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Monday, June 16, 2008

Name Problem: Other People Don't Like the Baby's Name

Alicia writes:
It's me, with the baby Devereaux again. I have a name advice question. I was obviously in love with the name Devereaux even while still pregnant. I adore even more now that my little man is here, and it totally fits him, too! But a couple issues have come up.

First: My mother insists on calling him Devvie. Bleh. Every time she says that I cringe with the thought that if it were to stick somehow, everyone's going to think I have a Debbie unless I correct them. All the time. Ick.

We had talked about calling him Dev, but it seems to be a little choppy. I've started calling him Devo (And how cute is Dev'eaux?) but I just can't seem to get my mom converted... What do you think is the best way to deal with this? My mother says it's just natural flow, Devvie is what comes out without thought.

And Second: I know that I just have to buck up my defenses and not let it get to me, but when people ask me what I named the baby, I get that, "*pause*... Oh. *sneer*" with a barely-concealed disgusted look. All the time. Or, perhaps even worse, "Hm. Well... That's nice. *silence*"

What would you suggest is the best thing to say to these people? There's NOTHING wrong with the name I picked for my baby, and luckily I'm not so insecure as to think there is. But it's getting on my nerves, really.

I appreciate your opinions!!! :-)

This is rough. It's one reason baby-naming is so tricky: you need to choose the name YOU love, but on the other hand it's not unreasonable to consider the reactions of family, friends, and society, because the baby will be living with that name among those same family, friends, and society.

In your case, you're finding that family, friends, and society are not fans of the name you love. I think there are a couple of approaches for dealing with this, and I think the approaches are different for friends/family than for strangers. Let's start with friends/family. The options are:

1) Allow people to make the modifications they feel are necessary to get the name to sit comfortably. Allow your mother to call him what she wants to, for example. It rankles---of course it rankles--but trying to make the child's grandparents call him a certain name is a little like trying to force the child's high school friends to call him a certain name. If his grandmother's nickname causes any confusion for other people, you can say, "Oh, that's just Grandma's special name for him---we actually call him ______." One set of my grandparents called me Kris their whole lives, even though NO ONE ELSE did, and to me it just ended up being "their special name for me." I didn't like being called Kris, but I liked THEM calling me Kris, if you see the difference. Your son may feel the same way---and if he isn't, HE can tell Grandma.

2) Or you can have it out. I'm thinking of something along the lines of something said in a very kind, understanding, affectionate tone of voice, something like, "Oh, mom. I know you don't like the name. But it IS what I named him. And I'd like him to be called _____." You see why the tone is key. Imagine saying this with hand-on-hip attitude, and you can see how lifetime feuds start up. If she says, "But this just comes naturally!" you'd counter with, "I know. But I'd like him to be called ____." Or you could try, "Oh, ick. Every time you say that, I think you're calling him 'Debbie'."

For friends or cousins or aunts who keep bringing it up in a way that seems pointed or passive-aggressive, "I just can't get used to that name!" or whatever, you could use that kind/understanding/affectionate tone and say, "I know. But it IS his name, so...."---and trail off, the implication being a pleasant but firm " shut up about it now, kthanx loveya." Sometimes what's needed is a reminder that the decision has been made and the time for input is officially over.

Now, for strangers whose reactions are not good when you tell them the name. There isn't much that can be done about that, since what we're talking about here is what we're IMAGINING they're thinking. Unless they actually SAY they're disgusted by it, we have to allow for the possibility that it's something else: maybe they've never heard the name before and don't even know yet what they think of it, or they couldn't quite hear it and are too shy to ask for it to be repeated, or maybe they really like to know babies' names but then don't have any comments to make once they hear them, or maybe they deliberately don't comment on baby names because they think it's the parent's choice and that a stranger's opinion is meaningless.

Of course some of those people are indeed being total pineholes, and also patting themselves on the back for not saying what they really think. We're not going to be able to cure them of THAT. There really isn't anything you COULD say, though it's kind of fun to think about it:

Them: *unpleasant expression* Oh, um. That's an....interesting choice.

You: I resent the implication of your facial expression. You do realize I as his parent have the full right to name him whatever I please. I could have named him Sanitarynapkin and you would not be able to say Word One about it. So shut the heck up about my son's perfectly normal, appropriate name. I mean, what is it you hope to accomplish with that sneer? Are you hoping I'll say, "Oh, no, this total stranger doesn't like my baby's name! I'd better rush right out to the courthouse and get it changed to something this stranger approves of!" Clearly not. So wipe that expression off your ugly face. Pinehole.

But unless they actually say, "Ug, what a weird name," you can't really respond with anything except a tight-lipped smile. The thing is, SOME people are going to dislike ANY name. If they don't think it's too unusual, they'll think it's too common. They'll think it's too girlish/boyish, or not girlish/boyish enough. It'll remind them of someone or something they don't like, or they'll think it has an ugly sound or an unfortunate rhyme.

Names are an excellent example of "You can't please everyone" because you literally CAN'T. So EVERYONE is going to encounter SOME negative feedback, no matter WHAT name they choose for their baby. Here is the question for us today: What to do about it?


Carmen said...

Yeah, there's nothing that you can really do, especially with strangers. I'd worry that it would offend my mother to say something, so I agree with Swistle - the tone is key.

My son's name is Kieran. My father-in-law INSISTS on pronouncing it Karen. Which IRKS me in the same way that Devvie-Debbie irks Alicia. In my case I can just teasingly tell him it's Kieran because he's not doing it on purpose - he just has a problem with pronouncing words correctly (see: libary instead of library, shushi instead of sushi, you-man instead of human).

Jess said...

I don't know what I would do about it, except perhaps make some sort of offhand remark about THEIR name. Like if you hardly know them, you can say, "Oh, what's your name again? Oh. INTERESTING." And if you do know them well, you can say something rude about their parents' name-choosing process and how careful you were to pick a good name for your kid to avoid a similar situation.

Also, Sanitarynapkin may be my new favorite name.

Linda said...

True to my upbringing, I adore pretending that someone said what I WANT them to say. Usually I abhor passive-agressiveness, but this is its finest form.

Me: Her name is Lorelei.
Stranger: (PAUSE) OH. UM.
Me: I KNOW! I love it so much, too! It's so lyrical and pretty and I love that we rarely hear it. It's just the BEST NAME EVER!

I do the same thing when my grandpa-in-law tries to guilt trip us about not seeing him enough.

Me (smiling and laughing): Oh grandpa! We see you ALL THE TIME! We have such a good time together!

Rarely are people willing to just outright disagree with me, esp over a kid's name.

Mayberry said...

I agree with Linda -- I would do the "fake it 'til you make it, or at least 'til they get a freaking clue" strategy.

shoeaddict said...

I agree with Linda. I also agree with you, Swistle because I had family who called me Krissy and I didn't really like anyone else calling me that but it was ok for them to call me that.

Saly said...

My mother insisted that she would not use Bud's given name, but instead call him EJ (for EdJr. but then suggested with tenacity that my children call her Nonnie.

How is it different? I don't know. But she calls him Eddie and he calls her Grandma.

Then again, sometimes I lack class, so I made my opinion of both known.

On another note, my godmother and her daughter are the only 2 people on the planet who can get away with calling me "Sare". It makes my skin crawl hearing it out of anyone else's mouth. Sara is not a name to be shortened.

d e v a n said...

Ugh. I find the best way to counter those with opinions is just to say thank you.
"That's an interesting name."
Me - "thank you." Bright smile.

It makes me feel better.

Michelle said...

I think it's hilarious that now you can send an email to tell parents, " might want to think twice about that one" before they give their baby a bad baby name!
Thankfully, it's anonymous because I wouldn't have the nerve to do it outright. :)

Mairzy said...

Hm. I can't decide if that site is serious or not. What would send parents in orbit faster than getting an anonymous email from "baby name intervention dot com"? The site is a breeding ground for urban legends, too. I've heard of at least four kids named "Sh*thead," but the speaker never actually knows one personally.

Still, if I had a daughter considering the name, say, Bertha George for a girl, a site like that might look real good in my desperate state.

Queen of Carrots said...

I bet Bertha will be a popular name again in twenty years, so maybe you should get used to it. =-O

Cat said...

I hate to be a downer, but some people are just not going to like the name you pick for your kid. A lot of the time, a "Oh that's interesting" might be a stranger's way of trying to say something nice about a name they might really dislike. I don't think you can get on their case for not liking a name. Unless you mean they say it in a snarky way, in which case I understnad. But I also think it is important to understand not everyone is going to like your son's name, and might be trying to say something nice. I mean, imagine being them on the other side of a name you don't like. What would you say? "That's interesting" is better than silence, isn't it? Again, if I sound like I'm hectoring you or something, I really don't mean to. In the end, all that matters is you like the name, and that your son finds it easy to live with.

Swistle said...

Cat- I think it's a good idea for people to have a stock phrase that they say no matter what the baby's name is, so that they don't get caught struggling. What I do is I say, "What did you name her?" and they say, "[Baby's name]" and I say, still looking at the baby, "She's so beautiful!" I say that no matter what I think of the name. Then I can always add if I want to, "I love that name!"

Cat said...

Swistle- that's a good one. I don't have much contact with babies yet, but I'll keep that in mind, especially since I'm usually not wild about the things people name their spawn nowadays. It must be nice to have a fail-proof.

Virginia Ruth said...

Hi, I'm brand-new to this blog, but I'm a big name buff, so I'm pretty excited to read more.

This time, though, I just wanted to pop in and stand up for a person's right to dislike a name. I certainly think it's bad manners to criticize the name a stranger has chosen for their child, just as it's bad manners to criticize a stranger's appearance. And an obvious expression of disgust is just as rude as open criticism. But I don't think it's fair to get up in arms if someone is momentarily taken aback by an unusual name, or if they fail to become enthusiastic. Just because you like a name doesn't mean everybody will, nor is it somehow rude of them to have tastes that differ from yours.

My own standard response for names that secretly make me shudder is either "Oh, that's cute," or "That's interesting; where did it come from?" If it's an unusual name, starting a conversation about where the name came from and what it means to the parents is a good way to move off the shaky turf of my personal opinion.

Complimenting the baby is another good idea.