It takes 9 months to name a baby

"Jacques, Rejean, Guy?" I offered.

"No, no, and no," responded my wife, Johanna. "We don't even know how good a hockey player the kid might be," she added. "Besides, we're not French."

So goes another round of the name game in our baby's fifth month of development.

When I was younger, I foolishly believed that naming a newborn was simply a matter of assigning the tyke a name both parents found pleasant.

It's not.

The list of restrictions, mostly self-imposed, is limitless.

Names of old boyfriends and girlfriends are out. No need to explain.

Certain names will almost unavoidably be truncated. It's not likely that Daniel, Stephen, or Judith can avoid being Danny, Steve, or Judy. Sure, I know of the occasional Thomas who has resisted becoming a Tommy into adulthood, but it takes an unwavering defense from parents and child.

Don't be shocked by the number of people you dislike. A critical boss, an overbearing gym teacher, can both take perfectly good names off your list. The reasons aren't always rational. There's the girl from the third grade whose name I could never bestow on a daughter. After 30 years I can't remember anything particularly awful she did to me. It doesn't matter, I won't use her name.

Be especially careful with using Dad's name. This hits close to home for me. I am a "junior." Having two men in the house with the same name creates an immediate need for a nickname. My mother quickly decided that I'd be identified by my initials.

Be wary of the use of ethnic names. Identifiably ethnic names can be a tribute to the cultural heritage of one or both parents, but what the child looks like can be an important factor in deciding if it's appropriate. A college friend named Giancarlo made this clear to me. His father, and his Neapolitan last name, made his name seem like a good choice. But he turned out to look like his mother, who was Irish. Rather than possessing the darkly compact looks his name implied, he was fair-skinned, red-headed, freckled, lanky, and six feet tall. His friends called him Seamus.

We learned to be careful about names associated with popular television or film characters. On one hand, the allure of the name may fade as the movie or show slips out of the public consciousness. On the other, your child will be saddled with the perception of the character's personality or actions.

Imagine the taunting endured by a child named Albert in the 1970s when Bill Cosby's "Fat Albert" was a popular Saturday morning cartoon. If you were overweight, it must have been crushing. It was both perplexing and annoying to me, a skinny child. (If today's automotive safety standards had been in place, I would have been in a car seat until I was 13.)

As the months rolled by and my wife and I continued to struggle, scores of parents told us not to worry. The perfect name, they said, will come to you in an unexpected epiphany.

Maybe the name obsession is just a way to divert one's mind from heavier concerns, such as finances, schools, and the state of the world the new baby will inhabit. A first name will always be secondary, of course, to being able to call the new arrival healthy and safe. Still, this was our first test as parents, and we wanted to get it right.

In the end, we went traditional. Samuel Henry Remes was born in July. He will not be called Sammy.

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