dave ainsworth
san francisco, CA

husband, father,
christian pastor,
human being

Naming Kids, and Other Decisions That Don't Really Matter

Every parent knows the anxiety that comes with naming your children. Maggie and I spent hours discussing potential names for each of our three kids. We asked ourselves questions like, How does it sound? Does it flow? Is it meaningful? Is it unique? Is it too unique?

My Dad thinks the most important test for a baby name is, Does it scold well? as in "Shepherd Thomas Ainsworth! You get back here right now!" (Ooh, that's nice.) Most of our tests weren't so rational. We still joke about some of our reactions to each other's suggestions: "Um, do you want him to have no friends?" "That's a great name for blonde Russian Bond girls, not our daughter." 


What you name your child is surely important, but we can all identify moments when we took it too far. I enjoyed reading the confessions of Alex Williams and other parents in the New York Times. He and his wife agonized over naming his baby. So, being a reporter, he researched it. Here were a couple of my favorite lines: 

"Finding a name that has authentic roots, but is completely undiscovered, is the ultimate baby name status symbol," said Pamela Redmond Satran, a founder of the site Nameberry and an author of a new e-book called "The Nameberry Guide to Off-the-Grid Baby Names." Even when parents look to the Bible, they often thumb past "Adam" and "Daniel" in favor of "Joah" or "Obadiah," she said.

Ultimate baby name status symbol? I'd laugh, but I know quite a few parents with obscure biblical characters running around their house. Heck, Maggie and I threw aside names altogether and named two of our kids after biblical concepts.

So, we know what our kid's name does for us. What impact does it have on the child? 

Looking beyond the Top 1000 was not enough for Jen Lewis-Gordon, a waitress in Lakewood, N.J. She and her husband crossed off any name that had been used more than 100 times in the entire country in the last year. This left "Ptolemy," "Bombay," "Thursday" and "Ocean," as well as "Atlas," their ultimate choice. "I feel as though he'll be less likely to be a follower if he starts out from the beginning being different," Ms. Lewis-Gordo, 35, explained.

Wow. Does that mean all the Johns and Davids and Marys are destined for mindless lives mimicking the masses? When I read that line to Maggie, she quipped, "I'm pretty sure that the majority of influential people in late Western history held names like John, George, and James."

While naming your children is important, does it carry this much weight? If your child turns out to have the same name as three other kids in his kindergarten classroom, is he doomed to mediocrity? Are Russells always dorks and Natashas always vixens? 

What's Most Important?

As parents, it's easy to stress out about relatively inconsequential decisions about names and diet and diapers. Why? Because actual parenting is so very hard. I'd much rather believe that I can secure my child's future by simply picking the right name than honestly examine all that goes into raising a mature, well-rounded adult. It's less demanding to read about what to feed their mouths than to read about what to feed their souls.


This is bound to frustrate some folks who are passionate about these details of parenting. We must agree, though, that anything that is important is relatively important. The wise person allocates resources, time, and effort in view of one's whole life. In light of this, how much of my time should be spent on researching plastics and sleep patterns? I trust that those parents who are able to keep up with changing research surrounding these topics are still able to maintain a sense of proportion in their lives. I'm glad to learn from what they have discovered, even though I may not often heed their advice. 

Zealous parents might ask, Why resist change? Don't I want the best for my children? Absolutely I do. But given my circumstances, abilities, and calling, many of these passions are actually a distraction from what's best for my kids. For me, these pursuits are a subtle form of procrastination. My interest in such topics are not fueled by passion for my kids so much as avoidance. I am avoiding the regular, boring, difficult, heavy stuff I already know they need.

What is informing your convictions in parenting? Is it passion or avoidance? It is often easier to invest in our pet issues than to invest in what's most important. When asking ourselves these questions, we need to beware our deceptive hearts. I might talk about how I'm dramatically improving my child's future and implore you to do the same. But is a name really all that important?


Maintaining balance in parenting is really challenging. All of us are prone to misdirect our efforts. In my parenting and in all my life, I have limited time, money, energy, focus. How am I going to spend it? Can I justify spending ten minutes reading about the latest study when I haven't spent twenty minutes reading God's Word, twenty minutes praying for my children, twenty minutes building relationships with my neighbors, twenty minutes resting with my family? Certainly these activities are at least twice as important as that study. Given the temptation to procrastinate, parents must work hard to devote themselves to that which is most important.  

She Turned Out Just Fine. 

When we were deciding on Shepherd's name, a coworker shared about the time when she named her daughter twenty years earlier. She and her husband thought long and hard, wanting to give her a name that would set her apart. Different. Unique. Exotic, even.  

So they named her Jessica.

Don't worry. She turned out just fine. 


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