Page last updated at 10:27 GMT, Thursday, 6 August 2009 11:27 UK

What's in an (early) name?

Woman who is eight months pregnant
Is this the best time to name your baby?

By Laura Schocker

The mother of Jude Law's fourth child announced on Sunday that the new baby will be named Sophia - three months before she is expected to arrive. It was an unusual break from baby naming protocol. But why do names tend to be such a secret in the first place?

In the past few years, the celebrity name game has often been a waiting game.

Britney Spears left her fans hanging for six weeks before she revealed the name of her son Jayden James. Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck took a week to announce that they would call their second daughter Seraphina.

Jude Law
Jude Law's next child will be called Sophia

And Apple and Suri were both unveiled with much fanfare a day after their respective births.

But the wait for Sophia? None at all.

On Sunday, mother-to-be Samantha Burke's lawyers released a statement to People magazine revealing that her daughter with Law would be named Sophia. The actual name may not have packed as much surprise as a moniker like Apple, but the timing did. Ms Burke, an American model, isn't due until October.

She's not the only October due-date with a name picked out, though. American reality TV couple Joshua and Anna Duggar - Joshua is the eldest child on the show 18 Kids and Counting - announced that they will call their first daughter Mackynzie Renee when she arrives.

And even for those outside of the spotlight, talking over possible names isn't unusual.

"In the non-celebrity world, I'd say that it's definitely a trend for people to discuss their name ideas at length before the baby comes along," says Pamela Redmond Satran, author of the Brilliant Book of Baby Names and Cool Names for Babies. But often, people tend to keep the final choice a surprise until the last minute.

So why is there this tradition of secrecy? One reason is that parents-to-be don't want to open up the naming conversation for debate, says Jennifer Moss, founder and CEO of

Poster of pregnant Britney Spears
Britney Spears did not announce the name of Jayden James until after

"They don't want reactions to the name," she says. "It's easier to announce it after the baby is born because it's attached to a person and people are less likely to criticise it."

Keeping the secret can make couples feel they are sharing something intimate, says Elaine Griffiths, editor of Prima Baby magazine.

"There is a sense that things can get too public these days," she says, pointing out that new parents typically know the sex ahead of time and will often post scanned photos and share intimate details of the birth - or even conception - of the baby.

"Something like a name is a very personal thing," she says. "People decide, 'Well, ok, this is going to be our secret'."

Sometimes the hush is also rooted in superstition, tradition or religion, Ms Satran adds. In the Jewish faith, for instance, parents are not supposed to prepare for the baby by purchasing furniture or choosing a final name until he or she has arrived.

"People don't want to announce their good news or give it too soon," she says. "They're afraid they're going to jinx things."

Spotlight moves

And often, parents may simply want to reserve the right to change their minds.

"A lot of it does depend on what your baby actually looks like once he or she is here," says Ms Griffiths. "Even if you do feel quite determined that you're going to call your baby Sophia, if, for whatever reason, it doesn't look like a Sophia, then you're likely to change it."

And if that spotlight moves on, those following the last three months of pregnancy may have less to look forward to, says Ms Satran.

"Announcing the name early on does make the arrival of the child a bit anti climatic," she says, likening it to knowing the sex of the baby before it arrives. "A lot of people do still like that movie-worthy surprise."

Sophia was the 39th most common baby name in the UK in 2008, according to the parenting group Bounty
The name means "wisdom"
The variation "Sophie" was fourth in popularity last year

It's not just celebrities who are playing this early name game, either. Jeanette Cutlack, a baker who lives in the Isle of Mull in Scotland, named her son Sam three months into her pregnancy.

"I discussed it with my mum and at the time there were two options," she says, adding that the choice was between Sam and Ralph. "My mum is a bit of a bully, so she put down my second option. So I just kind of shrugged my shoulders."

Ms Cultack, who says little Sam kicked the first time she called him by name, wasn't worried about changing her mind. "In my heart he was a Sam and that's what I knew it was going to be," she says. "I've never met a bad Sam."

Here is a selection of your comments.

I'd decided the names for my children before they were born. I didn't want to know the sex of the babies and didn't have scans done, so I had names ready for a boy or a girl (I had one of each). Do names fit the child or the child fit the name, I don't know but both of mine have three given names and they can choose whichever one they want to be known by. My son uses a diminutive of his first given name. My daughter has already dropped one of her middle names - the one I use when she's in trouble or gets selectively deaf.
Jenny, Taunton

My partner and me had our first baby in April. we felt that telling people our choices of baby names before the baby came along allowed people to give you their honest opinion. We also felt that as we had our names for most of the 9 months we were expecting that our baby would most definitely look like the name we had chosen. In the end our baby Sophie looked like a Sophie and we think finding out the sex was a big enough surprise.
Marc Lipscombe, Edinburgh, Midlothian

I named my son before he was born. I liked the fact that he became a person in his own right while he was still a part of me, and wasn't just "the baby" but "Oliver". I did find that it was only me and my partner that would refer to him by name before he was born, others seemed a little uncomfortable with it, not so much the younger generation, but definitely the older ones.
Suzanne, Cardiff

We discussed possible names with friends and family prior to our daughters birth eight weeks ago, and tested their reactions to certain name combinations. We really valued their input in helping us choose, especially them pointing out dodgy combinations of initials and potential playground nicknames! We came up with a shortlist of possibles but one name in particular always made people smile and got a universally-positive reaction. When she was born, Daisy didn't look like anything other than a "Daisy', and she continues to make everyone smile!
Polly Aron - mother of Daisy Lilyrose, Louth, Lincolnshire

I fell there's something both rather tacky and chicken-counting about naming your unborn child. What if the sonographer got the sex wrong and your Jill is actually a Jack? What if, God forbid, your baby does not survive to birth? What if someone steals the name you've chosen for their own child (or dog?) All good reasons for staying on "Team Yellow" as it's known - and keeping the gender (if you know it) and the name of your baby private until he/she is born.
Selina, Lancashire

I don't like to hear all the details of an unborn child before they arrive - there is no element of surprise left. I have a friend who is due a month after me (I'm due September) and I already know the sex, name and date of birth of her baby. That just seems odd to me. But, I am perhaps a tad old fashioned!
Kerry, Birmingham, UK

The problem is everyone knows the sex of the baby before it arrives - my 12th grandchild is due in September - her name is Chloe. I preferred to wait until the child arrived before putting to much emphasis on a name - we always had a few we liked but waited to see if they fitted the child. You sometimes get a blond girl who would seem odd as Scarlett - and you would avoid that name if the girl was a red-head.
Jullee Morgan, Llangammarch Wells, Powys

When I was pregnant I knew all the way through if I had a son, he was going to be Jake. I told everyone, so it wasn't going to be a surprise. Upon having my little boy, he didn't look like a Jake so became Jacob instead. So beware parents-to-be. It's not always straight forward.
Tally, Birmingham, UK

"A lot of it does depend on what your baby actually looks like once he or she is here..."

That would surely mean all children should be named Winston (or Winstonetta).
Alex the Hat, Cardiff

In my experience as a midwife, about 90% of mothers have the name quite fixed in their minds by the eighth month. A mother who genuinely has not chosen even a short-list is very very rare. Most have three or four favourites and are waiting to see "what the baby turns out like". The exceptions, of course, are those communities where it is traditional for grandparents to select a name based on the date and time of birth.

Elain Griffiths is right. There is very little "privacy" in pregnancy these days and knowing the sex of the baby is pretty much "par for the course" although I am detecting a backlash against that with fewer couples wanting to know. The name and the reasons for selecting it is the often the last private part of the process left to the parents.
Jaye, Rutland, England

Some infants always inherit their names, and not always aristocracy. My family history means that my lad as a 1st born boy has middle name Harcourt. If a 2nd male is born then he has the middle name Mordaunt. They have been used as first names way way back but both are French surnames in origin.

I knew a family where for several generations the males all have the initials T C with firstborns usually being Thomas. The surname is Harrison and no it's not the big car dealership chain!
EnglishFolkfan, Shropshire, England

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