Namer's Remorse

Sep 25th 2008

I hear from a lot of parents in the grip of naming dilemmas.  Some of them are just starting their name searches, while others are feeling the pressure as they count down to their due dates.  And yet others -- a surprisingly large number -- are already home with an infant in their arms, but still uneasy about the names they've chosen.

"Namer's remorse" is a complication you really don't need at an already complicated time of life.  It piles on top of the sleeplessness, the endless to-do lists, and the general life upheaval that comes with expanding your family.  Sometimes, in fact, it's a product of those factors.  The high emotional pitch of the first days at home tends to amplify every parenting concern.

Name anxiety can also be a safe place to channel some of the difficult feelings of new parenthood.  It's a big leap from the imaginary baby in your mind to the real baby in your arms.  Sometimes it takes a while to really feel like the mysterious little creature you're holding is your child.  (That's ok, it'll come in time.)  Similarly, the name you chose in advance may not seem like a natural part of your child, or a good "fit."  If that's worrying you, rest assured that babies grow into their names in surprising ways.  By the time she's running around, that name is likely to fit her like a glove.

But for a small percentage of parents, namer's remorse has a more straightforward cause: they simply chose the wrong name.  Heck, it happens.  If both parents are set in unshakeable namer's remorse, dreaming of the name that should have been, what should they do?

I have the answer for you: they should change their baby's name.

That sounds obvious, but there's an unspoken taboo against it.  Most parents treat birth certificates as near-sacred objects, graven and immutable.  In part, that reflects the power names hold on our psyches.  We tend to see names as a core part of a person or thing, an identity not easily overwritten.  Yet when it comes to infants, names are anything but immutable.  Stop and think about it and you'll realize that you're constantly calling your baby Baby, Sweetie, Little Gumdrop, or even (insert your own random family nickname here).  So your baby should handle a gradual shift from Elizabeth to Annabelle easily enough.

Will you handle the change as smoothly? Well, there's the practical annoyance of arranging a legal name change, and maybe a monogrammed baby blanket to finesse.  When it comes right down to it, though, I think the biggest factor holding most parents back from changing infants' names is the same factor that holds us back from a thousand other unconventional behaviors.  It's good old fashioned embarrassment. 

Yep, you already sent out 100 birth announcements.  Yep, friends and relatives may laugh at your indecisiveness.  So what?  The embarrassment will last a couple of days, but a name lasts a lifetime.  If you're trying to whomp up your courage, you can take a lot of the sting out of the embarrassing situation by acknowedging it head-on, with some cheerful self-deprecation.  I recommend a new ritual: a formal birth re-announcement.  Below is my take on one.  Readers, can you offer alternative compositions?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Birth Announcement, Take 2

On August 12th we were blessed with a beautiful baby boy.  Before he was born, we had expected that his name would be Jayden.  Once we met him, we discovered we were mistaken.  Who knew?  He's actually:

Cooper Michael MacDowell
7 lbs, 4 oz.

Stephanie & Mike


By Nicole S. (not verified)
September 29, 2008 9:55 PM

Amy3, me too! - Please stop typing my thoughts! ;) Although I kept the names they already had when I adopted my dogs, the dogs all have silly food-related names that I'd hope no one would ever dream of giving a child. A great people name on a sweet dog only makes me like the name that much more!

By Boleyn (not verified)
September 29, 2008 9:58 PM

I am not against animals being given people name as a general practice. Although, I might not be in my current situation if everyone was naming their dog Rover or Spot.

I am just upset that our special future baby name was bestowed on a dog within our immediate family. It would not be uncommon to have conversations about Oliver/Ollie the dog and Oliver/Ollie the son during family gatherings.

My sil told me her special baby name for a future daughter. I would never consider using that name on an animal out of deference to my sil and her husband. We are hurt that our sil has gone ahead and named her dog "our" baby name. She knows we are ttc.

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
September 29, 2008 9:59 PM

Aybee+Miriam: So sorry! Great-aunts aside, in general, I don't think pets should have people names and vice-versa. I don't mean to imply that any crossover is wrong. I guess I used a bad example.

By Valerie W. (not verified)
September 29, 2008 10:46 PM

Ok I have mentioned this before but my family really did not like the name I gave my son. (I did not,however, even consider changing it). Now I am expecting baby number 2 and love the name Piper(if it is a girl). Is this still a realistic name for a little girl today? Or is it too "pet puppy dog"(as my sister puts it).

By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
September 29, 2008 10:59 PM

Love Piper. Ignore your sister and go with what you love.

By Jessica (not verified)
September 29, 2008 11:14 PM

Piper a pet puppy dog? no.

By Beth (not verified)
September 29, 2008 11:26 PM

I didn't have name remorse, but because it was cast in stone on both sides of my child's family that she'd be named after my partner's father if a boy, and my mother if a girl, I had to "grow into" my daughter's name. My partner and I both felt a bit odd saying my mother's name, and didn't really use it till she was over 1. At 18 months she renamed herself, so that was that. I do hope she'll go back to her given name, as the rename is a bit silly.

If she'd been a boy, we would have accidentally stolen my sister-in-law's chosen name, so I am glad we didn't end up having to go there.

By Overly Precious (not verified)
September 29, 2008 11:39 PM

When I was growing up, the neighbors a few houses away had a dog with my name. I'd hear them calling "Annie!" (except not Annie; a different, more unusual name) all the time. I don't remember being mortified by it, or teased about it--it was just a funny coincidence. And it was a nice dog, cute, that probably helped.

Grew up around a terrier named Oliver too, come to think of it! But I don't think of it as a dog name at all. Works for kids, adults, and pets fine. Would Olivier be an alternative worth considering?

By Valerie (not verified)
September 30, 2008 12:14 AM

I know a terrier named Stanley, and it's the most perfect name for him as he has a bit of the 'fussy old man' about him. I must say I love using people names on animals (currently two cats called Miranda and Louis), but my parents have a tuxedo cat called Steinway, and I love that too!

By Tirzah (not verified)
September 30, 2008 12:53 AM

Another celebrity update:

"Joely Fisher and her husband Christopher Duddy have expanded their brood with the recent adoption of a newborn baby girl, Fisher's rep, Brit Reece, tells PEOPLE exclusively. New daughter Olivia Luna Fisher-Duddy joins older brothers, Cameron, 22, Collin, 20, and sisters, Skylar, 7, and True, 2."

With girl names like Skylar and True, I would have expected the name to be Luna Olivia, rather than Olivia Luna.

By Karen (not verified)
September 30, 2008 3:00 AM

Back in college I knew a household who named a cat Dave Smith after a friend with that name.

Way back when my family had a dog named Fred, before it became common to give animals human names. It was the perfect name for him. Followed later by a dog named Nola. At the time none of us ever thought of the New Orleans connection there. My mother named her after a soap opera character.

By bill (not verified)
September 30, 2008 3:02 AM

i honestly think naming kids after pets is a good idea. the pet is probably nicer than, let's say, 90% of people with the name in question.

i've come across dogs named Dave and Dawn. alliteration at work?

my (mom's) cats: Darcy (already named at adoption), Alistair (nn Ally, we thought he was a girl kitten, get it All(e)y Cat??? name lengthened to match gender, deceased)

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 30, 2008 8:01 AM

Boleyn -- Would it be worth it to tell your sil the whole story behind Oliver? That is, that you're ttc and had planned to use that for a son? I know you didn't want to announce to everyone that you're ttc, but maybe she'd be willing to change it, if she knew how important it was to you. After all, it's relatively easy to rename a pet, esp a new one.

By DelinaRose (not verified)
September 30, 2008 9:41 AM

My DH and I both have first names starting with 'C', but we have no intention of continuing the trend with our children. In fact, one of my favorite names is Clarice, but I fear I won't be able to get over the initial 'C', so I don't think I will ever be able to use it. Hmmm...maybe I should bestow it on a pet...

Also, one of my college professors was a Don married to a Donna.

By Casey (not verified)
September 30, 2008 10:00 AM

In the novel "The Feast of Love" by Charles Baxter, there is a character named Bradley who adopts a dog. Bradley's wife names the dog Bradley after the owner. So the book always refers to either "Bradley the man" or "Bradley the dog." It's quite funny.

I happen to love people names for pets, since they become so much like members of our family. I have a little dog named Stuart and the name couldn't be more fitting for him.

By christinepearl (not verified)
September 30, 2008 10:03 AM

I had a friend who was pregnant at the same time as her sister-in-law but due a few months later. She shared her much-loved pick for a girl's name, Mia Rose. A month or two later when sil delivered, guess what name they announced for their daughter? Maya Rose. The friend was dumbfounded but decided to go ahead and name her own daughter Mia Rose since she had loved the name for years.

Re: Erin/Aaron. Here in New England they are pronounced differently but my husband's family, from central California, pronounce them exactly the same.

By JRE (not verified)
September 30, 2008 10:11 AM

I have a different twist on dogs and kids sharing a name:

My brother and SIL were out looking at dogs for adoption when they overheard someone call a dog my ds's nn. Right then and there they decided that would be their future dog's name.

When talking with my mom, she sheepishly let me know there was a new puppy in the family and nearly whispered his name. When we told ds about it, he was THRILLED beyond measure to have the puppy share his name.

It does get confusing when the boy and the dog are at the same place, but all that matters is that my 6 year old son thinks that the puppy was named for him and is proud to be thought of so highly.

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
September 30, 2008 10:15 AM

Christinepearl-I also have a friend who named her daughter Mya R0se. She would be 7 these days.

By Coll (not verified)
September 30, 2008 10:37 AM

My parents are John and Jennifer, and I'm considering a "J" name for a future (ideally not too far in the future) daughter. But that J would be for my grandmother, Johanna (known as Joanne).

Boleyn, like others have advised, I'd wait to worry about it until you're expecting--you might have a girl and then all the anxiety would have been for naught. And even if you did have a boy and name him the same name as the dog, it would be clear who the more important Ollie was.

Speaking of siblings with overly matchy names, I met a pair of sisters in their twenties last weekend named Jeanie and Jamie. They didn't look much alike, but it still took me the entire brunch to get the right name matched to the right girl.

By SusieQ (not verified)
September 30, 2008 11:09 AM

A friend of a friend of mine had a dad called Dave. For a joke, she and her siblings started calling their mother Dave too. Then the parents started calling the kids Dave, and THEN they got a cat and named that Dave as well. They all found it hilarious. I think I would just have been confused.

By ET (not verified)
September 30, 2008 11:15 AM

My favourite girls name is Scarlet, and it doesn't bother me at all that I once had a fish with that name. I used it on the fish because it was a name I liked. And she had a red spot on her head. Simiarly my sister is named Lucy, and my aunty used to have a dog by the same name. The dog died along time before my sister was born but its never really been a problem. Just a bit of an in family joke. Also my cousin's daughter is called Isabella, and his mother, the same aunt, used to have a dog named Izzy. The child Isabella goes by Bella though.
Finally if my dad had been a girl he would've been called Ann Elizabeth. Shortly after he was born (Peter Charles) my great aunt named her daughter Elizabeth Ann.

By another amy (not verified)
September 30, 2008 11:53 AM

I've been meaning to post this--the new PBS kids show "S!d the Sc!ence Kid" has characters with these names-

elementary school kids:
May (possibly Mei?)

and Sid's baby brother is Zeke. These seem like pretty uptodate names to me (the show is from CA).

and if it had been on earlier, maybe I could have convinced DH to go with Zeke! i really like it.

By Moonie (not verified)
September 30, 2008 1:22 PM

My immediate family has a wide range of pet naming influences, and names include:

Hercules (dog)
Celeste (cat)
Rupert (hedgehog)
Mulberry (cat)
Sunshine (dog)
Chance (dog)
Kayley (dog)
Kitty Cat I & Kitty Cat II (cats)
Claus & Shelly (turtles)
Lucky (feeder guppy)
Precious (cat)
Lark (cat)
Félix (hedgehog)
Desirée (cat)
Dusty (cat)

Add to that my SO's past cats:
Kitten (aka Minou)

Hmmm... pet naming, an interesting science.

By Caren (not verified)
September 30, 2008 1:24 PM

Sorry to hear about your loss of your precious 23 year-old cat companion.

Generally, I prefer "people" names for animals. In my house, they are members of the family with equal dignity and I think a non-descriptive name reflects that best for me. My cats have "people" first names and more whimsical middles names.

Vincent van Panther
Greyson Stormcloud

By Moonie (not verified)
September 30, 2008 1:26 PM

To add: The only time any one of our pets shared a name with a human was in the case of Desirée- where I met a woman with the same name afterwards. Amusingly, they had very similar character traits and attitudes. I also never told Desirée the woman, that I had a cat with the same name.

By juliag (not verified)
September 30, 2008 2:24 PM

J&H's mom: I do like Shepard a lot...can't remember if hubby vetoed this or if I just assumed that he would ;) I'll have to run it by him again. In any case, I can't believe he's considering Bishop, so who knows. We decided that Hopper would be a good nn for Bishop last night.

Thanks to all for your thoughts on the name. You folks are more open to 'odd' names than most places I've posted!!

By EVie (not verified)
September 30, 2008 3:09 PM

Someone mentioned the study showing that people choose partners with the same initial more than would be predicted by chance--I remember my husband (who is doing a PhD in psych, and shares two out of three initials with me, slightly scrambled) talking about a similar study, so I asked him about it and got the citation. I'm not sure if it is the exact same study (haven't actually read it), but this one shows that people give higher ratings to letters that appear in their own name. Similar idea, anyway.

Quoting from the abstract: "Mere belongingness to self is tested as a sufficient condition for the enhancement of the attractiveness of visual letter stimuli. Experimental evidence is presented that, independent of visual, acoustical, aesthetic, semantic and frequency characteristics, letters belonging to own first and/or family name are preferred above not-own name letters. The effect is obtained in the absence of awareness of the Gestalt of any name, thus challenging current understanding of fundamental affective processes."

Nuttin, 1985 J.M. Nuttin, Narcissism beyond gestalt and awareness: The name letter effect, European Journal of Social Psychology 15 (1985), pp. 353–361.

By Jenny L3igh (not verified)
September 30, 2008 4:06 PM

So we've added another Jenny (brother of Matthew I think? That post was way back) to the board! So I thought I'd add my mn to avoid confusion:).

For pet names, I don't mind ppl names on pets, though I would probably be annoyed if someone "stole" a name I told them about... more for the "stealing" than the fact that it was on a pet though.

My family had a number of animals while I was growing up:

Gertie and Gus G-last name (Cats, brother and sister) Loved these names on them!
Miranda, Witch Hazel "Hazel," and Salem "Sally" for a mom and two babies who were mostly black.
Icky, extended to Ichabod (Guinea Pig)
Hamlet (Hamster)
Macbeth (Hamster)

For what it's worth Miranda was 2 when we adopted the 3 cats, and we called her Cleopatra for the first two weeks at our house. Then I (as a high schooler) decided Miranda sounded "witchier" so we switched it. None of this seems to have upset her too much, don't know if the same can be said for children;).

By Jenny L3igh (not verified)
September 30, 2008 4:14 PM

KRC- Love that you might use Guinevere to honor your sister, I'd definitely be honored to have someone named that after me! I'll see if I can find that book, it must have been bought for me sometime in the 80's and it will be at my parents' house, but I'll take a look! It would be fun to see again.

Right now what I remember (beyond what I already said) is that it mentioned Jenny Lind, the Jenny Wren, the Spinningjenny (spinning wheel), and many different pronunciations of Jennifer which is probably where the Guinevere part comes in. Hmm wonder if I can find time to stop by tonight...

By Jenny L3igh (not verified)
September 30, 2008 4:16 PM

Hmm final post I swear (this is what happens on a busy day!)

Nicole S.- Love that your friends used Jennifer in 2003, I'd never thought about how "unusual but well-known" a name it would be for a child today, that's neat!

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 30, 2008 4:38 PM

Recent batch of names from today's park visit:

Bonnegar (sp) (pronounced bahn-eh-ger, the bahn-eh sounds a bit like the Vonne- in Vonnegut)

not sure:
Gaiel (sp) (pronounced Guy-el)

Nina (or Mia, not sure)

By Aybee (not verified)
September 30, 2008 5:12 PM

I'm predicting Gael (for a boy, pronounced Guy-el like you mentioned) is going to be a rising name.

Gael Garcia Bernal is a talented (and attractive) actor making his way into more American movies. I wonder if this will be a "right name, right time?"

By Valerie (not verified)
September 30, 2008 5:45 PM

I was actually wondering whether it could be a girl named Gaëlle. Beautiful name. Gael is nice too.

By christinepearl (not verified)
September 30, 2008 7:23 PM


The Mia I've seen and the Maya I've only heard of are around 3, I think.

We got the list of kids in my preschooler's class today: Ethan, Stephen, Cameron, Charlotte, Tyler, Devin, Trinity, Conner, Aiden, Lucy & Rocco

By Amy3 (not verified)
September 30, 2008 7:32 PM

Aybee -- Thanks for the spelling correction on Gael. And he was one of the boys at the park. I just couldn't remember as I was posting.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
September 30, 2008 7:43 PM

This thread is reminding me of the old game where one creates a "stage," name by combining the name of a first pet with your first street address-a la Fluffy Maple.

Boleyn-After reading other responses, I retract my verdict that you need discard Oliver.
As others have pointed out, no one will pay much attention to the "other," Oliver when your baby (should he be a boy) is there for oggling.
I do stand by my original opinion that your sil is profoundly insensitive, or maybe just nutty.
And at the risk of being totally forward, there is a wonderful book by Toni Weschler called Taking Charge of Your Fertility-I really can't say enough good things about it.

I can appreciate Gael, but I'll be very suprised if it takes off. I think most parents would find it too feminine and worry about the spelling and pronounciation besides.

By Jessica (not verified)
September 30, 2008 7:50 PM

I was thinking about all the Jennifers and Jenny's and babies and whathaveyou when I walked into WalMart today. The greeters name was Jennifa. no joke.

By Jessica (not verified)
September 30, 2008 7:54 PM

oops pressed send too soon...

Jennifa was every bit of 35 years old and Latino/Native American-ish looking.

By Jennifer (not verified)
September 30, 2008 8:11 PM

Hello everyone! I'd like to reply to the points made long ago upthread about grieving and neonatal deaths/stillbirths.

It is deeply, deeply encouraged that parents name their child, be it stillborn, miscarried or short-lived. At my hospital women deliver the infant if it expires in utero and the parents are given several hours to hold it, caress it, cry over it-- do everything that one would do if a living child died. No birth certificate is issued so the child never has a 'legal' name, but that does not change the fact that any child you create and carry will forever be intimately bound up with you until you die. An unborn child is an 'unknown'-- the best ultrasound technology doesn't stop you from daydreaming about appearance, hair color, personality, eyes, temperament, preferences, etc. If parents are given the chance to bond, to erase some of those 'unknowns,' it makes the grieving process so much easier. And it helps too to share the name with family and friends-- so they too can call the child something and recognize, with the family, the personhood of the baby and the loss. Photographs help as well-- there is an organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep where professional photographers shoot pictures of the baby and family for free-- for both grieving and to reinforce the personhood and loss to friends and relatives. (I do think discretion should be exercised when brandishing these photos, however, as they can be upsetting).

The same goes for the NICU. Since babies in the NICU by definition have not left the hospital since birth(else they'd be in the PICU), they're still in electronic medical records as "Baby Smith" or "Jones Baby Boy B." But being able to display a name helps parents navigate an incredibly overwhelming and bewildering place by realizing that at heart the simplest thing is happening: two people have made a baby, called X, and they're helping that baby grow. Just like everyone else. Confidentially I think it helps staff bond with the patient; even though in the NICU most people are inured to bad things happening and loss, they still relate better to a name than to "X."

As an aside, "Maryam" is indeed an Islamic name, but only because it's a Christian name (since Jesus is regarded as a Muslim prophet too). It's very prevalent amongst Christian Arabs for obvious reasons; if you meet a Maryam in the US she is much more likely to be Christian than to be Muslim (since 60% of Arabs in the States are Christian, and since the name is bestowed preferentially in Christianity but is a minor name in Islam).

PS My captcha is Alasha Markowitz, which reminds me to wish all who celebrate today a happy new year.

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
September 30, 2008 8:42 PM

Newsflash: I just read on AOL that Michelle Duggar is having a girl! So everyone get out your books and hop on your websites and lets think about all those wonderful J names. Btw, she's due around the beginning of the new year. Jubilee anyone?

By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
September 30, 2008 9:34 PM

Maybe she'll taker her cue from January Jones of Mad Men and go with January? Probably not!

By Coll (not verified)
September 30, 2008 11:24 PM

Do the Duggars have a Justine yet?

By Kristi (not verified)
September 30, 2008 11:52 PM

Boleyn/J&H's mom- Just wanted to second the recommendation for Toni Weschler's 'Taking Charge of Your Fertility'. I found it very informative and helpful, and felt empowered by the knowledge/understanding of my body that I gained from it. (sorry if that is a little off topic and tmi for some of you). :)

By Catherine (not verified)
October 1, 2008 12:04 AM

Just arrived in my e-mail, a birth announcement for a baby named Cooper MN LN and the last line of the message said: "Sorry – if you got a text that said his name was Will. We changed our minds ……." My first case of naming regret and the same week as this post. Maybe Cooper is the name to switch to?

By Jill C. (not verified)
October 1, 2008 12:23 AM

Class lists posted above reminded me of two classes DS recently attended: "sports sampler" seemed to have more boring names (Jacob, Tanner, Brady, 2 Olivias) than the music workshop (another 2 Jacobs, but also Ingrid, Albert, and Liv). Have any other parents noticed naming differences amongst various extra curriculars? Which activities have the most interesting names?

By Overly Precious (not verified)
October 1, 2008 12:53 AM

I"m almost surprised there aren't any kids named TCOYF-- worked for me too. I passed along my "good" copy of the book, and it worked for the next mom too.

By AK (not verified)
October 1, 2008 2:13 AM

It depends on where you live whether or not stillborn children receive birth certificates. In Indiana, they do.

By Melodie (not verified)
October 1, 2008 8:59 AM

Interestingly enough, my 13 year old daughter Molly just last night said she was tired of people always saying to her "Hey! That's my dog's name." In fact, the day she was born one of my nurses said Molly was her dog's name - I should've then had an inkling on how popular it is as a pet's name.

By Jenny L3igh (not verified)
October 1, 2008 12:49 PM

Hmm Jennifa, not sure how I feel about THAT one!

By Trish (not verified)
October 1, 2008 2:24 PM

I have a mild case of namer's remorse with my 2nd ds's mn. Everyone told me I "SHOULD" name him after my father, since my sister was done having children and my brother wasn't having any. I wanted either Kevin Thomas, Kevin Dane, or Kevin Patrick (all middles were family-connected), but succumbed to pressure and went with Kevin Louis (dad's name Louis Edward). I still am not thrilled that I "gave in" and I don't *love* the name like I do my other 2, but a) he'll never know it and b) he LOVES his name, b/c he's named after his grandfather. Not to mention one of his best friends has the same mn, also after his maternal g'pa. And the fact that he loves it is way more important to me than if it's my favoritest.

I do know 2 families who renamed a child in the months following the birth. One b/c she learned that her son's name, in English, sounded just like a body-part word that you really don't want your child named after, and one b/c she felt pressured to give her daughter a name she didn't like, and she didn't think she could stand calling her that everyday.