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?
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.
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!