Baby Naming Issue: When and How to Break the News that the Other Parent’s Favorite Name Isn’t Going to Be the One?

K. writes:

I’m writing to you with a dilemma that is not exactly pressing, but is a wee bit difficult. Some back story: my partner and I have been together for going on five years now. When we first got together, we were in our early twenties and he was not particularly into the idea of having kids. In fact, he was so leery of it that it took almost a year of us dating for me to feel comfortable sharing my name nerdiness with him. Eventually he warmed up to the idea of having a child, and in fact at this point, now that we are entering our late 20s and planning marriage, we’re actively talking about it. The problem: when I first mentioned my favorite names, about four years ago, he immediately latched on to one in particular from my girl list, Echo. I had it on the list as a whim more than anything else, but he took it and ran. He’d never really considered his own favorite names before, but decided immediately that Echo was IT. At the time I was so overjoyed that he showed any interest in names or babies at all that I did little to curb the Echo love. In fact, I encouraged it. Maybe too much. Nowadays when we talk about our future child he refers to it as “Little Echo” or “Baby Echo” (he thinks it is a fine name for a boy or a girl…I have put my foot down on the boy side). As the years have passed, he has become more and more attached to Echo, while I on the other hand have grown to feel just “eh” about it. I might be more able to accept it if it didn’t sound quite frankly awful with his surname, which is sounds like an adverb, even though technically it is not– it sounds like “Hawley” with an “Sm” in front. Taken together, Echo HisSurname sounds like a grammatically incorrect sentence. It just doesn’t work!

At what point do I break the news to him that Echo isn’t going to be the name of our future baby? Now…? When we are trying to conceive? When we’re pregnant? …In the delivery room? Or, considering that, although I’m the name nerd and he’s not, he is about 10,000% more times attached to Echo than I am to any one name, should I just bite my tongue and let him have Echo? How does one navigate a partner’s passion for an unsuitable name, and when is the time to discuss it?

For the record, he does like a few other names… for boys he likes the names Bear, Wave, and Linus, and for girls Sonnet, Lavender, Story (doesn’t work with surname), Poem, Judy, Beverly, and Emma-Jean. Basically his taste runs straight from very unusual/eccentric word names to out-of-fashion mid-century grandma names, with nothing in between. My own taste is more eclectic but I guess I would classify it as unusual but traditional names, like Paloma, Cosima, Vera, Pearl, Caledonia, Rosie, Sarah, Penelope, and Polly (utterly unworkable with his surname); traditional Irish/Celtic names like Sorcha, Rhiannon, and Aine (Anya); and word names. The overlap between my tastes and his is in those word names. My favorites are Blossom (problematic with surname), Spring (also problematic but better than most), Sonnet (works for surname), Garland, Sage, Yarrow, Ballad, and Sojourner. But honestly I much prefer more established names like Paloma, Penelope, and Pearl (I guess I like the letter P). For boys my favorites are Lionel, August, Moss, Sky, and Rowan. I think I have won him over to Lionel or August already.

Can you give me tips on shifting the conversation from “Baby Echo” to “Baby Something Else”? Especially when his attachment to it, though vexing and impractical, is also pretty adorable?

Thank you, Swistle!


Ah. We had something similar in the Swistle household when in our pre-baby days Paul became quite attached to the name Fenchurch and I found the name (and his enthusiasm) appealing enough to kind of go along with it. And yet, I was not going to name an actual child Fenchurch.

My tactic was to grrrrrrrrradually start making little comments every time the name came up. The gist of each comment was “No, but seriously,” though I said it in different ways.

Swistle: What do you think of Brenna?
Paul: It’s going to be FENCHURCH.
Swistle, treating it like a little in-joke: Ha ha, yeah! But DO you like Brenna? I’m not sure it works with our surname.

At first I thought it was going to work against you that the names on your joint list are all similar to Echo: it helped that I was able to reject Fenchurch as part of a whole category, rather than as an individual name. But with further thought, I think that makes it easier: you’re in the same situation as every parent who doesn’t like a name as much as the other parent does. Your line is something like “Oh, I do like that name—but not enough to use it.” If he feels betrayed, the follow-up line is equally casual: “Yes, it was on my list years ago, but at this point I feel kind of ‘eh’ about it, and I don’t like it with the surname. Let’s see if we can find something similar-but-fresher.”

The timing, I think, should be when you’re having a name conversation. That is, I don’t think I’d say it if he’s just referring to the future in a cute way; e.g., “Little Echo could ride her bike here!” But if you’re having a “What about ____?”/”I’m not sure I like it with the surname” talk, and the name Echo comes up, that’s when I’d say it. He says, “Well, Echo for a girl,” and you say wistfully, “Oh—I do like that name, but not enough to use it. What about your idea of Sonnet? I think that goes great with the surname. Or I still really like Pearl, and I think that’s similar to your idea of Beverly.” You deliver the bad news, and then you go right on as if it’s just one of many names you’re both considering.

It is possible it will come down to a bigger confrontation than that. Parents have written to us from the middle of situations where the other parent is insisting on a particular name and has developed an attitude of “It’s this name unless you can find me something I like better,” which is completely out of bounds. The correct mindset is “This name is off the list; now we need to work together to find something we like from all the names that remain.”

In some cases I would recommend using the much-loved name as a middle name, so that the parent who loves the name still gets to use it. If your main area of overlap is with word names, though, that might be too much word for one name: when I started combining options, I was getting perfume names and paint colors. But another area where the two of you overlap is the category of charmingly underused old-fashioned names; if you go with one of those, Echo might work beautifully in the middle.

If you’d be willing to use the name Echo if the surname weren’t a problem, this is the moment for the two of you to consider using your surname instead.

Or if you have a girl, it can be her Fetus Nickname: lots of people continue to call a child Bean or Peanut or Bear from those early days.


Has anyone else had experience with a situation like this? How did you handle it, and how did it go?



Name update!

Hi Swistle!

I thought this posting finally deserved an update.

We still haven’t had a kid, but your advice was greatly helpful and I can happily report we are now *long past Echo*. Not only Echo, but the whole category of “out there” word names. I got him to start doing the so-called “Starbucks test”, where you try giving an unusual name you’re considering to the barista, and gauge not only their reaction but your own. He got cold feet and was embarrassed every time! Echo, Bear, Wave, even Linus…he was too shy to say any of them. And frankly I had trouble with it for many of my own unusual girl favorites. So, we’ve become pragmatic. The only holdover from earlier years is Pearl, and our biggest concern now is whether Alice rules out a future Agnes, if Rosie is too sing-songy with surname…that kind of thing. And my favorite boy name, Alexander, he thinks is too common (and rules out Alice and Arthur– maybe our new issue is we like too many A names…?)

Thank you again for your generous and thoughtful reply! I will write in sometime in the future when we’re actually having a baby or after.

With gratitude,

P.S. Oh also, just one more thing– among our close friends, TWO other couples also have Pearl at the top of their lists– maybe just a hiccup or local trend, or maybe indicative of the future?




Second name update!

Hi Swistle!
Back with another update. We had a baby girl earlier this month, and named her Alice. After all that back and forth years ago, the choice was extremely smooth and pretty much settled before we even conceived. Before we knew her sex we tossed around Pearl and Branwen as possibilities, but never very seriously, and as soon as we found out she was a girl, we spontaneously started calling her Alice. That was that! There are several women named Alice we admire (Coltrane, Munro, Waters, Walker, Neel) but we didn’t name her after one of them per se, or at least not in a way we’ve shared with people. We ended up using a wilder word name for her middle name. I’m leaving it off because it’s so distinctive, but think type of fruit. :) Thank you again for all your advice, and for your blogs!

19 thoughts on “Baby Naming Issue: When and How to Break the News that the Other Parent’s Favorite Name Isn’t Going to Be the One?

  1. Margot

    I know this isn’t what you are asking about, but seeing your name list made me think of a slight variation to one of the names on your list that you might love: rather than Poem, what about Poet? I read the blog of a woman with a daughter named Poet and I think it is just beautiful.

    1. Kaela

      Ooo! I like Poet. I’m glad to hear you met someone with a child with the name as well. I love hearing about unusual word names that actually get used. There have been a few used by people in our circle but none that really push the envelope (for better or worse). I did hear about a little girl (friend of a child’s friend) who is named Prairie though…I really like that.

  2. Lawyerish

    “It’s going to be FENCHURCH” made me laugh for about ten minutes. (At first, I thought you were using Fenchurch as a stand-in for the name he wanted, but it appears not, and that makes it even funnier to me.)

    To the reader’s question, I think Swistle’s method makes the most sense, and it’s very important to take the tone that Echo is one of many names you’ve always considered, but that neither it nor any other name has ever been declared THE ONE by both of you.

    My husband and I talked about hypothetical baby names way back when we were first married, even though at that time I didn’t think I wanted kids. He was pretty attached to one boy name, but as it turned out, by the time we decided to have a baby — years later — we both took the attitude that it was one of many possible names, and we started name-choosing from scratch (i.e., we went through a HUGE baby names book to compile each of our lists, and then we culled based on overlap). Somehow, it all seemed very different when we were talking about our actual baby rather than a hypothetical baby we weren’t sure we’d ever had. I think that’s true for a lot of people.

    1. Kaela

      Thank you! I appreciate hearing that your husband eventually let go of the name he was attached to. Your advice is reassuring.

  3. liz

    It looks like you both have similar taste to me. Focus on the names that are on both your lists.

    I really like Echo as a middle name. Emma-Jean Echo and Beverly Echo Sm(awley) are both lovely. If he likes Emma-Jean, would he like Imogene?

    What seems like grandma names to you are charming children’s literature names to me.

  4. A

    First, I’d play up the wordness of names like Pearl. Sure, it’s a traditional name, but it’s also a thing. Along those same lines, Lilly, Ruby, Luna, etc.

    You could also play on your name nerdness. “Well, yes, there is Echo. But it’s so fun to look at names with you. And what if we’re missing something even better?” Then you have the list of potential names, including Echo and you start running down the pros and cons of each. It’s a good way to point out the cons of Echo without making it seem like you are picking on his favorite. And with an objective approach, he might even be able to start to see some of the cons on his own.

  5. Brittany

    My husband and I are expecting our first, and before I was pregnant (and during!) he was determined to name a boy after his father and a girl after his mother – those were THE NAMES for him, with maybe a variation for each, so we had two very similar options for a girl and two for a boy. That caused some friction anyway, but the girl name in particular I wanted to rule out entirely, mostly because his sister is the 4th bearing the name, so I felt it belongs to her and not us (I know “name ownership” conversations come up on here a lot and generally I agree with people not owning names, but when it’s someone’s own name, shared with the three generations before, it seems to me that person should have first right of use over a sibling). Anyway, I probably did not handle this very well, and don’t remember the context in which I brought it up, but basically said that I felt strongly that if we had a girl, the family name should be for his sister to use and I wouldn’t feel right using it before she has a daughter, knowing she wants to use it. I probably more blurted it out rather than finessing the situation in a relevant conversation, which I think would be better than my approach! He disagreed with me, and we found out we’re having a boy, so it didn’t come down to it, but I do think it’s important to address this with your partner, and probably better to do it as Swistle suggested, gently and persistently in a name conversation, and start sooner rather than later. I also agree with others who have said with the right first name, Echo would be a beautiful middle name, and you can also say how you like it, but find some problems in the way it combines with the last name so that it makes it “not the one” for you. Another option to consider is whether you and your future children will have the same surname as your partner. How would you feel about Echo with your surname, or with a different one you and your husband choose together? That could also be a possible way to bring it up as you plan marriage and discuss name change options.

  6. Violette

    For the name Echo, there is a really simple solution – watch the Joss Whedon tv series Dollhouse. Echo is the name of a brainwashed prostitute.
    There’s a bit more to the show than that – it’s a pretty good science fiction/thriller series, and not very long. But it should definitely kill any desire to name a daughter Echo.

  7. Kerry

    Idea 1) Get a kitten or a puppy now. Name it Echo.

    Idea 2) Emma-Jean Cosima or Everly Cosima or Ever Cosima and use E. Co. to get Echo as a nickname that he can use.

    Idea 3) Emma-Kate Orla/Oona/Olwen/Opal and use E.K.O. to get Echo as a nickname that he can use.

    1. Heather

      Ooh, I like the initial nickname solution a lot. Would the bandaid approach work in this instance? He gets nickname or middle name rights in exchange for something fresher in the first name spot? In your situation I think there’s still time to find a name you both feel happy with though! I will share my experience, because it’s pretty similar: a few years ago my guy got it into his head that Elsa was the most beautiful and perfect name in the world for a girl, and his daughter was GOING to be Elsa. And naturally I would agree, because who would shoot down the greatest name on earth? Unfortunately I didn’t. I downright hated it with our last name which begins with an S and sounds atrocious and hissy with Elsa. Elsa S, say it over and over and feel your tongue revolting against the atrocity it is being made to perform. Ok, I admit it’s not THAT terrible, but I was totally digging for reasons to hate Elsa because deep down, it didn’t feel right to me which isn’t a crime. And in retrospect I should have just said “It doesn’t feel like the one, lets keep looking, I’m not ruling it out entirely, I just want to find something we both love as much as you love Elsa”. Instead, I made myself so anti-name that I eventually killed the love for him as well. It took a lot of hard work and setting down some serious guidelines, but we were able to find the perfect replacement, and even my husband agrees he likes it more than Elsa. Phew! I urge you to be honest earlier rather than later about Echo. If I had been pregnant during the Elsa ordeal I think the stress and time constraint would have limited our search considerably. As it was, we were able talk names over and sift through a lot of content at a leisurely pace before arriving at one we both loved.

  8. Megan M.

    I like Swistle’s solution. I hope it won’t be as big a deal as you think. Love your name lists!

    My husband and I also decided on names before we actually got pregnant, one “set” girl and one “set” boy, that we both agreed on. We’ve gone on to have two daughters, and we didn’t use our girl name for either of them. If we did have a boy, I doubt we’d use our boy name either. I actually get pretty embarrassed when I think about our girl name. I wanted to use the middle spot to honor a band I loved at the time. Cringe!

  9. Katie

    I agree with everyone’s suggestions- I think you just have to gently axe Echo through naming conversations. Maybe appeal to his love of “grandma” names versus the more bohemian names like Poem or Story.

    You could also bring up teasing potential as a reason not to use noun names- I think a kid named Echo might get tired of hearing “Hey Echo- echo-echo-echo-echooooo” in middle school.

    I also love the name Paloma which is very similar to the name Poet which was on your partner’s list- maybe you could find some common ground there? I also think you could combine some of his traditional sounding names with yours, for example, what about Sarah-Jean instead of Emma Jean?

    And if you like Sojourner what about Sigourney? Same vibe (thought I’m not sure how it would sound with your last name).

  10. Katty

    My husband and I also have a name we use as a generic name when we refer to our potential future child(ren). It’s a name he once mentioned he liked when we had recently started dating and I agreed that it was a pretty name. We just found it easier to refer to a future child by a specific name rather than by “the child we might one day have” or something like this.

    We are planning to start trying for a child this year and so recently I have started bringing up other names. When he protested that he thought a girl would definitely be named [the name we had always used], I just said something to the effect of “Well, yes, that’s a lovely name but there are other lovely names as well so let’s keep our option open.” He seems to have accepted that as he is willing to discuss other names now.

  11. nieke

    I don’t know how helpful I can be because I think you both have really cool lists, I hope you have boys (Lionel and August=yes!) and I don’t think Echo sounds awful with your surname. I also think it is so sweet that he’s so attached to it that it would be hard to get rid of it all together- maybe use it in the middle, or pair it with one of your more solid names. Actually, that would probably be a good compromise for many of those names.
    Something like:
    Echo Rhiannon
    Sonnet Emma-Jean
    Cosima Poem
    and of course, August Bear and Lionel Wave!

  12. Kaela

    Thank you everyone! I’m K. from the question :) And thank you Swistle for running my question– I did feel a little bad sending it in, as it’s not about naming a Real Baby yet and I know you get more emails about those than you can run as it is (and those are real humans urgently needing names!). The part about Fenchurch made me laugh out loud. I’m grateful for your advice, and I’m so happy to read through all of the comments as well!

    I didn’t mention it in the actual e-mail, but I think we are fairly committed to using our mother’s names for the middle name if we have a girl at some point. Those are Leila and Diana. I’m a bit attached to doing this, which makes it hard to agree Echo can be a middle name, because 3 middle names seems like pushing it… I also really like Leila and Diana as first names, and think they go together remarkably well as sibling names, so on the other hand maybe we will end up going that way and getting to use Diana Echo or something like that down the road.

    I’ve considered proposing using my surname as the future baby’s, and I know he would agree to it, but unfortunately it is also a word and some word names don’t sound very good with it. (Spring, for example).

    Also, this is another topic entirely, but I heard a name a few days ago that I had never heard before and made me go “Ooo!”. Miona. It is Serbian, apparently. (The woman I met with it was from Serbia.) I’ve been unable to find out what it means via search engine (I need to look harder) but I may just try to be brave and ask her if I see her again. Isn’t it beautiful? Like Fiona and Mia all rolled into one.

  13. Shaunta

    My oldest daughter is named Adrienne. While I love the name now, at the time we gave it to her it wasn’t my first choice. My first choice was Lucy. So, I have called her Lucy or Lu or Lulu for 20 years. Maybe that’s a solution. You and your husband can choose an official name that you both love, and Echo can be her daddy’s nickname for her.

  14. Shann

    Great to hear a positive outcome. My hubby had a similar name fetish but by the time we had our girl she was number three and I had used my fav for number two and he wore me down! I am happy with it now though.

    I am curious if there have been any similar posts from women who Love a name and dad now disagrees? My feeling is that I normally read comments along supporting the mother?? I have definitely read comments about if baby has dads surname mum gets more say etc

    I am wondering if it just my perception or if baby name sites are a girl’s club? Gc in the sense of prioritising mum over dad? Wdyt Swistle?

  15. JS

    My children are Linus, Polly, and Augustine, so I found this post very interesting. Also, my best friend is Brenna.
    We’ve had the Alice/Agnes discussion, but realized that both names are too close both Linus and Gus.

  16. Jessemy

    Oh, thanks for the stellar update! I am enjoying the image of your guy mustering up courage to say “Bear,” and then mumbling his own name at the last second. :)


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