As a teacher, I spend countless hours correcting spelling and punctuation of my students’ papers. But one reader wonders, are there spelling and punctuation rules when it comes to baby names?
I was wondering what you thought about names that are hyphenated, such as Anna-Simone over Anna Simone, or Samantha-Rose over Samantha Rose. Also, I was wondering what you thought about taking a common name (Sophia) and using a less common spelling (Sofia). Thanks!
First of all, congratulations are in order. Renata recently had a baby girl whom she named Sofia, choosing the less common Russian spelling in honor of her Russian heritage.
As far as double-barreled names go, like Anna-Simone or Samantha-Rose, they’re not my personal style. That doesn’t mean they’re bad for someone else to use. I just didn’t grow up around them, so to me it seems like an awful lot of name for everyday use. I’d be more inclined to use Samantha as the first name and Rose as the middle and then call her either Samantha or Samantha Rose depending on my mood.
For those who do like double-barreled names, there are advantages and disadvantages to the hyphen. The hyphen obviously makes it more clear that the name is intended to be said as a single unit. Without the hyphen, Samantha Rose is slightly more likely to turn into plain old Samantha. However, many computerized forms and programs do not recognize punctuation in personal names, so if you pick the hyphenated Samantha-Rose, your daughter might have the complication of being Samantha-Rose in some contexts and Samantha Rose in others. She might also be frustrated that her name appears punctuated incorrectly on most official documents.
If forced to choose, I would tentatively come down on the no hyphen side. I’d like to hear readers’ opinions on this one, though, especially those who know people with double-barreled names.
Spelling is a hotly-debated issue among name enthusiasts. I’ve heard many argue that choosing an uncommon spelling makes your child’s name “more unique,” while others claim choosing any but the most common spelling will make your child hate you because she’ll have to spell it out to everyone she meets. I disagree with both positions.
There are times it’s perfectly reasonable to use a less common alternate spelling. Some good reasons for picking a variant spelling:
- It honors your heritage (e.g., choosing Sofia over Sophia if you’re of Latin or Russian descent)
- It honors a namesake (e.g., choosing Katharine over Katherine in honor of Ms. Hepburn)
- It’s a legitimate, historically-attested spelling that you happen to prefer aesthetically (e.g., choosing Isobel over Isabelle because you like its spare look)
It’s also reasonable to choose a variant spelling when it helps to simplify the pronunciation of a very foreign-looking name, though I’d advise parents to be cautious when doing this. For example, I don’t fault those who pick the Anglicized Neve over the original Irish Niamh, especially in the U.S. where Niamh is unfamiliar. However, be careful when doing this that you’re not causing the name to lose all its grace. Caoimhe is another Irish moniker almost impossible for most Americans to pronounce correctly, but Keeva looks less sophisticated, at least to my eyes. Also, be sure you’re not catering to cultural illiteracy by choosing an “easier” spelling. For example, there’s no reason Chloe and Zoe should ever have to be spelled as Kloey and Zoey. Educated people should know how to pronounce Zoe. Have high aspirations for your child: assume she will someday mingle among an educated set. And if people don’t know how to pronounce your child’s name? Well, then, your child can educate them.
Of course, there are times it’s a bad idea to use a variant spelling. Some thoughts on when NOT to go the alternate spelling route:
- Choosing an uncommon spelling of a common name does not make the name less common. If you like Isabella but are bugged by its top-10 status, don’t name your child Izabella. They sound exactly the same. If there are two Isabellas in your daughter’s first grade class, they’ll still either be Isabella D. and Izabella M. or Isabella-with-an-S and Izabella-with-a-Z. If it’s a unique name you’re craving, choose something uncommon in its own right (like Mirabella). And if you really love Isabella, just name your daughter Isabella.
- Inventing your own spelling is usually a bad idea. It often comes off looking somewhat illiterate. I once heard of someone considering Kalub for her son, and it made me think of some of the T-shirts I used to see around my college campus. You see, I went to UC Berkeley, commonly known as Cal, and our rival school was Stanford. We would mock them by wearing “Stanfurd sucks” on our shirts, and they’d mock us by spelling our name as “Kal.” By misspelling the names, we were implying that the students at the rival school were illiterate and stupid. When I heard of that poor parent considering Kalub, I couldn’t help but think that she was incorporating both the K from Kal and the U from Stanfurd into her child’s name, to much the same effect.
- Be aware that newly-invented alternate spellings (especially those using K-substitution and and Y-substitution) are very trendy right now. In 20 years’ time, Isabella and Caleb might not be fashionable, but they’ll still be classic. Izzybella and Kaleb will look dated and probably downright silly.
I’d love to hear readers’ thoughts on hyphens and spelling for baby names. Do you have any other baby name grammar rules you’d like to share?