Stop Arguing: Try a Win-Win Approach to Baby-Naming

“Getting to Yes” is the name of Roger Fisher and William Ury’s classic guide to win-win negotiation. It’s a brilliant and highly efficient way to reach agreement on any topic under discussion, and avoid ineffective and annoying argumentation (or worse: expensive and time-consuming lawsuits).

Fisher and Ury’s breakthrough concept isn’t only for diplomats from different countries or lawyers for multinational corporations. You can use it to resolve any kind of dispute, including those that may arise during the process of searching for your baby’s name.

If you haven’t read their book, here’s the basic idea: Instead of “debating” your “opponent” so you can “win” an argument and your opponent will “lose,” think of negotiation as a way to help both “partners” or “collaborators” in the “discussion” gain something of value and limit their losses.

Notice that the “rules of engagement” in win-win discussions are very different from “win-lose” disputes. If both participants “win,” it’s the kind of “negotiation” that’s perfect for conversations between parents about baby names. If one parent “loses” when the other parent “wins,” how can that result possibly be productive for either the parents or the child?

Rather than setting out to “beat” the other parent into “submission” (or get “beat” if your argument isn’t powerful enough), why not start the discussion by setting some goals that both of you share?

For that purpose, here are some questions that can help both parents reach an agreement about the purpose of the naming process and how it will be conducted.

Shared Goals to Consider:

  • Would you both like to wind up with a name that reflects well on your child?
  • Would you both like to find a name your child will enjoy and want to keep?
  • Would you both be willing to screen a name under consideration for “user-friendliness” to make sure that it won’t be too hard to spell or pronounce, will be versatile, won’t create uncomfortable gender confusion, will make a positive impression, and won’t come across as dated, archaic, weird or embarrassing?
  • Would you both be willing to pick a middle name that provides a reasonable “fallback” in case the first name doesn’t work out for some reason?
  • Would you both agree that the selected name must be one that both parents like a lot and look forward to using?
  • Finally, would you both promise not to argue on behalf of (or worse, insist on) any names your partner doesn’t like?

By agreeing that the most important goals of the name search are to find a name that both parents and the child will enjoy using and to not argue about names one partner doesn’t like, you can happily start looking for a name that will be chosen based on collaboration and consensus.

I suggest you sign and date a “Shared Goals” document that can include some or all of the items on my list above, plus any other goals you both share. Make sure you keep it in your baby name book or with the list of names you’re making for mutual consideration.

Now that we’ve pretty much outlawed the kind of language and behaviors that are likely to produce conflict rather than consensus, let’s take a look at some factors from other sources that may provoke conflict: family requests or obligations.

  • If you are asked to honor a family member who has an awful name, try selecting a wonderful name that starts with the same letter instead.
  • If you are asked to honor a religious tradition (and you subscribe to that tradition), search long and hard for a way to do it that will be beneficial to your child and that you can both agree on.
  • If you are asked to honor an ethnic tradition, know that there are terrific names in every ethnicity, and make sure to select a form of the name that will not cause your child discomfort while living in a multicultural environment.

In dealing with any of the above requests or obligations, make sure to stand up for the goals you have both agreed to. No matter who claims the right to tell you what name to pick, explain that you have both signed an agreement to choose a name that both parents will like and child will like. If either parent dislikes the name or believes it’s not in the best interest of the child, the suggestion is vetoed, kaput, fini, terminado.

That little speech will have the liberating effect of freeing you up to pick a name that you’ll both be excited to call your baby—and that your child is gonna love.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

Dear Bruce: What do you think of selecting a unique name for a child?

Dear Bruce,

You were quoted on Good Morning America as saying, “Many parents believe that if they pick a unique name, their child will turn out to be a unique and special person.” What do you think of selecting a unique name for a child?


Bruce: Common sense plays a key role when parents consider selecting unique names for their children. Attractive, unique names like Sienna or Vail are both memorable and likely to project positive images. On the other hand, unique names like 4 Real or ESPN are likely to come across as ludicrous and detrimental to any children given those names. In addition to silly and/or negative images they project, these examples also expose other problems: spelling, pronunciation, and gender association confusion.

There are over a hundred thousand names in my book, 100,000+ Baby Names, and there’s no limit to the number of names that parents can come up with while looking at a world atlas or encyclopedia. But the key to finding a unique name that’s going to be a plus for the child is the good taste and judgment of the parents as well as the friends and family with whom they consult.

If you’d like to submit a question, please leave it in the comments section here.  

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

Jessica Simpson Plans to Name Her Expected Baby Ace

I’ve never reviewed a name that has been leaked (or tweeted) to the celebrity weeklies before the baby was born. But Ace is such an intriguing name, I thought it might be fun to weigh in.

Ace has a Latin origin; it means “unity.” In poker, the ace is unique in that it can be either the lowest card (a one) or the highest card (even higher than a king).

I wasn’t surprised to discover that Ace makes a positive impression, but I was somewhat surprised to find that Ace comes across as a nice guy. Obviously Ace causes no spelling or pronunciation problems, and it’s usually used for boys, so no gender confusion either. However, Ace isn’t particularly versatile. There’s no “formal” version of the name and no “informal or familiar” version either.

The best-known “famous namesake” is Ace Ventura, pet detective (a humorous character played by Jim Carrey), so my guess is the name has a humorous vibe. I also connect the name with “Top Gun” pilots and poker players. The name has a slightly retro vibe to it, too. I can picture Humphrey Bogart calling a cabbie who knows his way around San Francisco “Ace.”

When it comes to naming Ace’s future siblings, the poker-deck theme would be lots of fun (for pundits)—because Ace would be the first in a card-deck family including Deuce, Trey, Jack, Queen and King.

If pushed to pronounce a verdict, I’d say, pretty good: One thumb up.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
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If Only Hugh Grant and Tinglan Hong Had Read @LouDeNoms’ Tweet Before Naming Their Baby Boy Felix

I read about Felix, Hugh Grant and Tinglan Hong’s new baby boy, in “People” magazine about two weeks after I spotted this tweet:

Of course, I don’t believe for a minute that Grant and Hong hate their new baby. On the contrary, Grant claims he adores both his new son and his one-year old daughter Tabitha “to an uncool degree,” and I believe him.

If Grant and Hong had read Lou’s tweet, they might have wondered why on earth Lou’s acquaintance had such an unhappy relationship with his name. I wondered myself—and this is what I discovered:

  • Felix is a Latin name which means “fortunate” or “happy.” That’s rare—a name with a positive meaning; it can’t be the problem.
  • One association people have with Felix is “Felix the Cat,” a cartoon character popular in the 1920s, which gives the name a “dated” vibe. Take a look at an image of Felix the Cat and you’ll see why his popularity faded when the era of silent films ended. But this dated image couldn’t possibly have caused Lou’s acquaintance to hate his parents for naming him Felix.
  • Probably the best-known famous namesake for Felix is “The Odd Couple’s” Felix Unger, the fussy, fastidious, neat-freak who suffered from (undiagnosed) OCD and almost drove his slobby sidekick Oscar Madison crazy. (In the movie, Felix and Oscar were played by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau; in the TV series, Felix and Oscar were played by Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.) I think when people hear Felix, they picture Felix Unger vacuuming up the mess made by Oscar Madison under a card table as he stuffs a salami sandwich into his mouth with one hand while fanning his poker cards with the other.

If I knew, in utero, that my parents had named me Felix, I would have insisted on Jack as a middle name before I agreed to come out of hiding and meet the obstetrician.

It all goes to show ya’: Pay attention to what baby-name bloggers write—or ya’ might wind up with a kid who thinks you hate him.

My Verdict: Two thumbs down.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.