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Why Choosing a Baby Name is so Damned Hard

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Tonilyn Hornung is an author and freelance writer who lives with her husband, son, many furry friends, and never enough closet space.

I couldn’t sleep. Tonight’s uncomfortable issue had nothing to do with the third trimester of my pregnancy or the baby that sat on my bladder keeping me going to the bathroom every 7.6 seconds. My brain was awake and in problem-solving mode. So far, though, it hadn’t found a solution. My husband and I had been trying to agree on baby names for our son. We had a list of exactly zero we liked and with my due date coming closer, I wondered if we’d ever find one. 

“What about the name Harold?” I asked. 

“Harold needs a purple crayon. No. Not that one,” and with that, my husband left the room and the conversation. 

How do parents pick a baby name?

This is how it went down. I’d weed through countless dud names like Banshee and Cushion to get to names that sparked some sort of excitement or random baby dance within me and he’d poop on my baby naming party–every time. Of course, I’d grow attached to the ones I’d chosen, but my husband always found a reason to dismiss them. I feared for the rest of the letters in the alphabet.

Using name books to choose baby names

When it came time to pick out names for her children, mother of two Ciara Moriarty says, “Naming humans is hard.” Ciara thought she knew what she liked, but when she started pouring over name books looking for the perfect one for her son, all bets were off. She suddenly hated all the boy names ever invented, but she and her husband did know they wanted something unique, so they started searching with that in mind.

When Ciara fell in love early on with the family name, Devlin, for their son, and a derivative of her mom’s name, Loretta, for their daughter, she was nervous. “I wasn’t sure we should fall in love with names so fast,” Ciara says. So, even though she and her husband adored both names, they kept looking. That’s when the couple came up with a plan, “We established rules about reactions,” she says. When a new name was suggested, no one was allowed a huge negative response. This avoided hurt feelings and guaranteed each person felt heard. 

Baby naming is not fun

I could have used a rule like that during my naming negotiations. I wanted this to be a fun bonding experience. But every time my husband and I tried to find a middle ground, it crumbled out from under us. Our parenting skills were off to a dismal start. So, tired of hurt feelings and the bickering these conversations stirred up, I stopped bringing up baby names somewhere around the letter M. Maybe I should’ve picked out my names way earlier.

Favorite girl and boy names

During Mika Gonda’s first-ever date with her husband, he informed her if they ever had children, he wanted a daughter named Eloise. Mika says, “I told him that would be fine as long as I could name a boy Abner.” With their kid’s names already picked out, the two decided to try dating first. They eventually tied the knot and are now parents to a son and a daughter—whose names are not Abner and Eloise. 

When Mika became pregnant with her son, her favorite name Abner was still on the table but she says, “Everyone secretly hated the name.” So, wanting some backups in case Abner wasn’t the name of her dreams, Mika came up with other options. 

Should a baby pick his or her own name?

Mika says a friend of hers suggested two names: Sawyer and Crosby. Those immediately landed at the top of the list but no official decisions were made—until Mika went into labor. “After 22 hours of labor, I was sobbing that my baby wouldn’t come out because he didn’t like his name,” Mika says. So, she said her top three name choices out loud. But it was only after Mika said name choice number three “Sawyer” that the baby in her belly kicked. She said the name again and he kicked again. The baby’s pick was unmistakable—Sawyer was born with his perfect name. 

Don’t overthink baby naming

When choosing baby names, Ciara’s advice is not to overthink it. And that’s where my husband and I would run into problems. This is why over dinner one night (where glasses of wine were had by my husband), we were finally able to make a list—of two whole names. It was between an old family name and one we simply loved for no particular reason. Naming humans is hard. 

Keeping baby’s name a secret

When it came time to choose a human name for their adopted son, Kim Evey had a list that included names their birth mother loved. The names Ethan and Miles were early front-runners, but both Kim and her husband had gut feelings those just weren’t right. Kim remembers asking her husband, “Weren’t you named after your grandfather? Isn’t your middle name Charles?” And that’s when the name Charlie became a favorite. 

Kim and her husband decided to keep the name Charlie a secret, because when they’d shared name choices in the past some friends had strong negative opinions. With this new plan, the couple would only be influenced by their baby. Kim says, “We thought if we looked at our son and he’s just not a Charlie we’ll change it, but we agreed he was just Charlie.” Kim did keep a favorite name of Charlie’s birth mom, and “Ethan” is one of his middle names. 

Picking out the right baby name

Picking out names is a different process for everyone. Sometimes they’re selected to honor family and sometimes they just feel right. When my husband and I were choosing names, I wished we could have settled on one for just any reason. With just two names on our list, I went into labor. Twenty-six hours and one emergency C-section later, our son was born. He was beautiful—and went unnamed for 7 days while I recovered in the hospital. By then my husband and I had stopped bickering about the names, but we still couldn’t decide. That’s when our infant let his first-time parents off the hook. 

“He just smiled,” I said to my husband, “Did you see that?” While discussing our two names, each time we said the one we simply loved, he smiled. When we said the family name, he didn’t. We tried this 7 times and each time the same thing happened. Our son picked his name. 

Even though I would have opted for less drama and more names, I do love having a memorable naming story and now that my son is older he loves hearing how he picked his own name. Knowing what I know now, if there’s ever to be a baby number two, I think I’ll set up some good and fair ground rules ahead of time —like maybe I pick out the name. 

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.
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