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Monday, February 2, 2009

Baby Naming Issue: When One Parent Insists

Rachel writes:
I'm due 2/10/09 with my first baby, a girl. My husband and I are having such trouble reaching an agreement on her name! He would like to honor his sister, Anna, who passed away when she was seventeen. I'm all for honoring - I think it's a beautiful idea. The dilemma is that Ana (spelled with one N) is a common abbreviation for anorexia. After struggling with anorexia for close to a decade, I don't feel comfortable using Anna/Ana for my daughter. I don't want to be reminded of a horrible disease every time I call my daughter's name!

I've offered my husband other names that sound similar to Anna. I really like Julianna and Angelina. I've also suggested Annelise, Susannah, Angelica, Annika, Annabel, Hannah, and Andrea.I also told him I would be okay with using Anna as the middle name (I like Isabel Anna and Gabrielle Anna), but he's still refusing to budge.

Don't get me wrong, I totally understand why he wants to use Anna. He was really close to his sister and was completely devastated when she died. I just don't feel comfortable with using the name because of the connotations it has for me. Do you think this is the type of situation where I just need to bite the bullet and go for it, or should I stick to my guns? What would you do here?

This is a mesmerizing problem. I've been thinking about it for several days and can't see an easy way out of it. Most of us would probably agree that one parent shouldn't insist on a name the other parent doesn't want---but when one parent IS IN FACT insisting, what's the other parent to do? Even if every single one of us unanimously agrees he shouldn't insist, that's not any help to you if he IS insisting.

As you've pointed out, his reason for wanting to use that particular name is a good reason: that is, he's not insisting on the name Anna because he's "always liked it," he has a genuinely good and understandable reason for wanting to use it. His reason is a touching one, and that makes me softer toward him than I might usually be.

But let's strip away some of the sentiment. What is his GOAL here? Will naming a daughter after his sister make his sister "live on" in any literal sense? Will it lessen the pain he feels when he thinks of her death? Will it make him miss her less?

The symbolic act of naming a baby after an important person is a pleasing one, but it is ONLY symbolism. How important is this symbolism to him? So important he's willing to steamroll right over his living wife---the living mother of this living child---for the sake of it?

If you want an "in your shoes" opinion, I THINK in your shoes I'd fold and I'd use the name Anna, and I would just really, really hope that the dear sweet baby would in time erase any associations I had with anorexia. But that's because I don't really see another way out of this situation. You suggested using an Anna-combination first name; he said no. You suggested using Anna as the middle name; he said no. You explained your extreme aversion to the sound of the name; he is unmoved. Sticking to your guns doesn't seem like it's going to change anything, and this can't remain in perpetual stand-off, with both parties refusing to budge: the baby is going to be born and she will need a name.

In the speech I would give to accompany my folding, I would go on AT LENGTH to him about what a huge deal this was to me, because if I WAS going to be forced to do something he should not be forcing, I would want credits applied to my account for a future disagreement. I would also arrange that this meant I could name a future child 100% on my own, with him not even having veto power. (I would not intend to USE that power, because I LIKE to agree on a name and would NOT want to force him into using a name he hated---but I would want to own that power: not only for the fairness of it, but also to point out to him what an enormous thing he was currently asking of me.)

That's just my guess, though; I don't really know what I'd do. And marriages are so very different, what makes sense for one marriage may be an utterly foreign language to another. But...I'm not sure what your other option is, after you've explained your point of view and he's ignored it. Steal the birth certificate? Fight to the death? Best two out of three thumb-wrestle?

Name update 02-23-2009! Rachel writes:
Anna Gabrielle Cooper was born on February 18, 2009. Thank you so much for all the input and advice! Ultimately, I realized that naming my daughter Anna could be a tribute to how I've overcome my eating disorder, just as much as it is a tribute to my husband's late sister. Now that Anna is here, my immediate association is with my beautiful little girl, not with anorexia. (BTW, my husband fully agrees to give my opinion priority when naming our next child.) Once again, thank you!


Diane said...

Would he budge for a hyphenated name, say like Anna-Marie or Anna-Rose or something along that line? He could still call her Anna, but you could think of her as Anna-???. Or, you could choose a short name that goes well with Anna for the middle name slot and call her by her first and middle names while he simply called her by her first name (Anna).

Frazzled Mom said...

Swistle’s suggestion of agreeing to Anna on the condition that you have complete say in the next baby’s name is a pretty reasonable suggestion. I can’t think of a better suggestion. I’m just going to add my impressions as an outsider that may help you either plead your case again or learn to live with, and maybe even like Anna.

Yes, he has a good reason to want Anna for his daughter, but you also have a good reason not to want Anna. I’m sure he realizes that even with the same name, your daughter will not be his sister reincarnate. Your suggestion of Anna as a middle name is a perfectly reasonable compromise. Therefore it is very difficult for me as an outsider to comprehend why he is being so stubborn - but again I am an outsider.

On the other hand, as someone who is not all that familiar with anorexia, I had no idea Ana was an abbreviation for anorexia. Anna is a pretty fashionable name right now, and when people hear it, chances are anorexia is not going to be the first thing that comes to mind. If you decide to agree to Anna, perhaps seeing Anna as your adorable baby daughter will overshadow any associations with the disease and help you with the healing process. This is speaking as someone who has never dealt with anorexia, and I may be reaching here.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I don't think you should budge. If it has connotations of a difficult period in your life and you know that every time you say your little girl's name it will remind you of those times, talk to him about it. I agree with Swistle - naming a baby after someone who has passed away is ONLY symbolic. It doesn't change anything.

Melio said...

I absolutely would NOT cave.

The middle name is a perfect compromise. It honors his sister without dishonoring you.

Rachel said...

I am incredibly stubborn and I would not give in in this situation. Plead your case and make it crystal clear that just-plain-Anna is not an option.

Baby B said...

I have a friend named Anna (on-ah), and even when people call her Anna (an-ah), I didn't make the association with anorexia. I have known people named Mia and I only made the connection to bulimia after reading this post. However, since you struggled with the disease I understand your point of view. I like the hyphenating idea posted by Diane. What about honoring someone you lost, like a grandmother or friend, or just someone very important to you? Or even a literary character you love? I also have to agree with Frazzled Mom that once your baby is named, you will likely just associate her name with her. Or, in your own mind, you can think of baby Anna as part of the reason why you never want to go back to that place you were at. No one has to know that part but you.
PS: I like your idea about Hannah. If people were to ask, you could say you two picked the name to mean "Anna, full of grace," as Anna sounds very similar and Hannah means "full of grace, gracious." Your husband may love that idea.

Kora said...

My husband wanted to name our eldest Lili, his favorite spelling of Lily. I always connected Lili with the woman who tore my parent's marriage apart (Liliann). Well, our eldest is Lily, and the association I will forever have with those two syllables is my little girl. Once she's born, that will be the only reference in your mind, trust me! I was able to get past a horrible time in my life once my little Lily was born, and I think it is possible for you, too.

Otherwise, I think I would go with Anna in the middle. It's equally meaningful, but might not cause you to take pause every time your daughter's name is said aloud. I think any other compromises would sounds too similar (and since your main problem with using Anna is it's sound, I think I would avoid this) but Hannah would be my next choice.

Good Luck! (btw: Lily Arianna Carsten is now seven, and I don't even remember what Liliann looks like. I only remember her whenever someone specifically brings up her situation--we were talking about her today)

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

I came here with one perspective and it's changed through reading the comments. I support the following ideas:

1. Middle name "Anna", compromise/agreed upon first name.

2. Hyphenated "Anna-Marie" or "Anna-Leigh" or "Anna-Rose",etc etc...

3. I've also never heard of "ana" as a term for anorexia, but also have not suffered from anorexia myself (however, I have known people who have). I am sensitive to the fact that this has meaning to you, but in case you were wondering, I don't think the general population will associated "Anna" with anorexia.

I'm all for honouring people you've loved, but I have to admit... I'm finding this one a touch morbid. His sister dying at 17 is different to me than honouring a grandparent who lived to a ripe old age, you know? What do his parents think about this? They chose "Anna" for their precious girl, who they lost way too young... would having a granddaugther named "Anna" be emotionally hard for them? Also, maybe for your own baby... yes, she might be proud to be named after a beloved Aunt she never met... but hearing the story of Aunt Anna who passed away so young... hrm.

I think I like the middle name idea as the "honouring" position, more than the first name slot. I feel that Anna is a sacred name for his lost sister... and I just can't shake something slightly off about naming your new baby directly after her. I think your baby deserves her own name, with Aunt Anna's name in that special middle position.

But that's just me, and please don't take it the wrong way, I'm not saying it to be rude AT ALL, I'm just stating one view I have of this (mostly because I find young deaths just so tragic and sad, and have trouble being reminded of them).

Lara Jane said...

Ack! Blogger ate my post!

In summary, it's unfathomable to me that one spouse/partner would insist on a name that refreshes painful memories in the other.

I completely understand your husband's reasoning for wanting the name (and I'm sorry to hear about the tragic death of his young sister), but I just can't grasp why he is insisting when he knows it has such horrific connotations for you.

I don't know... Maybe, like others have said, it wouldn't matter to you after meeting your daughter. I just wouldn't want to take the chance!

I say stick to your guns. Middle name would be ideal, I think, but your suggestions are also a nice compromise.

Best wishes!

Cass said...

Would it help to pick a middle name that you could use as part of a whole spoken name (e.g. Anna Belle = Annabelle) or as part of a nickname (e.g. Anna Jane = A.J.)? I hate that you're feeling forced into the name, but if it ends up going that way, maybe this would give you an "out" if you think you'll have trouble calling her "Anna".

Anonymous said...

Do you like any shortened versions of the name? e.g. Annie or Ann?

Or could you compromise on giving her the name Anna + middle name, but calling her by her middle name instead? Then the name gets top billing, but is only used in formal documents. (e.g. Anna Belle, but call her Belle).

Zazz said...

I'm with Anonymous above. What about Anne or Annie? Obviously different to Anna, but not as easily associated with Ana

Or, did your husband's sister have a middle name that you could use?

Anonie Mouse said...

You shouldn't be made to name your daughter something that has such negative associations to you, no matter how much your husband wants to. Personally, I would try to come to some sort of an agreement: use Anna as her first name on her birth certificate, but call her by her middle name - which will be a name of your choosing, or one that both you and your partner like. Anna Isabel and Anna Gabrielle are lovely options.

This way your partner has the honour of naming your child after his sister - in the coveted first name slot - but she will be given and called by a name that has positive associations for you.

If this doesn't appeal to you, why not ask your partner about his sister's birth stone, favourite flower or middle name? There are many ways to honour loved ones - you don't simply have to use their first name.

Patricia said...

I agree with Steph's concerns. And I think the primary concern should be the baby/person who would have the exact same first name as her father's beloved sister who died, tragically, at age 17. Having the same name as the beloved, lost sister might make her wonder if she is expected to replace her aunt, be like her, live up to her father's fond memories of his sister, etc. Even if her dad doesn't have these expectations (at least conciously), I think it's too much to put on his baby daughter who is starting her own, distinct life. Too, it seems to me that there would always be a sadness associated with her name.

It seems to me that giving the baby one of his sister's names or a form of one of them as a middle name would be a better way to honor his sister and, at the same time not burden his daughter. I think the baby should be given her own first name -- or at least a different form of Anna (such as Annabelle).

Anonymous said...

I would use Anna as the middle name, making sure it blends well with the first name. This way, you can call your daughter by her first name only, but your husband can call her by her first and middle...because I'm guessing it's the daily use of the name that he's looking for, more than just the "honoring" use of the name (if that makes sense?).

Kate said...

I've definitely heard of "Ana" as a shorthand for anorexia, especially among those familiar with the disease, so I understand your dilemma. Previous comments have suggested just naming her Anne or Annie, which I think is the right direction, but perhaps you could go with Anna as the formal name, but always call her Anne or Annie? Annie sounds very different to me than Ana.
I also understand your husband's sentiment, and disagree with those who think it's too sad or too much burden for the little Anna. My dad's cousin, J., passed away at 17, and my dad's brother's firstborn is now a 15 year old J., who likes that his name has meaning to the family, but knows he is his own person. The name becomes different for each owner, and isn't so much a burden than a link to the past.

Susan said...

What an interesting question, with interesting responses!

I don't think using another name hyphenated with Anna (Anna-Marie, Anna-Rose) would change things. In fact, it almost makes it sound MORE like ana-the-disease, as in Typhoid Mary.

However, I do think the chances are good-to-certain that once little Miss Cute-Stuff Anna came on the scene, she would shatter your ana-association to pieces and that would be the end of that.

Also, it seems like naming your daughter Anna might be like shaking your fist at any ana associations. Like saying, "Ha! No more ana for me, and ANNA proves it!" Like several other commenters, however, I admit that unless one has had anorexia, it's impossible to know how someone who had struggled with it would feel.

If you continued to feel awful about the ana association as the birth came close, I guess I'd have to vote with refusing to use the name. I do LOVE Swistle's suggestion, however, of bargaining for future points if you think you can get past it!

Anonymous said...

Disagree with the comments about the name being too much of a burden on a new baby. Maybe it's just my cultural background, but Ashkenazic Jews name for the dead, almost to the point of it being a mandate. Accordingly, honoring the dead will be as much a goal when I name my children as will picking names I like.

I'd also put money on Baby Anna erasing your Ana associations with a quickness.

And I think you can also name her Anna and then just call her Annie or Anne--your husband can't control what you personally call her.

Anonymous said...

I am very familiar with Ana being a pro-anorexia term. I understand why it is hard to use a name that reminds you of such a painful time. Your stance is valid, and this is a situation I would stand strong on personally. If you are willing to bend by using it as the middle name or another variation as the first name, your husband should compromise too. If he absolutely won't budge, though, I don't know what other option you have.
This is a difficult position. Good luck.

Joceline said...

My son's name is after my brother who died at 21, and my daughter's name is after my husband's sister who died when she was a baby. For us, naming them after our siblings was not a hope that they would live up to some expectation or replace the lost relative, but simply to honor the memory of those that we loved. It was also because we wanted each of our parents to know that we think of and miss our siblings daily and will never push them out of our minds (that was specifically a fear on my side of the family). So I don't think that it is a burden to name a child after a deceased relative (even a young one).

That being said, if you think that you can replace the association in your mind from Anorexia to your darling daughter, it would be a wonderful gift to your husband to name her after his sister. However, if you absolutely think you cannot let go of the association, don't give in to just plain Anna and insist upon a longer version or Anna as a middle name.

Melissa H said...

I haven't read the comments but my immediate thought was: nicknames. Option 1: name the child Anna but mom has a special nickname that is less painful that she always uses. I'm thinking Annie here.
Option 2: Give child an alternative name (Savannah, Annika etc) and let Dad use Anna as his pet name for his daughter. A special bond/reminder for him and just for him.
I'm assuming option 1 is more realistic in this situation. Maybe Annie will catch on for everyone except dad avoiding the problem (almost) altogether!

The Schwant Family said...

I wonder if you could re-frame your thinking on Anna. So many severely anorexic women have trouble conceiving and carrying healthy babies that maybe you could think of your Anna as your tangible symbol of your freedom from anorexia? Maybe you could actually like the association if you could think it was a positive one symbolic of your victory.

On the other hand, I think your husband needs to respect how you feel about the association. If you can't get past it then he needs to be receptive to your alternatives or come up with one of his own. I'd ask him for the solution to this problem so he has to actually think about it and work on it rather than just veto all of your suggestions.

Has he run the idea of naming your baby Anna by all of his family? It seems to me it could be really wonderful to some people and really painful to others.

Good luck - let us know the outcome please!