Namer's Remorse

Sep 25th 2008

I hear from a lot of parents in the grip of naming dilemmas.  Some of them are just starting their name searches, while others are feeling the pressure as they count down to their due dates.  And yet others -- a surprisingly large number -- are already home with an infant in their arms, but still uneasy about the names they've chosen.

"Namer's remorse" is a complication you really don't need at an already complicated time of life.  It piles on top of the sleeplessness, the endless to-do lists, and the general life upheaval that comes with expanding your family.  Sometimes, in fact, it's a product of those factors.  The high emotional pitch of the first days at home tends to amplify every parenting concern.

Name anxiety can also be a safe place to channel some of the difficult feelings of new parenthood.  It's a big leap from the imaginary baby in your mind to the real baby in your arms.  Sometimes it takes a while to really feel like the mysterious little creature you're holding is your child.  (That's ok, it'll come in time.)  Similarly, the name you chose in advance may not seem like a natural part of your child, or a good "fit."  If that's worrying you, rest assured that babies grow into their names in surprising ways.  By the time she's running around, that name is likely to fit her like a glove.

But for a small percentage of parents, namer's remorse has a more straightforward cause: they simply chose the wrong name.  Heck, it happens.  If both parents are set in unshakeable namer's remorse, dreaming of the name that should have been, what should they do?

I have the answer for you: they should change their baby's name.

That sounds obvious, but there's an unspoken taboo against it.  Most parents treat birth certificates as near-sacred objects, graven and immutable.  In part, that reflects the power names hold on our psyches.  We tend to see names as a core part of a person or thing, an identity not easily overwritten.  Yet when it comes to infants, names are anything but immutable.  Stop and think about it and you'll realize that you're constantly calling your baby Baby, Sweetie, Little Gumdrop, or even (insert your own random family nickname here).  So your baby should handle a gradual shift from Elizabeth to Annabelle easily enough.

Will you handle the change as smoothly? Well, there's the practical annoyance of arranging a legal name change, and maybe a monogrammed baby blanket to finesse.  When it comes right down to it, though, I think the biggest factor holding most parents back from changing infants' names is the same factor that holds us back from a thousand other unconventional behaviors.  It's good old fashioned embarrassment. 

Yep, you already sent out 100 birth announcements.  Yep, friends and relatives may laugh at your indecisiveness.  So what?  The embarrassment will last a couple of days, but a name lasts a lifetime.  If you're trying to whomp up your courage, you can take a lot of the sting out of the embarrassing situation by acknowedging it head-on, with some cheerful self-deprecation.  I recommend a new ritual: a formal birth re-announcement.  Below is my take on one.  Readers, can you offer alternative compositions?

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Birth Announcement, Take 2

On August 12th we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy.  Before he was born, we had expected that his name would be Jayden.  Once we met him, we discovered we were mistaken.  Who knew?  He's actually:

Cooper Michael MacDowell
7 lbs, 4 oz.

Stephanie & Mike


Sep 20th 2008

Here are a dozen girls' names.  Can you spot any patterns in the list?


Go with the obvious: half of the names on the list start with L.  You're looking at the top dozen names in Austria, just one of the many countries infatuated with the lovely letter L.  Lena and Leonie are particularly hot in German-speaking areas; Lea is huge in France and Quebec; Lucia is the top name in Spain, with Lucy and Lucie soaring elsewhere; Laura is a favorite just about everywhere (good taste, world!)  Take any short name that starts with an L and ends with a vowel, and you're sure to be in style.

Regular readers of this blog may be experiencing a little deja vu right about now.  Yes, you've heard something like this before.  The same pattern came up in my discussion of rising names I've taken off my "Why Not?" list.  Names like Luna and Lila were rare in the U.S. just a few years back, but are suddenly in contention.  The global figures suggest that's not just a fluke.  L is the world's hottest letter for girls' names, and the U.S. is just hitching a ride on that bandwagon.


p.s. to those of you who've asked me about that mysterious little "login", it doesn't do anything quite yet, but stay tuned!


Back when a nickname was a nickname

Sep 9th 2008

Quiz yourself: what were the given names of these accomplished, nicknamed individuals?

Babe Zaharias, athlete
Bear Bryant, football coach
Buck Owens, musician
Bud Abbott, comedian
Bud Selig, baseball commissioner
Buddy Holly, musician
Buster Keaton, actor
Buzz Aldrin, astronaut
Dizzy Gillespie, musician
Duke Ellington, musician
Red Auerbach, basketball coach
Red Skelton, comedian
Sissy Spacek, actress
Slim Whitman, musician
Sonny Bono, musician
(answers below)

Needless to say, all of those nicknamed folks were born at least half a century ago.  Nicknames of every kind are becoming endangered species in this age of "new formality".  But it's the pure nicknames -- the hearty, homestyle monikers that bear no relation to the birth name -- that are the greatest casualties of the modern naming era.  The entire genre has virtually disappeared, along with Red Skelton's hats and Red Auerbach's victory cigars.

It's natural for styles to come and go.  This style, though, has taken something with it; something warm and personal, something unique.  Because these names alone aren't just given, they're earned.

13-year-old Paul Bryant wrestled a circus bear, earning himself a nickname for life.  Little Mary Spacek was dubbed Sissy by her big brothers.  Young Mildred Didrikson was anointed Babe a la Babe Ruth because of her home-run hitting prowess.

While most names are planned before a baby is born, the pure nicknames are more often serendipitous, mementos of an individual life.  As a baby namer, I should be glad to see these post-hoc names go.  After all, they toss my hard work out the window.  Yet I can't help but fall for the names' loving spirit.  You don't become a Sissy or a Buddy unless somebody cares enough to make you one. 

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Mildred "Babe" Zaharias
Paul "Bear" Bryant
Alvis "Buck" Owens
William "Bud" Abbott
Allan "Bud" Selig
Charles "Buddy" Holly
Joseph "Buster" Keaton
Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin
John "Dizzy" Gillespie
Edward "Duke" Ellington
Arnold "Red" Auerbach
Richard "Red" Skelton
Mary "Sissy" Spacek
Ottis "Slim" Whitman
Salvatore "Sonny" Bono