Why Your Baby Name Choice Is Making You Miserable
Back when I was writing the first edition of The Baby Name Wizard, the phrase "namer's remorse" never entered my mind. Choosing a name was supposed to be one of the most joyous parts of pregnancy, a chance to look ahead and dream of the new family member to come. Yet in the years since, words like "angst" and "remorse" have cropped up more and more in baby-name talk. Post-naming regrets have become a regular feature in my inbox, and a popular question subject from reporters, too.
Is this just a trendy discussion topic, or is the baby-naming blues really on the rise?
I believe it's the latter. The process of choosing a baby name has genuinely become more stressful, and namer's remorse is indeed more common than ever before. It was inevitable. In the past generation, baby names have become an ideal breeding ground for anxiety, decision paralysis, and regret.
The core problem is what psychologist Barry Schwartz has called "the paradox of choice." Choice is freedom, and we expect that freedom to make us happy by allowing us to follow a path custom-selected to suit us best. In practice, though, an abundance of choice not only makes our decisions harder, it turns out to make us miserable.
The more choices we have, the higher our expectations rise. With a vast array of options, we feel that careful selection should lead us to a perfect choice. The decision process drags on. We agonize. Sometimes the pressure of choosing is just too much; we end up paralyzed by our options, and choose nothing. Even when we do choose, we usually discover that perfection remains an elusive goal. Thus even a very good choice can leave us feeling disappointed.
Then there's the road not taken. So very many roads. It's hard to feel comfortable with the choice you've made when the missed opportunities still swarm around you. Perhaps a neighbor makes a different choice, one you had considered but rejected. Did they choose better? If so, you have only yourself to blame.
Angst. Paralysis. Regret. Sound familiar?
This choice-induced misery is usually described as a side effect of societal affluence. Consumer choices explode, giving us hundreds of shampoos or coffee makers to choose from. But baby names are, and have always been, free. Can there really be an explosion of choices in a realm with no costs, where the menu of options is in your mind, not on the shelves?
Absolutely. More on this tomorrow.