How to Name Your Baby Without Getting Divorced

Baby-naming is my very very favorite game. If I didn’t have to take the babies home with me after I named them, and, you know, raise them and stuff, I would have a dozen more, just for the thrill of the sport. What’s beautiful and cool without being too popular or too hipster? Does it go with the other names in the family? Are the appropriate relatives being honored? Do the initials spell something awkward? (My youngest’s initials are SNL. Borderline.)

Those challenges pale in comparison, though, to the difficulty of agreeing on a name with your spouse. Sometimes those differences of opinion are annoying but understandable (e.g., the meanest girl in his 1st grade class was named Molly and he’ll never not associate that name with her).  Other times they are both annoying and troubling from a broader, marital perspective (e.g., his terrible taste in names starts to hint at terrible taste, generally).

Regardless, the baby needs a name, and it’s one of those things that really should be a joint decision. In general I am a person who enjoys winning, but I never felt any glee in an attempt to cram a name down my husband’s throat, even when he was stupidly claiming that the beautiful name Genevieve was “unpronounceable,” or destined for the nickname Jenny.

I’ve gone through this three times now (strangely, I was not given the option to retroactively (re)name my step-son, if you can believe that) and ended up with three names that both my husband and I adore.  It certainly wasn’t easy, though, so I’ve learned a thing or two – about picking one’s battles, about avoiding the clichéd utterance of “Do I not get a say in anything ever??” and making naming conversations actual conversations, rather than a fun game of “you say no to everything I suggest.”

Some tips:

Decide whether you want classic or trendy. I’ve never had a peer named Alice, but I have endured a lifetime of being told “oh! My grandmother’s name is Alice!” — and I’ve been into it, actually. Fortunately, my husband and I have always agreed we wanted more classic/old fashioned names. (Then again, I did float the name “Fox” for our third…and my husband floated the idea of getting remarried.)

Do you care if the name is popular? There’s no right answer to this – and usually the reason a name is popular is because it’s a fabulous name. But it’s an easy way to cut down a list, so try to get on the same page as to how much weight you give recent Social Security Administration data.

How important is it that the name be a family name? If the answer is anywhere north of “somewhat,” it can be a great way to develop a relatively short and non-contentious list.

Bonus tip: If you disagree about the family name that’s been floated, ask more about the potential namesake. This won’t always help, but in my case it usually went something like this:

Banana? What an…interesting name! Tell me about Uncle Banana. Were you close? Was he beloved?

— Oh, well…no. He was kind of a dick. And a racist.

Problem solved!

Make a blanket decision about nicknames. Do you want a name that can (or likely will) be shortened? (AND JUST FYI, GENEVIEVE DOES NOT SHORTEN TO JENNY.) Or is it important that the child be called what he or she is actually named? Or do you want to name your child one thing and call her something else? My daughter is named Elizabeth and called Tess, and to this day I don’t know what black magic allowed us to agree on that. (Spoiler alert: wine.)

Establish ground rules. We got to a point where the deal was one of us could only veto a suggested name if we had another to suggest in its stead.

And, once you’ve at long last agreed, however tentatively:

Do not solicit the feedback of others.  A family member who shall not be named, upon hearing we were planning to name our baby Benjamin if it was a boy, said “oh you can’t do that. Ben Leiter?? Bin Laden???

You see? Good.



Alice Leiter is a recovering lawyer living in Washington, D.C. with her husband and four children. Her hobbies include making fun of her family on Instagram, watching Bravo, and worrying that people are mad at her. She hates when grown women call her “Mama.” Reach her at alice@aliceleiter.com.