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Four Reasons Parents Regret Their Baby Name Choices

April 9, 2019 laurawattenberg 4 Comments

Four Reasons Parents Regret Their Baby Name Choices

April 9, 2019 LauraWattenberg 4 Comments
Image: Rafael Ben-Ari/Adobe

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 problem 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 particularly striking how 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.

LauraWattenberg
LauraWattenberg

Namerology founder and "Baby Name Wizard" author Laura Wattenberg is a globally recognized name expert, known for her scientific approach to understanding name trends and culture.

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4 Comments

  • Evie
    Evie April 10, 2019 at 4:01 am

    “The pursuit of perfection poisoned the whole pool.”

    The alliteration in this sentence is brilliant. 🙂

    With my second, we did something like what you recommend in case #3: Went into the hospital technically undecided, but with three strong choices, one of which was a clear frontrunner and the other two backups in case that didn’t feel right. It worked really well for us. Better than with my first, where we had the name picked out in advance, but it didn’t feel quite right when we met the baby and I had some lingering insecurity over it for the first few months. (It’s fine now—I think a lot of that is also just hormones, sleep deprivation and that feeling that *everything* in your life has been thrown off balance).

    I’m curious what percentage of namer’s remorse cases are first-time parents. I would hypothesize the majority—it seems like more experienced namers would go into the decision with more confidence, more realistic expectations, better knowledge of their partner’s preferences and negotiating style, etc.

  • Kayeff
    Kayeff April 10, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    Counter-argument, EVie: Parents may have used a long-standing favourite name for the first baby but then struggle with the second because nothing feels as perfect as that first name did. Parents can forget that their first’s name began as a name separate from their beloved child’s personality and feel stuck with the second because all just feel like names and not as special as the first.

    Regarding feeling pressure to choose in the hospital, people really should educate themselves regarding the local laws governing how long you have to file birth declaration paperwork. Where I am, nobody ever mentions names to you. They just give you the paperwork when you are discharged and you have 30 days to file (and thus to choose the name). But I’ve read enough stories about nurses pressuring parents into choosing a name to know that this isn’t as transparent everywhere.

  • Emmeline
    Emmeline April 10, 2019 at 2:12 pm

    I’ve had mild name regret for brief periods with both children. I think it has a lot to do with personality, and I’m always someone to have buyer’s remorse on expensive purchases in their immediate aftermath (and what “purchase” defines you more than your newborn). And like EVie, I think a lot of it has to do with hormones and the like.

    I never quite understand the waiting to meet the baby thing because babies don’t look like anything to me and I honestly can’t imagine a newborn looking more like a Sophia than a Beatrice, but then I also don’t identify with the concept “I can’t imagine him/her called anything else now.” I can absolutely imagine my children with other names, though it’s true I discarded a name in my second pregnancy because “it just doesn’t feel right” so I guess I’m not immune to these impulses!

    • Evie
      Evie April 10, 2019 at 10:53 pm

      Emmeline, for me I think it wasn’t so much what the baby looked like—our first reaction to #2 was “He looks exactly like #1!”—but just a general feeling about their personalities. Which may be all in my head, or more a reaction to the birth experience than the babies themselves, but it still informed my feeling about their names. I agree that I can definitely imagine them with other names, but totally different ones than those I originally considered.

      Kayeff—I definitely got pressured to turn in the birth certificate application, in two different states. The applications are filed through the hospital and they REALLY don’t want you leaving without doing it. However, my brief googling tells me that in New York at least, you don’t actually need to fill out the name when you submit the application—if you don’t, you have 12 months to submit a correction to have it added without fee. The hospital definitely doesn’t tell you that, though!
      (Source: https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/vs/VR212-web.pdf)

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