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.
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on September 11th, 2016 at 11:19 pm
What a beautifully written blog.
on September 11th, 2016 at 11:51 pm
I understand completely. I love my mom, but I hate my name, though for the opposite reasons from you. My name is too off the map for me. While I wouldn’t want to be an Emily, Maddy or Sophie, those all seem better to me than what I got. Wanting to be original she named me Xanith. I submitted it sort of jokingly to the invent-a-name contest and funnily it was one of the names picked. I keep getting told that one day I’ll love it eventually, but it’s been a couple decades so I really doubt it.
on September 12th, 2016 at 12:32 am
This is so beautifully written!
on September 12th, 2016 at 2:58 am
As someone who has hated her name for years – reading your story was really touching, and I deeply admire the fact that, in spite of your original name being a bad fit, you still respect the original meaning and intention your mother had when she chose it. Unfortunately, I myself cannot claim such maturity.
My mum gave me a celtic name. She had been warned beforehand by family members that it wouldn’t be appropriate and yet, knowing full-well that no one would be able to spell or pronounce it in the country I grew up in, she used it anyway. So, when teachers inevitably tripped up on the pronunciation, I would cringe, everyone in my class would laugh, and bullies soon picked up on that. Not only that, but she gave my name a completely unrelated pronunciation – one which belongs to a well-known and semi common boy name. So on the rare occasion that someone wasn’t off-put by the spelling of my name and actually said it right, I’d have to ‘correct’ them, and then sit through the usual comment of: “… Oh… isn’t that a _boy_ name?” It wouldn’t be, if mum hadn’t decided that the rule of my name’s phonetics didn’t apply to her.
So with all that in mind, I started to hate my name as a tween/teen, and still do. But every time I broach the subject with my mum, she throws a literal temper-tantrum, completley ploughing over my feelings with a tidal-wave of comments like; “stop being stupid!”, and “you’re being over-dramatic!” – usually with some profanity thrown in. So while I would have liked to respect the love and thought that she presumably put into the decision when she officially chose my name, I just can’t. The name she gave me is just all kinds of wrong, not just in general, but also for my person. I’m sure she chose it with the best intentions, but she really screwed up and her aggression towards the issue is by no means endearing me to her choice. So, while I probably won’t get around to legally changing it, I do intend to go by a completley unrelated name some time next year when I start university.
Apologies for venting so heavily, but I really do appreciate this post and am very glad that I read it. Hearing someone else in a formerly similar situation to myself say that it’s okay to not like your own name is quite reassuring. Near cleansing, in fact. Thanks for writing this!
on September 12th, 2016 at 6:55 am
In my first grade class there were 8 Mary’s, 4 Jerry’s, 2 Larry’s and a Barry.
Yet – I was a Mary who LOVED my name. I was the tallest and sat in the back row, so as the teacher went ’round the room to ask names I was one of the last called upon. This meant that all the Mary’s who were called on before me had to go by first-middle names. There was Mary Pat, Mary Sue, Mary Margaret, Mary Francis, Mary Jane, Mary Alice, and – thank heavens – another Mary Ellen! This meant I got to be the only just-plain-Mary as my middle name had already been chosen. I KNEW it was meant to be as my mother told me that I was named for the Blessed Mother and everyone KNEW she was a just-plain-Mary, too!! Haha. (In those days no one ever mentioned that she was likely called Miriam anyway ; )
Years later, I named my son Christian Thomas and he always went by Christian not Chris. In first grade he came home and announced he was changing his name to Ed. Seems his buddies to the left and right- Matt and Ben – could get their 3-4 letter. names written on the top of their spelling tests a whole lot faster than he could with his nine. He figured if he had a 2-letter name he could beat ’em every time! Thankfully, he let his competitive streak show itself elsewhere and still goes by Christian 38 years later!
on September 12th, 2016 at 8:58 am
I really enjoyed this blog.
My father named me. I have a name that was highest in popularity in the 40’s and 50’s. My mother is a pre-1970’s Jennifer. It used to cause a lot of confusion and (on my part) embarrassment.
Now I love my name because my dad chose it and because it is so rare in my generation. I can appreciate loving the process of name giving but not the end result.
on September 12th, 2016 at 10:36 am
The year I was born, Chloe was an extremely popular name. That’s my name, by the way. Chloe ranked number one in the United Kingdom the year I was born. Now, I love my name and always have done. But sometimes I did wish it wasn’t so common. My middle name, Louise, wasn’t so popular. But I will knew a girl in my class named Louise. My parents named me Chloe Louise. Chloe because they liked the name, and Louise because it flowed well with Chloe. And got me the nickname Chloe-Lou. There was a lot of girls I knew called Chloe, so sometimes I wanted a name not so common, but I also loved my name at the same time.
Baby Name Addict Said
on September 12th, 2016 at 12:02 pm
I think changing names is fine. I have a friend called Neptune, who changed her name because no one took her seriously. She also made a slight change, to Natalie.
on September 12th, 2016 at 12:40 pm
I loved reading this blog because it hits home. I have always disliked my name, Alicia (which is a big reason I create different names to be my user names). There are too many different correct pronunciations, too many spelling variations, and too many similar names that I get called instead. I’ve been Alison, Alice, Alica, Alex, Alivia, Alyssa, and any other name that starts with A that is close in any way. I go with it, but growing up having to correct teachers, subs, and classmates made me hate my name. It would end up spelled wrong on group assignments if I wasn’t the one to submit it, I would get birthday cards from family friends with my name spelled wrong. It was so frustrating. I never felt (and still don’t feel) like the name suited me. I tried going by Ali for a time, but there were so many Allison’s born when I was that the nickname just lumped me in with them. I tried spelling is Alisha since that’s how many people tried to spell it. I considered going by my middle name. Now that I am in college I don’t take it so personally when I have to correct people, which is still constantly. I’ve not made a drastic attempt to make a change because honestly I’ve never wanted to hurt my parent’s feelings. Reading this blog makes me re-consider that and think more seriously about making a change that might make me happier. Thank you for posting this!
on September 12th, 2016 at 12:45 pm
Great blog! I also think it’s perfectly ok to change a name that has never felt comfortable. I’m a Prue short for Prudence and always the only one. I too had issues throughout my schooling years and hated it, but then I grew into my name and learned to love it. My brother and sister have extremely common plain no nonsense names – I have always stuck out because of my name. I wear it with pride now. It has also influenced naming my own children because I respect how important a name is to carry throughout life. You either own it or let it own you.
on September 12th, 2016 at 12:46 pm
I didn’t like name, Colleen as a twen in the 90s. I used to want it to have a nickname, like Angie, Kaycee, and Nicki. But when we moved when I was thirteen, I liked the more unusual names of my new friends, like Tyler, Gwyneth, and Lorena. I had wanted my name to be September or Phoenix. I still don’t love my name, don’t think it fits perfectly ( I feel like a Kate, Kat, or Margot) but the story of how my mom had a dream when she was pregnant of a beautiful blonde woman who was me, and her name was Colleen; it’s such a beautiful, mystical story. I would never change it. When naming my son, I got obsessed with baby names. I did try to choose a name with nickname potential, classic and timeless, with beauty: Julian, and if he didn’t like it, James for the middle name. I think I aced it!
on September 12th, 2016 at 6:15 pm
It is great to read this sort of blog and know I am not alone in having grown up disliking my name. In fact I still very much dislike my name and yet when I had a chance to change it I didn’t. I was named Arika for, as my mom always said, her grandfather Alexander. I always joked that it was for Erica Kane. My feeling was if she wanted to name me for Alexander she should have just named me Alexandra.
Almost ten years ago I got divorced and apparently in the state of Texas, which is where I was at the time, when you get divorced you not only can change your surname but your entire name. Here was my opportunity get rid of a name I have never liked, no one every spells correctly, and few pronounce correctly. The problem was I could not think of a name to change it to. Sure Alexandra would have been the logical choice but somehow I don’t feel like it fits me. I think had I grown up being Alexandra I wouldn’t think that but having grown up Arika, Alexandra seemed almost bland in comparison. The thing is if I had been named Alexandra I would be going by the nickname Andra and yet I never thought to change my name to that. I now think if I had to do it all over again I would have changed my name to Alexandra and gone by Andra. However for now I will remain Arika.
on September 13th, 2016 at 5:52 pm
My name is Emma and there have been times where I begged my mother to allow me to get my name changed. I’m tired of ending up in classes with at least two other Emmas. I’m tired of hearing my name called and being confused because “which emma??” I told my mom that if she wanted to name me after my great grandfather Elmer, she could’ve just named me that- Elmer. To me, it’s better than Emma.
on September 14th, 2016 at 3:24 pm
As a Jennifer Anne hating my name is an understatement. It’s always nice when I read about others also hating their birth name because it makes me feel better. I love my middle name Anne as there is Anne Bronte, I love how it flows with Jennifer but I just hate the name Jennifer. It feels clunky and I know a few Jen’s and Jenny’s and Jennifer’s. I was going to be called Iona Morag but parents thought Iona clashed with my last name also starting with an I. I’ve since tried many, many, many variations at one point but they didn’t suit me either. Guinevere, Genevieve, Gen, Ginny, Jenna/Genna, Ginevra, Jenessa but none of them worked for me. I’ve since tried other classic english names such as Katherine (my absolute favourite, I love the nickname Kat plus it goes nicely with Anne), Hannah (this doesn’t go with Anne very well and is just as popular as Jennifer), Iona (I’m still warming up to this, it’s a beautiful name and I’ve only ever known one Iona, my babysitter), Eleanor, Maya, I think Annabelle/Bella was in there at some point, Simone was another one, Evie/Evanna but it just didn’t flow with Anne or my last name. I’m old enough to find a name I’m happy with and get it changed legally but I’m still stuck finding the right one.
on September 15th, 2016 at 5:25 pm
I disliked my name intensely when I was growing up. While my high school classmates & I are past the era of “Beatles, short white gloves, & girdles,” out of approximately 100 girls, five of us were some variant of Sheryl/Cheryl/Sherry/etc. Once I went off to college, though, I found very few girls w/my name, & w/the help of a funny-snarky definition of Sherry from another name book, I stopped wishing for a different name. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s before I learned that my dad chose my first name after one of his cousins (& that my mom bitterly resented that..she wanted me to be Elizabeth Anne)—who ended up changing her name (to a variant of her original of Cheryl).
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