To share or not to share… isn’t that the question? When it comes to baby names, it is. One of the top queries moms-to-be are asked, along with when she’s due and whether she’s going to find out the baby’s sex, is whether she’s thought of a name yet. And in the lead up to giving birth, it’s one of the most important decisions that parents-to-be must grapple with—naming a human being is a huge responsibility, and can have a huge impact on their lives.
As Juliet pondered in Shakespeare’s famous play (to borrow again from the playwright), “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” While poor old Juliet seemed to conclude that a rose would smell as sweet regardless of what it was called, her and her lover’s tragic demise suggests otherwise—their names (Montague, Capulet) did indeed contribute to their ultimate fate.
Romeo and Juliet is an extreme case, I’ll admit, but whether or not you buy into the idea that a name can define your child’s personality or even destiny, the name choice you make could lead to a lifetime of correcting people’s pronunciation, unfair teasing on the playground, or, if you believe the Freakonomics author Steven Levitt, even being overlooked for jobs.
With such a crucial decision on their hands, some parents-to-be seek help, while others choose to trust their own gut feelings. And, as with most things, there are pros and cons to both strategies.
Maybe there are five practically perfect names you’re deliberating over; maybe there are 25 that are impossible to rate. Baby name websites are huge these days, as parents are branching out more and more when naming their children, but they can only offer so much advice and wisdom. For parents who are in the fortunate position of having too many names they like, polling close friends and family members is a way to get a new perspective on their short (or long) list. Your mom or mother-in-law might be able to tell you which of your choices have interesting family connections, and friends could offer advice on which names they’re already hearing a lot of on the playground. Consulting friends and family could also help if you’re trying to choose between different versions of names, like Claire versus Clara. Just be sure to ask people whose opinions you trust to weigh in, so you aren’t faced with too many conflicting ideas.
The quickest way to ruin a baby name you love is to reveal it to a group of friends who say, “That’s an interesting choice…” or, worse, cringe and pretend they have something urgent to look at on their phone. If you love a name, you love it, and other people’s opinions shouldn’t matter; but if they’re good friends and they can’t keep their negative thoughts to themselves, there’s a good chance it’s going to colour your name choice. The fact that your best friend was bullied by a Charlie in grade school should have no bearing on whether you name your son Charles, but sharing your shortlist with friends too soon could risk you giving up on a name you love because of someone else’s hang ups. Everyone has names that they just can’t fathom naming their child, but the fact is this is your baby, and naming him or her is 100% up to you and your partner, not anyone else.
When parents disagree on a name choice, or one partner is on the fence with regards to what the other believes is the ideal baby name, calling in for reinforcements can be a good way to break a tie or to banish any doubts from one or the other partner’s mind. Hearing others react to a name positively can reassure both parents that they’re on the right track with their choice. Also, revealing the name can be a strategic move; once the name is out there, it can be harder for the partner who is not 100% on board to refute it, especially when friends and family clearly love it. And starting to call the unborn baby by its name while it’s in the womb can help convince a wavering parent that the name is just right, and belongs to the baby.
While it can be hard to fend off well-meant inquiries into what you’re going to name baby, choosing not to share the decided upon baby name can be a nice way for parents-to-be to bond even more while they await their new family member. Sure, they’re already bonding over the first ultrasound photos, baby’s first kicks from inside the womb, their fantasies of what the little one will be like, but the baby’s name is a concrete part of the nesting experience that the parents-to-be can truly keep to themselves until the big reveal. While it’s fun to share all kinds of details with friends and families before the birth, keeping the baby’s name just between the parents can make it all that much more special.
Once parents have shared their baby name choice, it’s usually as good as written on the birth certificate. Of course, that won’t be drawn up till after the baby is born, but choosing a name and then shouting it from the rooftops can almost guarantee that you’ll keep it, and that your baby won’t be called BabyGirl LastName for any length of time post-birth. The more parents second guess themselves, the longer it could be before baby has his or her name. And let’s face it, once the baby is born and the parents are trading sleep for night feeds, they’ll have even less brain power to devote to the decision. Sharing the baby’s chosen name beforehand can eliminate this stress, and means the newborn can start getting used to his or her name as soon as he or she emerges from the womb.
Many moms-to-be, even if they know they have chosen the perfect name for their babies, keep it quiet so that they can be sure the name truly fits the little person it’s meant for. Once the baby is born, the parents can try out the name they’ve chosen, and see if it feels right to call this tiny new being by his or her moniker. While most parents probably won’t change their minds, some might take one look at their newborn, see some resemblance to a family member, and decide on a whim to name their child after them. Or maybe the birth was particularly difficult, or the baby had complications at birth, and the parents might decide to choose a name with additional strength and meaning than the one they had originally chosen. Whatever the reason, there’s something to be said for waiting to actually meet this brand-new human being before announcing their name to the world.
For some moms-to-be, it can be hard to visualize what life will be like once the baby arrives. Especially if the pregnancy has been relatively easy and she hasn’t had to change her lifestyle much in the first couple of trimesters, it can feel like not much is changing, regardless of how much she knows will be different when the baby is born. Choosing to share the baby name can help a mom-to-be to psychologically make that shift to motherhood, as she can begin to think of the baby in more concrete terms; not just as some kind of fantasy newborn, but as a person, with his or her own name and personality. Of course, the child might turn out completely differently than what she imagines, but the act of naming, and sharing that name, can have an impact on how a mom-to-be frames her pregnancy and birth experience.
Say you’ve privately chosen the name Olivia for your little bundle of joy. The day comes, and the labour is over; the nurse puts baby in your arms, and you look down lovingly to meet her--but low and behold, staring back at you is not an Olivia, but clearly a Harriet, your runner-up name. It’s impossible to know for certain whether a name you choose beforehand will still feel right when it comes to making it official, or whether you might hear a new name at the eleventh hour and make a switch. That’s why if you’re in any doubt, it might be better to hold off on sharing the name widely before the birth. If you’d already told everyone the name, you might feel awkward about changing your mind, knowing that so many already have an idea of who your baby is. And keeping a name simply because you’ve already told everyone already is definitely not the best way to name a child.
Yes, it might seem a little snarky and defensive for a mom-to-be to not share a name simply because she doesn’t want anyone else to use it, but if she’s decided on the perfect name and she knows friends, family or colleagues who are pregnant, it can seem like a race to the maternity ward to lock in the use of that beautiful name. We’ve all heard stories of moms who’ve loved a name their whole lives, but then aren’t able to use it because a friend does--it was even a storyline on Friends, when Monica revealed to Rachel that she’d love to name a future daughter Emma. Guess who ended up named Emma? Rachel’s firstborn. Now, sharing the name of a yet-to-be-conceived child is a little over the top, but a pregnant woman can justifiably ring fence a name she’s decided on to put off any pregnant friends in her circle from using the name.
Once the parents-to-be have decided against sharing the name, it can be funny to throw out clues or strange options, just to mess with friends and relatives. A friend of mine was having a baby and always referred to her as “Baby G,” meaning, most likely, Baby Girl. But many of our friends decided it was a clue, and began guessing that her baby would be named Greta, or Gertrude. She played along, but when it came to the baby being born, she didn’t have a “G” name at all. Lots of parents call their unborn child by a funny nickname, like “Peanut,” “Bean” or “Lentil” (they are often food related, for some reason). I jokingly called mine “The Parasite” for a while. In the lead up to the baby’s birth, giving friends silly clues or ridiculous options like “Biff” can be a fun way to deflect when asked that inevitable question, “Have you thought of any names yet?”
Especially if the new baby’s namesake is infirm or advanced in years, sharing the fact that you’ve decided to name your child for them can be a special thing to do pre-birth. And by telling them first, before the baby is born and the name is announced on Facebook or over email, you can make the moment even more special, and let the person you’re honouring know just how much using their name means to you. Once you’ve told the namesake, sharing the name more widely can then be a fun experience, as other friends and family will want to know the story of how you came up with the name, why it is significant, and who this special namesake person is in your life. Sharing stories of this person can reinforce why you chose the name in the first place.
It’s possible to find out a fair amount about a baby before they’re born; parents can find out the sex, can see from the ultrasound whether baby sucks his or her thumb, can narrow down what genetic traits he or she may have, depending on their own traits (including recessive traits, like blue eyes, dimples, or red hair). With all this, and in particular if you’ve found out and shared the baby’s sex, keeping your name choice a secret can be a nice way for friends and family to have a surprise once baby is born. On the other hand, if you’re keeping the baby’s sex a secret, maybe you want to keep the different name choices a secret as well, so that when family and friends meet your child for the first time, they’re meeting him or her with a completely open mind.
A good reason to share your name choice pre-birth is to help with personalizing your child’s nursery, or closet full of clothes. People love to give--and parents love to get--gifts customized to their baby: monogrammed onesies and bibs, personalized baby shower cards, a wall hanging with baby’s name, custom-made baby blankets, or letter blocks spelling out baby’s name for his or her dresser are all excellent gifts for parents-to-be. And if you’re having a baby shower before the baby is born, revealing your name choice can be a great way to ensure you receive some personalized gifts. Especially recently, tons of web-based businesses have cropped up offering monogrammed baby gifts, so give your friends and family the tip off and you’ll be sure to receive some unique keepsake items for your little bundle of joy.
For some pregnant women, naming the child before it’s born is like counting the chickens before they hatch: for superstitious moms-to-be, letting the name slip before the baby is born is almost like tempting fate. This kind of thinking can also be related to religion; for example, in the Jewish tradition, and particularly for Orthodox Jews, baby showers are taboo, as it is believed showering gifts on an unborn baby can bring the family bad luck. The same goes for naming the child before it arrives. Some parents prefer to keep details of their baby under wraps for this reason, and if you’re a nervous mom, it might be best to wait to share the baby’s name far and wide. Sharing, of course, isn’t going to do baby any harm, but hey, keeping the name to yourself isn’t going to hurt anyone either. Pregnant moms might not be the most sensible lot, what with the crazy hormones that are at play, so anything that gives them peace of mind is not to be sniffed at.