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When Mom Hates Your Baby’s Name

Angry Old Lady

Journalist Laura Dunphy, today’s guest blogger, enlightens us on what might not be so bad about your Mom hating your baby’s name.

My mother hates my daughter’s name.

And – don’t tell her this, please – I think it’s made me a better person.

My husband and I always thought that if we had a girl we’d call her Sophie Madeline. But when I was expecting our daughter, we decided we’d rather balance the growing popularity of Sophie with a more distinctive French name in the middle: Mireille.

When we officially announced the arrival of Sophie Mireille, my poshest friends raved. “What a lovely, very French-sounding name!” my globetrotting European pal Beatriz enthused. Mireille is a fantastic, seriously underused name,” said Ann, an editor at a major entertainment magazine. My former boss Michelle, a retail executive who is always fabulously attired and never hands out an insincere compliment, gushed endlessly about how much she loved it. Oh, the delight!

Leave it to my mother to put an end to my glee. As we sat chatting around the dinner table one night, she mentioned that a family friend’s daughter, Zoe, was being called Zozo. I scrunched my face and asked, “Zozo? What kind of a nickname is that? It’s not even shorter than the original name.” To which my mother replied, “I don’t think you should be saying anything about anyone’s name.”

Stunned, I asked for an explanation, only to be informed that Mireille was not a real name. I believe my mother’s exact words were, “It’s horrible. We hate it.” My father nodded in solemn agreement. Apparently at some point over the course of the previous decade, I’d mentioned the name Sophie Madeline, and my parents had gotten attached to their vision of a fantasy granddaughter. As in, one with a name they had heard of before.

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Middle-Name Management

The attitude towards middle names has changed radically over the last generation.  No longer are they thought of as throwaway connectives, the way they were in the era of Karen Ann, Debra Sue and Jamie Lynn: parents are now giving almost as much thought to the middle name as they do to the first, carefully weighing its meaning and its rhythm and sound in combination with the first and last names.

And now middle names even have their own separate set of trends.  One of these is to follow the British royal tradition of using two (or more) of them, perhaps to honor both grandparents, as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin did with Apple Blythe Alison (both grandmas) and Moses Bruce Anthony (granddads.)  Another is to use it as a place for a name that you like but consider a bit too risky for lead position–as in starbabies Alice Zenobia and William Huckleberry.  The middle spot is also ideal for honoring a cultural hero (or two)–we’ve heard Lorca, Lennon, Amadeus, Bela (for Bartok, not Lugosi), and Kafka, to cite a few.  Another interesting–and endearing–trendlet we’ve spotted is using the nickname of an honoree instead of his/her full name (Amanda Peet’s Frances Pen, Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber’s Alexander Pete) in middle position, making for a more intimate connection.

Older traditions continue to survive as well.  The venerable practice of using Mom’s maiden name in that place, for both boys and girls–as well as a grandmother’s birth name which might otherwise be lost to history–is thriving.  It can also be a safe slot for a family or friend’s name you want–or feel obligated–to use, but not necessarily as the name your child is known by.  In any case, giving your child a great, imaginative middle name gives him another option if–perish the thought!–he’s not happy with your first choice.

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