It’s Not All Mary Poppins

One of the first parenting challenges

troubletagNaming the baby.

A reader is panicking because everyone hates the name they’ve chosen for their still-gestating baby. Perhaps because family and friends loathe it so, they don’t share it with us. The columnist weighs in with a measured — and entertaining — response, just full of quotable lines.

I rather liked this: “If five people tell you you’re drunk, maybe you should lie down.”

My friend Cindy was partial to this: “When it comes to parenting, opinions are like stinking, steaming, full diapers: There’s no shortage of them, and no one wants to change them.”

Go, read the article. Which line made you give an appreciative snort?

And what do you think about the wisdom of giving your baby “a challenging and unusual” name? Is your creativity empowering your child with a name that will never be forgotten, or dooming him/her to a lifetime of humiliation and inconvenience?

January 12, 2009 - Posted by | controversy, individuality, parenting, peer pressure, pregnancy and delivery | , , , , , , ,


  1. Letting them horn in on the baby-naming is setting a bad precedent. If you let your parents boss you around before your kid is born, you could create a pair of monsters, advising you on everything from your child’s diet to sleeping habits to complexion.

    And what you really want to turn your parents into is not monsters, but babysitters.That rang a bell! lol I also liked the name test: something you can yell at the top of your voice.

    I read somewhere (it might have been Freakonomics) that the unusual names of today will be the pedestrian names of our children’s generation. Although, really, Moon Unit seems destined for uniqueness.

    Anyway, names are culturally grounded, too. When I was a child, I knew an Apple, a Peachy, a Cattleya, a Vanilla, a Gay, and my husband told me that had he been born a girl, he would have been called “Jennifer Nugget”.

    They are, and choosing a name from within your culture simplifies things. Choosing a name from another culture isn’t a bad thing to do (my own name is quite unusual in North America), but I do think you have to take into account the culture in which your child — who is, after all, a human in their own right — will be growing up in, and make sure it isn’t so out there as to create a problem for him/her.

    Comment by Kat | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  2. I tend to favor more traditional names, and I also think it’s a good idea to keep the name a secret until it’s too late for the busybodies to give an opinion.

    Do you know about The Baby Name Wizard? There’s a blog where the author discusses trends, names in the news, and lots of other topics. But she also has some tools like Namipedia–look up a name, see its meanings and popularity, plus others’ opinions of it. You can also see a name’s popularity over the last 100 years using NameVoyager, or see how a name’s popularity has spread across states (U.S. only–sorry) over time. I don’t even have a kid, and I find this site fascinating!

    Thanks for the link. I totally wasted a solid 45 minutes there, happily tracking the names of my family members in various ways, on different charts and maps. It is fascinating!

    Comment by Sharkey | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  3. I used to teach middle school, so i had some definite opinions on what we would NOT name our children. It seemed to me that every child who was named a trendy, cool name, especially the ones whose parents tried to make it unique with a spelling variant, were the biggest trouble makers. Plus, also have to consider that the child will be the one writing the name on every paper in preschool and kindergarten. I feel sorry for those kids with thirteen letter long names. I definitely agree with the people who say the name should go with supreme court justice and you should be comfortable screaming it. And, you should give your kid a grown-up’s name, not a baby name and certainly not a pet’s name!

    I liked that “screaming it across the playground” rule of thumb. “Will this name make me feel like an ass if when I have to holler it?” The corollary to that is, of course, “And if it makes me feel that way, how on earth will it make my child feel?”

    Comment by Dana | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  4. I had friends in school whose parents had named them Treika Susan and Tobin John — each had one “cool” name Mom loved, and one “ordinary” name. They were Susan and John in junior high, a time when we all desperately want to fit in. By high school though, they’d become Treika and Tobin, and both use those names as adults. I thought that was pretty smart.

    I have a friend whose initials spell out POO. His parents didn’t exactly think that one through, huh?

    One of the commenters to the article suggested doing just that: give the child a ‘normal’ name, so they’d have a choice. Seems like a sensible strategy.

    Poo?!? Did he suffer greatly as a child, or were the other kids unaware of his middle name?

    Comment by Carolie | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  5. The unfortunate Greek shipping magnate who was kidnapped today – all I could think was ‘what a cool name is Pericles. Impossible, though.’

    My younger son’s name is Ronan (unusual anywhere but Scotland and Ireland). His father, while suggesting the name as he knew I’d like it, it being a name from my family, insisted he have an ‘easier’ name first. He’s always called Ronan though.

    Perhaps Pericles is a perfectly unexceptional Greek name. I always found Aristotle an odd choice, but it seems to have done Mr. Onassis no harm…

    Ronan doesn’t seem all that odd to me. Unusual, yes, but straightforward, masculine, easy to spell and, I presume, pronounce. Though, depending on his age, he might have had a little trouble with the “Conan the Barbarian” movies, assuming the names rhyme…

    Comment by Z | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  6. I think there’s a certain value to giving a child a name that is easy to spell, easy to pronounce, free from extraneous punctuation and generally recognizable as a name.

    I once knew a small girl named Shady’s — yes, with the apostrophe and all. She’s going to have to spell it every.single.time, for her whole life. Plus it was pronounced shah-DEECE, so she’ll have to correct everyone’s pronunciation every.single.time too. Poor kid.

    I think if ALL one’s close family hate the name you’ve chosen, well… “If five people tell you you’re drunk, maybe you should lie down.” Just like it’s a bad sign if ALL your friends hate your boyfriend.

    You think it wouldn’t be too much to ask, if you’re going to give your kid a made-up name, that it use the spelling and phonetic conventions of the language. (And the punctuation ones, which is to say, NONE. Apart from dashes, names do NOT require punctuation.) Why saddle your child with that life-long aggravation?

    And yes, if EVERYONE hates something, you might want to stop and think about why that might be…

    Comment by Robyn | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  7. My Grandad’s Name was Laurence which in Britain was shortened to Laurie and he used that name here as well. To most Canadians’ Laurie was a woman’s name, but there was nothing at all feminine about my grandad. Occassionally some one would try to Canadianize it to Larry which He found annoying. I still run into people that knew him and no one calls him anything but Laurie. When I hear a man called Laurie the images I draw are far from feminine. My point is whatever you name your child he/she will be defined by what he/she does not what he/she is called. If you raise your child to be confident even if you call him Gail or Valyrie (also a men’s name in some cultures) it will not matter. So Name your child as you want not as others think you should.

    You’re citing perfectly ‘normal’ names, made unusual only because they’re being transposed into a different culture. Would you maintain your position for poor Shady’s, mentioned by Robyn, above?

    Or those various people cited in Freakonomics, who named their children “Winner”, “Loser”, “Lemonjello”, and “Orangejello”? (The latter two pronounced Le-MAHN-zhe-loe and Oh-RAHN-zhe-loe.) Or how about the child saddled with a name pronounced “Sha-TEED”, but spelled “Shithead”?

    I think there’s only so far you can go with “name your child as you want”, and some people do indeed cross that line. If everyone you know is gagging at your child’s prospective name, you might just have crossed it yourself.

    Comment by Bill | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  8. If you can’t hack the criticism about the name as an adult, how is your kid going to handle it as a kid? Name them something unique and it builds character. Everything can be an opportunity. This is your opportunity to name a human being whatever you wish. This is your child’s opportunity to learn from his/her name and likely determine its value and gather strength from it or change it when they are ready. Act like responsible parent and think it through, commit yourself to it’s greatness. If it isn’t how you imagined, fake it, just like you’ll learn to do with many many other things.

    It’s hard to imagine how one could commit to the greatness of “Shithead” or “Loser”, but, within certain boundaries, your point is well taken. This is one of your first exposures as a parent to the realities that you can’t please everyone, you’ll rarely know for sure that you “got it right” and you’re going to make mistakes.

    Comment by A. Woz | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  9. Oh, Shithead was my favourite! lol Talk about parents who mean well…

    My husband went through possible insults that our son might encounter on the playground before he was happy to commit to a name (mind you, I thought it was a done deal–I had a list of agreed names before we were even married). He went to an all-boys school, so he came up with quite a few funny ones.

    My unusual-for-North-America name rhymes with something silly, so I had a little of that in the early years, but by about grade 4 the thrill of that had worn off, and they quit with it. I don’t think I’m too badly scarred. 🙂

    Comment by Kat | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  10. We only shared our name with a few very close friends, about two or three couples, maybe, before Pumpkinpie was born. With the Bun, we didn’t know until the night after he was born, so it wasn’t an issue.

    For me, a name should be slightly uncommon, but not too out there, so that it feels like their own and not shared with three classmates, but not so weird it’s teasable or unpronounceable. Of course, Misterpie and I have discovered that there are different threshholds on what’s “out there” or not, too.

    I like your parameters. In fact, my three children have pretty standard names, but, having a name that would fit perfectly in your guidelines, I am in total agreement that they’re sensible. Yes, there are different threshholds, but if you can’t find anyone who thinks your choice is a good one, I think you might reconsider.

    Comment by kittenpie | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  11. I actually did a yell test to make sure I could yell the full name without problem.

    My sister hated my first born’s name but I said tough and named her that anyway. I love it and so do many other people. (It’s a nice, classic name not a fruit or anything too weird.)

    If one person hates the name, oh well. That’s one person’s taste. You can’t please all the people all the time. If 90% hate it… different reaction may be called for.

    Oh, and I’ve just remembered: One of my guidelines for my kids’ names was that it not have a doofy short form. (“Doofy”: that’s a highly technical term meaning “makes your child sound like a dork”. It’s also an extremely objective term. Extremely…)

    Comment by Bethany | January 12, 2009 | Reply

  12. My advice is to never tell people what you’re going to name the baby before it’s born. Once it’s born, and the name is a fait accompli, everyone has to be polite about it. Before it’s born, they think they can talk you out of it.

    So my husband and I had a joke name of the week that we’d tell people who asked what we were going to name the baby. E.g., “Agamemnon if it’s a boy, or Clytemnestra if it’s a girl.” My favorite was the week we went camping. We came back saying “Deet” if it’s a boy or “Citronella” if it’s a girl.

    Love it! Friends/family with a sense of humour would keep asking you, just for the fun of it. Those with none would stop asking. Either way, you win. Great strategy.

    Comment by lynn | January 13, 2009 | Reply

  13. I can not resist – for a little humour, take a listen to this Johnny Cash classic “A Boy Named Sue.”

    It’s apropos… parents take note.

    Comment by Cindy C | January 13, 2009 | Reply

  14. We are going through this right now. So far we have consensus (other than my mother) that our name is okay. I like unusual names but I wouldn’t want to give my child something that will cause them to be teased for the rest of their lives. We settled on Jeffrey Loren with our first and our soon to be child will be Elena Renee.
    Although… lying in bed the other night, I told my husband I almost wished we were having another boy because I do love the sound of Agamemnon. 🙂

    Comment by Dani | January 13, 2009 | Reply

  15. My husband suggested a great strategy for naming your child – run the name by a 6 or 7 year old and see if they can find a way to make fun of it or rhyme it with something dirty.

    If they can, you might want to think up a new name because your kid WILL be teased.

    Comment by rambleicious | January 15, 2009 | Reply

  16. We will be starting the new name search in a week or two… and I’m kind of dreading it this time. BEcause naming our second boy was so difficult, and I know there’s not a lot out there that we both agree on if we have another boy. But should we have a girl, I think that will be even harder for some reason…

    And I like ‘normal’ sounding but not mainstream names, which adds a degree of difficulty.

    Comment by ewe_are_here | January 15, 2009 | Reply

  17. Oh, by ‘not mainstream’, I mean not a top 20 name on the popularity charts.

    Comment by ewe_are_here | January 15, 2009 | Reply


    ^ If you’re interested in youneek and tryndee names, please give this website a visit. I think speaks volumes about current naming trends (and reflects my own opinion).

    Comment by Kendra | January 22, 2009 | Reply

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