Book review: The Baby Name Wizard

I loved reading all the comments on yesterday’s post! Still on the name trail, have you ever read a baby name book… not just for a baby, but also for fun? I read one recently and I really enjoyed it.

Baby name books and I go way back. I bought one at age nine because I hated my name and wanted to change it. Later, I found the baby name book my mom read while pregnant with me. In the entire boys’ section, she had highlighted only one name. Just one. And it was… Eugene. Really, Mom? Eugene? Can you imagine me as a Eugene?

Now THIS is a Eugene. Photo by Daniel Boud.

With so many baby name resources online, buying a baby name book feels a little old-fashioned. Well, I guess I’m old-fashioned.

For one, I love lists. One of my favorite things about being a writer is reading and generating lists of words. In my old job, I would sometimes get the chance to propose a name for a TV channel. I’d spend hours with my nose to the monitor, poring over Scrabble lists of three- to five-letter words. Then I’d spew long lists of options.

I also love books. I love the feel of pages and paper. When you spend as much time looking at lists as I do, a physical book is much easier on the eyes. Besides have you seen some of the baby name websites out there? They are complete eyesores! White text on black background is so 1999.

This is why I found myself purchasing The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg.

What I loved about this book:

A modern approach to choosing baby names. Most baby name books are dictionary-type lists that focus on origin and meaning. The Baby Name Wizard asserts that today, what a child’s name means is less important than how it fits into its society and environment, or what the author calls “social meaning.” From experience, I find that to be true. Growing up with a highly unusual name was difficult at times, but I think it was good for my self-identity.

The Baby Name Wizard shows trends, which are important if you want to buck them; today’s unique and clever may be tomorrow’s Moe and Larry. If a name shows a recent uptick in popularity, it moves down on my list.

Style families. This is a section that lists baby names by theme, rather than by letter. Some examples: Androgynous, Biblical, Short and Sweet, Shakespearean, and my personal favorite, Macho Swagger (with names like Duke, Hunter and Colt). This was my favorite section, and made the book both fun and easy to read; I could giggle over Surfer 60s’ or go straight to Biblical.

Style families got me thinking about coming up with “style families” of our own, to reflect something we both love and give us new places to look for that elusive boy’s name. Fantasy Fiction, perhaps? What style families would you suggest?

Sibling names. For every listed name, The Baby Name Wizard recommends other names with a similar style and feel. This is useful if you’re stuck at “I like it, but…” Plus, I was pleasantly surprised to see that our lead girl’s name was a “sibling” of two other names we’re considering for boys.

Names that actually sound nice. I appreciate the author’s use of the ugly filter. There are too many ugly names out there and I don’t want to see any more of them. That way, I’m less likely to choose one in a moment of weakness!

There wasn’t much I didn’t like about the book, except… graphs. Lots of them, showing how each name has trended in popularity over time. But I say that only because anything math-related makes me see fuzzy red lightning bolts. I suppose the graphs are useful if you’re set on giving your baby an uncommon name. Like I am. Uh-oh, maybe I should take another look at those graphs.

Parents-to-be who want hundreds of thousands of options (including awkward filler names like Adalfura, which no sane parent would name their baby anyway) had best look elsewhere. But for a modern approach to baby-naming in a book that’s easy to browse and fun to read, the Baby Name Wizard is worth a look.

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Baby names: The search is on

This week, Marlon and I find out if we’re having a girl or a boy. YAY! Neither of us have a stellar track record for delaying gratification, so we do intend to find out. I’m excited to find what Little Mango will be, so I can thinking about the fun stuff. I want to start choosing colors for baby things and nursery furniture. I want to launch into a whirlwind of activity—knitting, sewing, painting,shopping. And I want to start calling Little Mango by name.

So, baby names have been on my mind lately—both our minds, actually. Our baby name conversations got us thinking about our own names and what we liked (or didn’t like about) about them.

Our names on the menu cards at our wedding reception

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