Our Guide to Baby Naming Etiquette
Admit it: You’ve had a list of unique baby names ready since long before you took your first pregnancy test. (If you’re not already raising an Apollo or Kiara.) And if you’re called Niamh or Sanghamitra, you’ve probably got only one criterion for your baby name: that it doesn’t cause the lifelong torture your name has.
Baby naming is fraught, and in the end, someone will always think you should have gone in a different direction. An in-law will always have strong opinions about the name you chose, a sibling will always be annoyed the baby isn’t named after Peppa Pig, and your friends will remind you of every annoying person you’ve ever met who has the same name. So as long as you’re not naming your child after a fruit or insect genus, you can go with your top choice and ignore the dissenting opinions, right?
Just like keeping your elbows off the table or sipping your tea silently, there’s unspoken social etiquette around baby names. And don’t risk any missteps, because this is one social mistake that can’t be so easily undone. Here’s your guide to this potential minefield.
Just ’cause you’ve heard it, doesn’t mean you can use it.
So, your friend once told you her top choices for a baby girl name. This was eight years ago in college, and she hasn’t had any kids yet. But now that you’re expecting, you can’t get it out of your head — can you use it? No, unless you want to be name-called a ‘name-stealer’ for the rest of your life. If you really, really want it (what are you, 5?), then ask — and be prepared to offer something pretty big in exchange. (The crappy name you just found on Google isn’t an acceptable substitute.) Or, be prepared to lose all goodwill with that friend; when people tell you their name choices, it’s usually to make sure you don’t use them.
Oh, and backups are not up for grabs either.
Indecisive (or well-prepared) folks often pick out two options for their baby and use only the one that feels right. If that’s your friend, it doesn’t mean he no longer has the ‘rights’ to the second name. Whether he’s planning to have more kids is immaterial; if you have a smidge of self-respect, consider it out of bounds (unless you ask, see above). Unused baby names are closely guarded treasures that can be passed on to future (unexpected) children, nieces, or nephews.
Don’t name your child after your friend’s 3-year-old.
Naming your baby after a particularly remarkable adult is a nice way of honoring that person (though, man, that’s a lot of pressure. You may want to consider asking if your friend/uncle/favorite chaiwalla is up for the task of being a lifelong role model). However, naming your baby after a 3-year-old cousin is just a barely concealed attempt at name-stealing (and pressing your luck on legacies — that kid could grow up to be anything from a coke addict to a rocket scientist, you don’t know). So tread carefully. A good rule of thumb is by generation, which means a gap of 10 to 15 years between your kid’s birth year and that of the person whom they’re named after.
Suggesting an ex-lover’s name is super weird.
Even if you’re inspired by the naming tradition in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, we’re hoping your friend will veto this one. (And if they don’t, that’s probably a red flag.) We can’t imagine any well-adjusted person wanting to remember romantic exclamations every time she’s trying to get her child’s attention. It could be the Helen of Troy of names (or literally Helen of Troy), but unless the ex is an astronaut who died tragically in outer space, reconsider.
Naming a pet with someone else’s baby name is also stealing.
We recently heard an unfortunate story about a couple who let slip their future baby girl’s name at a dinner party, only to be greeted a few months later by a friend’s new dog, who answered to the same name. You might be laughing (we were, a little), but imagine how furious you’d be if you were that couple. You could choose to look at the silver lining — baby Tara will always have a furry companion with whom she feels kinship. But in the end, you’ve caused someone else’s kid to be named after a dog. Don’t be that person.
Don’t be the Robin Hood of names.
Guess what? Stealing a baby name on behalf of someone else is also stealing! This goes for posting your friend’s favorite names on chat rooms, or mentioning those names in groups of expectant, curious parents. Once someone tells you “their” names, consider those names taken off the consideration market for the wider circle of friends. It’s just good manners.
Follow these rules and you should be spared the secret wrath of close friends. If you are the potential name-stealer, beware: You may think no one you know is so uptight as to care about these minor perceived slights, but trust us — best friendships have crumbled forever in the face of baby-naming drama. And remember, if you want to avoid any name-stealing of your own, there’s really only one time-tested strategy: Tell no one your choice.