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Dad’s Side: The Name Game

Choosing a baby name often involves many rounds of bargaining—power plays, if you will—between moms and dads. Each parent realizes what's at stake for the tot and that this is a decision that will last a lifetime (unless your child does what Archibald Leach did, when he took matters into his own hands and renamed himself Cary Grant). This test of wills might sound like a bad thing, but it isn't, provided you're not on the losing side. Here, the name-negotiating rules to prevent that from happening:

1. You can't give your baby the same name as anyone you've ever been remotely romantic with.

My wife, Susan, adored the name I suggested—Jocelyn—until I mentioned that I sort of dated a Jocelyn for, oh, three months. I quickly pointed out that I have no feelings remaining for a college girl who probably would have testified in court that we were not an item. We went on picnics and to movies, but she always kept it platonic. I finally snapped out of the spell I was under and realized I wasn't her boyfriend; I was her personal valet. But none of this mattered to Susan. By the look on her face, she was already eyeing my measurements for the local undertaker. Trust me—don't waste your time on this type of battle.

2. If the parent has a common name, she'll want the baby to have an exotic name; if the parent has an uncommon name, she'll want to go with something safe.

Susan—who has a perfectly pretty but ordinary name—campaigned for ones that sounded like European royalty (Vivian, Isabella, Abigail, and Constance were favorites). But after a lifetime of telemarketers and teachers pronouncing my name as "Gee-off," instead of the correct "Jeff," I wanted an easy choice like Mary or Jane.

3. Have an open mind—or at least fake it.

I made a critical error in judgment when we were naming our first baby. After I completely ruled out Vivian, Abigail, and Constance, Susan was soon out for blood. When I didn't instantly disown the name of Isabella, she seized my wavering as an opening. From then on, she kept saying, "When Isabella is born..." After a while, we both knew that my offering other names was a lost cause (we eventually settled on "Isabelle"). The more you shut down a certain moniker, the more your partner will fight for it. Case in point: When Susan was debating whether to take my last name, I told her that while I'd prefer that she did, I wouldn't pressure her. She did take my name in the end and admitted that if I hadn't been so flexible, it wouldn't have happened. There's a lesson there.

4. Someone will want to name the baby after a family member.

It's inevitable, and my advice is to just ride it out. Either it's a good idea, or cooler heads will prevail. Susan was excited about the idea of naming a son after my grandfather, Forrest. Our boy's middle name, she enthused, could be that of her own father's. Seemed like a great idea, until I said the name aloud: "Forrest Glenn." We both thought it sounded like a nursing home.

5. If you end up settling for a name you don't love, don't be upset.

Losing the name game means you get to win the blame game. If Isabelle ever wishes that we had named her something else, I'll cheerfully do what I always like to do in these types of situations. I'll point to my wife and say, "It's all her fault."


Geoff Williams admits that he's looking forward to seeing his own name on the cover of his first book, C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America.