The Drama (and Joy) of Choosing a Baby Name

The first decision you make as a parent is one of the hardest — and everyone has an opinion.

By Pamela Redmond, Nameberry

The problem with naming a baby is that it’s all — or at least mostly — about you.

Who you want the baby to be. Who you are, and who you want the world to think you are.

Because of course, you’re naming pretty much blind. Even if you wait to make a final name decision until you meet the baby, you still can’t really tell whether that newborn will grow up to be sedate or wild, an artist or an actuary, a Millicent or a Maverick.

Defining your unknown child’s eternal identity is just one of the overwhelmingly weighty jobs that one little name is supposed to shoulder. (Or two names, or even three if you’re making like the royals. But that’s still a lot of pressure for a couple of words.)

Your child’s name also telegraphs to everyone from your Instagram followers to your grandma exactly who you think you are. A Jane Austen appreciator with deep ties to your Greek family yet a contemporary view of gender identity? A nature lover with the attitude of a rock star? Or, OMG, an unimaginative loser who couldn’t even choose the right thing when it was free.

And then, potentially, the child’s other parent may insist on bringing their own identity issues and hopes and dreams for your baby’s future to the naming table. And those ideas might be at odds with yours.

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Even if you manage to agree on a name or five that you both can live with, there’s the inescapable fact that a baby name holds big responsibilities and big fears. Choose right, and your child will feel good about herself and grow up to be President. Choose wrong, and risk a lifetime of introducing yourself as the mother of the other Henry B.

Except picking a too-popular name, the No. 1 cause of name regret, often proves to be much more horrifying in theory than it is in real life. For one thing, by the time your Henry B. is old enough to hang out with several other Henrys, his name will no longer be the only thing you know about him. He might be tall and dimpled, kind, and a fast runner with a wild laugh. His name will have taken its rightful place as just one of his characteristics, and not a very important one at that.

For another thing, your Henry B. may very well love being one of a gang of Henrys, so any regret you feel about choosing a name that proved to be too common (or too unique) will be superseded by your child’s own feelings about his or her name.

At the same time, the identity you attempted to encapsulate so perfectly in your child’s name will be replaced by the one they seek to define for themselves via their interests, friends, education, travels — maybe even a new name.

And that name you worked so long and hard to get right will take its proper place, along with pregnancy vitamins and your birth plan, as a remnant of life before: before baby, before parenthood, before you were able to comprehend that your child would truly be a separate person from you. Before you understood that you would always love everything about them, no matter what their name.

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