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How to Hide a Problematic Name

By Katherine Morna Towne, sanctanomina.net

Though I’m sure most of us would agree that one of the most satisfying parts of choosing a name for a baby is sharing our naming brilliance with the world, what happens if you actually want to hide the name you chose?

Sounds crazy, right?

But as an example, I really like the name Damien, and look to St. Damien of Molokai as a great Damien that I’d love for my son to be named after. But in every conversation I’ve ever had about Damien/Damian, someone inevitably brings up the fact that the demon child in the movie The Omen was named Damien.

Every. Single. Time.

So you can see how someone who really wants to name their son Damien—even if it’s their most favorite name and the one that they’d be most upset about not using—might still feel a little hesitant about sharing the name with everyone. Yes, they could choose it OR—they can find ways to hide it.

In my opinion, it’s A-Okay to use a name you love that you’re not 100% sure will be received well. The trick is to find ways of hiding the name, if that would make you feel more comfortable. Here are some strategies:

Nicknames

There are many reasons I’m a fan of bestowing a formal name for official documents and special occasions and figuring out a great nickname for everyday use, but using a nickname to hide a given name takes this idea to a whole new level. Damian could go by Danny and Damien by Denny, which totally avoids having to fend off the “Like the devil boy from The Omen?” questions every time he introduces himself.

Then there’s Grandpa Arthur, who really wants his name to be passed down, so his granddaughter takes the plunge, even though she really doesn’t care for the name, but no worries: Grandpa’s namesake can go by Archie.

Maybe you already have a Theodore and you want to use Thaddeus for your new baby boy but feel kind of weird that they’re so similar. Fear not—Theo for the older boy and Tad for the younger can smooth that out. Or Ted for the older and Thad for the younger. Or one can go by his initials.

Then of course you’ve loved Ekaterina since you were a girl and have always planned on using it for your daughter, but you’re already tired of the confused looks and botched pronunciations. No worries, Kate and Kat are easy, natural nicknames.

Don’t forget the characteristic and affectionate nicknames either, like Red, Junior, Buddy, Buster and Missy—some of which are coming back.

Middle names

If the nickname approach doesn’t appeal, consider putting the problematic name in the middle spot. While putting your guilty pleasure moniker in the middle isn’t as exciting as letting it shine in the first, at least you’ll still get to use it. I know a girl whose middle name is Madonna, which I thought was a great way to bestow a name that comes rife with cultural associations that may not be favorable.

Or, try as you might, you just can’t get on board with any of the nicknames for Lorelei, and it’s just a little too offbeat for your taste as a first name, but if it gives you a thrill of delight to think of actually bestowing it on your daughter: the middle is definitely the spot for it.

And don’t rule out the idea of putting your favorite name in first place and having your child go by his middle name—this can be a good way of working with a name you’ve already bestowed that’s shown itself to be troublesome, or perhaps the flow of the first+middle names is better in that order, or you really just want your favorite name in the first name spot even though you want to keep it a semi-secret.

Long story short: There are a lot of ways to manage a name that might need “to be managed,” in case you (as the parent) or your child (with the name) wants it to be incognito.

What do you think of the idea of bestowing a name that you’re a little unsure about? Do you think these strategies could help you feel more comfortable? What names would fall in this category for you, if any, and how would you manage your discomfort?

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24 Responses to “How to Hide a Problematic Name”

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esmith0326 Says:

July 18th, 2017 at 11:45 pm

I feel like if someone’s worried enough to need this article they just should pick a different name. I would never choose a name I wasn’t 100% comfortable with.

BrittanyBrown Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 1:51 am

OR y’all can just ignore what other people think of a name you like and choose it because it makes YOU feel good!

medfordkung Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 4:53 am

I can appreciate people thinking it is silly to use a name you can’t 100% love. But honestly, some names have my devout love despite what I know to be extreme distaste in the general community. The name I am considering for my current baby if she turns out to be a daughter is rife with contentious naysayers, something that I don’t necessarily ALWAYS want to have to deal with as a parent, despite my serious devotion to the name. It is a name I seriously LOVE, but I know could be problematic given different contexts, and this post is very encouraging, even just as strategies to get the in-laws on board with the name after the birth: “Well, she can always go by _________ or __________, [there are about a thousand nickname options for the name I’m considering], or else her beautifully classic middle name is always an option.”

Suzannah Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 5:46 am

I’m all for parents picking names they love. But I think some consideration has to be given to the fact that while you get to pick it, your child has to wear it. Picking a name known to cause “extreme distaste in the general community” would definitely give me pause.

Desdemona Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 6:13 am

I never understand the phrase “someone’s child has to wear the name”. Well, do you judge other people based on names? What sorry person you have to be! And no, these people are NOT majority. I agree some names could give you a pause, but in the end, names are not big deal in real world. You hear it, you pause, then you go on. Just look around, for example Condoleezza Rice (spelling of the name is irrelevant to discussion).

Suzannah Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 6:53 am

What’s so hard to understand? When someone says that she is considering giving her child a name that she herself admits engenders “extreme distaste in the general community”, I have to wonder why she would saddle her child with such a name when there are literally thousands of names to choose from. Obviously, she is perfectly free to do it and I am perfectly free to question the wisdom of doing it.

medfordkung Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 7:20 am

@Suzannah, I appreciated your recent comment on a forum post a bit more: “Obviously, yours is the most important opinion when naming your child. You pick a name you love and one you think your child will love. But it’s hard to completely divorce a name from the reaction it elicits in other people. After all, you will be introducing your child and she will be introducing herself constantly during her life. So I think you have to truly examine whether this is the name you absolutely want (and then to heck with other opinions) or whether you yourself are having second thoughts because, when push comes to shove, even names we like might be better in theory than practice.” Sometimes, even after examining your choice from all different angles and still deciding it’s THE name for the right reasons, it’s still a name not everyone will like. As you eloquently stated, “it’s hard to completely divorce a name from the reaction it elicits in other people.” You can still wind up feeling, “to heck with other opinions.” It’s THE right name for me and my daughter.

Suzannah Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 7:28 am

I absolutely agree with you medfordkung. Far be it from being a “sorry person” as Desdemona alleges, I am actually considering the child. Using the example of Damien from the original post, if I truly loved it, I would use it. It’s a wonderful name. But I would at least consider, for the sake of my child, whether every time he said “hi, I’m Damien”, people responded, “like the demon-child in the movie?”

Orchid_Lover Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 7:43 am

I just give the barista my initials when Starbucks is busy or I don’t feel like spelling my name. We gave our son a classic middle name with nickname options galore as a backup in case he doesn’t like his first name.

If you poll names, you’ll realize the cold hard fact that people generally dislike unusual names more than common ones. But once a name becomes more familiar to them from hearing it in pop culture or on the playground or especially on a family member or friend’s child, they like it more. To put it simply, the stupid uninformed masses don’t understand the awesomeness behind some names. But that doesn’t mean that everyone should forevermore me too afraid to “saddle” their child with a name like Hypatia. Or that Hypatia is an unlovable name…but grandma just might to have to let it grow on her.

So I understand what this article is saying and think @medfordking will make a great decision, even if the stupid masses won’t understand how awesome the name is at first.

(For those of you who don’t know, my name is Amity difficult-lastname. I love my name and am a functioning member of society with a good career and I come across medical professionals with unusual names all. the. time)

medfordkung Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 7:49 am

I agree, but I think @Desdemona’s main point was simply not to judge Damien AS a demon child for having a “demon child” name. Condoleezza in her era certainly had to face a lot of scrutiny (despite all her other forms of privilege) for her name, which has the potential to come off to judgemental people more “teenage welfare mom” than “US Secretary of State.” I’m going to assume best intentions from @Desdemona’s comment, just like yours.

Desdemona Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 9:42 am

@Suzannah, I don’t think you are bad person. I just believe people can’t make judgments based on names – names are small portion of someone’s identity, lots of other things will be judged before names. Even judgemental person needs to make a pause – when they meet lovable doctor by everyone’s measure, would they turn him/her down based on their name?

Desdemona Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 9:45 am

My point is this – when it comes to judgement of names BEFORE birth, BEFORE they meet a person, it’s everybody business. But it’s kind of hard to judge person you look in the eyes and think ONLY of names. People make judgements all the time, but I think they will rather judge person based on skill/expertise/actions before names.
I do find names quite fascinating, but they are not really that important in life.

Suzannah Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 11:10 am

You mistake me. I was never thinking that someone would make a JUDGMENT based on a person’s name. Using the above example Damien, for example, I never suggested that someone with that name would be judged as a devil-child. I am suggesting that maybe your child wouldn’t want to hear even jocular references to the movie for the rest of his life. It is in that regard that the name might be problematic.

raefrank Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 1:08 pm

I heard some interesting advice once: If the name you’re considering gives you pause, go around introducing yourself to strangers as that name. Use the name as your own for a while and see if the reactions you get make you feel confident. There will of course be generational differences that may make a name easier to wear in the next generation than your own, but it should still give you some insights. I wish I remember where I heard that advice, as I found it helpful.

MonikerWanderer Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 2:34 pm

I’m a bit confused by this article. All that it said was either use a name you don’t like/others won’t like as a first and just conceal it with nicknames, or put it in the middle spot. These are both well-used, common tactics, so I don’t know why there had to be an article explaining this.

And I don’t think hiding behind a nickname is going to fix a name you don’t like. If you don’t like Arthur, don’t name your kid Arthur and call him Archie. He’ll still be Arthur and you will hear him called it many times in his life. Give the baby a name you’d be proud to call them, but with nickname options. If you want to honor someone with a name you don’t like, it’s perfectly fine as a middle name.

anelson100 Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 3:37 pm

I’ve sort of wondered about names that are given to children and then later become distasteful–Isis. Or in an earlier generation, Adolf. I wonder how many people “hide” these names. I also wonder if that gives the name even more power. Even though Joseph Stalin was a problem, we don’t tend to think that Joseph is a problematic nickname. It has too many other associations. So does hiding the name help maintain it’s problematic association as primary?

Kisa Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 4:04 pm

Just name the kid whatever you want, someone is always going to have something to say about names. I think this article hurts more than it helps. I have a character in my book that’s named Damien, and for a split second I doubted my name choice because Damien is included in the article for “problematic names.”

aleerakate Says:

July 19th, 2017 at 7:37 pm

A name can be problematic for a bunch of reasons. Charles/Charlie, great name right? No issues? Well I will be “hiding it” in the middle spot because otherwise my potential future son will pretty much be Charlie Chaplin (not quite but very close).

I didn’t need this article to tell me but I have opted to use a different first, move Charles to middle but still call him Charlie. This way he won’t be Charlie Chaplin for job interviews, etc. even if he might get jokes once he has started the job and says, “I actually go by Charlie”.

There is nothing wrong with this article. It gives good advice for if someone hadn’t thought of doing these things.

tfzolghadr Says:

July 20th, 2017 at 7:38 am

At the risk of being too blunt and/ or controversial, I completely disagree with those who would say don’t give a kid a name that you’d want to hide. We decided early on that we wanted our kids to have 1 name from my heritage, and 1 from my husband’s. My husband is Iranian, so that means using a Persian name. I adore my daughter’s Persian middle- Pari- and I adore the Persian middle that we will use for our son- Kaveh. They are both names full of culture, history, and meaning. However, I’d never use either name up front. It’s not that I worry about the names being too “weird”, but instead that I worry about the implications. DH already has an Arabic surname, and we may at some point return to the US. Having a completely Middle Eastern name could, unfortunately, have negative implications. So as much as I love the names, and I’m rather certain that we’d be ok in most big cities and situations… I’d rather tuck them in the middle, where they can be pulled out or hidden, depending on the situation. And that is a sad commentary, as I don’t feel it’s how things *should* be…

blackcatsmeow Says:

July 23rd, 2017 at 7:40 pm

I would say that you don’t have the courage to share a name, it seems mean to give the child that name. I seems like parents are saying “I’m not strong enough/ don’t want to take the judgement this name will engender, BUT I’m sure my child will be happy to!”. I took some heat for naming my child son “Ivan Warren”. I had a coworker tell me “that doesn’t sound like a baby’s name!” To which I replied well he’s not going to be a baby for most of his life. My father thought the name sounded to Russian. I told him that with the current crop of Owens, Aidans, Ethans, and such Ivan with his vowel, consonant, vowel name ending in an “n” would not sound out of place in his American class room. If I could not have navigated that feed back, how could I have given that name to my son and expected him to?

Myn Says:

July 23rd, 2017 at 8:32 pm

I know several Damiens none of them had this struggle. I think you’ll be good

cj85 Says:

July 24th, 2017 at 11:53 am

“Damian could go by Danny and Damien by Denny, which totally avoids having to fend off the “Like the devil boy from The Omen?” questions every time he introduces himself.”

This is dumb. I actually like the name Damian but I do not like the names Denny or Danny. I hate that people always feel that they NEED a nickname. My cousin was like this. She liked the name Kira and was like, “But what’s the nickname?” SHE DOESN’T NEED ONE. IT’S A FOUR LETTER NAME. It’s A-OK to just call your kid the name you named her/him. So if you love the name Damian, just call him Damian and come up with some snarky response to jerks who bring up The Omen all the time.

cj85 Says:

July 24th, 2017 at 11:57 am

Side note from above, my cousin ended up naming “Kira” a name she wasn’t that in love with just so she could use the nickname “Bri”. She named her kid Brielle, which she likes ‘fine’, just to use Bri because she hates the name Brianne/Brianna. I brought up Sabrina and Gabrielle but she didn’t like those at all. (FWIW I actually hate all these names except for Sabrina and Gabrielle but it’s not my child lol)

Ruanne Says:

September 17th, 2017 at 8:58 pm

Just tell everyone The Omen is your favorite movie. 😀 Chances are, in 20 years, the movie won’t be as well remembered anyway. Think long term.

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