Conceiving your child may have made you feel, more than any other step you’ve taken together, as if you and your spouse had finally and truly become one. Choosing its name can remind you that, nope, you’re still actually two.
There are all those people with all those names that each of you knew and loved or hated before you met each other. If you and your spouse draw up individual lists of your favorite names, chances are you’ll cross off half of each other’s picks because you went to third grade with an Elizabeth whose nose was always running, or had a college roommate named Daniel who told terrible jokes.
Couples who successfully negotiate religious differences and complicated family holidays sometimes find themselves stymied by conflicting name ideas and requirements. One couple we know, for instance, compromised his Jewish and her Catholic backgrounds by attending a Unitarian church, but when naming their baby hit a deep divide when he wanted to follow religious tradition and give their child a name that started with the same letter as that of his recently deceased grandmother, and she bucked against being pinned down to names beginning with S.
Another factor that can make for difficult name negotiations is that, in most cases, one of you is a man and the other is a woman. A study by Charles Joubert of the University of Northern Alabama demonstrated that men and women often have very different tastes in and ideas about names. Men, he found, were more likely to choose common or old-fashioned names for children of either sex, while women were more likely to propose common names for boys and unusual ones for girls.
How to resolve any naming problems you and your spouse might be having? Here are some tips:
Talk about issues like image and gender before you talk about names.
What do you each hope for in a child? Is your fantasy child energetic or studious, “all-boy” or gentle, feminine or tomboy? Coming to agreement on these matters, or at least getting them out in the open, can help when you’re choosing a name, not to mention raising your child.
Rule out all names of ex-girlfriends and ex-boyfriends.
No matter how much you like the name Emily, do not proceed with it if your husband had a long, torrid affair with an Emily way back when. Do not tell yourself you’ll forget: You won’t, and neither will he.
Make a “no” list as well as a “yes” list.
Most couples only make lists of the names they like; it can help to make lists, too, of the names that are absolutely out for each of you. Include those you’d rule out for personal reasons (the roommate who stole all your clothes) as well as names you simply hate. Agree that neither of you will bring up the names on each other’s “absolutely not” lists no matter how much you like them or how neutral they may be for you.
Avoid using the name-selection process as an opportunity to criticize each other’s loved ones.
Investigate the reasons for each other’s choices.
Let’s say you love a name your spouse hates. Instead of fighting over the name itself, explore what it is about the name that appeals to you. Figuring out whether you like a name because it’s classic, or feminine, or stylish can lead you to other names with the same characteristics that both of you like.
Remember that parenthood is a joint venture.
Just as your child will be a unique blend of characteristics from both of you, so should you endeavor to arrive at a name that combines each of your sensibilities and tastes. If you absolutely can’t find a name you both love, agree that one of you will choose the first name, the other one the middle. Or, one will name this child, the other will name the next. Such enlightened negotiation and compromise is what marriage is all about.