The pitfalls of offbeat baby names debunked

Guest post by Jennifer
Hello my name is
Photo by Daquella manera, used under Creative Commons license.

My daughter’s name is Ophelia. She also has two middle names plus a ridiculously difficult to pronounce Italian last name. I know what you might be thinking: THAT POOR KID. How will she ever learn to spell her name? How will she even remember all of her names? Won’t she always have to spell it for other people? Kids are going to make fun of her in school. She’ll be an outcast. What about a nickname?

I’ve heard the objections before but I’ve always loved unusual names so nay-saying never really had an impact on me. However, I have felt that if I planned to give my own child an unusual name it was my duty to really, truly examine those objections. Would giving my kid an unusual name really damage her? Would it turn her childhood into a string of memories she will eventually hope to forget? Am I being selfish and simply forcing my own contrariness on her? I considered each of these carefully and here’s what I came up with.

It’s too hard/long for a kid to learn to spell

If you’ve spent any time around young children you know that their name is their identity. I once worked with a two-year-old boy who would toddle around, repeating “I’m Toby, I’m Toby, I’m Toby,” without rest. Kids love telling people their names, learning to spell them and practice both often. So is having a long name a challenge for a child to learn? You betcha. Is that a bad thing? Hell no! Since a kid’s name means so much to them, they’re willing to work extra hard to wrap their minds around it. The diligence and repetition of learning to spell and write a long name only gives them more time practicing vital skills. My daughter has exactly 30 letters in her full name. This kid is bound to be a spelling bee champ, I just know it!

Others will have difficulty spelling or pronouncing it

In the melting pot that is this country, a huge percentage of the population has a name or names that many would consider “difficult.” In plenty of cultures long last names are the norm. In others certain letters and letter combinations have sounds that would be unrecognizable to a native English speaker. Many, if not most, people have to spell their name when giving it to someone else for the first time. Rather than being a lifelong burden, I see this as simply a fact of life. Even if my daughter’s first name was Jane, her last name would still inevitably trip people up. Most parents wouldn’t dream of giving their child an alternative last name because theirs was hard to spell. First names are no different.

They will grow up to be outcasts

I grew up with perhaps the trendiest name of the 80s: Jennifer. Jenny I got yo numba! (Tommy Tutone, anyone?) My husband, Robert (Rob) has one of the most traditional names given to boys. I’m the kid that chopped her bangs into a spiky poof the day before her fifth grade class picture. Rob’s the kid that wore Hawaiian shirts every day of his high school career. We both had incredibly “normal” names and we both were huge dorks. Just as giving your kid a common name doesn’t guarantee their adolescent popularity, neither does giving them an unusual name cement their fate as the kid who eats paste. Their identities are shaped by their names but they are not limited by them. An “Electra” can be quiet and shy. A “Dudley” can be a Romeo. A name serves as a foundation for an identity but the kid decides the rest.

By: Daniel LoboCC BY 2.0

It’s cruel/selfish for parents to give children offbeat names

As cheesy as it sounds, the names I gave my daughter are a gift. Her first middle name was given to her in honor of my dear aunt that died a year and a half before she was born. Because I knew the two of them would never meet I wanted to give her something permanent of her great-aunt’s. Her second middle name is my maiden name, a name that is now shared by my husband and myself as our own second middle names. It’s an essential part of her family tree that should be reflected in her name. While I concur that it might be selfish to want my name and my aunt’s to be carried on, I can honestly say I did not give them to O to coerce her into my own brand of eccentricity. I think this is the case for all parents, whether they choose an offbeat name or a more traditional one for their child. In naming our children we try to give them a foundation, some history and maybe a little creativity. There’s nothing selfish about that.

Comments on The pitfalls of offbeat baby names debunked

  1. Kids with so-called “normal” names can have a hard time too. My name is Nicole, and I was one of three Nicoles in my class in high school. And, I grew up in the 80’s – Purple Rain, Prince, and the infamous song “Darling Nikki”. Nothing like being in 8th grade and having guys sing to you about masturbation.

    Don’t hesitate to name your child something offbeat because they might get teased – the “normals” get teased too..

  2. Ugh. My first name has an unusual spelling, and my last name could be a first name, so I always have to spell it all out. My son has an ordinary name but I hate comments about how a name will be too long or difficult to spell. Or better yet, warnings that your child will be confused if you have a different last name. I feel like asking those people if they suppose children are idiots!

  3. Ugh. My first name has an unusual spelling, and my last name could be a first name, so I always have to spell it all out. My son has an ordinary name but I despise comments about how a name will be too long or difficult to spell. Or better yet, warnings that your child will be confused if you have a different last name. I feel like asking those people if they suppose children are idiots!

  4. It’s such a fine line to walk IMO when you want a more unusual name. Personally, I WANT to avoid the odd looks, and the thoughts of “oh what were they thinking??” (Celebrity baby names come to mind there). I grew up with a last name that was hard to spell and pronounce; I think 1 person ever got it right the first time. I hated it. Also, kids are cruel and will take any opportunity to make fun and insult someone over a name. I got it all the time for my first name (Laurel) and my last. Now that I’m an adult, I think my parents did a good job of giving me and my siblings names that were not very common, that have not become too common and yet are not at all unusual. They’re just nice.

    For my own children, I really really DID NOT want common names. I didn’t want them going to school, saying their name, and then having other kids pipe up “hey that’s my name too!”. I want them to be different. We thought we got it with my first daughter – we named her Zoe. However, as soon as we named her, we discovered it actually was common. DANG! However, it fits, because it means “vibrant and full of life” and she was born with heart defects, so we figured she’d better be vibrant in order to make it! Her little sister is Astrid. Now, that’s a name that’s still uncommon, but yet we get so many comments on how cool a name it is. Win for the parents!

    I also subscribe to the idea that names should balance out – easy first name odd last name, odd first name with easy last name.

    I don’t think it’s odd to have multiple middle names – it’s a good way to honor special people in your life, and it’s only an issue on forms.


      I love having a weird name, even when it got made fun of. My son is Tycho and I have to help with spelling and pronunciation and I totally don’t care because it is awesome, whatever.

    • I am trying so hard to convince my guy that we need to name a child Astrid. He’s afraid that mean kids will call her Assturd. Sigh. It’s such a beautiful name though!

        • Yay for the Astrid love!!! The day she was born, I called up a friend of mine who happened to have been raised abroad. When I told her the name, she said “oh that’s a very common name in Holland!”. If she goes to Holland she’ll be common, but not here. But seriously, everytime we tell people her name we get a lot of comments on what an awesome name it is. My ex husband had a friend who said his uncle had a girlfriend who was an Astrid when he was a boy. He had a crush on her, and ever since then he thought Astrid was one of the most beautiful names for a girl. πŸ™‚

          • My kids all have Irish names and it’s the same. They’re always the only one at their school but from what I’ve heard not unusual anywhere in the UK or Australia.

  5. I’ve been going back and forth with my husband about name our second child. Our sons name is Xavier Dante. My husbands name is the same name of pretty much every male in the family, which is Jorge but spelled the English way ( george) unlike the rest of the ecaudorians in the fam jam. Anyway we opted NOT to name our son Jorge also.
    For our second child we have chosen Bowie Irene if a girl and have not chosen a boy name yet.

    • I’m gonna have a Bowie Violet (if this pregnancy is actually a girl like I think)! When my husband and I got married 5 years ago we went back and forth on if I’d take his last name or he’d take mine– we both had rather long last names and I didn’t want to hyphen. His convoluted German last name had a lot of special meaning to him and pride, and I wanted us to have the same last name so I agreed to take his last name and he agreed to let me name our kids with the understanding that if we ever had a girl she would be named Bowie.

      I’m a huge fan (have the Aladin Sane lighting bolt tattooed on my head) but aside from that I just think it’s such a cute name. I was shocked when my mom didn’t throw a fit, but she loves it too.

      (I like Rhett for a boy but my husband isn’t as much of a fan. I don’t know why I’m getting such strong girl vibes… maybe because we only have a girls name picked out?)

  6. And with so many spelling options, it isn’t like normal names are all that “normal” anyway. I went to school with 2 Ashleys and and an Ashleigh. Katherine or Catherine can be Katy, Katie, Kat, Cat, Kathy or Cathy. I absolutely LOVE my uncommon name (Rosalie) and there are still a billion ways to spell it (and I’ve seen about all of them). I learned how to spell it just fine, and I have to spell it out just as often as my friend Ashleigh. I was made fun of in school, not because of my name, but because kids are jerks. Good for you for sticking to your guns! Maybe not in middle school, but someday your kids will be so thankful for their names. I know I am for mine.

  7. I grew up HATING my unique name Portia (por-sha), and to honest, I still really don’t care for it. The amount of time I’ve spent correcting people on spelling, pronunciation, and guffawing at dumb car jokes amazes me. My partner’s name is Mike, simple, no jokes. We gave our kids simple but not super common first names (Max and Cleo) and longer more interesting middle names ( Beowulf/ Clementine). I felt like giving them a name common enough that it will have been heard as a first name and a middle name with flair would give them the choice to figure out how they wanted to be called when older.

  8. I always get people looking at me weird when I tell them my daughter has two last names, that aren’t hyphenated. No, she doesn’t have two middles names, she has one middle name and two last names. My husbands first last name (he was later adopted), and my last name. She is our child and therefore should share in both our family names.

    So what I’m saying is, I totally feel ya on the whole “weird name” objections some people throw around. I’ve heard them all by now.

  9. When people see me with my white mother, they always assume that she gave me some “new age” name because she was a hippie. Little did they know that my dad is Indian and my name is actually quite traditional! “Offbeat” is just code for “unfamiliar” here.

  10. I’ve thought about this off and on. Unlike most of the comments, I’m not hugely into offbeat names.

    I grew up with an odd pronunciation (the Danish version) of a name that was way more popular than my parents expected. Apparently it was a trend. In my elementary and high school time (in a small town), I knew 5 other girls with similar names, only one of them the same pronunciation. I got tired of correcting pronunciation. I tried out an alternate spelling when I was in grade 5 and promptly discovered that was worse. So I’ve stuck with my name. I like slightly odd names but I also would want something that is fairly pronounceable and easy to identify because I’ve spent my entire life correcting people about my name and it is not something I enjoy. I get wrong pronunciations, wrong spellings, completely wrong names based on a couple letters of similarity. Not the highlight of my life. I’ve also gotten in trouble previously for NOT correcting someone. Yes, my name is my identity but when almost nobody gets it right it can also feel like a burden for some of us. My hubby and I both have easily pronounceable last names, even if we still have spelling issues so something slightly outside ordinary but not too far would work for me.

  11. Fun fact: Anyone can change his/her name! I changed mine at the age of 22 (but not because I hated my given name, which was unusual and I miss sometimes). So I find it strange when people make the “oh, your poor child” comments. That child can make up his/her own mind later, but for now, the parents get to make the decisions, which is what being a parent is about.

  12. I don’t buy the “spelling rule”, because kids are typically damn proud of their name, and will memorize it as soon as they can, and once they learn to write it…they write it on EVERYTHING. This was my experience from my mum’s daycare. It was always easy to tell which kids had just started kindergarten!

    Our main name rule was “could this baby grow up to be the Prime Minister?” If we could put the words “The Right Honourable” in front of the name and have it sound good, then we had a winner!

  13. I love unique names and when I found out I was pregnant with a boy my husband insisted we use a Scottish name. I wanted an uncommon name but something that was easier to pronounce and easy to say. We picked Wallace under the agreement that he would be called Ace. We don’t often tell people his full name because either they don’t understand where we get Ace or they want to call him Wally. His middle name is Lier to pay tribute to my maiden name, Boutilier. We think Ace is a badass name and if he ever wants a “grown up” name he can switch to Wallace. Now, I just need to convince my husband to let me call our future daughter Zsa Zsa. Can I get some support on this one?

  14. I have an unusual first name (Remy) and so does my little sister (Kyrie). Seems like my folks couldn’t give her a normal boring name after me. Yes, we both have to spell them out for other people. But they’re not very long, and the unusualness makes living in a world with so many other people a little less confusing. (There were two other Remys in the school district I attended, although not in my year — but there are no other people with my first and last name or my sister’s in the country. Probably the world. We are ALL the Google results. πŸ™‚ )

    Now, something I did resent was that both of us were given our mother’s last name as a middle name, and we didn’t get “real” middle names. I have therefore thought a lot about appropriate first-middle combinations for hypothetical children of mine. particularly if they decide to drop the hyphenated last name and use just first and middle (stage name, pen name, easier legal name).

  15. As an Alyssa, I grew up HATING my name-no one knew how to pronounce or spell it (except fans of Who’s the Boss) and there were NO pencil cases or bike license plates or t-shirts with my name on it. Oh, the tragedy…

    Now? You can’t throw a stick without hitting another Alyssa. (Not that I recommend throwing sticks at children. Unless they really have it coming.) That’s something the naysayers (and those hoping for ultra-originality) should keep in mind; trends change and the unique little snowflakes may not be so later in life.

    But seriously. Buy your kid personalized stuff. It’s traumatizing. πŸ™‚

    • BWAHAHAHA! Yes, I wanted a personalized license plate or mug or keychain SOOOOO bad. (I still look… but between Rhonda and Renee there is nothing. And I’ve never met a Rhonda.)

      My parents got us wooden letters and blocks and stickers and let us make our own beaded necklaces where we could pick out the letters. Once at Disneyland we got souvenir hats where your name is stitched on when you buy them. And Chinese brush paintings we saw done right in front of us (we both still have those, 20 years later).

      • But you have a SONG! That’s infinitely cooler. πŸ™‚

        I also treasure the few things I have with my name on it. My mom even made me a t-shirt quilt and the centerpiece is the airbrushed “Alyssa” from tank top we got when I was five from a skeevy carnival.
        Had Etsy existed when I was a child, with its wealth of personalized items, I would have fallen over dead from excitement…

    • Hahaha, this always bugged me as a kid, too! I could find things with “Cara” on them, but never with a “K”. My brother, Erik, had the same problem.

      I do like unique names, though, My qualms with my name as a kid were that it was unusual enough that I couldn’t find personalized stuff, but it wasn’t so unusual that I never met other Karas. I always wished it was more one way or the other. Either a common name, or something totally weird.

      Anyway, I like it okay, now. No major trauma. I do always have to spell it for people, though.

    • Isn’t this why the internet exists? Ok, you can’t find it on the turning rack in the store for instant gratification, but you can still get one.

      I’m in the Army of Amandas that was let loose in the 80s, and I’m all for unusual names. I err on the side of old is new again myself, but more power to everyone else out there with the Epic and Atticus and Ophelia and everything else.

      Now to convince my husband that Dorothy isn’t only for old ladies. I’ve already lost the Alistair battle to an R middle name. (living in the UK and our last name begins with S. You spell it out.)

  16. I am Lacey Jewell JoLynn Jean, plus my confirmation name, Gwen, so I can speak from experience on this. I loved having all these names. My friends in high school would try to learn all of my names and of course we’d sing it to the tune of “John Jacob Jingle…” I’m named after my grandma, mom, dad, and aunt. I was heart broken when I got my SS card and driver’s license and could only fit one middle name. Now that I’m married I threw my maiden name in there too, but again only have that and my last name on my ID and SS card πŸ™ No one would ever know that I have this long, cool name unless I tell them or they see my birth certificate.

  17. Our baby was born just 5 days ago, and we named her something really offbeat- Selkie Jubilee. And her last name is both our names. We are proud her name, and regardless that some people think her name is “Suklie” or “Silkie”, we love it- and correcting people is nothing. She will be proud of her name. It has a story behind it. Not many people have it (if at all).

  18. Plus, honestly, name trends change as you grow.

    I had met ONE other Sophia before I turned 20 or so, and she was a poodle. People constantly remarked on the unusual oldschool romantic-ness of my name. And then … little Sophies all over the place! It’s been in the top-5 baby names for a few years now, I think last year it was even #1. There are tons and tons of baby Sophia/Sophies where before there were none.

    I like to say they are my minions.

    And despite the popularity, Sophia still has the “f or ph?” issue, so even though there are a gazillion of us, now, we’ll be telling people about the middle part forever.

    It’s all good.

    • This is how I felt in 1990 when Ariel (a name previously reserved for A) Jewish dudes or B) girls with hippie parents) became popular thanks to The Little Mermaid. Suddenly, there were all these little Ariels running around everywhere!

  19. In my high school class of 150, there were 4 other girls with my first name (not quite Jennifer in popularity, but close!). My last name growing up was a colour, spelled like the colour. People still constantly asked me how to spell one or both.

  20. Our son is Benson Jordan (middle name is from Green Lantern). Our daughter is Elliottt Lane (Lane as in Lois). We either have people love it or say it is cruel to give our daughter a boys name or something like ‘oh’ with a shocked look on their face ‘well at least you can call her Ellie”. With both names early on I just knew it was right and people were even more surprised that if I ended up having a boy the second time we would not name him Elliott. It is a perfect for for our daughter πŸ™‚

  21. im a jessica.. and im always one of 5 or so… and im always correcting people ” no no, im not jennifer im jessica”

    even with normal names you have issues.

  22. My name is Andrea. I have to spell it out for people ALL. THE. TIME. Might as well have been something more unique.

    * To be fair, at least nothing rhymes with “Andrea”, so there was no good way to mock it. Of course, my last name (Dickson) was fodder enough.

  23. We are expecting our first, and we are going with family first names (Avalin or Stephen), and two middle names. The first middle name is a literary character (Clare or Fletcher), and the second middle name is my maiden name. I also made my maiden name a second middle name when we got married, and it’s important to me for our children to share it, too. It is sometimes challenging to have two middle names, but I think it’s oh-so worth it.

  24. I “only” have two middle names, and it wasn’t a big deal legally. Both were on my SS card, but only one could go on my drivers license. Of course they made me use my first middle name, which I hated as a teenager, and then that meant it was the one on everything. I’ve also been married twice and retained my maiden name as a middle name, so anytime I have to fill some out that asks for all previous names, I need half a sheet of paper. πŸ™‚

    The only thing I didn’t like was that my parents also gave me a third middle name, which isn’t on the birth certificate. I didn’t care when I was little, but as I got older it embarrassed me because no one understood when I saidd it and it always turned into a long conversation. I tried just omitting it, but my mom would always mention I’d left it out, making for an even longer conversation.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation