d love to hear your thoughts in Comments below!

2 thoughts on “The Great Name Debate”

  1. Personally I love male or neutral names for girls and ironically classic names for boys. After being raised a Kerry spelled Kerye, I knew it had a big impact on you growing up,but I did it to my girls too. I have 3, MacKenzie, Rauri-Jean (like Rory), and Charleigh (Charlie).

    1. Those are beautiful names! And cheers to the gender-neutral-named among us. I think it makes us a little tougher for enduring all the comments. 😉

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