The Baby-Naming Dilemma No Mom Wants to Face

When baby-naming gets complicated. (Photo: Corbis)
When baby-naming gets complicated. (Photo: Corbis)

Yesterday a pregnant friend sent an email looking for advice on some pretty serious mom drama. The problem: She found out her husband’s pregnant cousin is planning to give her daughter the name my friend had already settled on for her daughter-to-be. And the cousin is due first. Uh-oh.

Here’s what she wrote: “We don't have any backup names we're wild about. Plus, I'm feeling stubborn and don't want to be forced into plan B. On the other hand, I don't want to cause a boatload of drama with the family — and I have a feeling this particular cousin might be pissed. What in the world would you do?”

The backstory: They don’t see this cousin that much but it’s her first kid whereas it’s my friend’s third. I know from having three of my own that you’re just way more sensitive about all this stuff with your firstborn. My friend said the name is not on any top 20 lists but it’s not super unique, either. It’s not a family name or anything else that holds serious significance, it’s just a name she and her husband both love and feel attached to already. Anyone who’s ever named a baby knows that arriving at that point isn’t always an easy feat. And having someone else beat you to the punch is a bummer.

I loved several name possibilities for my third and had to cut them because they were already taken — by celebrities (Harper), ex-boyfriends (Zoe), the whole world (Anna). I didn’t even know most of those people, but it still prevented me from using the names. I can’t imagine what I’d do if a relative snatched it up first. I think it would bother me to use it on the heels of another kid in the family and it just wouldn’t feel as exciting to give my baby a name that was just given to her relative. I wouldn’t want to come off as unoriginal (or make my kid feel unoriginal) nor would I want to upset the other person. They did get there first. That said, it would depend on how often I saw them, how awesome the name is and how hormonal I was at decision time (see what happened with my second kid’s name.)

I know this isn’t life or death stuff but baby naming can get stressful, no? And it’s always a gamble when a friend (or cousin) is due before you with a baby of the same sex. You get the “he’s here!” text, then first check to see that everyone is healthy, and then make sure they didn’t steal your name. I have several friends who got trumped in this way. And others who went ahead and used the name anyway, which can seem … odd, depending on how unique the name is and how often they hang together. I mean, can you really have two Hashtags in the same circle? I don’t know.

This is why I always shared the names I was thinking about for my kids ahead of time. So if someone else named their kid that first, and then I did, they wouldn’t think I was a copycat. Or perhaps it was to call dibs and deter anyone in my circle from using it in the first place. I know if I were to go ahead with a repeat name I would send a note or make a call right away that went something like this: “This is so awkward and silly and I hope you’re not mad but I heard you were naming your baby X and, well, X is tops on our list too! Great minds think alike!” [Insert awkward silence here.]

Bottom line: People can get crazy about this stuff so I feel my friend’s pain. It is without a doubt a first-world mom problem, but it’s also a summer Friday so let’s play along. What would you do? Anyone use your name before you could? Have you “copied” someone else’s name? Should my friend tell the cousin as soon as possible? How? My friend told me her husband had a great idea: "I’m going to her shower next week and when she announces the name, he told me to say, ‘you're naming her that?! Well, I guess she'll get over it eventually ..."

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