Baby Namer’s Remorse: A bad name story
My daughter is 17. I think she’s great. It’s not mutual. She is, after all, a teenager and as such holds me accountable for all the crimes I’ve committed against her over the years. These include just about everything I’ve done, everything I should have done and the various ways I embarrass her in public. It’s all very age appropriate, or so I tell myself, but there’s one offense she cites that I can’t shrug off:
I named her badly.
Elizabeth Stern Shepherd–Barron. That’s what we (my husband was co-conspirator) called her. This was our logic: Elizabeth, because it’s a classic that pays homage to two notable queens as well as one of the greatest heroines in literature — clever, funny, beautiful Elizabeth Bennett. For a middle name, an exciting concept for me as I don’t have one, we chose my maiden name, Stern, to remind her of half her heritage and to serve as a strong contrast to her last name, my husband’s double-barrelled Shepherd–Barron.
We thought it was a great way to encompass and convey two contrasting worlds. I’m an American, a Jew from New York. My husband is British, the eldest son in an upper crust family. We live in England, but Elizabeth also holds an American passport. We imagined her hopping across the pond at will, able to live and work in Boston, L.A. or London. We thought the name we chose said it all, sent a powerful and, dare I say it, cosmopolitan message.
She thinks differently.
She thinks it’s neither one thing nor another. That it fails to conjure up a person or a place. She says Stern doesn’t work as a name; it’s just a clunk in the middle of the mix. The whole package, she claims, sounds like a law firm: Elizabeth, Stern & Shepherd–Barron.
Well, actually, I should have known; I’m a professional namer. Clients hire me to come up with names for all sorts of products and companies. I’ve branded corporations and candy bars, banks and baby carriers, security systems and movie studios. I’ve sat clients down and told them a name is not just for Christmas, it’s for life. I’ve said a name is destiny. It’s a key to defining who you are to your chosen audience. The first rule of naming, I tell my clients, is Know your audience.
I broke that rule when we named our daughter. I got the audience wrong. To tell the truth, I’m not sure what audience we had in mind: our two very different families? Passport control? And was it a small act of defiance on my part, sneaking Stern into it? Maybe we were just trying too hard. Whatever we were doing, we weren’t thinking about our actual audience, which was, of course, our daughter.
She’s dissatisfied but not, I’m happy to report, damaged. Like all dissatisfied clients, she took her business elsewhere and went to another naming consultant: in this case, herself. Her passport still bears her official name, all 29 characters of it, but everywhere else she’s known as Bug. It was her baby name, the nickname that seemed so right when she was all eyes in a very small face. She decided to go back to it. It’s individual and memorable and in Britain, where the eccentric is acceptable if not desirable, it works particularly well. As is my tactic with all my clients, I let her think it was her idea in the first place.
Michelle Shepherd–Barron is a writer and professional namer, with bases in London and New York. In her blog, whatiwaswearing, she writes about life as an American in England, river swimming, motherhood and trying not to smoke. Her twitter address is: @M_S_Barron.
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on December 5th, 2012 at 4:14 am
For what it’s worth, I genuinely think you couldn’t have given her a more flexible and unoffensive name. It’s a name that is a classic in both countries, it has arguably more nicknames than any other girls’ name, and it is very unlikely to shock or offend anyone. After reading the title of you post, I thought you named her Britney Spears before the singer, or Anita Friend without realizing the joke or something like that. Naming a kid Elizabeth, followed by an innocuous maiden name, followed by a long but easy-to-spell and pronounce surname is hardly grounds for regret. Were you supposed to put Bug on her birth certificate?
on December 5th, 2012 at 9:46 am
I would be very surprised if she doesn’t come back around to love it. My high school was full of teens who hated their names, thought it was awful and boring, or too different and uncommon. The ones with the exotic names wanted the trendy ones, the ones with the classic’s, wanted something bolder. I think its a right of passage, and an effort to really redefine oneself throughout those person-definiing years.
Plus – Elizabeth has so many options! I think she’ll find one that she’ll grow to love.
on December 5th, 2012 at 9:55 am
There’s no way to make a teenager happy. My offense to my 17-year old is pretty much the opposite of yours. Her middle name is Grace – overused as a middle name, but it was my grandmother’s first name. Ever since I told her that we considered giving her my husband’s middle name as her middle name (Barrett – a family surname), she has expressed her preference for that, and has let us know that she plans to change her name when she can.
on December 5th, 2012 at 11:13 am
She has a truly classic name Elizabeth with gives her loads of nickname options.
She has her mother’s maiden name which takes care of her maternal heritage.
And since her father’s surname was already non-negotiable, there wasn’t anything she could do about that fact.
I think you chose well so don’t sweat it!
on December 5th, 2012 at 11:18 am
I think you named her very well, and I believe she will come around as she matures.
on December 5th, 2012 at 11:38 am
I don’t think she has a bad name at all. She is a teenager so of course she will hate it, because she hates everything probably. I don’t think there is anyway to please a teenager. I would much rather have her wonderful name than the names that all these new little children are being given now.
on December 5th, 2012 at 12:53 pm
So what is wrong with the name, other than Stern being a bit too masculine or the XL last name, which cannot be changed and will change whenever (if ever) she marries anyways? I think she is just a teen and hating on her name like they all do at that age. I was hoping the article would point out bad baby naming occurrences and resolutions or avoidances.
The only thing wrong with her name is it is plain or underwhelming in my opinion and preference. As a teen that is probably her only issue too, it’s not trendy or cool enough. You named her fine, and she is fine.
on December 5th, 2012 at 2:47 pm
It’s kind of sad that you think you named her badly. I think you did very well, personally! You gave her a classic name with at least 16 nickname options and a middle name that’s a nod to your family. I mean, she’s 17 – I’m sure when she’s a late 20-something she’ll thank you for her regal-sounding, flexible name. Bug is cute on a teen, but I doubt she’ll want to answer to it as a 30 year old. Take heart! She’ll see the error of her ways. 🙂
on December 5th, 2012 at 3:17 pm
Considering we spend the majority of our life as adults (not as teenagers), I’m going to say you did not get your audience wrong. Elizabeth is a beautiful, timeless name. Bug is cute, but, I doubt she’ll want to put that on a resume one day.
on December 5th, 2012 at 3:39 pm
Maybe I’m reading too much into this but I don’t think the author actually regrets naming her daughter Elizabeth Stern. I think she’s using mild satire to convey the message that no matter what you name your child, he or she may hate it one day. Teens are notorious for disassociating themselves from their parents and that often includes their names (because their parents picked them).
on December 5th, 2012 at 8:00 pm
That’s so strange! My Name is Elizabeth Brady Lucia, Brady being my mom’s maiden name. I use may as a fake middle name because i always want a real middle name. But I don’t mind having Brady, it keeps me in touch with my mom’s side and when I turn 18 I think i might add another name, probably May after my grandma. ANd I don;t mind having Elizabeth as a first name because my parents have called me Ellie since I was born, because I can go by Elizabeth if I want when I get older.
on December 5th, 2012 at 9:04 pm
First of all I love Elizabeth. Out of all the classic names this is the most beautiful and versitile as far as nn’s. (so perfect choice there) A maiden name for the mn IMO is so wonderful! I wish that my parents would have thought of that. Ancestry is such a gift and your daughter will definately someday realize what a magnificent gift you gave her.
on December 5th, 2012 at 10:54 pm
Michelle, I love the name Elizabeth! It has so many great nicknames, I’m sure your daughter will see its beauty when she’s a bit older.
Mischa, it’s sad to hear you describe giving an infant the father’s surname as “non-negotiable”. Elizabeth could just as easily have been given Stern, Stern-Barron, Barron-Stern, etc. as a last name. That would have left the middle spot open for a non-surname name. There’s no reason for the mother’s surname to be hidden in the middle.
TinaBina, Elizabeth could change her last name at eighteen if she wanted to. Conversely, she does not have to change it when she gets married.
on December 8th, 2012 at 5:04 pm
This article is so hilariously pretentious. I think that this article:
was written about Michelle Shepherd-Barron for sure!
on December 9th, 2012 at 6:30 pm
@lozloz. Agree! The funny thing is, the writer has good taste in names, but why does she have to be so insufferably pretentious about it? She’s a “professional namer” married to a member of an “upper crust family” who has to make sure her kid’s name is not just a name but a literary homage.
Or maybe I’m just missing the satire.
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