Dear Bruce: How Can I Talk My Son Out of a Name I Hope they Don’t Give My Grandchild?

Q: I hate a name my son is thinking of naming his baby. How can I talk him out of it?

A: If you want to have even the slightest chance of changing your son’s mind, accept the fact that naming their baby is the prerogative of your son and his wife. It’s not your call. Accept the fact that they will pick whatever name they like and that you will live with their choice. (Fighting a passive-aggressive battle about a name you don’t like is juvenile and undermines your credibility as the “adult in the relationship.”)

Next, change the way you frame the issue. Saying you “hate”‘ the name they are considering sets up a cataclysmic life and death battle. Instead, say that the name they seem high on “never would have occurred to you.” Notice how that lightens the stakes and implies that nuclear weapons won’t be used to settle the matter.

The goal of “talking your son out of” the name he likes is highly unrealistic. Lower your sights and lighten your rhetoric accordingly. Describe what you’d like to accomplish as: “introducing a different perspective,” or “planting the seed of a different idea.” See how that language is much less “win/lose”–hence much less “threatening?”

(Time for an anecdote: I had a relative who always had to be “right”–about everything. Although he was smart enough not to verbalize what he was thinking, what was running through his mind as he argued passionately for his point of view was: “I’m right. You’re wrong. You big dummy!” When he started arguing, people sensed he was trying to run over them with a bulldozer and leave them flat as pancakes in the middle of the road. So instead of considering what he had to say, most people would dig in stubbornly and cling to their initial position for dear life.)

Can you see how a “bulldozer strategy” like the one my relative used is the least effective rhetorical strategy possible? And now that I’ve told you this anecdote can you see why using language like “introducing a different perspective” or “planting the seed of a different idea” is much less threatening and confrontational and might open the door to change, if only because your son might be curious to discover what your new “perspective” or “idea” might be.

Now that you’ve increased the odds that you and your son will have a productive discussion, you are ready to provide some new perspectives and new ideas in the  form of blog posts I’ve written about a variety of issues that might be causing a conflict between you and your son. (Psychotherapists call it “bibliotherapy” when they “prescribe” books for their patients to read.  So perhaps we should call this approach “blogotherapy.”

If your son is considering a name that is highly unusual and may come across as strange, weird or uncomfortable, suggest he read “Why Unique Names Can Be a Hassle.” It describes a research project that asked people if they liked their own names. Many respondents who had been given unusual names didn”t like their names for a variety of good reasons.

If your son is considering a traditional name that seems boring or humdrum to you, suggest that he read “How to Find Charming, Uncommon Names for Your Baby.”

If your son has picked a name you think is for “losers” and you would like to steer him towards a name that will help his child succeed in life, suggest he read “How to Come Up With a 5-Star Name  for Your Baby.”

If you think your son has picked an “outrageous” name similar to names selected by celebrities, suggest he read “10 Mistakes That Have Caused The Biggest, Baddest Baby-Naming Blunders.”

If your son has picked a name so popular there are likely to be more than one child with the same name in your grandchild’s kindergarten class, suggest he read “How to Pick a Unique Version of a Popular Name.”

When you realize your son has made up his mind about a first name “that never would have occurred to you,” change the subject and suggest he read “Middle Naming: How to Pick a Useful Middle Name for Your Baby.” (One of the main purposes of a middle name is to act as a “back-up name” should the first name not work out.)

By using a blogotherapy strategy, it is no longer you against your son in a winner-take-all confrontation. You really are providing a new perspective in the form of articles I’ve written which may shed some new light on the subject. And that’s really all you can hope to do.

Dear Bruce: You Said Carola Might Be Hard to Pronounce; I Agree.

Carola: I read your post about “Nameberry’s List of 100 Cool, Unusual Names” with great interest. You singled out Carola (my given name) for comment. You said the name might be difficult to pronounce. I agree.

As a little girl, I was not fond of my given name, Carola. I’m glad people used my nickname, Lola, which was very easy for Americans to pronounce. I was sent to boarding school in Germany after eighth grade for one year. When I arrived, I discovered that my given name, Carola, was not as unusual as it was in the States. There were at least six other girls named Carola at Heimschule Kloster Wald (my boarding school), but I told everyone to call me Lola!

FYI, Carola is pronounced ca-RRRROLE-ah (short a, long o, short a, emphasis on the second syllable–and  the r is rolled). As you can see, this name is difficult  for most  Americans to pronounce properly (unless they speak German fluently).

Bruce: Thanks so much for letting me know how to pronounce Carola. Truth is, I had no idea! In my post about Nameberry’s ”Cool, Unusual Names” article I listed several possible pronunciation options. Unfortunately, all of them were wrong. If I ever  meet someone wearing a badge at a conference announcing her given name as Carola, I will ask her how to pronounce the name before making a fool of myself. Thanks also for letting me know that Carola was a common name in Germany, when you went to school there. Thanks for telling us that you much preferred your nickname, Lola, to your given name, Carola, both in America and in Germany where Carola was a common name; both when you were a child and now that you are an adult.

As you may have noticed, the Nameberry article I was commenting on recommended 100 cool and unusual names which had been given to 10 or less girls in 2012 in the United States. The point of my blog post was that there are likely to be some very good reasons why names are only given to 10 or less people. The idea of claiming that 100 names used by 10 or less people are “cool” seems absurd! Your comments explain why that is true in the case of Carola. It’s a fine name for people living in Germany, but it can  be difficult for Americans to pronounce properly. I get the impression that the only people who call you Carola are the people at the Department of Motor Vehicles, when it’s time for you to renew your license.

It may interest you to visit my “Cool Names for Girls” Page on Why? Because Lola is one of the coolest names on the list (of about 35 names). Based on what you’ve written, I doubt that you would expect to find Carola on that list. And you’d be right. (The only people who think Carola is a cool name are the people at Nameberry.)

Dear Bruce: “Teen Mom” Star Kailyn Lowry Wants a Spanish Name for Her Baby

Why? Her husband is Javi Marroquin. They’re looking for a name that will work well in both English and Spanish. As soon as I read the headline of the article in, I had an answer. One of the most popular blogs I’ve written is about finding names that will work well for couples from different cultures or countries—who may speak different languages. It suggests a strategy that would work well for Kailyn Lowry and her husband Javi Marroquin. Pick place names. Why? No matter what language people speak, most people are familiar with them and can pronounce them. like Francisco (San Francisco) and Rosa (Santa Rosa).

Although I don’t know where Javi Marroquin is from, let’s imagine he’s from California. If so, here are 20 California place names (many that reflect California’s strong Spanish influence). Anyone living in or near those places (whether Anglo or Spanish) will undoubtedly  know how to pronounce them in their native tongue.

California Place Names for Girls: Avalon, Barbara (Santa Barbara), Clara (San Clara), Clarita (San Clarita), Maria (Santa Maria), Monica (Santa Monica), Paula (Santa Paula), Rosa (Santa Rosa), Soledad, Sonoma and Tracy

California Place Names for Boys: Bruno (San Bruno), Carlos (San Carlos), Cruz (Santa Cruz), Fernando (San Fernando, Francisco (San Francisco), Marcos (San Marcos), Mateo (San Mateo), Pablo (San Pablo), Rafael (San  Rafael), Ramon (San Ramon)

If you and your partner are from different countries, ethnic groups or speak different languages–consider place names as a source of names that could work well for you and your partner and your families.

Dear Bruce: What Do You Think of Religious Names Like Messiah?

I’ve written two posts in the last week about a Judge in Tennessee who prevented a mother from naming her baby boy Messiah and a judge in New York who prevented a family from changing their family name to ChristIsKing and naming their boy JesusIsLord ChristIsKing and their girl Rejoice ChristIsKing.

The main focus of the articles was on the legal rationales for preventing parents from using those names. So I’m happy to respond to the question.

There are several problems with the name Messiah. In fact, a boy named Messiah is neither The Messiah nor is he a messiah–any more than naming your child King or Prince would make him a real king or a real prince. So the name is misleading. It may mislead the child into thinking he is something he isn’t. And it will create the impression that the mother thinks her son is The Messiah or a messiah. (When interviewed, Messiah’s mother thought the name went well with the child’s siblings names–which began with the letter “M”).

And because the name is misleading, it makes a silly or ridiculous
impression to others and to the child. People who believe they are The Messiah or a messiah are sent to psychiatrists for treatment. They are deemed not to be in touch with reality. How can a name like Messiah be healthy for a child or an adult? (Likewise, how can a name like King, Queen, Prince, Princess–or IAmTheGreatest! be healthy for a child?)

There are several problems with the names JesusIsLord (as a given name) and ChristIsKing (as a family name). Both “names” are statements of the parents’ religious faith. They are similar in nature to the statements on signs outside churches announcing the title of a Sunday sermon and to bumper stickers pasted on the back fenders of cars. In the same way that Ypsilanti is the name of a town in Michigan, but doesn’t come across as attractive or appropriate as the name for a child (in comparison, say, to Paris or Siena or Madison), statements of belief neither sound like names nor function like names.

And think about what it would be like to have a name that comes across as a “bumper sticker” for a religious belief–which the parents may hold but the baby is in no position to affirm or abandon until he or she is an adult. Many people doubt the faith of their parents and ultimately pick their own religious or spiritual path through life. It seems highly disrespectful of parents to stick a bumper-sticker name like that on a young child. It’s a little like naming a child Liberal or Conservative or Monarchist or Anarchist–names that reflect political or philosophical positions that the baby has no way to understand or affirm until adulthood.

I haven’t mentioned either the embarrassment problem or the teasing and bullying problem that the parents of Messiah and JesusIsLord ChristIsKing and Rejoice ChristIsKing would have caused to rain down on their children every day of their lives–if those names had remained in effect. These names are more than embarrassing; they would put children in a position to suffer hostile words and, possibly “sticks and stones” from people their children know and people their children don’t know.

One final point: I don’t think Rejoice is as objectional a given name as either JesusIsLord or Messiah. Rejoice suggests the parents were happy she was born (like the names Glory or Gloria). Although it doesn’t sound much like a name, it’s more awkward than awful. But when anyone speaks the child’s full name: Rejoice ChristIsKing you’ve got a bumper sticker that would be a tremendous burden for any child to bear.

Dear Bruce: I’d like to Give My Son the Name I Share with My Father. What Do You Think?

I received a phone call from a man named Emmanuel. He had a copy of 100,000+ Baby Names and needed some advice. His father’s name was Emmanuel and he wanted to name his boy Emmanuel. He asked me, “If my father was Emmanuel (senior) and I am Emmanuel (junior), if I named my son Emmanuel, would he be Emmanuel III?

My answer would have been “yes,” but before I answered that question, I asked him: How do you like having the same name as your father? If you found it either demeaning or confusing or unpleasant to share the same name with a close relative, I would recommend against calling your son Emmanuel III.

He said, “At times it was confusing, but I still like the idea of naming my son Emmanuel.” That gave me an opening to provide some helpful advice. I told him that people who were “the third” were sometimes given the nickname Trey (an English name that means “three” or “third”). I told him I thought Trey was a “cool name” and recommended it as a nickname for Emmanuel III. I explained that if you are Emmanuel and your son is called Trey that will reduce confusion when someone calls to speak with “Emmanuel.” He seemed to like that idea.

Because Emmanuel spoke with an accent I asked him where he was from. He told me he was from Ghana and mentioned that both his “English name” (Emmanuel) and his “Ghanian name (Kwesi) were in my name book. (He told me that Kwesi means “born on Sunday.”) Emmanuel explained that in Ghana many people receive a Ghanian name based on the circumstances of their birth (including the day on which they were born). He told me his wife was born on Tuesday and he was very excited to find her Ghanian name in my book too.)

As Emmanuel was thanking me for my help and saying goodbye, I realized that Trey would make a fine middle name for Emmanuel’s son–because it referred to the circumstances of his birth: he would be the third Emmanuel in the family. I’m happy to report that Emmanuel (who had already ended the phone conversation) called me a second time to ask me how to spell Trey.

Dear Bruce, I just found out I’m pregnant. What’s a good way to start thinking about names for my baby?

Q: I just found out I’m pregnant. What’s a good way to start thinking about names for my baby?

A: Your first job is to make a list of names that have special meaning for you and your partner. Look through the Social Security Administration’s top 100 names to see which ones appeal to you. (You’ll find that list in most of of my name books.) List any family names you want to consider. If you speak a foreign language, look at names from that country. If there’s a place you love to visit, think whether the name of that town or mountain or river can work as a name. (I’ve been reading a number of articles which suggest that place-names are increasingly popular with celebrities, but don’t let that dissuade you from using one for your child.) If there’s a food or wine you love, think whether it may work as a name. Consider any name from a song, book, or movie you can’t get out of your mind. (As a kid, I loved the “Three Musketeers, but never considered using Athos, Porthos, Aramis or D’Artagnan for my son.)  Think about historical figures, movie stars, literary characters, or sports heroes you like. It helps to use a name book that provides you with hundreds of interesting lists of names to consider (like 100,000+ Baby Names). List all the names you love.
Next, you need to whittle down your list of potential names by considering which ones are most likely to benefit your child from a practical perspective. Does the name make a positive first impression? Is there a risk it will be misspelled and/or mispronounced? Will people be able to guess the gender of your child when they hear the name? Is the name versatile enough to work in formal and informal occasions? Is the name likely to cause teasing? Does it have a meaning that could be meaningful for your child? Does the name have one or more famous namesakes you like a lot? Consult a name book that provides you with practical information about names and star ratings (like Five-Star Baby Name Advisor) to help you decide which names will work well for your child and which ones may cause practical problems.

It will also help to get feedback about your favorite names from a variety of people whose judgement you respect and who are unlikely to lecture you about what you “should” or “should not” do. (Yes, I’m referring to family members who have a nasty habit of dispensing unwanted advice.) Here’s one last bit of advice that may surprise you: don’t be afraid to ask kids in your neiborhood for their take on some names you are considering. They know what’s cool and not cool at their school.

Dear Bruce, My Family Wants Me to Name My Baby After Relatives. I Don’t Like Their Names.

Q: My family wants to me to name my baby after Uncle Warren or Aunt Zena. I don’t like either name. What should I do?

A: If you check the star ratings for Warren and Zena in 5-Star Baby Name Advisor, you’ll find they both rate 2 stars, which suggests you’re right to be uncomfortable about selecting either name for your baby. If you’re under serious pressure to honor a family member whose name you don’t like, perhaps the best way to do so is to select another name that starts with the same letter. There aren’t many girls’ names starting with Z that are highly rated, but you may want to consider Zoe or Zola, both of which rate 4 stars. Attractive alternatives to Warren that start with W include: William, Wilson, Will, and Wyatt—all of which rate 4 or 5 stars.

However, if you can’t find a name you like that starts with W or Z, you’ll need to take control of the situation by thanking your family members for their thoughtful suggestions and informing them that the choice is ultimately yours to make, not theirs.