When It's Not Really About the Names

Apr 6th 2017


Names are important. Choosing a name can be remarkably difficult. But if your baby naming conflicts are keeping you up at night, I'm going to suggest something that sounds like heresy coming from a Baby Name Wizard. Maybe names aren't really the issue.

Names tap into a lot of deep, emotionally fraught social currents. They reflect culture, ethnicity, gender, religion, taste, values and family. That makes baby naming a natural point for latent relationship and family dynamics issues to bubble to the surface. If there's a broader problem to address, no name alone can solve it.


Asier Romero/Shutterstock

How can you tell if your apparent naming dilemma is really a family or relationship dilemma? As long as your angst is focused on finding or choosing the right name — even if you and your partner have wildly conflicting tastes — chances are you're just in routine baby-naming purgatory. Don't worry, that's what we're here for at BNW. If your problem sounds more like one of the situations below, though, you may need to take a step back.

"He won't help think about names at all. It's like my job is to suggest idea after idea, and his job is to say no."

"My family doesn't like the name I've chosen for my daughter and they've vowed that they won't call her by it."

"She says that since she's the one who has to give birth she gets to choose the name, and I don't have any say."

"I just learned that my sister-in-law is planning on giving her baby the same extremely unusual name as our son, and she didn't even ask us about it."

"His parents are from a different culture and expect us to follow their totally rigid naming system, and even though neither of us want that he won't tell them so."

I've heard stories like each of these many times. If you read over them again, you'll find that none of the parents are asking for name suggestions. They're asking for guidance in navigating the rocky waters of relationships and family.

Most importantly, none of the conflicts they describe are likely to stay within the boundaries of baby naming. Choosing a name is a kind of trial run for the many difficult decisions you'll have to make throughout a lifetime as parents. Partners have to be able to brainstorm, negotiate, and compromise together. Extended families should support and respect and listen to each other, and understand the limits of their control.

As fraught as a name choice may be, it's still a relatively small sandbox that gives you a chance to work out better ways of interacting. If you can make this trial run a model for future decision making, you'll all be happier for it. Better yet, you'll have a chance to make the baby-naming process what it really should be: a joy.