Picking a Name with Rhythm
Rhythm is the sense of movement created by the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, either in a line of verse or in a name.
Single-syllable first and last names can work well if there's a contrast between the length of the sounds in each name. Ben Stein, the droll actor, comedian, speechwriter, and game show host (you may remember him as the teacher in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off), possesses a very short name but it sounds pretty good, thanks to the "ei" vowel combination in Stein, which sounds like a long "i."
When rhythm in names is created through the close repetition of identical consonant sounds, it's called consonance. When it happens through the repetition of similar vowel sounds (think of singer Celine Dion) it's known as assonance.
Have you ever noticed how some names literally trip off the tongue while others kinda stumble along? The reason why this happens may not be immediately apparent, especially if you've never really given it much thought, but it may if you studied or tried to write poetry. What these lucky, lyrical names have is rhythm – some call it swing – and just like people, some names have it and some names don't.
I truly think the best names end up coming about by pure happenstance or luck. My given name – Sonia Alyn Lazere – is amazingly rhythmic and lyrical, but I don't think my parents were guided by anything more than how the name sounded when they chose it. However, knowing a little bit more about how rhythms are formed may help you recognize when you're working on a positive pattern, or why the names you're considering just don't sound right together.
You create rhythm in a name by coming up with a combination of names that contain elements that form a pattern. One of the first steps to creating a rhythmic name is by paying attention to the syllable patterns of the words you're considering. There are certain combinations that work better than others; if you want to give your baby a name with good rhythm, you'll want to keep the following syllable patterns in mind:
- 1-2-1, such as Ann Marie Smith
- 2-1-2, such as Thomas Kent Olson
- 1-2-3, such as James Kevin O'Connor
Of course, there are other combinations you can explore as well; some of them are decidedly better than others, but you might find an uncommon combination that sounds exactly right to you.
Some crossover of sounds between names can work quite well, but this is an area where too much of a good thing can definitely turn into something very different than what you're seeking. This is especially true when the blend between names is so strong that you can't tell where one stops and the other starts. Stay away from such awkward combinations as Allen Eaton or Nancy See.
Although most naming experts advise against selecting names with the same number of syllables across the board, there are times when this can be very effective; for example, a 1-1 combination (no middle name) can be very powerful because it's so short and to the point. A name that comes to mind with this combination is Matt Helm, the private investigator that Dean Martin played in the movie of the same name. John Wayne is another 1-1 combination that exudes power, especially when you consider what an improvement it was over the Duke's given name (Marion Morrison). A cowboy named Marion? Forget about it!
If there is a pleasing interplay of specific sounds between each name, a 2-2-2 combination, such as Karen Marie Olson or Dylan Tanner Roberts can be pretty rhythmic sounding as well.
More on: Choosing a Name
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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