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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.

Efforts to defend Mireille got me nowhere. First, I said that plenty of people probably thought my mother made up Therese, my middle name.  Therese was a saint, my mother replied, as if God had given a stamp of approval to the name.

Well, Frederic Mistral, the poet credited with creating the name Mireille, won the Nobel Prize, I countered. When my mom pointed out that I’d just admitted that Mireille was in fact a made-up name, I could only muster the defense that it wasn’t made up by me.

I was suddenly overcome by a sense of calm. My husband and I loved our baby daughter’s name, a combination of ten years of dreaming plus a splash of confident creativity. And if I wouldn’t let my mother buy my clothes, why would I let her name my baby? So I sat back in my chair and announced, “You got to name your children, now we get to name ours. We don’t care if you like it.” Fair enough, my parents said, and peace was restored.

This experience made me realize how easy it is to be hurt or offended when someone doesn’t share a passion for a name. I’ve been guilty of it myself, whether accidentally deflating a new mother’s excitement when I told her that her baby William is now the third one we know or saying it’s strange to call Zoe “Zozo”. Since I’ve been on the receiving end of a harsh review, I’d much rather focus on the positive, for the sake of the new parents as well as my own. That’s why I now stick to a code of ethics when it comes to other people’s baby names:

*If a baby’s been born and named, I let it go. No sense in telling a friend all the nicknames baby Linus could be subjected to if she’s holding him in her arms. It’s best to assume she thought it through, and her pros outweighed my cons.

*I ask myself whether my opinion is wanted. Is a friend bouncing her Top 10 list off me because I have a young child and she truly wants advice, or has she decided and wants to feel some love? Hard as it is for me to understand, some people want their children to have names that start with the same initial, or sound almost exactly the same, or have unusual spellings. Unless I’m confident my opinion is wanted and welcome, there’s no sense in trying to make someone share my style.

*If I can’t find something nice to say, I try harder. Everybody wants to hear that people like their baby’s name, but the fact is some people won’t. So when I don’t like a name, I try to look on the bright side. Maybe the first-middle-last is honestly harmonious, or it’s so touching that the child was named after a family member. When all else fails, I repeat the name and say in an impressed tone, “Sounds like you’ve got a future – Supreme Court Justice/ CEO/ tennis champ – on your hands!” (Special thanks to Barack Obama, because any name goes with President now.) And even if I have to stretch the truth to utter any of those words, at least I can muster genuine enthusiasm from the fact that they didn’t choose one of my favorites.

Since our Big Name Debate, my mother has encountered a couple of people who’ve known Mireilles. It’s done nothing to help my cause. In fact, the other night, while my two-year-old daughter slept soundly in her room, my mother called to tell me that she was mortified at a luncheon when a friend asked her Sophie’s middle name. According to her, the reaction around the table of her peers was unanimously unenthused and confused: “What kind of a name is that?” “Is it French?” How do you spell it?”

And that’s just fine with me.

As a journalist, Laura Dunphy has covered everything from Hollywood celebrities to the U.S. Congress.  She lives in New York City with her husband, daughter and dog.

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