Baby Name Remorse: A Name Nerd’s Apology

Baby Name Remorse: A Name Nerd’s Apology

By Abby Sandel

When it comes to naming, plenty of new parents hesitate. “What if she hates her name?” they ask.

We name strangers. There is an excellent chance that your child will find his name too ordinary/too weird/too traditional/too crunchy/too hard to spell/too something at some point.

But I am here to tell you that even if this happens – if your child so thoroughly dislikes the name you choose that she pursues a legal name change – you have not failed.

I’m one of those kids, one who disliked her name at five and 15 and 25, until I legally changed it as an adult.

My mother’s name is long, lovely, unusual. A family name dictated by custom. My given name is a rebellion against all that. Short, simple, very common. Easy to say and spell.

It turns out that I was meant to have her name; and she, mine.

My mother named me Amy. The year was 1973, and, as luck would have it, Amy ranked right behind Jennifer for most popular name of the year. I hated sharing my name with so many girls, longed to be Allison or Amanda – names that were ordinary, but not as common. Maybe I could have been something really different, a quirky name with history galore. Something like Hephzibah. Or maybe I could have had a family name, something like Philomena or Olwyn, if not as a first, at least as a distinctive middle.

For years, I attempted reinvention. But my full legal name was just seven letters, three syllables: Amy Beth. The very definition of nickname-proof. I respelled my first name: Amee. Amme. At some point, I experimented with signing my initials instead of my name: A.B. A.B. morphed into Abby.

At 28, I legally became Amy Abigail Sandel, A. Abigail Sandel – Abby. The difference between Amy and Abby is slight. Abigail has become a Top Ten name, too. And yet very few women my age are named Abby. If Amy Beth felt much too short, Amy Abigail seems just long enough. It’s not what I would choose from a blank slate – but I wasn’t newborn.

While I may have rejected the name my mother chose for me, I don’t reject the story. My mom’s logic was sound. She thought – deeply – about the struggles she’d had with her own name, and made a reasonable, loving choice. It’s the only thing we can do as parents.

It turns out that it’s possible to love and respect the process your parents put into choosing a name, even when the name itself doesn’t fit. Even if it launches a lifelong obsession with all things name-related.

While some name changes are the result of painful stories and broken families, that’s not always the case. Sometimes it’s just a matter of fit. When we’re choosing something for another person, it’s easy to get it wrong. But that doesn’t diminish the love we brought to the choice in the first place.

And so thanks mom, for the gift. It didn’t quite work and I had to exchange it. But I appreciate both the original intent, and your tremendous grace in accepting that I traded it for something new.