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?


By Pippi (not verified)
February 22, 2010 1:25 AM

I didn't think I'd get any more comments on my name ideas! Things got crazy around here and I didn't get a chance to check back for several days and by then they were buried.

Marie Louise -- I'm from Minnesota, so like many people there I've got plenty of Scandinavian background. Scandinavian names are also a lot more popular and normal there than in other parts of the country. I also lived in Norway and speak Norwegian and my husband lived in Sweden speaks Swedish. Friends that are practically family live in Denmark now so we end up in Scandinavia every time we head over Europe :) So Scandinavian names are on our radar and after using Linnea (quite unusual here, super popular in Norway) it seems to make sense to choose another. The trick is finding one that sounds alright in English, doesn't contain any non-English vowels, and isn't too unusual. Odd, for example, is out :)

By Moreover (not verified)
February 23, 2010 3:43 PM

I agree with Eleni as to using names from other cultures. I often compare it to adopting the clothing of other cultures. For example, if someone from a much different culture chose to wear a standard Western style suit to go about their daily activities, most Westerners would barely notice. If they chose to wear a typical white wedding gown, it might get some stares and giggles, but people would just consider it their choice. However, if they dressed as a priest or the Pope or a rabbi to mow their lawn, go to the bar or go on dates, many would be offended because those items of clothing have special meaning. And it's like that with names. Depending on the culture and the name, some will get little notice from the original culture (like if I gave a daughter a Russian name like Nina), some will get some odd glances (like naming her the Japanese Mariko) and some will cause offense, like naming a Christian child Cohen, an atheist child Pope (as one family I know has done) or using special sacred names from cultures in which names are created individually, and not chosen from a general pool. Even if the parents' intentions were to try to honor the culture, failing to do the research shows a lack of respect, because with someone as important as a child's name, one would hope parents would put more thought into it. I admit, I cringe when I read things like, "Well, we think my husband's great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess, so we're naming our baby Cheyenne." That's like saying, "My husband has an Austrian ancestor, so we're naming our babies Wop and Dago. And in honor of our honeymoon in Wales, we're naming the next baby Sconehead."

By BubamaraMama (not verified)
February 24, 2010 4:32 AM

So many good comments on the ethnic/cultural borrowing of names, MommaJoy and Moreover.
I just have an example I'd like to share.

I knew a woman when I was in the military who is a redheaded pale white American, named "Suki".
Because that is the reaction to a Japanese name on a person who is very obviously not Japanese. The story is that her parents were stationed in Japan when she was born and wanted to choose a Japanese name for her.
It just jangles to hear that name on her every time.
Doesn't help that she was a little heavyset and the same-sounding American name "Sukey" is a common livestock name.

February 23, 2011 12:41 PM

I am a broadcaster and with my daughter it wasn't a big deal, because everyone around me was pregnant with boys. I freely told everyone her name because I knew no one would take it before me. With this pregnancy, we picked our son's name with much thought given to sound and meaning and a coworker whose wife is pregnant with a boy and due a month and a half before me, stole it from me. I know this because they had no name picked out and he overheard me telling someone my name and the next thing you know, his was the same. I should have been more guarded but didn't know he was standing in close proximity to me. I have had to pick an alternative because he ruined it for me with the original name I picked and I now like the alternative name MUCH better! My lips are sealed until after his kid is born, named and the ink is dry on the birth certificate. That's ok, everyone knows it was my choice first, so he ends up looking like the "name thief" that he is. Just be careful when broadcasting your choice that you don't tell someone who is due before you with the same gender.