Changing Baby’s Name
By Abby Sandel
Sophie – who blogs at The Young Mummy – welcomed daughter Betty, a little sister for Bobby, on January 14th. Two weeks later, Sophie and her husband announced that they’d made a mistake. Betty is now Florence, Flossy for short.
That’s not name regret. There’s a difference between these relatively minor annoyances, and the unshakable feeling that you’ve given your child the wrong name.
It sounds like Sophie quickly realized that another name from her original shortlist would suit her new daughter better. When that’s the case, a name change – especially for a newborn – is usually pretty straightforward.
Other families report starting their name search anew when their child is a few weeks or months old. If there’s pressure to choose a name before your baby arrives, that’s nothing compared to the challenges of choosing a name for a three-month old, as family and friends continue to use the name that you’re working so hard to replace.
Here are nine tips for changing your child’s name:
It’s okay to like the name, but feel like it’s the wrong fit for your child. Most children grow into their names pretty quickly. Sometimes the opposite happens, and the name feels like less of a fit as times passes. Kelcey Kintner of The Mama Bird Diaries famously described this feeling. She eventually changed her daughter’s name from Presley to Summer.
It’s okay to like the name, but realize it’s not wearing well. Carri Kessler loved the name Ottilie – at least until she gave the name to her daughter. It didn’t sound quite right, and others often mispronounced it or just plain couldn’t remember it. Carri imagined a lifetime of frustration, until she realized a name change was an option. Now Ottilie has become Margot.
Sometimes the right name might already be there. Some name changes require no paperwork. If you’ve chosen a nickname-rich name for your child, it might be as simple as exploring alternative nicknames. If your Margaret doesn’t seem like a Maggie, maybe she’ll grow into Greta. I’ve heard of an Alexander meant to be a Xander … but who quickly grew into an Alex.
Don’t forget the middle name. If you chose a great middle name, consider using it for your child’s first name instead. Emma Alice could easily be known as Alice instead. This works especially well if you chose a first and middle you just plain loved; it might be a little tougher if you tucked an obscure family name in the middle spot.
You can have more than three names. So let’s say you’ve named your son Chase Armbruster Smith, and you’d like to change it. Grandma Armbruster will be crushed if you take the family name away. Remember that doesn’t automatically mean you have to drop Chase. Your son could become Ezra Chase Armbruster Smith, or even Chase Ezra Armbruster Smith, known as Ezra.
Returning to your original list might help. Sometimes parents reject a name for fear it is too common – or too out-there. On reflection, those discards might seem like exactly the right name for your child. If you talked yourself out of some great names, now is the time to reconsider them. Try calling your child Noah or Callum around the house for a few days. If one of your former favorites fits better, it’s time to consider making it official.
Starting fresh is just fine, too. If you’ve exhausted your shortlist, there’s no reason not to start fresh. Tools like our NameHunter can help you build a brand new list. Or check out our forums, where helpful advice and name suggestions are always available.
The clock is ticking, but you have some time. Studies suggest that babies first respond to their names sometime around seven to nine months. Many states allow birth certificate corrections for the first year of a child’s life. While it’s important to discuss your concerns with your partner early, most parents report name regret striking during the first few weeks. That gives most parents plenty of time to consider new possibilities.
You might be the only one to remember the name change. Name-changing parents worry that others won’t understand. Sure, you might confuse or even upset a grandparent or two, and your closest friends might always remember that your daughter Jane started out life as Aurelia. But name-changing parents report that nearly everyone moves on, and the child’s new name simply becomes the child’s name – exactly as it should be.
Have you ever considered changing your child’s name? If so, did you go through with it?
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on February 6th, 2017 at 7:51 am
I find the issue of name-regret, alongside the subsequent complication of a potential name change quite frustrating. Simply because, 9 times out of 10, it could be completely avoided if more parents waited until after the birth to name their children. I understand the need to have a single name picked out ahead of time for a baby that you haven’t even met yet, and that said need is very much a social norm in the 21st century. But it’s also a little crazy when you really stop to think about it, and as a result the practice doesn’t always work in spite of how much we all might want it to.
As such, it would be a far better idea to have a list of names on hand that you can test out for a few days/week/months after the birth, before you’re legally required to register the name. Will it be annoying to friends and relatives and potentially yourself and your partner? Yes. But I think that’d be worth it. After all, finding out that your little Octaviana is really more of a Jane would be far less stressful and inconveniencing if all you had to do was scratch the offending name off the list and move on, as opposed to wading through the legal system to rectify the mistake, and dealing with the potential embarrassment of not having gotten it right the first time around, while also having to deal with informing everyone of your decision and making sure everyone takes the correction on board. Or at least, that’s just my opinion. Still, this post was a good read.
on February 6th, 2017 at 8:40 am
This is why I like to have a formal name with nickname options. If Betty’s name was Elizabeth. She could be Betty or Liz, Libby, Ellie, Busy, etc.
But really, we have so many name choices these days, and fewer children, I see how it’s hard to pick the perfect name. I just had my last baby and have slight name regrets just because I love so many names!
on February 6th, 2017 at 9:30 am
I may be alone here but even though we went with our favorite name for our daughter, it still sounded odd everytime we used it. It wasn’t exactly name regret, but more of a realization that we picked her name and wanted to be sure it was right for her. In the weeks following her birth I tried a few other names out and still came back to our original choice. I think it takes time to get used to calling someone a new name almost how it still sounds odd to me when people call me a mom. It fits, but you have to give it time before it starts to feel natural.
Abby Sandel Said
on February 6th, 2017 at 9:57 am
@AldabellaxWulfe – You’ve raised some really good points!
One of the challenges is that it is very difficult to leave most US hospitals with your child unnamed. I’m fairly confident you don’t HAVE to designate a legal name, and I’ve run across a few people who have declined to do so. But, in general, everybody from the hospital registrar to your insurance company is looking for a legal name within a day or two of birth.
My understanding is that parents in the UK, Canada, and Australia have slightly more freedom – I’m not sure about other places.
I’m also not sure how set in stone those names are … When our daughter was born in Maryland in 2008, there was an error on her birth certificate. It had to do with my name, not hers, but still – she has a corrected birth certificate. While looking through the forms, it seemed like I could have completely changed her entire given name up until her first birthday without penalty. Other parents have indicated that they’ve done exactly this in other states. But it’s very much a YMMV kind of thing – just getting the correct form to get my daughter’s birth certificate corrected took multiple phone calls. (By comparison, legally changing MY name as an adult was pretty darn straightforward – because lots of people file for legal name changes for dozens of reasons.)
The other issue – at least for me – is that meeting my children wouldn’t have helped me choose a name. Many parents report that holding their child changes everything, and it’s clear that he’s meant to be Max or she should really be Selma. But I never had that experience – either with my stressful, lots-of-things-went-wrong first delivery or my much easier, oh-I’ve-got-this second one. To me, both babies looked like babies, and didn’t fully become their names until later.
And of course, at some point there is a deadline – everywhere – and it’s often very early. I can see parents registering a name at 6 weeks might feel more confident – or every bit as conflicted.
Still, I’ve always thought it was frustrating how set in stone names are at birth, so I generally agree with you. Sometimes it is just too soon!
Abby Sandel Said
on February 6th, 2017 at 9:59 am
Yes! It’s SO hard to narrow down the list, because we’re inevitably leaving other names aside, right? I tend to agree with you on formal names, and I’m completely into non-conventional nicknames. Flexibility can be a great thing!
Abby Sandel Said
on February 6th, 2017 at 10:01 am
Excellent point, cyoung325. I remember that stunned feeling of realizing I was the mom, too. 🙂 It’s such a huge life transition that everything might feel new and uncertain at first. (Heck, twelve years later, I look at my taller-than-me-son and wonder How did THIS happen?!) Still, I think you were wise to imagine other names, because it sounds like it cemented your choice.
on February 6th, 2017 at 1:39 pm
It is true that here in the US you have less time to fill out the paperwork.
As far as my state goes they had me fill out the name paperwork before I could be released from the hospital.
on February 6th, 2017 at 2:25 pm
@AldabellaxWulfe – I’m on the other side of the aisle, where I just don’t understand why anyone would need to see what their baby looked like before choosing a name. Neither side is wrong – just different.
I think newborns usually look like cute little smushy aliens. It would be impossible for me to look at my newborn baby and say, “Yep, she’s a Margot, not an Ottilie.” That makes me think that most name regret is really just parents realizing that they don’t like the sound of the name or how it fits with their family / lifestyle now that they’re saying it out loud 100 times a day. I also have doubts about naming newborns based on their looks because newborns look SO different from the children they will become. We chose a Scandinavian name for my daughter. She was born with olive skin and jet black hair like her dad. Now, at age 2, she has wispy honey blonde curls and bright blue eyes like me. She “looks” much more like her name now, but she didn’t begin to shed her darker newborn features and look like the little girl she eventually became until at least 6-9 months old. Even if name fit is based more on personality than looks, I still don’t think you can really know a child’s personality until close to a year.
Basically, I think name regret is more about the parents’ preferences than about true “fit,” because “fit” is almost impossible to know with a newborn alien-baby. But that’s just my 2 cents!
on February 6th, 2017 at 4:16 pm
To help avoid name regret (not that this would work 100% of the time), my husband and I would choose a name each day that was on our list and call the bump that all day long (we knew the gender). There were some names like Lauren that we both really liked, but it just didn’t “feel” like the baby’s name. Or Sonia where we both pronounced it differently and we started to bicker about proper pronunciation even though we agreed on spelling. I think it really helped us decide if the nicknames were ones we liked, and we were able to get people at our jobs in on the game which actually really helped me to hear strangers pronounce the baby name all day and/or offer nicknames. I love my daughter’s name, but this game actually helped me realize that there were several options I felt fit and I went to the hospital with a short list of 3 names both of us loved. Then we chose from our list.
The only issue with this activity is that you do run the risk of having your name ‘stolen’ (one of my husband’s co-workers ended up using a name that we’d used for a day because she ended up loving it), or having a favorite name mocked (one of my co-workers didn’t really care for the name that eventually became my daughter’s), but it helped me find ‘the one’.
on February 6th, 2017 at 10:12 pm
Just some food for thought – in my culture we strongly believe that parents are given a dose of divine providence when naming a child, and the name that he/she is given has tremendous significance to the new little person – not necessarily something that will be understood in the short term.
Granted, many of us name after deceased relatives, so those types of names may be kind of set before a child is even conceived, but once a child is named (with a ceremony etc.), that’s his/her name. We don’t change it, rather we let the child grow into it. Eventually he/she will learn how the name connects to him/her. There is deeper meaning for why a child ‘winds up’ with his name, and we don’t mess with it.
There are always alternate nicknames to call by though 🙂
on February 8th, 2017 at 12:30 am
Austine0923- love that game!
I knew I was going to name my first son after my grandpa. I had my second son’s name picked out very shortly into the pregnancy. It was the same with my third son. He is just two months old & I’m already thinking of baby #4’s name.
Some people may think it’s weird to have your child’s name picked out so early, but I really like being able to call the baby their name before they’re born.
I totally agree with others that the names feel weird because they are new. After I named my first son I was worried I had picked the wrong name but after just a few days it felt right. I think that’s pretty normal.
Flamingo- I love that belief in your culture. Thanks for sharing!
I think the meaning of a name is very important and can’t understand how some people don’t know theirs (I’m basing this on a baby shower game I did for a friend).
on February 8th, 2017 at 1:46 am
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on February 8th, 2017 at 10:55 pm
I totally agree w/ @emilypcs and @flamingo.
It’s a leap of faith.
on February 11th, 2017 at 7:11 pm
@flamingo – that is such a lovely idea. I feel a bit of relief reading that. Because my younger daughter’s name did feel like it came out of nowhere (even though it is tied to her great grandmother’s name), and I struggled for about three months, when she was four months old. I had broken a few of my own name ‘rules’ and the straw that broke the camel’s back was when a friend of a friend used the same name (after we inspired them) months after my daughter was born. I thought at least she would be more unique. Anyways, in the end we changed her middle names. It was actually super easy, fast and cheap where we are. Now she has more viable back up names in the middle. I love her name now. I do also think it was a ‘last’ child thing, it’s hard for a name nerd to let go lol
Baby Name Remorse: Helping Your Children Love Their Names – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Said
on March 13th, 2017 at 10:21 am
[…] 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 […]
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