What Should I Name My Baby?

What's in a Name? Choosing the Perfect Name for Your Baby

Shortly after announcing your pregnancy to your family and friends, the question you'll likely hear the most is, "What will you name your child?" While some parents choose a name the minute the pregnancy test comes back positive, others rack their brains right up until the due date. If you find yourself awake at night thinking of the perfect name for your baby, keep these tips in mind on how to choose one.

Baby Naming Restrictions

Woman Writing Possible Names For Baby Girl In Nursery

Can You Leave the Hospital Without Naming Your Baby?

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If you want your baby's name to be something that people have never seen before, hold on before getting too crazy. Depending on which state you live in, there could be restrictions on what you can name your child. Some states don't allow the use of numbers and symbols. Certain states also place limitations on the number of characters in the name. There might be a restriction that the name consists only of letters from the English alphabet. In Georgia, for example, names can't have numbers or symbols, including accent marks. In New Jersey, the name can't contain any obscenities, numerals or symbols.

In addition to picking a first name, some parents choose their baby's last name as well. That's right: Some states allow you to give your baby a last name that's not yours or the other parent's. In other states, however, the baby's last name must match either the mom's or dad's last name. Some states even restrict what the baby's last name can be depending on the mother's marital status at the time of the baby's birth. In South Dakota, for example, if the mother is not married at the baby's birth, then the baby must be given the mother's surname, unless the father signs an affidavit regarding his paternity.

If you think that the name you have in mind for your baby could pose a problem, check with your chosen birth hospital's birth certificate personnel or midwife regarding your state's baby name rules.

Where to Find Inspiration for Your Baby's Name

If a name doesn't automatically come to you, there are plenty of resources that offer inspiration. The Social Security Administration website posts lists of the most popular names, which you can search by year and state. In 2016, the most recent year available, the five most popular male names across the country were Noah, Liam, William, Mason and James. For girls, the most popular names were Emma, Olivia, Ava, Sophia and Isabella.

Several books and websites provide the origin and meaning of names. The American Pregnancy Association has an extensive baby name directory providing the origin and meaning of names—for example, Sophia means "wisdom" or "wise" and comes from ancient Greece. Just be aware that names can have multiple meanings and that the meanings can change depending on the country and language.

Perhaps you want a name that reflects your and/or your partner's ethnic heritage, religion, values or passions. Or you want to name your child after a loved one—your grandmother or mom, perhaps. Plenty of people name their babies after admired celebrities, whether that be an actor or singer.

It's no longer the case that certain names are reserved for only boys or only girls. Many parents choose to give their baby a name that either has been traditionally been used for the opposite sex or is a unisex name, such as Hayden, Charlie, Emerson, Rowan and Finley.

Making the Final Decision

Woman Writing Possible Names For Baby Girl In Nursery

How to Change a Child's Last Name

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After birth, the name you've decided for your child will be listed on the birth certificate request form and sent to the state's department for registration, a process that the hospital's personnel or your midwife will help you with. You might be surprised to know that you don't always need to name your baby right after you give birth. As with baby naming laws, states vary in their requirements for when you need to put down a name on the birth certificate. In California, parents who leave the hospital without naming their baby must request a "Supplemental Name Report" from the Department of Health. When they've chosen a name, they complete that form and send it to the Birth Registry Department. So long as they do it within a year, there's no charge.

Another fact that might put your mind at ease is that in many states, you can legally change your child's name at any time through the court system. Legally changing your child's name can be a costly and lengthy process, however, involving hundreds of dollars and a wait of several months, not to mention the headache of making sure that you have correctly filled out all the necessary court forms. Ideally, choose a name initially that is one you'll be comfortable with for the rest of your life.