How to Choose a Name by Theme
When you hear the word "west," you can't help but think of cowboys, tumbleweeds, covered wagons, and the open range. Amy and John West, one of our case study couples, felt like they had a unique opportunity to follow a theme (Western, in their case) when it came to naming their child. Amy loved cowboy nostalgia. Some names that sounded Western to her were Wyatt, Chet, and Stella. But John also thought it would be cool and original to find a name that doubled as a verb or adjective and read like a sentence or phrase, as in Jett West or Wilde West. Too far out for Amy, so they settled on Scout West: The S and T sounds match in the first and last names, it has a Western connotation, and although it's a real name, it also sounds like a command.

The Perfect Baby Name explains how to break down the sound and rhythm of your surname and match it to a complimentary first name. As a bonus just on this Web site, we also show you how to determine whether your last name has a particular style that you might want to match to a similar type of first name. Then go to our theme index for a final grouping of baby names broken into ten thematic categories: Nature, Arts & Letters, Place, Symbolic, Grammar, Old-fashioned, Out-of-the-Ordinary, Up & Comers, Crossovers, and Unisex.

For instance, surnames like Harrington and Chambers sound traditional and elegant, so they might be paired with names like Victoria or Sebastian (names from our Classic list.) Green and Wolf could conjure up plants and animals, and first names on the "nature" list include Sage, Forest, Fox, Willow, Rose, and Acacia. Some first names will appear on multiple lists if they fit into multiple themes. Indeed, some surnames may go with several themes, or none at all. The trick is to look at (and more importantly, listen to) your last name and see if it evokes an image in your mind.

Style Matches

Even if your surname doesn't immediately jump out and say "theme," perhaps your personality does. We always ask expectant couples about their occupations and hobbies to see if we can reflect them in a name. For instance, we are writers so we liked the name Gabriel for our first son because it's the name of one of our favorite authors, Gabriel Garcia Márquez. We also like music, so the name Jasper (and the nickname Jazz) made sense for our second son.

Jim and Lynn Drogo are painters and they looked through art books to find names for their children. They named their son Lucian for a favorite painter, Lucian Freud, and chose Kadence for their daughter because of the musical connection to the word "cadence." Kate Kerner and Tom Cometa named both their children after characters in children's literature: Max, for Maurice Sendak's imaginative hero in Where the Wild Things Are, and Madeline, for Ludwig Bemelmans' spunky French small-fry in the Madeline series. The Wests liked Scout because it's the nickname of the little girl in To Kill a Mockingbird.

If you're into 1940s swing music, you could name your child Benny, Glenn, Duke, Harry, or Basie, whereas classical buffs might prefer Wolfgang, Johannes, Ludwig, or even Yo-Yo. And Elvis fans have lots of choices: Elvis, Aaron, Presley, King, Tupelo, Mississippi, and Grace or Graceland. All those names appear on our Arts & Letters list, along with Flannery, Kerouac, Gulliver, Holden, Calloway, and Armstrong.

But if that's not your thing, simply figure out what is. Former super model Christie Brinkley, a boating enthusiast, named her daughter Sailor. British "Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver named his daughter, Poppy Honey, after recipe ingredients. John Travolta, who likes to fly planes, named his son Jett. And remember when George Costanza—Jerry Seinfeld's balding, frequently misguided best friend on the popular TV show—was obsessed with naming his child Seven? He was inspired by the fact that the number was Mickey Mantle's cherished designation. However, Singer Erykah Badu gave her son the name Seven because it is one of the divine numbers that cannot be divided. Some of our case study couples named their babies by theme, too. Colin Botto, a pilot and aircraft mechanic, liked the sound of the name Piper, which is also, coincidentally, the name of a small plane (as well as an entry on our Grammar, Arts, and Nature lists). Ricki and Ethan Klos love old movies, so they liked the name Sadie (on our Retro list) for their daughter.

You can use our formula to match your surname with a first name from any source you wish to use, so look around you for inspiration. Look up your favorite words in foreign language dictionaries. Watch the credits of your favorite movies. Scan your bookshelves and record collection, looking not just at first names, but also surnames, characters, instruments, even publishing houses and recording studios. If you're a gardener, flip through plant reference books; a car buff, auto magazines; an animal lover, zoology guidebooks; an astronomer (or an astrologist, for that matter), star charts. Sound out the names of the tools, colors, and other terminology to see if anything matches your surname—you never know where the perfect baby name might come from.

Cultural Matches

A lot of couples are primarily motivated to choose a first name that goes with their ethnicity or religious beliefs. Books abound with lists of first names for different ethnicities, but suppose you and your spouse have different cultural backgrounds? We picked the name Gabriel because it's used in both English- and Spanish-speaking cultures and fits in nicely with our Anglo-Saxon and Mexican backgrounds. Other "crossover" names include Noah (Christian/Jewish), Xavier (Latin in origin, but used in English, Spanish, and French), Max (English/German), Jade (Asian/English), Isaiah (Jewish/African American), and Maya (Asian/Spanish).

You can also choose names from different cultures for each child, as Naheed Attari and Kevin McGahan did when they gave their daughter the Persian name Parisa for Naheed, and their son the Irish name Declan for Kevin. Or pay homage to two different cultures by using two names. Elisa and Andres Alvarez chose English first names and Hispanic middle names for their daughters, Madeline Analla and Lily Beatriz. Michael and Yoriko Mikesell did the same thing with English first names and Japanese middle names for their daughters, Jasmine Natsumi and Sienna Moe.

In fact, our name-matching system can help you find a name that sounds good while following your own cultural customs. In the Jewish tradition, children are often given names that begin with the same initial as a deceased loved one. Josh and Anna Katz wanted to honor a close family friend named Suzanne, so they chose the name Sophia. Plus, it sounds good! The S/Z sounds in Sophia Rose Katz create a phonetic echo, and the long Os in Sophia and Rose repeat, too.

Symbolic Matches

The Queetos had a history of making up their own names. When Robert Pfaendler married Giovanna, they chose Queeto, a Native American name for a special star, as their common surname. So, when he and Giovanna had a child, they looked at their new little bundle of joy and knew that they were beginning a wonderful adventure together—a quest even—so they named their son Quest. They did not shy away from the double KW sounds in Quest Queeto. They even chose a K middle name—Kaleo (kuh-LAY-yoh), which means "one voice" or "voice of love" in Hawaiian, one of their cultural backgrounds. For the Queetos, Quest Kaleo Queeto is the perfect match. Plus, they love the QKQ initials—and it's certainly memorable.

If you're a regular churchgoer, you might find Biblical names appealing, as Lori and Bradley Jorgensen did when they named their sons David and Matthew. And many Jewish, Muslim, and Hispanic-Catholic families choose names like Elijah, Muhammad, and Jesus to represent their faiths. See the Symbolic list for more examples, including Charity, Grace, Justice, Nevaeh, Serenity, and Zion.

Grammar Matches

Musician Tom Waits has a name that reads like a sentence: His name is Tom, and he's waiting. John West liked this concept so much that he went looking for first names that could do the same: Scout West sounds like an imperative, as in "search westward." Many names double as nouns, verbs, or adjectives, including Tuck, Gage, Guide, Pace, Arrow, Blaze, Judge, Steel, Trek, Quest, and Chance. Some of the more popular surnames that are used as first names also qualify as grammar names, like Sailor, Taylor, Piper, Fisher, Hunter, Parker, and Ryder. If your surname doubles as a verb in search of a noun or vice versa—like West, Waits, Banks, Fry, Walker, Farmer, Carpenter, or Mann—check out the our Grammar list.

Custom Matches

Why pick an off-the-rack name when you can have one custom made? It's easy to make up a name that matches your surname by simply rearranging the phonemes and adding different prefixes or suffixes. The surname Reyes, for instance, begets Reese, Seyla, Yerdis, and Cece (SEE-see). For Smith, you could come up with Kitma or Mathina, and for Jones, how about Onessa or Jennor?

Too weird? Then simply alter some of the names that appear on your phonetic lists. Instead of Hallie or Callie, go with Mallie or Tallie. Or if Zane isn't unique enough for you, how about Xane, Zade, or Thane? Look at names for both genders, too: Boy names can often be feminized by adding "-a," "-ine," "-ette," or "-ie/y" endings, and girl names can sometimes be made masculine by adding "-r," "-n," "-s," or "-o" endings (e.g., Skyla for a girl, Skyler for a boy; Trista for a girl, Tristan for a boy; Odette for a girl, Otis for a boy; Emily or Emmeline for a girl, Emilio for a boy).

When you start playing around with different prefixes, suffixes, and phonemes, it's easy to blend two names into one, as in Jalisa (Jane and Lisa), Vivica (Vivian and Erica), or Keshawn (Kevin and Shawn). Remember, that's how Laurie and Matt Light came up with the name Luciena—a combination of Lucy and Sienna—for their second daughter. So if you like Patrick, why not Pedrick or Paxton? Change the G in Logan to a D and you have Loden. And Ember could be a fiery alternative to Emma or Emily.

Even your most unusual made-up monikers probably can't hold a candle to some of the entries on the top 1000 list, especially the older ones. Happily, what sounds awful to one parent may be music to another parent's ears. But remember—whether you make up a name or choose something unconventional from the lists in this book—research any name before entering it on the birth certificate. You'll want to make sure you're not naming your child something offensive in Hungarian or Urdu! We provide a list of online resources or you can Google your favorite candidates.