After the struggle to choose a baby name comes a wondrous payoff. The name that started out as just a dream is brought to life as your child. For a small but growing number of parents, though, the dream doesn’t transfer. As their baby grows, so do their regrets about their name choice.
I’ve called this phenomenon “namer’s remorse.” It’s on the rise because of our new wide-open naming culture, and the increased pressure parents are putting on themselves to choose something extraordinary. An infinite menu of options, a super-high standard of success: it’s a perfect recipe for self-doubt and second thoughts.
Can namer’s remorse be prevented? To answer that question, I collected dozens accounts of name regrets from internet forums and looked for common themes. Are there risk factors to watch for, or pitfalls to avoid?
In some cases of remorse that I reviewed, no advance warning was possible. Parents were simply blindsided by outside events. The name Alexa felt like the perfect choice, until Amazon made Alexa the name that everybody orders around. Naming after your father-in-law seemed like a safe move. Who would have guessed the shocking news you’d later learn about him? For these parents, I can only offer my sympathies.
Yet in other cases, patterns of risk did emerge. Here are the four most common issues underlying namer’s remorse, and some ways to address them before it’s too late.
1. I was pressured into the choice.
The single most common predictor of regret was that the choice was not made freely. Some parents felt hounded by relatives to follow family traditions, or to name their child after people they didn’t even like. Others were stonewalled by a partner who liked one name and wouldn’t discuss others, or who announced that since she was the one carrying the child, the name choice was hers alone. The result was a name that represented resentment rather than joy for the parent, and became a barrier rather than a bridge to bonding with the baby.
This doesn’t mean that as an expectant parent, you can’t push for a name you dearly love. Just remember that the decision process matters as much as the name itself. Rather than making demands, talk about why the name means so much to you. Acknowledge that you’re asking for a gift, for your partner to put their own preferences aside. That gives them the opportunity to feel generous and loving by bestowing such a gift, rather than merely disregarded.
If, on the other hand, you’re the expectant parent being pressured, recognize the significance of that process as well. Whatever dynamic is making this name choice a source of conflict isn’t going to go away. Overbearing relatives or a controlling, no-compromise partner are larger issues. If you can find a way to improve the baby name discussion, it will set a positive direction for the future.
2. It’s constantly misspelled or mispronounced.
A steady stream of mistakes and confusion around a baby’s name turned out to be more than many parents bargained for. Some had chosen creative spellings, and ended up wishing that they’d stuck with a more familiar version. A few ran into problems from the traditionalist side, using the classic spelling for a name from their heritage and discovering that English speakers were flummoxed by, say, the Swedish “j” in names like Maja or Freja.
The crucial step to avoiding this kind of regret is to be prepared. Test out how a spelling will be pronounced, either by asking people you know or bouncing it off strangers in a space like our Namerology Forum. Then reckon honestly with how much the spelling matters to you—and how much mistakes will bother you. If you do choose to go ahead with a tricky spelling, you’ll at least be bolstered by the conviction that your favorite name is worth it.
3. I made the decision in a last-second rush.
Most parents settle on name choices well before their baby is due. That makes it a major red flag that many namer’s remorse victims describe a last-minute scramble at the hospital to write something, anything on the birth certificate. Sometimes this frantic scene comes about when a baby arrives sooner than expected, but sometimes it’s deliberate. Parents will decide to put off the name decision until they meet their baby.
The results of my “regrets” scan say that’s a mistake. If the decision seemed too tough over the course of the past nine months, it’s not likely to get easier in a time of intense emotion and physical exhaustion with a looming deadline. And frankly, it may be asking too much of a newborn to solve your Augustus vs. Dashiell vs. Kingsley debate. At the very least, have a default plan in place that you feel good about.
4. I talked myself out of everything.
A surprising number of the remorseful parents were certain they’d chosen the wrong name, but had no clue what the right name might be. They had started out with a list of favorites and ended up doubting them all. The pursuit of perfection poisoned the whole pool.
You can avoid this trap during your decision process by turning the winnowing-down process on its head. When the time comes to narrow down your options, try narrowing them up instead. Go through your short list and focus on what you love most about each name. Let the joy rise to the top, rather than working to find fault with your favorite names. You may still end up with a tough decision, but one suffused with happiness and expectation rather than doubt.