A World of Regret

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A few weeks ago several articles were published on the subject of “baby name regret” or “name remorse”. Although none of the studies appears to be scientific, depending on the article you read, the various claims suggest that anywhere between 25% and 50% of parents are rethinking their chosen name. Given the unprecedented variety of names in the American repertoire today, we were not altogether surprised. However, we were astonished by the number of parents who may be unhappy with their choices in recent years. It’s understandable, of course, since we agree with Sigmund Freud who said: “A human being’s name is a principal component in his person, perhaps a piece of his soul.” A person’s name is usually the first impression they give in society, even sight-unseen. Not only do names carry a certain impression, but people really do form judgments solely based on another person’s name. What parent doesn’t want to provide their child with the best possible outcome in life? So why in the world would they find themselves regretting this choice – in essence, the very first choice they make on behalf of their child?  If we are regretting that choice, we’re not exactly off to a good start, are we?
 
It seems there are a couple theories behind why regret is on the rise, some of which we are speculating on our own.
 
“The name I chose is much too popular!” Many parents are citing this reason for their name remorse. Isabella, Emma and Sophia are the three most popular girl names in America today. Among the most commonly used names for boys are Jacob, Ethan and Michael. Parents may regret appearing too trendy or commonplace; perhaps they don’t think they were “cool” or different enough in their name selection. Or they’re bothered by the three other Isabellas in their daughter’s kindergarten class, denying her the individuality they feel she deserves.  We say relax. Just go back to the three most popular girl names in 1980 (Jennifer, Amanda and Jessica) or boy names (Michael, Christopher and Jason). The overly popular name you chose should age just as nicely. The Ï‹ber-popularity of a name is simply a definer of its generation. Popular names usually have staying power and social familiarity, so it’s generally a choice you shouldn’t regret.
 
“I went overboard on uniqueness.” This is another commonly cited reason for regret, and one we have to agree with. Americans pride themselves on being individualistic but here’s the irony: everyone is trying to be unique. And when everyone is doing it, it’s no longer original. Names lose their distinction when they are just another example in the race to be different. Just take the example of  “Nevaeh” (that’s “heaven” spelled backwards). Completely invented early this century, Nevaeh is now one of the highest ranking female names. So now it has the distinction of being both “unique” and “popular”, a combination that is causing quite a backlash. Nevaeh is often cited in surveys as one of the “most hated” baby names today (if you don’t believe us, just troll the naming forums out there). In general, by being too unique, you inadvertently hamper your child with the problem of having to correct the pronunciation and spelling of his or her name throughout his lifetime. Most people we meet with weird sounding or unorthodox spellings of a name claim it is a nuisance. So in your effort to be unique, consider how unique your child wishes to be.
 
“My spouse or partner rejected the name I really wanted.” Ok, so this is another reason apparently cited by parents of regretful names. This is not a complaint we agree with, though, so we won’t be breaking out our violins for you, sorry. In our opinion both parents should have a voice in the naming process and both parents should agree. Most fathers are congenial and easy-going about the mother’s wishes, but if either spouse disagrees, they should be heard. Your child is a product of both of you. Avoid names that start out in conflict. It’s like a bad omen. But don’t willy-nilly to another name quite so fast either. This is why it’s important to have a list of options, all of which excite and interest you. Be thoughtful, so when you get shut down, you have another great name waiting in the wings. This will help avoid future regret.
 
“The name I picked doesn’t fit with my child’s personality.” Be patient, we say to this grievance. Most people seem to have a name that fits just perfectly with the essence of who they are, so allow your kid the time to grow into your chosen moniker.  Chances are you made the right choice. It isn’t to say you made a mistake; after all, to err is human. Only you increase your chances of picking the wrong name if you don’t go through a well thought out process. You’ll avoid this regret if you understand the potential for this regret. In other words, steer clear from names that make huge statements or send loud messages. For instance, you name your daughter Patience but she has the patience of a gnat. Good God, what have I done? Choose names with flexible meanings so your child has more room to grow into them.  This complaint makes us think of Jessica Simpson. On the one hand, she hopes her daughter will prefer Christian Louboutin shoes over Nikes, and then she chooses Maxwell for her name (Maxwell, by the way, is generally accepted as a boy’s name). If she does get the girly-girl she probably wants, then why select such a masculine name? Although celebrities rarely admit regret.
 
“I just regret the name I chose. Period.” Psychologists say that there are simply too many choices available to parents today. Baby naming has become a cottage industry for book authors and website owners. Each new book or website seems to “one-up” the other in terms of the number of baby names they contain between their pages or house in their databases. Popular baby name blogger Laura Wattenberg cites American psychologist Barry Schwartz’s book “The Paradox of Choice” which argues why “less is more”. In other words, American consumers (including parents who are “consumers” of names) are simply given too many choices, and this leads to paralysis, anxiety and doubt.
 
Look, at the end of the day, a name is a permanent brand loaded with a ton of social class implications (like it or not). Although this topic can often be controversial given the sensitivity parents (especially mothers) feel about their name choices, you can’t deny that you are essentially “branding” your child for life. You have a short timeframe, if you’re full of serious regret, to go through the legal process of a name change (probably before your child is two). And adult children have the legal option to change their own names, right? But we want to avoid this at all costs. You want to do right by your child so what’s the best way to increase your chances of making the right decision? Consider the following steps:
 
1.    Be clear on your goal. This involves both emotion and intellect. Your goal may be to give your child a “normal” name that’s either popular and current today, or traditional and time-tested over the years.
2.    Evaluate the importance of your goal. Let’s say your goal is to be unique. Really consider how important this goal is to you. Are you just trying to “stand-out” and be cool for your own narcissistic reasons, or do you really pride yourself on individualism. And will your child?
3.    Collect and organize your options. Pick names that are consistent with your goal, and then throw in a couple that go outside your goal. Just for perspective.
4.    Assess your options against your goal. Your list of names and your positive response to them should validate your goal. You should have a strong sense of confidence, or else you may be on the wrong track.
5.    Choose the winning option. Be thoughtful. Be authentic to yourself. Don’t just think about yourself; think about your child. Chances are, you won’t make a mistake you’ll regret later.
 
In summary, we’ll just say this. Some people might talk behind your back or roll their eyes at your name choice. If you know who you are, and are a confident, self-assured person, you won’t care. Someone, somewhere, at some time will find something negative to say about your child’s name.  That’s their problem. Not yours.

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