Buyer's Guide to Baby Names
Disclaimer: I have not had to name any babies just yet.
However, my sister and her husband used this book when finding a name for their baby boy born early this year, and when we all descended upon them to visit the new arrival, we amused ourselves by poring through this entire book, looking up all of our names and the names of our various relatives and ancestors.
First of all, this is not a name dictionary. There are plenty of name dictionaries on the market, so author/researcher Laura Wattenberg developed "The Baby Name Wizard" to give parents-to-be a sense of context for the names they consider. The first half of the book is an alphabetical list of boys' and girls' names. Each entry includes a small graph charting the popularity from 1900 to today, a list of styles in which this name fits, as well as a "name snapshot" which talks a little about the name's history or some other factoid that parents might find interesting when considering the name. Each name also includes a list of stylistically similar "brother" and "sister" names.
The second half of the book is divided into "Styles" lists, such as Celtic names, Timeless Names, African-American Names, Porch-Sitter Names, New Classic Names, Bell-Tone Names, etc. This is as much to give parents more ideas as it is to give them perspective on how the name is viewed by others.
I think that this book would be perfect when paired with a large name dictionary. "The Baby Name Wizard" is assembled for the express purpose of exploration, browsing, and brainstorming, something that is very difficult to do with those dictionaries of 50,000+ names. After a certain point they all start to bleed together. Once you find a name you like, then go to your name dictionary and look it up to see what it means.
According to Wattenberg's Baby Name Wizard website, a 2nd edition of this book is due out soon, and I hope she continues to update it every few years so that this unique tool will be current when I find myself doing more than "window shopping" for baby names.