To tell or not to tell?

Jan 29th 2010

As expectant parents, you have two big naming decisions. The first is the choice of name. The second is when to reveal it.

At one extreme you have parents who start referring to the fetus by name from the moment they see an ultrasound. Let's call them the "broadcasters." At the other, you have the parents who guard the name as a state secret, refusing to give their nearest and dearest so much as a clue: the "keepers."

Both of these extremes are on the rise. The broadcasters have gained momentum from early sex detection and the self-revelatory culture of the internet. As reader Jen wrote to me, "Facebook seems to be the main vehicle for this reveal: 'We had our 20 week ultrasound today, and Olivia Kate is on the way...,' 'We are on our way to the hospital to meet Matthew!'"

The keepers, meanwhile, have more and more to hide. Our modern culture of creative, distinctive names leads to a lot more wrinkled noses and outraged grandparents at name announcement time. The way keepers see it, if you know they'll complain and you know you won't change your mind, why have the argument? Just present them with an adorable newborn baby, the name a fait accompli.

As usual, extremes carry risks. For the keepers, if you suspect that your friends and family will all hate your child's name, shouldn't that set off alarm bells? Bouncing ideas off people can also help you avoid unwelcome surprises. I've heard from "keeper" parents who learned too late that, say, Amelia was the name of Grandpa's first wife whom nobody ever talks about.

Broadcasters risk locking themselves into premature decisions. Their public pre-announcements can also seem like tempting fate. The sad truth is that things can go wrong with pregnancies, and an early name broadcast to 1,000 Facebook friends can add an extra layer of complication to an already painful time. Even if all goes well, you've stolen the thunder from your birth announcement. If everybody already knows the ultrasound sex reading, the date of your scheduled c-section, and the name, what's left to announce?

Luckily, there's plenty of middle ground. For instance, you can choose a trusted circle to bounce your ideas off of. Ideally the group should include at least one parent of young kids who knows the name landscape, and one person who knows your family well enough to help you navigate around the "Grandma Amelia" problems. If you keep the circle small, you preserve some secrecy and get the extra bonus of flattering the people you've taken into your confidence.

If you're a broadcaster at heart, you can hold back a bit by sharing a list of finalists rather than a champion. (You may have already chosen the winner, but nobody has to know that.) Presenting a candidate list can also generate excitement about the name choice. After all, you can't root for a team without knowing who's playing.

Personally, I like the idea of combining both approaches. If you share a small group of names with a small group of confidantes you gather feedback, retain some air of mystery, and get the full oomph of the birth announcement.

How about you?


February 4, 2010 3:46 PM

@RobynT & Bue: I have to admit to having loved the name India growing up, and still finding it kind of lovely. I encountered it in English novels and it did not, considering my incomplete education, invoke colonialism. Knowing what I know now, I tend to think I would steer clear. I know the name has accrued new and different associations, having been in use for some time now, but perhaps it is not far enough removed from it's origins as an "exotic" appropriation, bestowed upon the daughters of aristocrats with ties to Colonial India? I generally dislike anything that tries to invoke "exoticness."

I'm not entirely sure where I fall on this one . . . I still like the name. I guess it's just one that I probably wouldn't be able to use myself. Does anyone else, sensitive to these issues, want to disagree?

February 4, 2010 3:49 PM

HA, robyn t, yes! let's discuss literary theory. i'll quote roland barthes' the death of the author and you can refute me! :D

February 4, 2010 4:20 PM

And RobynT, you're so right to point that out! We're using symbols that have fluid meanings, and we don't a firm grasp on those meanings. An education is a good start . . . but the ground is constantly shifting under our feet, isn't it?

@Elizabeth T, it's not so much that I thought they were trying to be cool. More that it seemed like a lazy, under-informed choice that came completely out of left field. It has pretty much nothing to do with their cultural background their current lives, and nothing in common with sibling names, either.

I'm going to agree with Beth the Original to some extent, in that I do appreciate when a child's name reflects family's values and/or culture, or where there is some context that makes the name a suitable and thoughtful choice. Now, I'm not sure I would go so far as to say that parents *should* name this way, but I certainly look for it and admire it.

Just want to add that I know I have no right to feel indignant about the name choice - I do have some perspective here!

February 4, 2010 4:21 PM

I am 37 years old have 2 wonderful teenage children and have suffered the loss of one still born and 2 etopical Pregnancies.
the death of my daughter Hannah leigh was emotional and heartbreaking but I can talk about her and the life I had hoped for her and the pregnancy issues and I know she was here.Her brother and sister know she was here and that they lost her too because we talk about her.
as for the tubal pregnancies I feel completely alone in the loss I didn't even want to see my niece who is the same age as Hannah would have been when she had her second child because I hadn't dealt with my emotional pain yet and it was almost a year since my losses. I still have a hard time speaking of the loss. And had a IUC put in after I discovered My tubule Ligation after my daughter failed contributing the 2 tubal pregnancies now at 37 After just one year I am in the same situation dealing with the possibility of another loss because I am the lucky 1% that got pregnant on the marina and I am going frantic to name this child cause I don't want it to seem as though it never was a life nor could I live with another child not being named and having an Identity for people to relate to.

My mother has refused to let any of her 5daughters or her 8 grandchildren use the name of my sister who passed away at age 18 with ovarian cancer Melissa Anna because she was named after my grandmother who died of the same thing. But I am seriously thinking on breaking with that tradition if I have a girl this time because already this child is struggling to survive and the name Melissa Anna carries a lot of strength and courage just like this little one I think my family would be upset but I can't think of any name that fits better if I have a little girl life. The one thing I know to be true is we are all living on borrowed time nobody knows when they will take there last breath but to live in the fear of that fact is not living at all and I believe my sister would be honored my grandmother would be honored and I would be blessed healthy or not to be able to look and think of my loss with the same love my sister had for all of her family and if it all works out like I hope Healthy and happy baby if it is a girl I would cherish every second I get to hold her a bit more because of the namesake she is so to loving woman I was thankful did live life one day at a time.

By Mirnada (not verified)
February 4, 2010 4:34 PM

Yes, Roland Barthes would be very useful for a bunch of these topics...

Goldenpig: I really like Nathaniel, and like Nate more than most guy nicknames. I think it's not unlikely that he'll want to shorten his name at least by junior high, so I wouldn't use it if I were you if you really HATE the idea of a nickname. It seems that, once boys want to seem cool, older, tougher, less boyish they're going to go for a simple nickname if it's available to them. The whole nickname dilemma has me putting Nathaniel a little further down on our list, actually.

Lilliputian: I don't think Maud is going to get too popular. Personally, I like Maeve a little better than Maud, but then again I'm the one who likes Ursula, so keep that in mind. I like Philippa, but Pippa is a little TOO cute for my taste. I was never quite sure whether it was PEEP-a or PIP-a. I also see pee-pee teasing potential with that one, but that's pretty harmless, I guess.

Anna S: I guess it's one thing if the parents just randomly picked those three letters T*O and liked the sound of them together. It seems ignorant and a little disrespectful to be referring to a spiritual belief, though, and then to pronounce it incorrectly. I don't know if they had the practice in mind when they picked it, or if they could just has easily have named the baby ZAO, because it sounds cool. Somehow that bothers me less.

It is too bad about India. I love the sound, and it seems really elegant and simple at the same time. It does smack of British colonialism to me, though, so I don't think I could use it. I also like the sound of Christian, and wouldn't use the name since I'm not Christian, myself.

When talking about cultural appropriation of names, it seems really important to pay attention to how the different cultures related to each other. There's such a history of Europe and American having reductive, exoticized ideas of the "Oriental" world that I think special care, thought, and respect is necessary when borrowing names from Eastern cultures. Using a Danish name if you're not Danish doesn't seem as loaded, though it might cause people to assume you're at least partly Danish.

By hyz
February 4, 2010 4:39 PM

I've been a bit busy and MIA, so I've kind of lost track of the things I was going to respond to before, but I think it's great hearing everyone's views on this!

To Anna S.--yes, to me, Asia would certainly refer to the continent unless I had some clear reason to believe otherwise.

Re: India--well, the history of this name kind of embodies the problem I have with people choosing certain names outside their culture. Colonists came in, acted liked they owned the place, created untold suffering and injustice there, and thought the name of the place might sound pretty and exotic on their daughters. And I hadn't even thought about this before, but what about the fact that India isn't even the native name for the country (I think Bharat or Hindustan are used instead), but one that was apparently created by the Greeks, based upon the Indus river? This may be putting too fine a point on the issue, but it seems to me that this sort of exacerbates the problem with both India and Asia as names--i.e., we're not only going to use a name that we think calls to mind some nice stereotypes about your culture, but we're also going to use the the name that we've chosen to label you with, not the name you call yourselves. I don't know. I'm not as offended by the whole thing as I might sound--I just find it of questionable taste, and I'm trying to articulate why.

As for young T@o, a comment above captured the main problem I'd have with it--IF it seems that the parents are choosing the name because it seems "cool" to them because of some tangential/superficial awareness they might have of the philosophy, that really does seem to make light of something that should probably be taken more seriously as a matter of respect, whether you personally believe in it or not. I have the same reaction to the young Bodhis (or Bodies) I hear about--which is more than a few, mostly on other baby sites I've been to, or on people's dogs. I swear I've heard other similar examples of this in those places (something like Zen, but probably not that), but it's slipping my mind right now.

Re: Christian--as a non religious person of Christian background, I wouldn't choose the name because it DOES seem like a label to me (i.e. "I am Christian and that is the most important thing about me"), and that's not an accurate message. I do think it has a nice sound, but it's just not for me.

Re: Theodore--I like it, and it doesn't seem stuffy to me at all anymore, nor does it make me think of chipmunks. I think Theo and Teddy are both very nice nicknames.

By Mirnada (not verified)
February 4, 2010 4:40 PM

hyz: Nicely put about India

February 4, 2010 4:51 PM

i've always assumed pippa is pip-a, using a short /i/ the same way that philippa uses a short /i/. i think pip-a is adorable, but peep-a, not so much. but, i guess i've never actually heard it on a real person, so i'm not the most reliable source.

also, something funny kind of occurred to me: i'm surprised when non-christians aren't put off by the name christian, BUT i would never consider using it for the very fact that i AM of that religion. it just seems too weird to me. sort of along the same lines as naming an asian child "asia." i mean i don't think there's anything at all wrong with expressing your beliefs in your naming, but that just seems a bit...obvious? "we're christians, so we named our son christian. subtlety is not our strong point!" so, apparently i find both christians and non-christians using the name a little surprising. and yet it's number 23 on the ssa list. obviously i am not plugged into the tastes and opinions of the average person!

i will say though, that the one christian i do know (age 29-ish, i think) was born to christians who did name him that because of their religious beliefs.

By guest (not verified)
February 4, 2010 4:59 PM

Insanity alert!! Your SIL is crazy - as someone who also has people like this in her in law familiy - I will tell you - not naming your child any of the names she likes will do NOTHING for you. She sounds like an incredibly controlling person, that I hope you do not have to spend holidays with. I hope you are able to determine what names you really like, outside of her influence - if she is like that with names, she will be like that with everything else - beware!

February 4, 2010 4:59 PM

I love the names Theodore, Adrian and Tobias. I know of two boys called Theodore (aged two and four) and one baby boy Adrian. I really like and have personally considered the name Malcolm (as someone above suggested) too.

Others you may perhaps like and be able to convince your husband of:

Bram (for Abraham or Abram)

February 4, 2010 5:13 PM

Mirnada and Hzy, regarding T@0, I think your reactions are very much what I was feeling.

P.S. Mirnada, I've been meaning to mention that my close friend is TTC and her #1 girl name is Ursula. I also love this name, which first really came to my attention in D.H Lawrence (someone else mentioned this some weeks ago) along with her sister, Gudrun. I think it's a beautiful choice.

By hyz
February 4, 2010 5:20 PM

sweett72, thanks for sharing your story. I'm so sorry for your losses, and I can definitely understand your point about the benefits of having a name for a lost child. I wish you the best of luck for a healthy and uneventful pregnancy, and a wonderful healthy baby.

February 4, 2010 5:25 PM

sweet72- I'm so sorry you have had such a difficult time. I experienced a neonatal death with my only child, so I understand a little of the pain you must have experienced.

I'm not clear whether you're asking this board for feedback about names or not- do let us know.

By hyz
February 4, 2010 5:27 PM

emilyrae, lol again at your subtlety comment. :) I guess some people aren't going for subtlety, though, and that's fine (at least potentially). My young neighbor is named Christine--her parents are very religious, and the girl was born on Christmas (or "Christ's birthday", as they tell it). Under that logic, I feel pretty confident that if she had been a boy, she would've been Christian or Christopher or something to that effect.

By Guest (not verified)
February 4, 2010 5:33 PM

I'm not entirely sure where I fall on the spectrum. I guess I tend to be a broadcaster. However, my husband and I have so much trouble coming up with boys names that we tend to bounce "short" lists off of people to get an idea of what they are thinking. With our first we knew his middle name would be my FIL's first name (my FIL was buried two years to the day before my son was born) but we had a heck of time picking out a first name. We had kept the sex a secret from everyone including us and a girl's name came easy - so of course he was a boy. We finally settled on Isaac James about 8 weeks before he was due, which ended up being about 3 weeks before he was born.

When we found out a second child was boy, I cried, because I was afraid we had exhausted our boys names on the first one. Since we were keeping the girl's name from our first pregnancy he was destined to be a boy. I'm not usually one for the popular names, but we knew his middle name would be Vincent after my father. We finally settled on Joshua, which I know was and is a popular name, but the funny thing was at the time I didn't know any Joshua's and he's still the only Joshua I've ever met his age.

Our girl's name was Bailey Katherine which of course Bailey has become extremely popular so when pregnancy #3 revealed a little girl (because we had a boy's name picked out Elijah Anthony) we decided we needed to explore our options. My MIL not really offering suggestions but just happened to mention that some of the older names were making a come back mentioned some of the names she had in her class (teacher). She mentioned the name Adeline. Our daughter is Adeline Clare.

Pregnancy #4 we picked out a girl's name right away. Lucy Kateri, which should have been my first clue to the sex of this baby (boy). And of course we just settled on a name about 4 weeks ago, (he's due on Saturday) Levi Christopher. We're not entirely sure where we came up with Levi, but it fits so well with the other boys' names and Christopher was mentioned by someone in jest (not that they didn't like the name but for a different reason) and we liked the way it flowed.

We do usually announce the name but not until we have a really good idea of what it's going to be and we always make sure to let everyone know that the name could always change by the time the baby is born. So I supposed Levi Christopher may not be the name of this baby after all.

By Anna S (not verified)
February 4, 2010 5:48 PM

RobynT, thanks. I guess this shows that "common knowledge" is not always as common as you (or I!) may think. Back in school when the etymology of Europe was explained we got the "full" story (Europa, Asia and Libya...). That kind of details just always stick to my memory, and I tend to assume, wrongly, that everybody else knows what I leant in school. But in all fairness, the extent of my "common knowledge" is probably very Eurocentric and I don't know why Bolivia is named Bolivia (although, now that I've said that I'll immediately check on Wikipedia... here goes: "..Bolivia is derived from Bolívar, the last name of the famous American Libertador Simón Bolívar").

"oh wow, here is where we get into theories of whether it's the writer or the reader that determines the meaning!"
-Now, this is an excellent point! We've just established that the reader aka the general public "wins" in case of girls named Asia.

Mirnada, about T*o, I understand your point and I think, on second thought, I agree the /tay-oh/ pronunciation is an indication you don't know/care what it's really about. In general, though, I'm pretty lax about adopted pronunciations. Freya, for instance, I doubt most Americans can get it completely right, but it doesn't bother me. If the "spirit" is there, that's enough for me. Of course, Freya doesn't have the status of a deity, and that's probably an important distinction.

"When talking about cultural appropriation of names, it seems really important to pay attention to how the different cultures related to each other." Absolutely, and I'm probably guilty of not truly realising the feelings involved, e.g. in "black vs white" in the US. I don't have first-hand experience in any of this. (Well, the Danes tried to conquer us, but now I'm living there and taking advantage of their free day-care system, so ha! ...I know that doesn't compare at all).

By guest (not verified)
February 4, 2010 5:50 PM

I have just scanned through all the comments....and I am exhausted.

By sarah smile (not verified)
February 4, 2010 6:01 PM

This post has nothing to do with names, at least not directly, but:

In the ice dancing event at the Olympics, the teams have been asked to prepare a 'folk dance' for one phase of the competition. They were 'strongly encouraged' by the sport's federation back when this was first announced many months ago to consider choosing a dance from their own countries or traditions. Of course, the vast majority of teams ignored that advice and chose whatever style they thought would be be most likely to make them stand out positively in competitions.

Now there is a big uproar because one of the top teams (from Russia) chose to do what they call an Aboriginal dance, based on some videos they found on the internet. Aboriginal leaders were apoplectic - they consider the dance to be offensive, claim that the dance is inaccurate and the moves have little to do with their traditional dances, and that the spiritual meaning of their dances was ignored. They see it as a mockery and theft of their culture. There have been calls for formal apologies, and last minute changes of routine, and meetings with other native leaders. The Russian team is adamant that no insult was intended, that their dance was intended to celebrate and showcase a general style rather than to copy specific traditional moves, and that they have every right to continue with their planned routine.

Articles discussing the issue often make reference to the top American team, who are doing an Indian dance despite having no Indian heritage of their own. However they did consult with a local Indian dance teacher about their routine, and took some lessons from her as they developed it. Their dance is apparently a huge hit in India and is seen as a sign of the respect Americans have for their dance heritage, such that they would choose it for such an important competition.

Meanwhile a Canadian team is doing a Spanish flamenco, the second American team is doing a Moldavan program, and no one has so much as commented on their choices. And to further expand the definition of multicultural, the Germans are skating to Hawaiian music and the Chinese team is doing a Greek dance.

Any of this sound familiar?

By hyz
February 4, 2010 6:12 PM

sarah smile, thanks for posting that! I heard some of that this morning on the news (although not as much detail as you wrote), and definitely thought of this conversation. I think it's a perfect comparison, and really gets the message across--A)it matters WHOSE culture you are appropriating, and B) it matters HOW and WHY you go about it. If *either* your "how" or "why" are off (with the Russians, it seems like mostly the "how"), you can find yourself in trouble, especially if the "who" is a historically or currently disadvantaged group.

February 4, 2010 6:10 PM

@guest 317--haha, I feel the same way! I've already forgotten all the things I meant to reply to.

but @emilyrae, I do agree that as a Christian it seems a bit obvious to use the name Christian. I only know a few Christians, and they all have siblings with names like Hope and Faith and Charity or Andrew and Lydia, etc. I guess in that way it can go either name-ish or virtue-ish, because it makes sense in sibsets like that.

That being said, I wouldn't think it was completely weird for a semi-religious or non-religious person to be named Christian, because it is a name in its own right. What would seem weird to me is if someone who was devoutly some other religion, named their son Christian. A Muslim, Jewish, or Buddhist "Christian" would definitely strike me as bizarre.

By Bue
February 4, 2010 6:38 PM

sarahsmile, thanks for taking the time to post that. That controversy was the first thing I thought of when this naming debate started - so many parallels. Five bucks says Domnina and Shabalin (the Russian skaters in question) would have no problem with the name Asia ;)

By Anna S (not verified)
February 4, 2010 6:49 PM

sarah smile - I saw that story about the Russian ice skaters too... and I don't really know what to think!? The first thing that came to mind were the stories with the common theme of a public person making a joke e.g. about being stung by a bee and the next thing is the Bee Sting Victim Association of America saying this is NOT funny and demanding a public apology and community service to boost general awareness of bee sting victim misery. It's just an ice skating routine for Pete's sake... On the other hand, I'm not an Aboriginal and I don't understand the significance of their traditional dances. Maybe it is truly offensive to see a supposedly "Aboriginal" ice skate routine messing up completely the spirit of those dances? I guess for me the deciding factor would be if the Russians deliberately set out to mock the Aboriginal culture (I honestly doubt that) or they just got "inspired" by Aboriginal dances and applied some "artistic creativity" in the adaptation?

By hyz
February 4, 2010 7:00 PM

Anna, I don't think this is a case of "oversensitivity"--by the sound of it, the dances are spiritual in their culture, not unlike a prayer or something. If I found a video of somebody reciting, say, a Muslim prayer online, and thought--wow, that sounds pretty, I'm going to make up a song that is like that and represent it as MY version of a Muslim prayer, even though I don't speak the language and I really have no idea what the prayer is about that I'm imitating--well, I can see that people might find that offensive. It would undoubtedly come out as me singing in an attempt to imitate their voices, but filled with gibberish (since I don't speak the language) that is sort of a stereotyping of the way they sound to my ears (not unlike the people who say "ching chong" and think they are speaking Chinese), and in a way that makes it devoid of all its original, sacred meaning. I think that would come across as a pretty offensive mockery, regardless of my intent.

By Anna S (not verified)
February 4, 2010 7:45 PM

Hyz, I guess I make a pretty firm distinction between intentional and accidental mockery. It may be somewhat disrespectful to not do a proper research but intentional mockery is at a completely different level. Like if you said to my face "Elsa is the most awful name in the world", without knowing that it is my mother's name, I wouldn't take it as an insult - you didn't know, you're entitled to your opinion, besides I'm sure my mom doesn't care whatsoever. However, if you said "you mother's name is awful", knowing her name, I would be wondering why you felt you needed to tell me that? In your song example (pretty good, BTW), I'd be laughing at you - sorry hon, you got it all wrong and you're making a fool out of yourself! But maybe this approach reflects on me more than anything else?

February 4, 2010 8:03 PM

Anna S, I agree that intentional mockery and degradation is a different thing from unintentional, ignorant appropriation. But that doesn't make the latter okay.

People must have some responsibility to be informed and sensitive, not to the particularities of each and every situation (they don't have to know, for example, your mother's name - such an oversight is understandable) but about the world and about cultural history. At the very least, if one is hoping to borrow from another culture, a little respectful research is the bare minimum, right?

By Mirnada (not verified)
February 4, 2010 9:21 PM


Ok, so I went back and looked at your full list (I'm waiting for someone and have time to kill, so thought why not). I really love most of your names. I especially liked Thora and Felix.

The only ones I don't like as much are: Nancy and Ellen (dated, but not old enough to be cool), and Fionnula (too flowery to me).

By knp
February 4, 2010 9:48 PM

Kerry (et al) I saw on your list Thalia. I think I really really like it, maybe to replace my waning love of Tatiana. But, what is the "correct" way to say Thalia-- with a 'th' as in The or a hard 't'? Everything I look at lists both. It comes from Θάλεια and theta (Θ) gives the th sound...

And per the current conversation: I've traveled to (and LOVED) Greece, so I am within rights to use a greek name, right? :)

February 4, 2010 10:10 PM

Name sightings on PBS Sprout birthday scroll:


February 4, 2010 10:32 PM

To pick up the earlier discussion regarding name feedback once a child is born, I thought I'd mention one of my favorite instances of it on screen. In the film *Friends With Money* a depressed and acerbic Frances Mcdormand bumps into an acquaintance, a new mother, at a farmer's market. The mother introduces her little son, "Tal," along with instructions for pronouncing his name (it rhymes with "call"). Mcdormand then laughs and asks something like, "but what if he's not tall?" The mother gets flustered and as Macdormand's friend grabs her arm to lead her away she calls back "it's not too late to change it!"

It really made me laugh because it was just so, so inappropriate and yet it reminded me of myself and my bad boundaries (kept firmly in check by common sense) when it comes to names!

February 4, 2010 10:33 PM

To comment on the Aboriginal dance thing. It actually reminded me of a different controversey in Australia but in reverse. Harry Connick, Jr. was on an Australian show where they did a blackface routine. He was offended and it caused a bit of an uproar here. Australians couldn't understand the problem. (Similiarly, there was a recent Australian KFC commercial which had racial overtones for us, but not for them.) I think the Australians don't get that their Aboriginal culture and history closely resembles our Native American one and our civil rights movements as well. We are sensitive to that, just as they are to Aboriginal. I think every country has their own minority group that they are sensitive about that the other countries don't get.

February 4, 2010 10:43 PM

Kerry-You have so many beautiful names on your list. Since many people have already commented I will just keep it to the names that really popped out at me.

You have a few Hebrew names on your list. Ziva, Tikvah and I can't remember the rest. I also can't find the list anymore. :)

Related to this conversation. I would caution against using those names if you are not Jewish or have an association with it. Just IMHO, it would raise way too many eyebrows and cause way too much explaining.

Take it from a mom that has a daughter with a Hebrew name. I get THAT look a lot and since I do have an explanation it goes away quickly. But I thought that should be something for you to consider.

By kchardt (not verified)
February 4, 2010 10:44 PM

We tried keeping our daughters name a secret. We didn't want to hear people's opinion on it, it was the only name we liked and it happened to be a version of my dad's name (he's deceased) and my husbands father's name. We were happy with the decision to put my father's name first since her last name and middle name would be from my husbands side of the family, it seemed "fair" to us, but we didn't want to risk ANY family debate or hurt feelings. We made it to about 6 months then my mother-in-law saw us looking at a picture frame that had the letter C on it. Well, after that it was on. Every in our family was trying to guess what possible names we would pick that started with C. It was kinda' funny to hear there guesses. Some members were convinced that we would name her one name in particular that started with C. To this day my husband and I can't fathom how they could know us and think we would chose that name. But all in all it was kinda' fun. Eventually, we slipped to my sister and decided to tell both our parents and sibling, so that nobody felt left out. But all our friends were left guessing until the very end. And to be honest I think we will probably do it the same way next time.

February 4, 2010 10:54 PM

Man, this place has been busy.

Since emilyrae has asked for my input, here goes nothing:

I see no difference in using a video game character's name for a child and using any other character's name from movies, books, plays, stories, etc. Certainly, if the character lends a large amount of image to a particular name, then that name will evoke that character--like Hermione or Raiden.

Also, yes, lots of female characters in video games are "busty and violent," but there are plenty of characters in all media that don't evoke characteristics that one person or another find desirable. I'd have a hard time using Lavinia, for example, because of Titus Andronicus.

It's important to remember that a whole generation of people, now, giving birth, have lived with video games their entire lives. They have spent much of their formative years with manga and anime. These elements are very much part of the culture they come from, and are therefore perfectly reasonable sources for naming.

Speaking of culture, one thing that is important to remember that it's hard to say what, precisely, one's culture is. For example, I look and sound much like a standard American white male, and my first and last name are standard American white male names. My middle name, though, comes from my Hispanic mother, and so I might reasonably consider Spanish names in my culture. Where I grew up, though, there were lots of Portuguese, Assyrians, Swedes, Punjabis, and Hmong in addition to white Americans and Mexicans. My well-acquainted names included such people as Sanehpal, Jose, Herbert, Malik, Surjit, and Phuoc. I would consider myself more defined by the people I grew up around than by my ancestors. Thus, I'd call all these names as part of my culture.

Yet the child isn't just mine, it's my wife's, too. She was born and raised in Germany. So now she brings in a whole different perspective, and as we thought about what to name our (not yet around) children, we decided the names had to be something that sounds very close in both English and German. Our names ended up being Anglo-Saxon. Now my wife has no British heritage, and I only have a little bit, by way of one branch who was from Britain before settling in Germany. If anything, British names are outside both of our cultures. But I'm positive it won't be a problem.

I'd bet that the naming trends in America have classically been "outside of the culture". Whether it's French names like Charlotte or Michelle, a Spanish Isabella, or the popular use of Celtic names today, popular names in America (and, indeed, American influence back into Europe) has been full of cases in which people are choosing names independent of ancestry. Yet can we truly say that ancestry is the best indicator of culture?

I believe people should feel free to choose names from wherever they find them. I still recommend researching the name--but I recommend researching everything and anything. Perhaps the name has a nuance you would rather avoid, and it's better to know it before it's bestowed. However, it's also important to remember that just because someone appears to be one thing, the truth can be far different and greater. Heck, our kids may prove to be both Hispanic Americans and German citizens, while having English names. Can other people tell them what is or is not their culture?

February 4, 2010 11:37 PM

sweett72-Thank you for sharing your story. That was courageous and it touched me. I think Melissa Anna would be a lovely tribute. However, if it would offend your family I think maybe something similar would be better. Maybe Melinda, Melanie, Alyssa, etc. would be worthy.

guest#315-I laughed at your story. I think it is amusing how you always had the opposite gender name chosen. Why did you never use Bailey Katherine? Do you feel like that and your other girl name were already appropriated so they could not be used again? Just curious. I love your boys names btw they flow very well and make a great sibset.

sarah smile-Great example thanks for sharing that as I had not been keeping up on the Olympic news.

hyz-Post 323 was great. I think that is my position too. If the intent is to honor and use a name (or dance) as an expression of what you feel about that culture then wonderful. Example: If you name your child Dakota because your genealogical research into your family connected you to that Indian tribe then fine.

However, it seems like others are taking that a step further and saying one should research if the Dakota tribe called themselves Dakota or some other Indian word and then use that Indian word because Dakota might be insensitive to the Dakotan people. I think that is appropriate but then it brings us back to the pronunciation issue. If no one can pronounce the Indian word correctly (or spell it) and you choose to simplify the name so the spelling and pronunciation match, then is that wrong?

Linnaeus-Your post was well stated and I think you make a great point. Everyone is everything imo. We all have so many influences in our lives.

February 5, 2010 12:27 AM


It's good to see your husband suggesting names, and with Zeb and Gotham, he's willing to step outside the common names. Here's a few that you both might like:

Ezekiel, nn Zeke

Zeb can also be the nickname to Zebulon.

As for Theo, see if he likes Theodore Roosevelt. If he can't get behind the name thinking about ol' Teddy, then Theodore is not the name. I know you don't want a name ending in -K, but Theodoric is another possibility. Or perhaps Theosiphus.

February 5, 2010 12:46 AM

sweett72: what about using Melissa Anna as a jumping off point? might get you names like Melanie Anne, Alissa Mae, Melinda, Melody, Annabel, etc.

Mirnada: Love your point about the role of the relationship between the cultures in appropriation.

February 5, 2010 12:49 AM

re Theo: there's also Theophilus, although it's a bit of a mouthful!

By taylorj (not verified)
February 5, 2010 12:54 AM

We are planning on revealing our name to our families sometime soon (baby boy is due and June), but we want to be sure on the name before we tell them. With our daughter we waited until she was born to share the name (Harper), and my mother-in-law laughed and made a face because she thought we were kidding. Grr. So this time we want to give her some time to warm up to the name.

We both love the name Asher. It goes well with our last name and is actually the only name we have been able to agree on, but is it too similar to Harper? I imagine that we would call him "Ash" a lot of the time, but I worry that they are too similar. Any thoughts?

February 5, 2010 2:02 AM

I like a lot of the points you make, and I really appreciate your defense of an expansive, liberated naming ethic. You write: "I believe people should feel free to choose names from wherever they find them." I agree, with caveats.

You ask: "can we truly say that ancestry is the best indicator of culture?" and I would say, resoundingly, no. Absolutely no way. Culture is a loaded term, obviously, and takes a variety of forms; it is sometimes used interchangeably with ethnicity or ancestry, but that is not the sense in which I was using it.

By "culture" I mean a distinct set of shared attitudes, values, practices, symbols etc.

This could be, say, an institution, a religious organization or a group of people who happen to come from the same part of the world.

"it's also important to remember that just because someone appears to be one thing, the truth can be far different and greater. Heck, our kids may prove to be both Hispanic Americans and German citizens, while having English names."

I have a similar background, which also wouldn't be apparent, so I totally know what you mean. And I live in a super-diverse community, so I don't make assumptions.

"Can other people tell them what is or is not their culture?"

Again, absolutely not. And further, I would argue that one need not have any real "claim" to choose a name - no ancestral connection at all. An interest or affinity would seem a good enough reason, really. That kind of openness and curiosity is a wonderful thing and shouldn't be squelched.

So yes, I believe people should feel free to choose names from wherever they find them. But I have to reiterate that without taking care to understand the symbols they're using, people run the risk of making foolish or offensive choices.
I feel that a genuinely respectful and thoughtful approach to cross-cultural naming requires a modicum of care: some research, some knowledge. It's an approach to the world that doesn't end with naming.

February 5, 2010 4:45 AM

Just wanted to pop in and say that I have not had time to post in the last few days due to a very hectic week at work. I have been reading (and enjoying) the conversations going on.

I especially appreciate all the effort people have put into responding to my name list. It is really helpful to hear what people like as well as what associations come to mind with the names they are not as fond of.

I hope to get some relaxation time this weekend to compile my thoughts and jump back in.

By Mirnada (not verified)
February 5, 2010 9:01 AM

Sweet 72: I think your comments got posted exactly as mine did, so I missed them. I am so sorry for your loss and admire your courage. I'm not sure whether you wanted name advice in this instance or not, but maybe there is a way (as someone else mentioned) to honor your sister with a related name or middle name that's meaningful to you in a way that still honors your mother's wishes and protects her from unnecessary pain. I wish you the best of luck and a healthy baby.

By Amy3
February 5, 2010 9:32 AM

@sweett72, I'm so sorry for your losses. I agree with those who have suggested you use your sister's name as a point of inspiration to find a name that is both meaningful to you and sensitive to your mom. I wish you a healthy pregnancy and baby.

This conversation has been just great to read (altho challenging to keep up with!) and is a perfect example of why I LOVE this forum. Can't remember now who posted the info about the Olympic routines, but I had to laugh at all the cross-cultural borrowing. My apologies if this was said earlier, but did any team pick a folk dance from their culture/country?

By Manda (not verified)
February 5, 2010 10:26 AM

I'd like to add a new layer of complication to the "things happen" argument. My twins were diagnosed with Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome at 16 weeks and given very little chance of survival. The first thing we did was to name them and share their names with everyone. It was suggested to us as a way to make them "more" real and to help us heal. I did carry them to 30 weeks, one was healthy, the other was not and she died at 9 months old due to complications from being premature. Not for one minute do I regret naming them and brodcasting it so early, and I wouldn't have used other names. I know some people find out crazy early these days, but it really isn't reliable until 20 weeks- when the baby is "real" to friends and family and will be named, and mourned in case of a loss. I'm glad it was suggested to us, and I did feel a little locked in when later I wanted to change it, but I would suggest it to anyone with a high risk pregnancy.

By Manda (not verified)
February 5, 2010 10:30 AM

sweet72 said " I am going frantic to name this child cause I don't want it to seem as though it never was a life nor could I live with another child not being named and having an Identity for people to relate to."

You said in once concise sentence what I tried in much more to say. Giving our babies who might not survive names gives them an identity absolutely, and makes it easier for family to relate. I love the name Melissa Ann. Perhaps if you said to your mother the same thing you've just typed to us, she would be honored to have you use the name.

By Manda (not verified)
February 5, 2010 10:38 AM

We are broadcasters. We say that we're going to be keepers, but who am I kidding. Three of my four children have gone to the hospital in my belly with one middle name and came out with another. In the case of my third child, I still regret it. My fourth and my first son was born on the 11th of this month. I named him Micah Willis. I had used Facebook to solicit name suggestions from friends, had named and renamed him dozens of times in my status updates. I hadn't even thought of Willis until after he was born. It was the name of my grandfather who died in November. My children, save my third child, all have middle names that commemorate a grandparent, so even though there are other names I prefer over Willis, it was the right decision for us. The first place I posted was on Facebook. My friends were not surprised he ended up with a middle name not even mentioned before. Quite frankly, they're probably surprised we stuck with Micah. It wasn't my favorite because of its rising popularity, but was the only name my husband could see for his son.

February 5, 2010 11:44 AM

Manda-Micah Willis works especially if it is meaningful to you and your family. Congrats on your new addition! Enjoy!

By sarah smile (not verified)
February 5, 2010 1:38 PM

Amy3: Yes, several of the ice dancing teams used dances from their own countries, including the third American team who are doing a country western dance. I'm not sure what the ratio of borrowers to non-borrowers was, but I suspect it was significantly over 50%.

By another Amber (not verified)
February 9, 2010 6:14 PM

I'm a broadcaster. Even with all of the criticism I got for baby #1's choice, I continue to be a broadcaster. I see it as giving my loved ones a fair warning, giving them time to get used to the idea of having a little relative named such-and-such. They already know they can't change my mind, so they might as well change theirs.

By Laura V (not verified)
February 20, 2010 1:11 AM

When I was pregnant, we mentioned offhand to my MIL that if the baby was a girl, we were considering naming it after her mother. She flipped out and declared she'd suffered enough under that woman's thumb and was not going to tolerate it. (My FIL was having surgery that day for a potentially-fatal problem, so she was stressed out -- she's not normally like that.)

Later that night we decided we were just not telling anyone any of the names on our short lists at all, because DAMN. Since we ended up picking a name that my family had good reason to dislike (which I knew was the case when we picked it), it was good to have the cute baby to distract them with while they adjusted!

By Marie Louise (not verified)
February 21, 2010 9:05 PM

Pippi: are u scandinavian? All Of ur babyname choices seem to be anyway.
I really like Kaya (Kaia) and was once considering that name for my daughter. I love that hardly anyone is names that here (Denmark) but most people have heard it and it isnt hard to pronounce etc.

Annika is so cute too and has really good associations (pippi ex) but not many associations.
Annelise is still very Old here though but not so Old that it is in yet. I know a lot Of 50 year olds with that name but i dó like the Sound Of the name though.

My cousin named her son Marcus (now 3 yo) when she first told me her shortlist Marcus was my least favourite but I have to say that I have really grown into it although i Think its too common especially in Denmark.

As for being a broadcaster/ keeper I am def a keeper. I dont like people knowing my choice Of babynames because i dont want Them to get used to it before the baby comes. I like when people first see her /him they Can look at the baby and the name with fresh eyes. Also i do worry a little bit about ppl using 'my' names if i tell them.

Whoever Said that knowing the gender and/or name help ppl connect with the unborn baby, i agree. Since i really dont want to share my babynames i find it important to tell ppl the gender and let them touch as much as much as possible.