We all understand the magic and thrill of the baby naming process—whether you’ve named a baby or have just dreamed of doing so, poring over name lists, choosing your favorites, and arranging first-middle name combinations is fun and satisfying and ultimately one of the first important decisions you ever make for your child. What a gift and an enormous responsibility to be able to choose a person’s name! It can be stressful too, yes, and we’ve all heard stories of name regret and read strategies to help avoid it, or manage it and move on, or start afresh by changing the name, but in every aspect of this process—the planning, the dreaming, even the regret—the focus is almost entirely on the namer (you).
But what of the child receiving the name?
Though none of us would choose names for our children that we think they will hate (on the contrary, we choose names we think they will love, because we do), we all likely know someone who doesn’t care for their name. It’s easy enough to sympathize with a peer or even someone else’s child who doesn’t like their name, but how heartbroken would many of us be if the name we carefully and lovingly chose for our beloved baby was later rejected by that child?
I think there are things parents could do that might help their children recognize and embrace their chosen names.
Tell your child’s name story to him or her, often and with joy
I’ve never tired of hearing my own name story, nor those of my siblings. I remember hearing them many times growing up, and I still love seeing how my parents delight in remembering the conversations and process they had when deciding on our names, and how pleased they still are with each result—it’s clear to them that each name is the perfect one for each of us, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I see the same in my own kids now—they’re fascinated to hear all the names we were considering, and really pleased and grateful that we chose the ones we did. (My 8-year-old recently discovered that he was very nearly Oliver, which horrified him—he feels like his own name and no other.)
Tell your child how awesome his or her name is, often and with joy
Each of my boys has a first name, and a first-middle combo, that I’m still swoony over, and I often tell them so. “You have such a great name,” I’ll sigh to them after calling for them, or I’ll yell using both their first and middle names (a sure sign they’re in trouble!) and yet even in the midst of my impatience or frustration I still find myself turning to my husband to say, “We did a great job with his name.” Though each of them was chosen for a different reason, and some are more adventurous choices than others, we love each name and combination equally and make sure our boys hear that frequently—which can also help avoid feelings of inequality/unfairness among siblings regarding their names).
Make a big deal of name ownership whenever possible
If you see a restaurant with your child’s name, point it out and say how cool it is for having chosen your child’s name. If a celebrity or book/movie character has your child’s name, be sure to comment on how lucky that person is for having the same amazing name as your child! You can celebrate your child’s name day or saint’s feast day with birthday-like festivities—as unlike birthdays, name days and eponymous saints’ feast days are based solely on names.
Offer them options (of your choosing)
While the above suggestions focus on helping a child love and appreciate the name you’ve chosen, this last suggestion helps prepare for the worst. Should your child decide that their name just really isn’t one they can live with, it’s great for him or her to have options to fall back on—preferably of their choosing. If you decide on an unusual first name, consider a more traditional one for the middle (or vice versa). Or maybe consider bestowing two or more middle names, chosen from your list of favorites.
It’s great, too, if the first or middle names you’ve chosen have lots of nickname options. This flies in the face of some parents’ naming preferences—some really don’t care for names that easily nickname, or for traditional names, or for multiple middle names, or for going by a middle name—but if your goal is to help give your child the best chance of liking the name you gave him or her, providing options and possibilities is a great way to do so.