Early in my pregnancy, my husband and I decided that since our baby boy would have David’s last name, he should have an Italian first name, to keep my family’s heritage alive. Incredibly, the two of us were instantly in agreement about the perfect name.
“Giovanni,” nodded my husband. “That’s it. That’s our boy.” It was sweet harmony… until we told my family.
“Oh no!” groaned my mother. “I hate it! So old- fashioned!”
“My husband had an uncle Giovanni,” shuddered my grandmother. “He was the most horrible man who ever lived!”
Dejected but not deterred, I now have a 4 year old whose name shimmers with light, just like his eyes and mischievous smile. Giovanni is a Giovanni, through and through, and today everyone agrees. But when I got pregnant two years later, you can be sure I didn’t leak our baby girl’s name to anyone.
Our story isn’t unique: Naming baby is often rife with conflict. Here are some rules of engagement to decrease the likelihood that you’ll be the one waving the white flag.
The power of parental preferences
Bette Alkazian, M.A., a licensed marriage and family therapist in Thousand Oaks, CA, and the founder of Balanced Parenting, meets with plenty of expectant couples playing tug-of-war with their parents over the baby’s name. She also experienced the struggle firsthand.
“When I was pregnant, I told my mom the name we’d chosen for a boy and she said, ‘I don’t know if I could love a baby named Cameron,’ ” Alkazian remembers.
This wasn’t exactly the response Alkazian was hoping for, but, she explains, the conflict around baby naming isn’t really about names—it’s about control. “This is often the first time that couples are defining themselves as independent from their parents—as adults and no longer children—and it’s an important step.”
And it can be a difficult one, especially if there’s tradition to consider— as there was for Jennifer Garafalo, a mother of two in Staten Island, NY: “My husband comes from a very traditional family, and they needed our child to be named after my husband’s mother, Laura,” Garafalo says. “It is a pretty name, and my mother-in-law is a wonderful woman. But I just didn’t want to make our baby another Laura.”
Garafalo argued with her husband, who didn’t understand why she couldn’t just honor the custom. She conceded, and although she had second thoughts, the deal was done.
Garafalo says there are certainly worse things than having three Lauras show up when she calls the name at family gatherings. Nonetheless, being pressured to accept a name can often have longer- lasting consequences.
“Very often these are symptoms of a greater problem: that the husband or wife hasn’t stood up to his or her parents and said, ‘This is my life,’ ” Alkazian explains. She urges expectant parents to stand up for themselves, but keep their cool. You should tell the “advisors” that you appreciate their input and you’ll consider it, and then thank them in advance for respecting that the decision is ultimately yours.
Asserting independence isn’t easy, but it is great practice for defending your future decisions about breastfeeding, potty training, and discipline. “New parents have to be confident in the choices they make for their children, and this is really the first opportunity to do that,” Alkazian says.
When you and he can’t agree It’s one of the first decisions a couple makes together as parents, but picking a name sometimes can drive a wedge between them. The decision became so divisive for the San Jose, CA, Loban family that they went to couple’s counseling. “My husband wanted to name our son after his best friend, Jake, who died when he was 17. I didn’t like the name, and I didn’t like the association, but I said it could be the middle name, which he refused,” says Marion Loban, mother of two. “It was a huge problem for us.”
Therapy helped but didn’t solve the issue. The couple agreed to officially name the baby Julius Jake and call him by his middle name, but within a few weeks, Loban had come up with her own solution. “I knew if I called him Julius that would be a direct violation of our agreement, so I called him ‘Cricket’ and now that’s what everyone calls him.” The Lobans know they’ve only sidestepped the problem, which they’ll have to hash out when Cricket starts school next year.
If you’re in stand-off over names, make sure the fight isn’t about something else: “A lot of times people will drive a hard line about a name because they’re angry about other things,” Alkazian says. Address underlying issues first, then try to find compassion—and plenty of patience.
“My rule is, if there’s a name your partner strongly dislikes, even if you’ve dreamt of it your whole life, you need to let it go, because it really will come up later in the marriage,” Alkazian advises. “And, ultimately, there will be another name that you can agree on.”
Although your baby’s name is a refection of your family, Shakespeare was onto something when he wrote, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” It’s just a word, after all.
— Nicole Caccavo Kear didn’t even tell the name of her second baby to the L&D nurse whose shift ended before the baby arrived, even though the nurse begged to find out. In case she’s reading this: Kear’s daughter’s name is Stella.