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The dangers of giving your child an unusual name

Unusual baby names

John Touhey | Aleteia

Cerith Gardiner - published on 06/01/24

If you're looking for a perfect moniker for your little newborn, here are a few things to consider before going down the "unique" route.

Trying to find the ideal name for a new addition to the family is a difficult job. Parents have the arduous task of choosing a name that represents their values, beliefs, and their identity. They then have to find a name that works well with their surname, and to top it off, they might also want a name that is a little unusual to give their child a bit of personality.

These days, parents have looked to fruit, locations and space for inspiration. They’ve also chosen alternative spellings to make the name their own. It’s all understandable, but, as a person with an unusual name, I’d really like you to consider some potential issues when choosing something different.

Constant mispronunciation

My name is Cerith. It could be worse you might think. Well, as an Irish/British person in France it is a nightmare. In England it is often pronounced Serith and in Ireland Carrot. When in actual fact it is meant to be pronounced Kerrith. (This obviously morphed over the years into Kenneth by my loving brothers.)

In France it doesn’t get any easier. People often say it with a frown to start with. After a while they usually opt for “Cerise,” which is in fact a cherry. Although admittedly I do appreciate a good cherry!

An administrative nightmare

Sometimes it’s a great talking point as you explain to people its origins — I’ll get to that — but sometimes you feel like a real nuisance, endlessly spelling, pronouncing and then spelling it again. It’s something that has definitely led me to waste far more time filling out documents over the phone, or trying to get in touch with people who thought my name was actually Cerys.

Frankly, if you want easy form-filling, go for a super easy name that is known throughout the world, something like Mary! It will also help when you’re at school. Teachers won’t be annoyed with you for having a name that doesn’t roll off the tongue, and that they don’t have to check its spelling each time they go to write it down. (As a teacher myself I totally understand how this can be a challenge.)

You’re forgotten

One of the things with having an unusual name is that people either forget it or they have it embedded in their brain. My best friend recently admitted to me that she had to write it phonetically on her hand for nearly a year because she just couldn’t get it to stay in her head. I understand and I don’t take it personally.

However, I would add that your name is a big part of your identity. If your name is forgotten, you lose a little of your identity, too. On the upside, though, for those who have remembered my name, it has definitely become a part of who I am for them.

Not blending in

I think this definitely is the case when you’re young. You want to fit in. You want to be part of the in-crowd. With a name like Cerith that was never going to happen. I looked around my class at the Rachels, Claires, and Sarahs and was so desperate to have a name that was more modern and popular.

It wasn’t easy, but now as an adult I can see it as a good conversation starter, and maybe I’ve finally grown into it after 50 years!


One thing I would say about having an unusual name is that if it has a history or some meaning, then it can be quite delightful.

The name Cerith actually belongs to a Welsh aunt (my mother is Welsh). She was given this name when her father had been posted to Jordan during the war and had written a postcard home to his expectant wife saying that he was on the banks of a little stream called “Cerith” — his Welsh spelling of the name. At the time I thought how romantic, but I never really understood the origins of my name.

Then, when I started school, my religious studies teacher told me that it was in the Bible. Although as I was only about 12 when he mentioned it, and we didn’t have the internet, I never actually found it.

Thankfully, years later the internet was able to help me out. When I googled Cerith, apart from being a not-so-pleasant looking snail that feeds off food waste, I found one website that told me a little more.

A little Biblical background

It actually comes from the Hebrew Kerith, or Cherith, Chorath (pronounced like my name), and means to cut down, or a stream. And in the Bible Elijah was fed by ravens next to the brook Cherith: 1 Kings 17:4. And I don’t know why, but the fact that my name had some sort of spiritual meaning felt more significant than just being a plain old snail.

The burning question in the family is whether any of my children will pass it on to theirs. The resounding answer has been “no,” but maybe as a middle name. Truthfully, I don’t blame them.

Baby namesCatholic LifestyleFamily
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