After several years of infertility, we are finally expecting. There are a lot of emotions we are facing with this new development, excitement chief among them.

One thing has become more of a challenge than we initially thought: naming our new little person.

how to name a person

What is in a Name?

It is weird to think through how to name a person. Especially one you have not really met before. People use all kinds of tactics – Biblical names, unique names, family names, names that just sound nice. 

When you think about it, there is almost no way to get it “wrong”. It sure doesn’t feel like that, though. From the conversations we have heard and the advice we’ve gotten, the chief concern seems to be not assigning them a name that other kids will use as fodder for bullying.

Surely there is more to it than that? 

Of course there is, but we are just not sure how to say it.

Here is my attempt: when you name a person, you are not just picking sounds. You are picking the shorthand description of who this person is. An identifier. Their first. It certainly won’t be their most powerful identifier (their own choices will take prominence soon enough), but it is the first. And, as the first, it sets the child on a certain trajectory.

If you give them a supremely unique name, there are some subconscious suggestions for both you and the adults they meet that this kid is going to be eccentric. If you give them a proper sounding name or a name associated with either a famous person or a family member, you are setting a sort of stage in which your child will enter the world.

None of this is final. Otherwise, we would all be suffocated under the weight of the responsibility. But neither is it insubstantial.

Beyond a Name

Have you ever heard someone tell you that you don’t “look like” or “seem like” a (whatever your name is)? My first name (legally speaking) is Allen, but people have called me Joey since the day I was born. My legal name seems strange and causes my friends to laugh when they hear it. Has my name (Joey, the one I actually get called) shaped my personality to one degree or another?

All of this, of course, is overthinking the matter. 

The real point of this blog is that the weight of naming a person does matter, although it is not all that matters. By deciding a name, Kylie and I will set a temporary aim for this kid. We will put them on a path.

But the important part of the journey is in raising them to discover their own path. How will they live into the name we choose for them – how will they make it their own?

It makes me think of our work with college students and our time training leaders around the world. Leadership is about trying to resource people, setting them up to succeed according to their own strengths and ability. It is about guiding them toward good and noble things while at the same time guiding them toward self-governance. The goal, then, is not just for people to do or say the “right” things. It is for them to do and say the right things out of a sense of commitment to goodness rather than a sense of obligation or fear.

Too many organizations have that backward. So do many parents. 

We will pick a name and it will be fine. The name will follow our child around. It will be an important part of who they are, but far from the most important. It will set a foundation for them. And much of our parenting will build a framework. But they will have to set insulation, a roof, furniture, and any other add-ons. The house, in the end, belongs to them.

Joey Willis is a writer and Servant Leadership Trainer with The Crossroad.