Baby Names: It's All About The Associations

The thoughts, feeling and meaning you associate with a potential baby name should be a factor in your decision

The other day, a friend of mine was reading a book and describing a specific character. When she said the character’s name, I couldn’t help but interject, “Oh, I love that name! It’s so pretty.” She made a face like she had bitten into a lemon. “Ugh, I can’t stand this character; now I’ll never be able to hear that name and think of anything else.” And I completely understand — objectively I think that “Fitz” is completely charming, but between Scandal and a couple of seasons of Pretty Little Liars, the name is absolutely now on my no-go list.

It’s all about associations, associations, associations.

A while back, I wrote about whether you should reveal your name choice before the baby was born. Essentially, my position was that you could if you were super-confident and unflappable, but I wouldn't recommend it for most people. And personal associations with certain names is just another reason why I stand by that opinion. A name that one person loves might spark a memory in another person of a horrible former classmate or a loathsome fictional character. It’s hard enough to come to a consensus between two people—try adding more into the mix!

So whose name associations should you care about? Obviously the ones that are important to you and your partner—there is no point trying to “get over” anyone’s bad associations with a name there. And while I still wouldn't necessarily recommend consulting either sets of grandparents (depends on the relationship you have with them), if there are any names that you already know have bad associations, you might want to avoid those too.

But what about cultural associations? Or name meanings in different languages? If nothing sparks your or partner’s memory, how much research should you do into it? Personally, I think some preliminary research is advisable: any obvious pop culture or historical bearers of a name should pop up in a quick search and if you are naming your child something that has meaning in another culture or language, you should always know what that meaning is.

Hopefully anything you find will be positive; if it isn’t, though, then you and your partner get to decide how important those associations are to you. In many cases, this depends on the type of association, and how the popularity of the name. No one hears “Charles” and immediately thinks “Manson,” but Ophelia, while lovely, will forever be associated with one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters and her tragic end.

Determining how important associations are is the part that differs from person to person — some might be able to shrug it off, confident in their ability to create new, positive connections with a name, while for others it will be something that niggles at them. If you’re in the latter camp, definitely move on. There are so many great names out there! 

But always keep in mind it’s the you that is the important part here. If you’ve always dreamed of naming your baby girl Ophelia and you love the name (for, say, the sheer volume of gorgeous artwork the famous character has inspired), don’t worry about how you think other people might perceive it. Do you love it? Does your partner love it? Do you think it’s likely that your kid will love it? As usual, those are the only opinions that count. 

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