Baby Name Remorse: Helping Your Children Love Their Names
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.
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Katherine Morna Towne
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on March 12th, 2017 at 10:57 pm
I agree with your suggestions about three names (one first and two middles) and a first name with many possible nicknames and the option of exploring one of the middles.
I’m fortunate because I love my name, which really doesn’t come with any obvious nicknames, but for my own (unborn) daughter I chose Cordelia which offers nn’s I love: Coral and Delia, some I like: Cora, and even some I dislike: De, DeDe, Cory. I also love Elizabeth, her first middle, and knew she could have used it or plundered it for nn’s if needed.
on March 13th, 2017 at 7:07 am
My mum gave me a Welsh girl name that no one could spell or pronounce correctly in the asian country I grew up in. And on the rare occasion that someone said it right, I would have to ‘correct’ them, because my mum also decided that she was going to mispronounce the already-hard-to-properly-pronounce Celtic name. The pronunciation she chose is the exact same one belonging to a well-known, relatively common boy name. As such, I very quickly grew to hate my name, and I would periodically challenge my mum and question her as to why she chose (in my opinion) such a ridiculous and unattractive name.
Her response boiled down to “I like it, so there!”, and when I didn’t accept that, she’d get very angry and defensive, and would say things along the lines of: “Grow up”, “get over it”, and “stop being childish and stupid”. I would like to set the record straight by saying to all parents, wannabe or otherwise, that you should NEVER respond this way to a child. Because all it did was make me hate my name even more, as well as help to establish a deep-seated resentment towards my mum which remains to this day.
In my opinion, the following points are how I think parents should go about the whole issue:
1. Try to pick a name that has some meaning to you. For example, saying “I named you after my very best friend” or, “I named you Lucien because it means ‘light’, and you are literally the light of my life” would help a child come to terms with their name far better than saying: “I chose it because it was pretty, that’s all”.
2. When picking middle names, select ones that you would quite happily use as first names. That way, if a child wants to change their name, they might very well go by the middle name(s) that you chose, which would be easier on the parents than the child potentially picking a completely unrelated name that said parents had no part in choosing and, furthermore, might not like.
3. Be positive about your child’s name, absolutely. But at the end of it all, no amount of excitement or encouragement may be enough to stop them from disliking their name. And if they do end up disliking it, it’s important that you let them know that that’s OK. Acceptance of such a reality may very well convince a child to keep their name, and if all else fails and the child wants to go by something else, you could always give them a list of names that you like, and have them choose from that. – I personally would have loved if my mum had given me that option.
on March 13th, 2017 at 8:47 pm
I was given an overly popular first and middle name, and only because my mom liked how they sounded. I’ve always hated my name (in and of itself), how popular it is, and how meaningless it feels (and is). Partly because of that, I’m really into names that aren’t in the top 1000 and are nature/word/etc names with clear meanings. If I had a kid, I would be very thoughtful about naming them, and I would also completely understand if they didn’t like their name and wanted to change it, as I plan to legally change mine to something that’s actually meaningful to me and actually feels like “me”.
I think it really helps to give your child a name with meaning and/or for a good reason (for example, “We gave you the middle name Ocean because you were born by the ocean and we wanted you to know the importance of broadening your horizons”), and to give them options with a versatile first name or one or more middle names (for example, Theodora Moon could go by Thea, Dora, Teddy, Moon, or even Luna). However, that’s not fool-proof of course, and personally if my hypothetical kid didn’t like their name, I’d be happy to call them by whatever name they felt was best for them.
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