Baby Naming Therapy
By Lauren Apfel, Omnimom
I wrote a post here not too long ago called Confessions of a Baby Name Snob, a funny post about how my sister and I name other people’s babies better than they do. It was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, this piece, but like all resonating humor there was more than a kernel of underlying truth. Readers must have picked up on this, because an equally funny thing started happening as soon as the post went live: messages in my inbox with subject lines like “Name my baby!” and “Help us, please!”. Emails with swirling stories of beloved great grandmothers’ initials and first names that had to work in two languages and middle names that needed to start with this letter or that.
Several of the pleas, I kid you not, came straight from the hospital, where a new baby was lying in his bassinet, swaddled, helpless, waiting expectantly to be bestowed with the perfect moniker. How could his parents fail him now? They couldn’t. So they got in touch with me. Not because I have any savant-like skill in this arena, I assure you. But because they were looking for someone, someone who cared, to hold their hand through the thrilling, yet increasingly anxiety-inducing, process of branding a child for life. What they wanted, it occurred to me, is what all of us want, all of us, that is, who appropriately value the art of nomenclature. What they wanted was a little baby naming therapy and I was happy to oblige.
Baby naming therapy, I discovered, is not dissimilar to other forms of therapy. You open yourself up to another person, with the expectation that she will take your plight seriously and guide you, with a deft hand, on a tour of your own subconscious. If the job is done well it should look like this: the therapist will listen, really listen, to your requirements (the letter C, an Irish twist); she will validate your options, while at the same time encouraging you to probe them (I like Ivy, but don’t you think it sounds a wee bit too similar to Evelyn?); she will ask you the trenchant questions about your aspirations and fears for the name (How will you feel if there are three other “Max”s in the class?).
The baby naming therapist, in other words, does not choose the name for you: she helps to reveal the name you are longing to choose yourself.
The unique gift of the baby naming therapist stems from her third-party position, the fact that she can remain emotionally uninvested in the outcome. The people who contact me have mothers. They have best friends. They have nosy neighbors too. But so many naming connoisseurs opt – and rightly so – to keep their processes protected from those who are theoretically entitled to an opinion. Either because they know their friends and family members just don’t “get it” or because they want to spare hurt feelings all around. Nobody likes to name their kid Jasper after their father-in-law has told them it is a terribly unfortunate thing to call a child. Nobody wants to reject their cousin’s suggestion of Hestia as completely over the top and then watch her go on to saddle her own poor baby with that name.
We all need sounding boards on this quest, and sounding boards other than our partners. Often, in this way, I find myself providing a couple’s therapy of sorts. One of the hardest parts about naming a baby is agreeing on it with someone who has entered your life, permanently, despite a lack of shared onomastic appreciation. And yet, the perfect child’s name must hit the sweet spot between two potentially very different world views. The kid will be a genetic collage of his parents, his name must reflect a comparable common ground. The baby naming therapist recognizes the beauty in working to uncover this overlap: she does not believe in resigned compromise. A name is far too important for either Mom or Dad to feel bleh about it.
It is natural to seek out help for the major decisions. Naming is no exception. Some of us click madly on websites dedicated to the endeavor, trawling through lists, starring our favorites. Some of us scour the forums, posting existing sibsets in search of a kind of group therapy experience, where advice can be taken or left. But then there is the true aficionado, the namer with a perfectionist’s temperament, who prefers a more individualized, on-the-couch approach. This is the ambit of baby naming therapy. It’s the next big thing: you heard it here first. And to think I have been offering my services free of charge all this time.