How to Use a Word Name

I love word names. They’re more straightforward in terms of meaning than other names and often directly point to a positive association. But word names can be tricky; anecdotally, I feel like I see far more parents concerned about flow and “weirdness” with word names compared to traditional names. So I’ve compiled a list of word name rules, but with a caveat: all of these rules can be broken. Every single one. Word names (and personal taste) vary so much that it’s hard to put down hard and fast rules. So, with that in mind, here’s a very general guide to the best way to use words as names.

  1. Beware of noun-adjective, noun-verb, double adjective, and adverb-verb combinations- These types of combinations tend to sound like phrases. For example, Truly may sound great if your last name is McLaughlin. But if your last name is Black, the double adjective combination makes the name sound like a description: Truly Black, as in, very, very dark. It doesn’t work with a name like Hawking either. Hawking can mean “stealing,” so Truly Hawking sounds like someone saying that they’re really stealing something. Ditto for names like Azure Rivers (describing the color of water) or Blanche Rose (making a flower turn white). These names can get gag-y very quickly, and they often sound like jokes, even if that’s unintended.
  2. Don’t set up a theme- This rule is a bit like #1, but to an extreme. When Kim Kardashian and Kanye West announced the name of their first daughter, North, they were met with widespread ridicule. I don’t think it’s because the name North was all that unacceptable; North, East, and West have all been used quietly for boys for quite some time and Easton and Weston cracked the top 200 for boys the year of North’s birth. What people objected to was the combination of the baby’s first and last name- North West. It was a gimmick. The same reaction didn’t come about when Kim and Kanye welcomed their second child, Saint, because Saint and West aren’t in the same category as words.
  3. Try to stick to one word per name- Following this rule would completely eliminate the possibility of breaking the first two rules. If you’re set on the middle name Mary, go wild with Reverie, Iris, North, or Piper in the first. But if you want the middle name to be Eleven, another word name in front can make the name seem wacky. The same is true with last names that are words. Sticking to one word per name eliminates any possible linguistic interaction between the two.
  4. Consider how commonly the word is used and how often it is used as a name- This works on a scale that I like to call the Word Name Rarity Scale:chartpicNames towards the top are the least likely to be seen as “weird” because they’re frequently heard. Names on the left side tend to be a bit less prone to jokes because the words are unusual and may not be a quick association for most people. Names on the bottom right are the rarest and most prone to seeming odd, so they’re best paired with a tame, non-word middle.
  1. Avoid Alliteration- Alliteration is always tricky. Sometimes it makes a name memorable and fun, and other times it just seems wacky and “extra” (as the kids say). The line is blurry, but in general, alliteration with word names can lean a little more towards the “too much” side of things, especially if the name falls on the bottom of the rarity scale above. A name like Wolf Blitzer seems okay to me, but Wolf Waller seems like a bit much.
  2. Consider Homonyms and Puns- There are a lot of names that sound like words when spoken aloud, but it’s easy to forget that because they aren’t spelled the same. Prime Example: A professor at my college had the last name Melo (pronounced like the word “mellow”) and considered the name Kara for his daughter until he realized that Kara Melo sounds like Caramel-oh. Homonym names are tricky but abundant: Carrie/Carry, Gail/Gale, Harry/Hairy, Hugh/Hue/Hew, etc. Don’t forget to consider this when choosing these types of names.
  3. Spell it the way it appears in the dictionary- I suppose this one is sort of a separate category from the other rules, but I think it’s worth noting anyway. Orthography is certainly a hot topic among name enthusiasts, with some insisting that traditional spellings are the only acceptable ones and others believing that creative spellings are just another way to express style. I generally fall somewhere in the middle, but not on word names. Truely and Loyel don’t look to me like names spelled differently to change the style- they look like words that were mistakenly spelled incorrectly. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s not the impression I’d want to give with my child’s name. Plus, it adds headaches for the child- Cate-not-Kate and Aubrie-not-Aubrey are probably tired of explaining their spellings, but I can’t imagine how annoying it would be for Chays-no-not-like-the-word-but-pronounced-like-the-word.

So with those totally subjective and definitely not set rules in mind, go forth and use word names! And please, comment below if there are any rules you’d add or remove!

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