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Baby Names Quandary: Use it now or bank a name you love?

May 1, 2016 Katherine Morna Towne

By Katherine Morna Towne @ sanctanomina

I did a name consultation not too long ago for a couple who had picked out Felicity for a girl, which was a name full of meaning for them, only to discover they were having a boy, and they couldn’t think of any boy names they loved as much as they loved Felicity.

When I posted the dilemma to my blog, one of my readers suggested Felix to them, reasoning, “Since [the mom] was really excited about Felicity’s meaning and saintly pedigree, Felix really seems the perfect alternative to me! Popular in the UK, Spain, and Germany, it definitely has a hip, continental thing about it while not being unusual or hard to pronounce, and the x-ending makes it flow very well into middle names beginning with either a vowel or a consonant!”

Several other readers thought Felix was the perfect idea as well, and one of them shared, “We did this with our first. We loved Natalia for a girl, but he was a boy. Naming him Nathaniel kind of nixes a future Natalia.”

I’ve come across this question of whether or not to reserve names for future use several times, in one form or another. I see it in cases like the one above, where the male variant of a beloved female name might be the perfect option for this baby, but for the fact that parents might not want to let go of the girl name “just in case.” Or when parents love two names for the same gender (Anna and Catherine) and can’t decide between them, and wonder if they should use one as the first name and one as a middle (Anna Catherine)—thus potentially setting them up for having a first child with both their favorite names and an unsatisfying list for the next child of the same gender.

So what guidelines might be good to consider when faced with a “this now or that later” dilemma? Two rose to the surface in the comments by my readers that I thought were really great:

Name this baby as if it were your last

Several people pointed out that nothing is a guarantee—whether because of advancing age, or struggles with fertility, or having all of one gender, or even just life circumstances taking away the possibility of adding to your family, you can’t be sure that this baby, here and now, won’t be your last (or your last of this gender). One reader said, “I do NOT save names. Based on my fertility history, I NEVER assume there’ll be another baby.” Another pointed out, “I’ll be nearly 40 when this baby girl is born. I don’t have nearly the number of favorites I had when I was younger and certainly less impulse to save as I know this could be our last … all-out-naming is the way to go.” Naming each baby as though there were no more coming down the line might help you feel more peaceful about the name you choose.

Which name would you be sadder to not use?

Interestingly, this question can work in opposite ways. On the one hand, contemplating, “Which of the names I’m struggling with would I be sadder to never have the opportunity to use?” can clarify for you that naming a son after your dad really is more important to you than using your objectively favorite name. On the other hand, you might realize that you’d be devastated to lose out on naming a potential future daughter Felicity by naming your actual son Felix now—you’d rather take the chance of never having a daughter than naming a son Felix and having a daughter later and not being able to use Felicity. As the mom of Nathaniel-not-Natalia put it, “If [Felix] hits all the right notes, great. If Felicity still makes their heart sing and Felix is just okay, then I say save Felicity.”

I personally started my motherhood on the save-for-later end of the spectrum, and have moved closer to the use-the-best-name-now end the more children I’ve had. Our youngest boy has a variant of my mother-in-law’s first name as his first name, thus knocking out of contention the ideas we’d had for honoring my mother-in-law with a daughter’s name. In making that decision it helped that we would have put her name in the middle name spot for a girl, not the first name spot, and that my husband and I truly love our youngest boy’s name. But if there was a male variant for our first-name pick for a girl (there isn’t), my sense is that I would still want to save our girl name, even knowing we might not get to use it. It’s definitely a hard decision!

Have you encountered this dilemma in your own naming? If so, how and what did you decide?

About the author

Katherine Morna Towne

Katherine Morna Towne is a writer, Catholic baby name blogger and consultant at Sanctanomina, and author of Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018). She lives in the northeast with her husband and seven sons (ages 1 to 15).

View all of Katherine Morna Towne's articles

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