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(Not) Playing the Name Game

We just got back from a week-long trip to the east coast to visit family. Since it was the first time many of our friends and relatives heard the news that we’re expecting a baby boy, it wasn’t long before conversations turned toward the inevitable: baby names.

While pregnant with E, I discussed names with anyone who would listen. My girlfriends, my dental hygienist, the woman behind me in line at the grocery store. I spent hours on baby name websites and owned an entire library of books listing every name known to mankind. It was serious business. I wanted to give my future child the greatest gift of all—the perfect name. I researched meanings, played around with spelling, investigated popularity trends. And I ran them all by a captive audience of hundreds, all of whom were eager to put their two cents in about what I should call my firstborn.

Here’s what I learned: The more you put your favorite names out there, the more people will tell you they are boring, tacky, outdated, too trendy, or just plain awful. They’ll feel no shame in suggesting alternatives. Everyone has an opinion.

They will tell you they had an Aunt Beatrice who had terrible gout, or that every Hannah they ever knew was overweight. They will remind you that little boys named Theo have terrible SAT scores and that girls who have names beginning with O are always picked last for kickball. They’ll tell you about their childhood rabbit named Spencer, their soccer coach with the funny eyebrows called Milo. They’ll remind you to watch out for initials that spell out familiar acronyms, for names that belong to unsavory historical figures, or ones that appear too often in tabloid headlines.

And these stories are mostly from strangers. Your family will bring out the big guns. There are dead relatives to be honored, initials to be used, old enemy monikers to be avoided at all costs. When it comes to family, names aren’t just a decision for the parents-to-be. Suddenly there’s a committee, a roundtable, a board of directors. All of whom are vying for their voice to be heard and their favorite name chosen.

My own beloved  father launched a seven month campaign against the frontrunner on our shortlist of girls names. Among his arguments? It was old-fashioned, stuffy, and evoked images of a mean old lady eating chicken livers in a babushka. When we resisted his efforts to get the name scratched off the list, he stepped up his game and began poring over baby name books to come up with a list of alternatives, all of which we hated. When that didn’t work, he tried reverse psychology. He thought our favorite was a wonderful name. No one else would have it. And just think of all the money we’d save on personalized souvenir license plates, since we’d never find one with this particular name on it.

What was the name my dad found so offensive? Yes, that’s right. It was E.

So we learned our lesson. For the record, we haven’t yet decided on a name. Like with E, we look forward to seeing his little face first, and then making a game time decision. Of course, there’s a shortlist—isn’t there always? But for now, Baby #2 will remain #2 until his birthday, and even then we’re not disclosing a thing until the ink on the birth certificate is dry. This way, anyone who has something negative to say—they hate it, it rhymes with something unpleasant, they knew a guy who stole millions of dollars from poor orphans who had the same name—it will be TOO LATE. They’ll all have to pretend to love it and give us lots of compliments. Then they’ll have to wait until we’re out of earshot to start complaining. And that’s exactly the way I want it.