How to choose a baby name, from banned options to the top choices

Baby sticking its tongue out, to represent baby names. (Getty Images)
Will the most popular baby names inspire you or deter you? (Getty Images)

Choosing a baby name is a huge responsibility. Do you give them something unique, something that sounds 'beautiful' or just make like Ed Sheeran and name your baby after your favourite box set character?

Too old-fashioned, too common, too hipster? And that’s just your opinion, wait until you run your shortlist past your partner!

Throw in the problem of having to disassociate yourself from other people who have already nabbed your baby name of choice, the worry of unsavoury nicknames, your newborn not suiting your top pick and it's little wonder parents are getting in a spin about the naming process.

“Choosing a baby name used to be simple – you used a tried-and-tested family favourite or flicked through a book [of options] until you found something you liked," explains baby names expert SJ Strum, founder of the Baby Names Envy podcast.

"But as the number of names in use has exploded, the number of methods to choose a name has grown too.”

Thankfully, there are some simple trusty tricks mums and dads-to-be can adopt to ease the pain of picking a moniker.

Read more: Mum chooses to name baby after coronavirus lockdown: 'For us it was a good time'

Gender neutral baby names, such as Remi, are also on the rise. (Getty Images)
Gender neutral baby names, such as Remi, are also on the rise. (Getty Images)

Avoid a banned baby name

You might think that choosing a baby name is in your hands, but it turns out there are some options parents actually can't give their newborns.

Yep, that’s right, there are actual banned baby names.

One mum who named her newborn son Citizen discovered that the unusual moniker could “possibly be illegal.” And she’s certainly not the only parent falling foul when it comes to apparent baby naming rules.

Back in 2017, a couple was banned from naming their newborn son ‘Amber’ by French authorities, while another were banned from naming their baby girl, Liam.

One couple even had to put up a four-year-fight to name their son Yoda from the Star Wars film franchise after an objection from the civil registry office and language council.

While the UK is more relaxed than some other nations when it comes to the outlawing of monikers, Strum says there are certain things you should keep in mind when choosing a name for your new arrival.

“In the UK, there is no law restricting names, but monikers that contain obscenities, numerals, misleading titles, or are impossible to pronounce are likely to be rejected by the Registering Officer, when registering a birth," she says.

Stick to the most popular list

Whether parents are looking for something tried and tested or simply want to check out the names to steer clear of, most popular lists provide never ending inspiration for mums and dads-to-be.

Earlier this year the Office of National Statistics (ONS) released its annual charts of parents' top picks and it seems there's been some surprising developments.

When it comes to individual names, Noah was the most popular boys' name in England and Wales in 2021, bumping Oliver into second spot and ending an eight-year reign.

Olivia, meanwhile, remained the top name for girls for the sixth year in a row.

Growing in popularity, Henry replaced Jack in the top 10 names for boys, while Freya, Florence and Willow shifted Isabella, Rosie, and Sophia for girls.

In 2021 the biggest movers in the top 100 names in England and Wales were, Brody (90th) for boys, and Olive (74th) for girls, rising 36 and 25 places respectively, since 2020.

Read more: Distinctive baby name options

Welcome to the world baby Indigo! (Getty Images)
Welcome to the world baby Indigo! (Getty Images)

Seek out inspiration

According to Strum when it comes to choosing a baby name, parents should be looking to pin down their own personal style.

"When I do a Baby Name Consultation normally the parents-to-be are seeking something truly special that has personal meaning and isn't just from the pages of an A-Z book," she says. "We always start by thinking about their own personal style – give it a go yourself; are you daring or traditional when it comes to your tastes? For your home and clothes do you love minimalism, vintage or even gothic style? Once you pin down your style, you can get creative looking for names within that genre!"

Consider your passions

The next step in the baby naming process, according to Strum, is to think about a passion you have. "We call it the 'Six Year Old Tattoo'. If you got a tattoo at six that you'd still love today – what would it be of?"

Strum says you could think about a quote from a book, something musical, an animal or place or your favourite literary character.

"There's so much inspiration in these areas," she continues. "It's no surprise Luna is trending amongst millennial Harry Potter fans and animal and nature names are trending across the charts from Wren to River and literary names like Harper and Poem. Meanwhile, travel mad parents have seen Atlas fly into the name charts."

Watch: Official stats reveal most popular baby names in England and Wales

Find something unique

Though this might be more tricky than ever according to researchers at the University of Edinburgh who say uncovering a unique name for your little one is becoming much harder.

Scientists analysed the names of 22 million people born between 1838 and 2016 (imagine how long that must have taken?!).

Unsurprisingly they found that trends are linked to historical events, celebrities and those in the public eye and our favourite TV programmes (welcome to the world baby Daenerys!).

While global communication and rising immigration have increased parents-to-be’s exposure to alternative names, the Internet and media access have meant these have become common just as quickly.

And thus uncovering a unique gem of a name has become a little more tricky.

According to Strum, unusual baby names normally come from a shared memory or personal story. "We've named a baby Elysienne for parents who'd moved to their version of paradise in a French Village from NZ," she explains.

"We've helped a parent naming her 10th baby come up with Capri after Capricon the 10th symbol in the Zodiac.

"We've even helped a client with synaesthesia where she could taste words – therefore names – change her own name to something which tasted better!"

Read more: Most popular baby names of 2021 revealed - and there's a change at the top

Uncommon baby names are soaring as parents seek monikers to help their offspring stand out. (Getty Images)
Uncommon baby names are soaring as parents seek monikers to help their offspring stand out. (Getty Images)

Side-step a baby name steal

Beware the baby name conflict, which according to Strum is more common than you might think. "We get many stolen name dilemmas," she explains. "Sometimes where a sister 'banks' the only usable grandparent name or a friend steals a name someone has confided they plan to use."

To avoid the conflict, Strum recommends avoiding sharing your potential baby name list in advance.

"If couples are in stalemate about two names we can run a poll to help them crowdsource which name to go for," she explains. "Crowdsourcing on social media is a great way to get a name idea that you may never have thought of."

Avoid baby name regret

A hidden taboo in the choosing of a moniker is baby name regret. "So many people feel rushed to pick and then announce a baby name," says Strum. "But the picking happens at a time when people are full of hormones and suffering from decision fatigue."

As a result many end up feeling decidedly unhappy about their choice, with a poll by Mumsnet revealing that almost one fifth (18%) of parents regretted the name they chose for their offspring.

In order to avoid experiencing baby name regret further down the line Strum recommends trying out the new name for a while to make sure it suits.

If, however, you do decide to make like Kylie Jenner and change your baby's name, it is simple enough to do so by deed poll for £42.44.