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k-bigpicA lot of times, parents end up with two front-runners on their baby name list – both equally good choices, both equally loved. They’re usually fairly similar in style and popularity, which makes it harder to decide.

One of the most common questions used to search for the blog is choosing between two different names, so today I thought we would take one of these questions as an example of different ways you could use to make the choice between names. Not all of them will work for you, but hopefully at least one of them will make sense.

The names I’ve chosen are Sophia nn “Sophie” and Matilda nn “Tilly“, which are only four places apart in the 2012 NSW 100. For the purposes of the exercise, I’ve picked the surname Conway out of the phone book, and we will imagine that the middle name has to be Jane, after grandma. The baby’s siblings are named Audrey and William nn “Will“.

Check how each name sounds with the middle name and surname

Take your names on a road test by trying all possible combinations of each name, including nicknames and initials.

Sophia Jane, Sophia Conway, Sophia Jane Conway, Sophie Conway, S Conway, SJ Conway, SJC

OR

Matilda Jane, Matilda Conway, Matilda Jane Conway, Tilly Conway, M Conway, MJ Conway, MJC

Don’t just write them down on a piece of paper, say them aloud. Put them into sentences. Sophie, please set the table for dinner Tilly, where were you? I was so worried! This road test from Baby Name Genie is quite good.

Call them out – Sophia, are you ready for school? Matilda Jane Conway, get in here this instant! (The usual advice seems to be to do this in a supermarket or playground, but where I live, this will get you called “the crazy woman who yelled at an imaginary person in the supermarket/playground” for the next forty years. Everyone else must have more open-minded supermarkets, or else they drive to another town to do it or something.)

Does one name appeal more than another when you say it out aloud? Do you prefer the smooth sound of Sophia Conway, or the perky lilt of Tilly Conway? Does Matilda Jane seem “right” to you, in a way that Sophia Jane doesn’t? Do the initials MJ bug you for some indefinable reason?

Check how each name sounds with the siblings

Audrey, William and Sophia

OR

Audrey, William and Matilda

Which one can you best imagine as Audrey and William’s baby sister? Can you see yourself saying, These are my children – Audrey, William and Sophia or My kids are called Audrey, Will and Tilly? Do Will and Tilly sound too much alike to your ears?

Popularity

If you care about popularity even a little (and let’s face it, most of us do), have a quick check of each name’s popularity. Not just how popular it is now, but whether it is becoming more or less popular.

Sophia is still climbing in popularity, while Matilda has begun to descend in the charts, although both names are fairly stable – Sophia rose only 1 place last year, while Matilda didn’t move.

While both names have a similar popularity, Sophia is likely to become more popular, and perhaps even reach #1, as it has in the United States. Matilda is unlikely to overtake its peak of #16, but will probably remain fairly popular for some time.

A lot of parents have a great anxiety about their baby’s name becoming “too popular” and reject names on an upward trajectory, but I think names rising in popularity are nothing to be afraid of. For girls especially, having a rising name seems to correlate with liking their own name a great deal.

In this case, they may not have too many years to have a rising name, as Sophia could peak fairly soon. You may want to take the nickname into account and consider the popularity of Sophie too.

In practice, parents are going to be more concerned about local popularity – if they know ten Matildas and no Sophias in their neighbourhood, Sophia is going to be more attractive to them, no matter what the charts say.

As we don’t have crystal balls or the ability to control other parents’ names choices, I think it’s wisest to educate ourselves about popularity, but not to fret over it.

Wait until the baby is born before deciding

This must be the most common piece of advice handed out to indecisive parents, and with good reason: a lot of the time it seems to work. Many parents seem able to instinctively feel that their baby looks like a particular name, and no other can be considered. They look at their daughter, and know at once she is a Matilda, and not a Sophia, and the question is settled.

It doesn’t work for everyone, or for every baby, so I would consider this a technique you would hope to work, rather than expect it to.

Flip a coin

This is another common piece of advice handed out when you need to make a decision. It’s not as silly as it sounds, because the important part is not whether you get heads or tails, but how the outcome makes you feel. In other words, the coin toss is just a way to gauge your gut reaction. You toss a coin, and you get heads, which means the name is Matilda. Do you feel a pang of loss that it isn’t Sophia? Were you secretly hoping it would be tails? Maybe your gut is telling you something.

Choose a third option

If you get all the way through this and you still can’t decide between Sophia and Matilda, chances are neither name is right. Maybe the perfect name has been staring you in the face the whole time, and you’ve been too distracted obsessing over Sophia and Matilda to notice it. Stop obsessing, and the right name might make itself known to you.

Things to consider

  • It’s fine to ask other people for their opinions, but don’t follow them blindly. Asking too many people may end up confusing you more, so it’s best to limit how many people you ask, and choose them wisely. The best people to talk to are those that ask you questions to help you understand your own feelings better, rather than people who just tell you their own opinions, and those who can share their own experiences, so you can learn what techniques worked for other people.
  • If you are hesitating about a name because of the middle name or the nickname, that’s something that might be easily fixed. For example, if Sophie as a nn for Sophia seems too common, you could always use Fia. If you think Tilly sounds odd next to a brother named Will, maybe Tilda or Matti is more pleasing to you (or you might just choose to be glad you didn’t nickname William “Billy”). If you don’t love Sophia Jane, perhaps you could add another middle and call her Sophia Violet Jane instead. Think about whether a particular issue can be changed to suit you better before you cross it off.
  • Trust your instincts. There’s no right or wrong answer, so go with what feels right to you. A name doesn’t have to tick every box to be the right one.
  • Don’t stress over the decision or over-think it. In the grander scheme of things, it doesn’t make a huge difference whether you pick Sophia or Matilda – they are both nice names. Since there isn’t a wrong choice to make, you might as well relax about it!

Have you ever had to choose between two names which both seemed perfect? How did you make a choice?

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