While I was teaching in Asia, I learned that there is a lot of anxiety around English names for a lot of parents. I had parents ask me about whether or not their child should have an English name. I was also asked if their child’s English name was a good name. And, of course, I was asked fairly often if I could give their child an English name.
At first, I didn’t like the idea of giving children English names, and honestly, I still don’t like to do it. However, I have come to recognize that having a good English name can be important for students. So, I hope this article can give you some ideas and help you with choosing your own English name or help you choose your child’s English name.
Does an English Name Help?
In my opinion, an English name helps you in three main ways:
- An English name can help your child get into the mindset of practicing English
- Can invest your child into their English education
- It will help them in interactions with Westerners
An English Mindset
I find that an English name can help children get into the mindset of learning English. When they are addressed by their English name, they are expected to respond in English. When they are addressed by their actual name, then they know it is okay to respond in their native language.
Can Invest Your Child in English
Children that feel a connection and interest in English are going to do better overall. Letting your child be a part of choosing their own English name can help them start to develop an interest in the language. Names can also be a great place to learn reading and spelling. Children want to be able to read and write their own names, and this motivation can help them get started.
It Will Help Their English Teachers
I’ll be the first to admit that this is not a good reason. Whether or not your child has an English name, shouldn’t really cause an impact with how English speakers interact with them. But, in my experience, it does. This is especially true if your native language is not closely related to English. Teachers will remember an English name better, and it could help them more closely connect with your child.
What is a Good English Name?
This is up for debate, and it comes down to personal taste. Arguably, there are no “good” names, but I can guarantee there are bad ones. When picking an English name, I would keep a couple things in mind:
- Can I pronounce it easily?
- Is it a “normal” name?
- Am I going to be happy with this name in five or ten years?
Some people feel that it is also useful to have an English name that has a similar sound to a child’s native name. I haven’t really seen any difference, but it could be something that you consider when choosing.
What is a “Normal” Name?
Generally, I would suggest that if you are going to take an English name that you should stick with a safer option. I have met people who have chosen English names like Dolphin and Hello Kitty, and I don’t think that these names are going to do them any favors later on.
My suggestion would be to check out one of the many lists of popular names for the year that you or your child was born. This should keep your name “normal” and also current. A name like Agatha could be considered normal, but it is an older name that most people associate with someone in their 70’s. So, maybe if you are naming someone who is 5, this isn’t the best name for now.
Lists of English Names
There are lots of great resources online, but if you are looking for a popular name, then this resource from the US Social Security Office is a great place to start.
While there, just input the year and it will show you the 20 most common boy and girl names for that year in the US.
If you want, you can also see the most popular names by the decade at this link here.
English Name Meanings
Although the meanings of English names are not as important as they once were, there are still many people who like to know what a name means and where it comes from.
If you are interested in knowing a little more about the history of your child’s English name, then take a look at behindthename.com. This website should give you an idea of where their name comes from geographically and what it means. It can also tell you how popular that name is across several western countries.
What About Nicknames or Short Forms of Common Names?
In English, it is quite common for a name to have a more formal long version and a more casual short version. My name is this way. I usually go by “Josh,” but, legally, my name is “Joshua.” Most short forms of names are quite obvious, and some names have more than one commonly accepted short form.
Examples of long/short pairings:
Joshua – Josh
Jonathon – Jon
William – Will, Bill
Steven – Steve
Elizabeth – Liz, Lizzie, Ellie, Beth
Stephanie – Steph
Isabella – Bella, Issy
There is really no need to worry about nicknames at all. I like having a long and short form of my name, but many people get on just fine without it.
Current Most Common Names
According to the US Census, the most common names of 2018 (the most recent data) are:
Final Thoughts on English Names
An English name can be a very useful thing for getting your child involved and invested in their own English education. But, it is not as important as many people make it out to be. If your child is planning on being in an English country or school, then it would probably be a good idea to choose a good English name for them.
Naming should be something that your child can be involved in, though it is important that you retain some editorial control over their choice of names. It might be tempting to pick a cute name when they are young, but as they grow up, it would be better for them to have something more respectable. Using one of the many available online resources, you and your child can find a name that is perfect for them. a name that they will be able to take on as their own and one that will help them grow into a fluent English speaker.