Namer's Remorse: How Late Is Too Late?
When I wrote about "namer's remorse," I heard from many parents who had struggled with their kids' names after the baby was born. But what if the struggle continues once the baby is no longer a baby? One mother wrote to me after suffering from four straight years of name regret. Is it ridiculous, she wondered, to think of changing a preschooler's name? Will it lead to identity confusion, to teasing, or to a reputation as a family of kooks?
Few parents ever reach that stage of worry. Most come around to liking their name choice as their child grows into it. Most, but not all. And for some parents, the name regret only starts once the child's personality fully emerges. (A name like "Ranger Blaze" or "Desiree Venus" isn't going to fit everybody.) Is it too late to reconsider?
Once a child is a walking, talking, tricycle-riding, Lego-building member of the family, a name change takes on a whole new context. There's a shift in jurisdiction: the name no longer belongs to the parent, it belongs to the child. Most kids dive into that ownership, proudly spotting their initials everywhere and learning to write their names before they learn to read. If your child feels happy and "as one" with her name, it would be unfair to take it away from her.
That doesn't mean, though, that a preschooler's name is set in stone. Many kids acquire new names naturally during childhood, in the form of nicknames. I know plenty of adults who answer exclusively to a name they took on by chance at the age of three or four. Then there are the legions of serial nicknamers -- the kids who go by Kathy one year, Kit the next, until they finally settle into life as a Kate or Katherine. Children generally take these shifting identities in stride. My best childhood friend went through several of these name phases, and I never skipped a beat shifting with her. (My parents always seemed one step behind on this, though. Grownups aren't quite as adaptable as kids.)
So let's say that you really, really don't think your child's name fits. Or perhaps your child feels that way herself. It's not out of bounds to introduce a new "nickname," in hopes that it might eventually grow into an everyday name.
A few suggested ground rules for introducing new names:
1. Make sure you give NO indication that you think your child's name is "bad" or "wrong."
2. Don't push your child to accept a new name of your choice, or to stop using his given name. A new nickname should be treated as an item of fun and affection, not a taking away of the old name. Introduce the new name candidate gradually and naturally. If it doesn't stick, then it probably wasn't meant to be to begin with.
3. For a child who is still very young, you can treat the candidate name like any of the many other silly nicknames you call him. With an older child, you might consider opening a direct conversation -- again, without any suggestion that you dislike his current name. The idea is that you picked out a name before you even met him, and he's big enough now to have some say. What does he think of his name? Does it suit him? (Prepare yourself, though, for a child who suddenly demands to be called Spike or Isis.)
Ideally, you'll either end up with a name that fits just right and makes the whole family happy...or with a newfound peace with the name you originally chose. If your daughter expresses total happiness with her "wrong" name, you can content yourself with the knowledge that you've done right by her. And in the end, that's the only measure of success a parent can ask for.