Baby names - things to consider

Pregnant woman with baby names on post it notes on her baby bump

So you've pored over the naming books, looked at the most popular baby names and more unusual options, and come up with a few you like. Now you need to put them through the extensive Mumsnet baby name check

When picking a name for your baby, you're looking at everything from what they might mean in another language to seeing how they go with your surname. Make a list, and then finally – perhaps most crucially – you can run the gauntlet see what other Mumsnetters think of your choice in our baby names forum. You may even change your mind at the last minute.

If you're seriously contemplating calling your child Moonbat (and you're not a celebrity) remember it's the pregnancy hormones peaking and that your partner is right to say no. Finding the right name for your new baby boy or girl can be a bit of a minefield and there are many things to consider.

How to spell your baby’s name

Say it OUT LOUD. First thing. Make a list and say them all out loud. You'll be amazed what gets crossed off!

Certain names have a huge variety of spellings, and this is something to think carefully about when choosing your baby’s name. For example, just how are you supposed to spell Katherine? Catherine? Katharine? Cathryn? Kathryn? If there is one thing that unites Mumsnetters, it is that unusual or unconventional spellings of names are best avoided, if only to protect your child from other people's derision.

On a practical level, unusual spellings for baby names can cause confusion and lots of frustration as, in later life, they are forced to spell out their name to the person on the other end of the phone for the umpteenth time. We've all raised an eyebrow in that particular coffee shop when something seemingly obvious like Katie comes back as something completely different. Amusing at first, but it quickly wears thin. Sometimes it's just better to go with convention. It's worth consulting the most popular baby names if you're not sure about the most common spellings of popular names.

Baby name meanings

It probably goes without saying, but you should really take time to consider what your baby’s name actually means, and if there are any unfortunate associations with it. For example, Candida is Latin for dazzling white – but as your midwife might have already mentioned, it is also the medical name for a thrush infection. There are also loads of words which, if you didn’t know their meaning, you might think make perfectly lovely names for baby girls. Chlamydia, anyone? (Think about it.)

Diverse kids play in the garden

If you're keen on foreign travel and foreign languages, you may also want to check what the name means in some other languages. For example, if you chose to name your baby boy Zephy and called him ‘Zizi’ for short, people in France might chuckle. (It’s French for ‘willy'.) Let's face it, we all giggled at the back of Year 9 French when the textbook contained at least one Fanny.

Shortening baby names

Do you like a name that's a shorter variant of another? Common sense says to put the longer version – providing it's not too vile – on the birth certificate. There's no law that says you have to call your child by anything other than the shorter – invariably cuter – version, but it's a wise decision to leave them the option of the fuller version of their name as they get older. (Essentially, this is the one time when you can afford to be indecisive and leave making a final decision for a decade or two.) Like a fine wine, your baby's name should age well, as, let's face it, a five-year-old Effie is sweet, but she might prefer to be Josephine when she's running MI5.

Conversely, if you do opt to use the full variant of a name, be prepared that literally everyone – school friends, teachers, relatives et al – will shorten it, regardless of whether you mind or not. Jonathan will become Johnny. Thomas will be Tom and nothing you do or say will make the blindest bit of difference. The long and short of the matter is, well, precisely that!

Make a baby name shortlist

No matter how in tune you and your partner are, naming your child is one area where hitherto happy couples often fall out. If you can't both agree on one definite winner, then your best bet is to draw up a shortlist of acceptable names and then one of you (and we're not saying who, as that would be sexist) should point out in no uncertain terms that the person who has carried the baby for 40 weeks and then gone through a three-day labour gets the casting vote. RIGHT?! The only proviso being that you can't use the names of past lovers or current crushes.

Does your chosen baby name go with your surname?

I had a meeting with a (very) fat man at work who was introduced as 'Porker', or so I heard. In fact it was Paul Kerr.

Once you've settled on a shortlist, the next hurdle is how the first name and surname work together – because if ever there was the potential for disaster, it is now. Paige, Tess and Warren are all relatively innocuous. Add the surnames Turner, Stickle and Peace and they become not only legendary but the stuff that classroom bullies thrive on.

Don't forget to add any middle initials into the equation (Chris P Bacon, anyone?) or the fact that your child's first name can be shortened (Richard Scratcher…). Rhythm, rhyme, syllables and alliteration should also be taken into consideration. Frankly, A-level English is less of a sweat.

“I wanted Phoebe, but not good with our monosyllabic surname that starts with a 'Bee' sound. (Poor child would have ended up with a stutter.)”

While you're playing the surname game, you really need to settle the thorny old issue of using one surname or both. If it's going to be one, and that one is your partner's rather than yours, are you prepared for 18 years of patiently correcting the assumptions of teachers, dentists and doctors' receptionists?

Or, if it's to be both, whose surname will be going first? Will the surnames be combined as one new double-barrelled surname, or does one surname get downgraded to a middle name, à la Hillary Rodham Clinton? How do you feel about hyphens? Don't leave this decision till you reach the registrar's office: it's really not the place for a punctuation fight.

Middle names for your baby

Middle names would seem to serve little purpose, until you're the one naming your child and then their use becomes immediately apparent. They are a cast-iron way to placate your parents and in-laws, so can be a welcome olive branch at a time when family conflict is common.

Some people use them to keep family traditions alive, for example, all male members of the family might have a particular middle name. Others may use them to honour favourite relatives of whom the child reminds them, or who have passed away in the same year the child was born. You could even have the entire England squad in there if you wanted to, and nobody would ever know. However they function in your family, they are not compulsory, and many parents choose to skip them altogether.

The only thing you need to worry about at this stage is the issue of unintentional acronyms – just what do all those initials spell out? Charles Ramsay Archibald Pearce, beware.

Family values

Another thing to consider is if your new arrival has brothers and sisters. You might be thinking you're already a pro at thinking of baby names by this point, especially if it's your third or fourth. However, you should now be thinking about how the family jigsaw will fit together.

It is sensible to make your children's names sound different from one another, otherwise you will be forever repeating yourself and explaining who is who. Just imagine yourself shouting Jack, Zac and Mac in from the back garden. Super annoying.

When should you pick your baby’s name?

Babies dressed up as businessmen go over their annual sales figures

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, or so they say, and you may find that when your little one finally makes his or her appearance, the name you've been set on since your 12 week scan just doesn't suit them.

Don't worry if Jane actually looks more like a Dorothy, you've got six weeks in which to register their name, so there's plenty of time to make up your mind.

Get the Mumsnet seal of approval

Still undecided? Make a beeline for our baby names discussions, where you can put your potential list of monikers to the Mumsnet jury. Find out Mumsnetters' predictions for the names you're thinking of – and then feel free to add your own personal prejudices preferences – with our baby name finder.

A name that sounds cute as a baby may not sound so cute for an adult. I always imagine them sitting in a bar introducing themselves to someone when they are 21. If the name sounds OK then it's a winner.

It's the easiest way to find out if a name is over-used (for which read 'horribly common'), slightly too unusual (for which read 'precocious, verging on downright ludicrous') or likely to lead to your child not reaching their full potential (for which read 'will be teased mercilessly throughout their entire life').

Be prepared for some forthright, nay blunt, advice. It might smart at the time, but believe us, in years to come, your children will thank Mumsnet for it.