Everyone hates my favorite name.

It’s almost shocking how often an expectant parent says this. They’re months – or maybe weeks, or even days – away from welcoming a new child. Or worse. Their new baby is already here, in their arms. And someone they like and trust has just declared their carefully chosen name awful. Possibly compared it to child abuse.

How should you react?

First, a word to all of us. We might be truly surprised by a new child’s name. Astonished, even. But it’s absolutely essential to focus on offering our congratulations and move on.

Are their exceptions? A few. But they are rain-of-toads level rare, friends.

Now let’s assume you’re on the receiving end of negative comments.

We’ll talk about what to actually say in a minute. Right now let’s focus on what to do with all of that, erm … input.

CONSIDER ANY USEFUL INFORMATION.

99 times out of 100, others’ comments will not be useful.

But it’s worth pausing to consider if this is That One Time.

  • “Francesca Anne Riley-Thompson is a great name! But what about her initials?”
  • “Oh no, that name means (something unsavory) in XYZ language.” Note: applies ONLY if native speakers are a big part of your life – like your parents – and/or you’re likely to spend time in a country where XYZ language is spoken. Discovering a Wiktionary entry for a language you’ve never heard spoken? Does NOT count here.
  • “That’s the same name as the woman who broke up your parents’ marriage.” Family dynamics can be wild, and there really are stories like this and … whoa. It’s one of the few solid cases for re-considering a name. To be clear, “That’s the name of the boy who bullied me in third grade” does not meet the same standard. This applies only to life-altering, ground-shaking kinds of circumstances.

Let’s assume this is garden-variety No! You can’t name your baby that! Possibly from a chorus of your mom, siblings, mother-in-law, and other people close to you.

UNDERSTAND THAT THE COMMENT IS ABOUT THE SPEAKER’S PREFERENCE.

We all express ourselves differently. You’ve probably put your foot in your mouth, right? It’s possible that the person’s reaction was just flat-out surprise.

But it’s also possible that this person truly believes they’re doing you a kindness expressing their personal dislike of Liam/Bodhi/Flynn or Magdalena/Florence/Presley.

In that case, pause and take a deep breath. No matter how that person framed their comment, hear this instead: I personally dislike that name and would not choose it for my child.

Then remind yourself that everyone orders a different drink at a coffee shop, and move on. Their preferences won’t affect your choices anymore than my loving an Americano first thing in the morning means you have to give up your oat milk latte.

IS IT JUST GENERATIONAL?

Maybe our parents are not supposed to love their grandchildren’s names.

Think about it: do you wear the same shoes, order the same thing at restaurants, like the same books and movies? Lifestyles have changed, and odds are there’s plenty of overlap, even as our parents age. But it’s far from 100%.

Back in the 1990s, parents were naming their daughters Jessica and Ashley, Sarah and Lauren. Their sons were Tyler and Brandon, Austin and Nicholas. Some of those names remain classics. None of them remain in the US Top 25.

We tend to perceive the names we’re most familiar with as normal, but there’s no such thing as a normal name.

Styles change. If you and your mom don’t have the five same favorite songs? Why would you expect to rank the same top five names?

ASK IF YOU’RE COMFORTABLE WITH THE PITFALLS OF AN UNUSUAL NAME.

Sometimes your loved one’s reaction is genuine surprise because you’ve chosen a truly surprising name.

Something beyond the US Top 1000. Possibly something seriously old school: Agatha, Cedric. Maybe something that’s not exactly a name: Reef, Dove. In those cases, your loved ones’ reactions might be a preview of the wider world. Which is fine! If we choose unusual names, they’re supposed to stand out.

If you do have a moment of panic, review this list about the pitfalls of unusual names. Odds are you can overcome them. But it’s better to be prepared in advance.

EVALUATE: IS THE NAME’S STORY SO STRONG THAT YOU DON’T MIND COMMENTS?

One last thing to take away from that less-than-ideal reaction: what’s the story behind the name?

If you chose Renegade or Thorfinn or Capone, then yes – others are going to ask about that name. Maybe you’re big X Ambassadors (or Jeep) fans. Thorfinn might come from your favorite anime. And Capone? It could be a family name on his side.

Whatever the reason you’ve settled on something truly different, if your reasons are solid? Then a raised eyebrow won’t trouble you much. But if others’ reaction has you sweating? Sit with that feeling a bit. It’s perfectly fine to proceed, but you’ll feel better if you know why you made an unconventional choice.

RECOGNIZE THAT TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING.

Now that we’ve covered how to re-frame our thoughts, what do you say?

In most cases, if you can shrug it off, you should. Because most of the time, loved ones are reacting negatively to names that are reasonably mainstream by our standards … but would have been eye-poppingly strange in the 1970s.

That’s fine! Give them time, and it’s very likely that they’ll come around. By your toddler’s third birthday, you’ll hear your mom whispering to her sister: You know, I thought Olive was such an old lady name when they chose it, but now I can’t imagine her as anything else!

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HAVE A SCRIPT.

If you know that resistance is likely? Decide what you’ll say in advance. Repeat. And repeat again as necessary. Something like:

  • We decided family names weren’t right for us. (Or the opposite: it’s a family name of someone we love.)
  • It’s a name that means a lot to (my partner) and me.
  • I know it might seem different to you, but (Everly/Waylon/Valentina/Kai) is a very common name for kids now.

HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR.

Everyone has an opinion. Welcome to parenting!

And maybe just, well, life.

It’s incredibly hard when you’re sleep-deprived and trying to figure out parenting for the first time – which can be as much stress as bliss.

But if you can turn to your partner – or your sister or close friend – and laugh about your great-aunt’s rude comment that Aurora is a stripper name or Sebastian will be bullied over his weird name? If you can find a sliver of humor in such rude and judgy comments, then it will help.

REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT.

You’ve done the work! And chances are that not everyone hates your favorite name. But if you’ve chosen something a little different, have that script ready to go and be prepared to repeat, repeat, repeat.

Years ago, I met my very first Sylvie. The name had never been given to more than 100 girls in the US in a single year at that point. When her mom introduced her new baby, I gasped. “Sylvie?”

She didn’t hesitate.

“It’s an old family name.”

I told her – honestly – that I thought it was gorgeous. But she’d clearly gotten reactions before, and was ready to go. A master class in responding to any reaction.

DRAW BOUNDARIES IF NECESSARY.

In a perfect world, all of our families would be loving and supportive.

But we’re human and flawed and it just isn’t so.

It’s perfectly fine to declare a topic off-limits. To tell our parents or siblings or anyone in our lives that our baby is named, thanks, and we’re not open to any further discussion. It’s okay to end a phone call if your mom is still crushed you didn’t name your son John after your dad. And it’s (probably) fine to tell your sister-in-law that Charlotte is a great name for her future daughter, but that you’re happy with Emryn, thanks.

KNOW THAT YOU HAVE ALLIES.

When the news broke Kim Kardashian and Kanye West named their third child Chicago, I was with a friend. Her response? “Shut up! That is SO cool.”

To be clear, my friend is a professional woman with a (more conventionally named) child of her own. She’s stylish and fun and her work means she spends lots of time with teenagers. Would she have named her daughter Chicago? Nope. But she immediately got it – the meaning, the vibe, the nickname. And as the internet erupted with criticism? Plenty of others shared my friend’s reaction: surprise, but also delight. A sort of “I wouldn’t do this, but I love that you did” energy.

And that’s every bit as real as the uglier reactions, and potentially more powerful.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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2 Comments

  1. Our daughter has a fairly “normal” first name (although some would consider it a nickname) and an unusual middle name. My husband and I knew our families would push back on whatever name we chose because everyone always has such strong opinions. So, we decided not to announce her name until she was born, which saved us months of arguments. And when we introduced her, we were a united front. We liked the shortened first name and explained the story behind the middle. Some people balked a bit, but they got over it soon enough, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

  2. When keeping the name a secret, you certainly worry about being in an Amy Schumer situation, but being reminded that it’s a 1 in 100 chance that criticisms will be valid is a relief! My parents shared their choice for my name before birth and then changed it because of the feedback, which they ended up regretting later. So they are very supportive of keeping the name a secret before birth. I think most reasonable people are more likely than you’d expect to make negative comments before the baby is here and legally named, but if they make a comment once baby is already born, they are likely not reasonable to begin with