While expecting her second baby, Courtney Owens of Los Angeles thought long and hard about what her daughter-to-be’s name should be. She wanted a moniker that honored her late grandfather and his adventurous spirit, and she wanted it to fit well with her older daughter’s name, River Mae. During a datenight late in the pregnancy, she and her husband gleefully decided what they’d call their wee one: Wylder June.
At first, the name seemed perfect. The baby’s birth certainly looked to indicate Wylder was an apt designation for their newbie. “Her birth was crazy. I broke my pelvis,” says Owens. “Wild birth, baby Wylder.”
However, doubt set in almost immediately after the birth certificate was signed. “When the nurses [came] into my hospital room and I had to repeat her name three times, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach that this was not it. Then, as she started to wake up and I got to know her … I just could not look at her and call her Wylder.”
Baby name regret is more common than one might think. One BabyCenter survey found up to 11 percent of parents regret the names they picked for their babies; of those, more than a third would pick a different name if given a do-over. Considering that nearly 4 million babies are born in the U.S. in an average year, that’s a lot of mamas and papas dealing with name-related remorse.
But when you think about it, it really isn’t that surprising. Picking the perfect appellation for someone you’ve never met is a hard job. Aside from the kicking and rolling patterns of your in-utero wonder, you have no idea what the little person brewing in your belly is going to be like— yet you’re to assign her a title she’ll be toting for the rest of her life. (No pressure!) You weed through ideas, make the decision, and then can’t help but wonder, Is this right? Will this name fit my kid? Will she hate it when she’s older?
Although there’s no foolproof way to pick a name—the options are endless,
as are the opinions and preferences of those selecting—putting in a fair amount of effort on the front end can help prevent sorrow on the back end. Sometimes, though, you’re still going to end up feeling like you made the wrong call.
Like Owens, Elissia Perez of Tampa, Florida, settled on a name during her pregnancy. Upon finding out she was carrying a boy, her heart immediately latched on to the name Zion. However, she says, “I was always convinced that my child should have a very ‘safe’ first name, so we decided on Zion as a middle name.” Friends and family members further convinced Perez that Zion would make a better second name than first. So, Lucas Zion it was … until it wasn’t.
“When I saw him, I felt like his name should be Zion. I didn’t see him as a Lucas,” Perez confesses. She was sad that she’d “played it safe” and let others’ views sway her from what her instinct had told her was the right name.
Her husband had preferred Zion as the first name all along, so when Perez finally confessed a few weeks after the birth that she wanted to officially make a change, the couple quickly agreed it was the right thing to do. Sure, they could’ve kept the name the same and simply called the baby Zion—plenty of people go by their middle names—but to Perez, it was about righting a wrong. “I felt I owed it to him to make the change.”
So the baby previously known as Lucas Zion legally became Zion Lucas—and mom and dad couldn’t be happier with the change.
What’s in a name?
Often when a parent suffers from baby name regret, it stems from the same place that some of Perez’s originated: other people’s opinions. It’s a reason that many people don’t share their name choices until the baby arrives. The onslaught of judgment can make a gal (particularly an expectant hormonal one) question everything she believes in.
“Don’t be too influenced by other people’s opinions,” advises baby-naming expert Linda Rosenkrantz, co-founder of Nameberry.com and co-author of 10 baby-naming books. “This is your child, your decision.”
It’s true that too many cooks in the kitchen can make picking the right name a daunting task. Whether your mother- in-law is lobbying for Harvey Charles IV or your co-worker keeps wrinkling her nose at Maeve, you’ll have to overcome some unwanted input anytime you share baby’s future title. But ultimately you and your partner have earned the right to call the shot, and you’re certainly the people best equipped to make the choice.
Now, although the opinions of others shouldn’t be a deciding factor, the caveat is that you should consider how the name will be perceived by the general public. Whether it’s fair or not, your baby’s name will often be the first impression she makes on those around her, from teachers to potential employers. In fact, a National Bureau of Economic Research study found that job applicants with unusual or ethnically diverse names are 50 percent less likely to get a callback for an interview —that’s kind of a big deal! So, don’t let Aunt Sally’s snide remarks deter you from Clementine, but maybe consider her future resume before calling her Ice Cream.
Name that character
If you’ve settled on a name but are second-guessing your decision, fret not. Even if the ink on the birth certificate is long dry, changes can be made should you realize while bonding with your babe that perhaps Bonnie wasn’t the best fit after all.
Both Owens and Perez attest to the name-changing process being a simple one. “I went to the courthouse, filled out a form, paid a fee, and now it’s being published for four weeks in the local newspaper. Then we’ll have a hearing, and after that, it’s done!” says Owens. “I was thinking it would be hard and maybe not even worth it, but it’s been so easy.”
Rosenkrantz’s advice: “If you’re going to make a legal change, do it as soon as possible—before you and the child get too used to it.” It’s much easier for a newborn to adjust to a new name than a 4-year-old.
The procedure varies from state to state, but your first step is always to call or visit your local county court to find out exactly what you need to do to make the change happen. (Expect a fee, although it’s typically a modest one.) The hardest part of the process might just be the emotional aspect. “I felt I failed my baby,” admits Perez.
“I was so scared to tell people,” says Owens. She also questioned whether a change was what she really wanted. “I thought, ‘Oh, it’s just the hormones. I’m sleep-deprived,’” Owens recalls. But when the feelings of remorse didn’t go away, she knew she’d made a mistake. And so Wylder June became Lyla June, which everyone agrees is a better fit.
To help you settle on a name that you won’t end up wishing to change, Owens offers up some advice: “Say it out loud, all day every day. Let it roll around in your mouth and in public and hear other people say it. Practice with it! It was not until I started saying it out loud that I was like, Oh no.” (Pro tip: Use the name when you place an order at the coffee shop or deli; you’ll have the opportunity to hear it called out in a crowd, and you can see how you feel about it in a real-world setting.)
Also keep in mind that you don’t have to stick with a name you chose during pregnancy if it doesn’t feel right. “Spend a few hours in the hospital with the baby trying it out before you sign the birth certificate,” suggests Owens. “A name is such an honor, and it’s something that you give your child that lasts forever. You want her to feel confident when she says it and when she hears it.”