And now for something completely different

Jun 24th 2009

I know what you've been thinking: "This here baby name statistics blog is mighty good. But wouldn't it be even better animated?"

First reacquaint yourself with the posts on recession baby naming (part 1 and part 2) and the fastest rising names of 2008, then check out how the CBS News "Fast Draw" folks tackle the material:

(Duck! Eraser!!)


First name vs. Surname

Jun 22nd 2009

In my last post, "Sharing the Choice," I talked about the value of parents sharing and compromising in baby name decisions. Among the examples of non-sharing I mentioned was this occasional refrain:

“I figure he gets the surname so I should get the first name, it’s only fair.”

Not surprisingly, some of you called me on it. Isn't it "only fair"? In the words of one reader:

"You gloss over the fact that the last name is still a 'solo domain.' Very few children (especially of married parents) have the mother's birth surname as their last name. Even if the mother has a beautiful, easy to spell surname, the children inevitably get the father's name, even if it's harsh-sounding and impossible to spell. When is there going to be a discussion about women being automatically cut out of that naming picture?"

So let me clarify.

I don't think giving up first-name rights because you "get" the surname is a natural tradeoff, because I consider first and last name decisions fundamentally different. The choice of a surname is about relationships, roles, traditions, and power. The choice of a first name is about individual identity.

In my years in the name business I have never, ever heard a parent say something like, "We're totally stuck on surnames. He wants Picard after Captain Picard, and I want Bronte after Charlotte Bronte." I've never seen an expectant mom's face light up in delight as she describes why she chose the surname Fenstermacher for her baby. And I've never heard a dad worry that if they name the baby Jessica, people will think she's not his child.

Sure, you can decide to trade first name rights for surname rights. You can also trade name rights for, say, the right to choose your next car, or responsibility for 4 AM feedings. Personally, though, I wouldn't do it. A first name is a unique bridge between you and your child, and between your child and the world. Nothing else really compares. Plus both parents are going to be saying this name countless times every day, so they'd both better like it.

Now, about those surnames. In my personal circle of friends and acquaintances I've seen an incredible variety of responses to the surname challenge:

- The woman took the man's surname after marriage.

- The man took the woman's surname after marriage.

- The woman hypenated her surname after marriage, the man didn't.

- Both of them hyphenated their surnames after marriage.

- Both of them changed to a whole new surname, created out of parts of the two original names.

- Both of them changed to a different family surname that would have otherwise died out.

- Both kept their own surnames, and the kids were given the dad's name.

- Both kept their own surnames, and the kids were given hyphenated names.

- Both kept their own surnames, and the kids were given a new surname created from the two parents' surnames.

- Both kept their own surnames and the sons got dad's surname, daughters mom's surname.

Doubtless there are even more creative permutations that I haven't encountered. (Please do share!) The right choice for an individual family depends on how you weigh many competing values. But whatever your approach to surnames, I'd suggest trying to work out the family identity before it's time to start shaping your kids' individual identities. It's better to have two shared decisions than two offsetting resentments.


Sharing the Choice

Jun 17th 2009

In the supermarket checkout line, I overheard two 60-something grandmas talking about their kids' baby-naming dilemmas. Grandma One lamented that the parents-to-be ignored all her lovely suggestions, like Karen and Diane. Grandma Two shook her head at the whole complicated business, and reminisced:

"Back when my kids were born, I just told my husband what names I'd picked and he didn't interfere."

 “Didn’t interfere.” I've talked to countless 21st-century expectant parents, and that is one sentiment I've never heard. Rightly or wrongly, it summons a vivid picture of that 1970s family...a picture that doesn't include a lot of late-night feeding and diapering on Dad's part. He wouldn’t want to “interfere” with his wife’s child-rearing. Most moms today wouldn’t stand for that, right? And yet…haven’t you heard a mom say something like this?

“I figure he gets the surname so I should get the first name, it’s only fair.”

“I’m the one who has to give birth, so I get the final say.”

or even…

“I just waited until I was deep in labor and he was feeling so guilty that he agreed to whatever name I wanted!”

I understand the impulse. Pregnancy and birth are huge undertakings, and it’s tempting to claim naming rights as part of your reward for a job well done. And yes, most kids do still bear their fathers’ last names. But moms, before you cut your partner out of the naming picture, think about what precedent you’re setting by declaring this first major parenting decision a solo domain.

The choice of a name is one of the first ways you bond with a child. Unlike choosing a stroller or decorating a nursery, naming makes you stop and imagine your child’s whole life to come as a member of your family. When the time finally comes to call your new baby by her name, the dream-turned-reality can be a magical moment. Moments like that are best shared. They’re building blocks of the affection that keeps you going through the ups and downs and long nights of parenthood.

Even a single mom might think about ways to share the joy of naming. Sure, it’s your decision. But letting loved ones into the decision process, letting them share the excitement, can help build your baby’s early connections with people who will be an important part of her life.

This not to say that you have to give in when you want the name Eleanor and your partner wants Ashley. Just think twice about going for the straight power grab. Finding common ground or negotiating a compromise on names sets a good precedent for the many decisions that lie ahead.