I always had this theory that president’s last names made great girl’s first names: like Madison, Jefferson, Taylor, or even Clinton (but probably not Bush.) It is pretty crazy that you can name your kid anything you want. The comedian Lousi CK has a joke where he talks about naming a kid Pffffffft like a fart. Or ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ so that he could say this is my son, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen!’
In his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says, “The most important word to anyone is their name”. A name is a person’s brand. And that is the brand that will stay with them their whole lives.
This is the story of how we named my son Axel. It took us 6 months and lots of work, but we finally found the perfect name.
There is this a fascinating section in the book Freakonomics where they look at baby names. Baby name trends over the last few decades have shown that naming trends often start with rich people and then trickle down to the middle and lower socioeconomic classes, and along the way the names pick up extra letters. Jasmine (popular because of the Little Mermaid) becomes Jazzmynne for example, probably because parents are just guessing at the spelling phonetically.
Malcolm Gladwell had this interesting piece where he showed that proportionally there are more dentists named Dennis. We already know that self-identity and self-image are hugely influential on how you take action in the world, see my piece “The Dad Effect.” This is illustrated in pop culture with the great Johnny Cash song about the boy named Sue. Then there is that football player named Champion “Champ” Bailey and the pro cyclist named Winner Anacona.
I’ve had friends that wait until their kids are born to name them. Sometime they have a few options ready, sometimes they don’t. It seems pretty risky to me to stake your children’s future on a split second decision.
I approached naming our kid the way I do a lot of things: by creating a formula that would lead us the ideal name. My partner Heidi thinks it’s funny that I made a spreadsheet to keep track of all the names, but it is really the best way. First, of course, we needed to find out if it was going to be a girl or a boy so we could eliminate half the names.
So here is my son’s full name: Axel Wind Wayan Loudermilk. Now I’ll tell you how we got there.
I’ll start by talking about his first name, which is the most important. According to our formula, his name first name needed to be short, because Loudermilk is long. It should have a hard K sound in it, which can come from a K or a C or an X. A two-syllable name was ideal. The name had to be unique, and have a good meaning.
The historic meaning of names led us to reject the name Echo, which sounded cool, but the name of a female Greek goddess who was cursed to only repeat what other gods had said. There were also names that I threw out as too common. Jackson would have been one of those names as it was the most popular boy name in 2016.
After Axel was born I had a panic attack that his name might not be unique enough! A nurse told me that he was the second Axel she had met that week! WTF? But then I looked it up, and found it is only the 193rd most popular name for 2016 and occurs only three in 10,000 names in the US. Whew, he is still a special snowflake.
As we worked on the name, I would test out names of flowers, places, trees, games, and characters from novels. I would drive through a town like Casper, WY and send Heidi a text: “What do you think of the name Casper?” Baby name books were pretty useful and interesting, as were baby names by country of origin. We looked up Germanic names in particular, which have potential to flow with Loudermilk.
Heidi shot down most of the names I suggested. Actually, the name Axel got shot down at first because I was joking that we should name him after a part of a bicycle, because I love cycling so much. But when I brought it up again and told her the meaning, Heidi started liking it.
Heidi and I eventually had this big list of names on our spreadsheet and we independently each picked the ten that we loved the most. There were three names that we both loved and had good meanings: Marcus, Maxwell, and Axel. Marcus, after Marcus Aurelius, the great philosopher emperor, Maxwell, which means ‘great spring’, and Axel which means ‘king of peace.’
We finally decided on the name Axel. We really like the idea of our son being a king (who doesn’t?), but also wanted him to be peaceful (again, who doesn’t?) Both Heidi and I have done thousands of hours of meditation, and peacefulness is one of our shared traits. Given that he will spend lots of time with us, we are predicting he will have a calm demeanor. Three months in, and so far Axel is incredibly chill and the name is quite fitting.
As for his middle names, Wind came from a connection with Heidi’s Indian name ‘Wings on the Whispering Wind,’ which she got while working in the deserts of Arizona, and a certain type of meditation that I do. Wayan is Balinese for firstborn, so when he goes back to Bali, he will have the same name as a third of the other Balinese.
Feel free to use this process for naming anything you like: it works for children, pets, or businesses. After I got this whole naming process down, I used it last week to help my friend find the perfect name for her business.
Photo: Getty Images