Baby Name Advice Column: Ask the Name Lady Baby Name Blog

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We Don't Want an Homage!

Oh no! My husband and I have already decided on the name we want to give our second son. It’s a three-part name (two middle), all family names that are important to us. I just discovered today that a trending author has that exact name—all three names, and in the same order.

I dislike the author's works and don't want people to think we are naming our baby after this author. Is there any hope? I'm not a fan of switching the middle names, but might if it would create enough of a distance. Any advice?

- Not a fantasy nerd.

The "accidental namesake" is a slippery naming dilemma. The strength of the pseudo-homage depends on the particulars of the name, and on the celebrity's place in our culture. Not knowing the exact name you're grappling with, here are some general guidelines:

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Will These Names Trigger "Baditudes"?

People have such baditudes towards twins that match in any way—April and May, Kaylee and Bailey, Chrystal and Jewl, whatever. My twin set names weren't something over-thought or planned to be cutesy, but I can see how they'd be taken that way. As soon as I knew I was pregnant, the baby just felt like a 'Lily.' So when they found two little angels on the ultrasound, what immediately popped into my head was 'Violet.' Yes, yes, I can hear you groaning. But this also felt right.

Please try to understand. I can't not name baby A Lily; I'd grown attached. But it seems wrong to have a flower/not flower set. Should I name my girls something that doesn't feel this 'right' because of the bad attitude people have and the way it could affect their own self image?

- Flower Mama

"Baditude"? That's a new one on me, but the negative reaction to matching twin names is familiar. The usual concern about calling twins Hope and Faith or Tyler and Taylor is that parents are thinking of the twins as a set rather than as two individuals, and encouraging others to do the same.

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Shouldn't I Get Custody of the Name?

Have you ever heard of a couple where both parents kept their names but the kids took the mom's? That seems to make the most sense, at least in the 98% of couples where in the case of a breakup the kids go with mom, but I don't know that it's ever done. People get prenups, why not hedge against sharing an ex's name too?

- Bet-Hedging Mom

Yes,  I do know couples who chose to give their kids mom's surname. I also know couples who took mom's surname as their full family name; who merged their birth surnames into a new creation; and who gave mom's surname to their daughters and dad's to their sons. I encourage every couple to think broadly about what they want their names to be.

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I Don't Want To Be Rude!

Many people choose unique or unusual names for their children, or names that can be pronounced in different ways. Then there are ethnic names with combinations of letters that don't normally occur in English. I don’t judge, but as a substitute teacher, I daily face the dilemma of taking a stab at the correct pronunciation or just asking outright. Which tactic is more polite?

--Tongue-twisted Teacher

Substitute teaching is a special challenge, and figuring out how to say your students’ names is the first hurdle.  Miss on the name and you're fighting an uphill battle for your students' respect and attention for the rest of the period. I salute you for taking the names seriously.

I believe it’s never impolite to ask about an unfamiliar name.  (Well, hardly ever!) It saves you both of you the potential embarrassment of a wrong guess. Just as importantly, you’re showing courtesy and caring by making the effort to get the students' names right.

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Are These Names Alive With the Sound of Music?

My fiancé and I are heading to India in two months to pick up our newly adopted daughter, and we still aren't sure what to name her! We both adore the name Birgitta and think it fits her perfectly. The only problem is our other daughter, who we adopted from Russia, is named Liesl…and both names happen to be two of the von Trapp girls in The Sound of Music! (Neither of us had ever seen the musical and had no idea they shared this connection.) To make matters worse, the other names we like Gretl and Marta.

We're both scared of the backlash our children might receive growing up just for having two Da's, let alone having two Da's who named them after a musical on top of it. What do you think we should do?

- Two Concerned Fathers

As Carrie Underwood's recent live tv version showed, The Sound of Music remains one of the world's "Favorite Things." But it's clearly not one of yours, at least where baby names are concerned. You've stumbled unknowingly into a theme; will it claim control of your daughters' names? 

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Is My Ex "Name Stalking"?

My 7-year-old daughter has a pretty unusual name, Zel. We picked it because we wanted an old-fashioned name and got stuck debating the merits of Hazel vs. Zelda, before realizing we really just liked that one syllable.

Last week, an ex of mine had his first child and named her Zella. While the age gap, and the fact that we don't see each other much, makes this less awkward, I've been flummoxed as to what to say to him and his wife. It gives me a little bit of the heebie-jeebies. He's been a good ex, but maybe a bit more intrusive than I'd have wished.

- Zel's Mom

The question you've asked is what to say to this couple about their new daughter. The answer to that is simple: "Congratulations." There is no social obligation to comment on a child's name. Given your feelings, you're best off avoiding that subject and turning instead to topics that don't give you the heebie-jeebies: family resemblances, perhaps, or getting enough sleep.

The question you haven't quite asked is, "Is this name-stalking?" That's where things get interesting.

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A Celebrity Just Chose My Favorite Name!

My fiancé and I are expecting a boy in less than a month, and our top name choice is Bodhi. It has a wonderful meaning, and isn't too popular either. But now we just found out that Megan Fox named her second son Bodhi!

The name Bodhi is definitely our favorite, but now we're scared its popularity is going to spike. We don't want any of our children to have a "popular" name, as we both grew up with them and know what it's like to have six other kids in the class with the same name. So, what do we do? Is Bodhi going to get super-popular now that a celebrity used it?

- Another Jessie

Bodhi is definitely one of the "buzziest" Hollywood names of the moment. But unless you and Megan Fox are eyeing the same preschools, Hollywood popularity isn't what you're worried about. Nationwide, does "buzz" necessarily translate to babies?

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Can I Test Drive a New Name

Q: I am an almost 16-year-old boy. I've always thought that my name was too clunky, or too long, or too unpronounceable. I really want a simple, common name instead. The only problem is, I don't know how to test the waters with it. It would be weird if I asked all my friends and family to call me by a completely different name, then a couple of months later suddenly change it back. How should I go about this?

-- Test-Driver

I can understand why you don't want to go from zero to 60 with a new name. It's a big change, so you want to approach it with caution. But you're right that asking your friends and family to help you try on a name will be tricky. It's hard enough to change people's habits when you're fully committed to a new name. Having them adopt something you're not sure about could just make it harder down the road.

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Have I Missed My Chance at a New Name?

Is there an age beyond which changing your first name becomes too peculiar a thing to do? An age when people would expect you to have resigned yourself to it by now, and past which they would find a sudden change too much to get used to?

An 18-year-old seizing the first opportunity of adulthood to file an application could be easily understood. But thanks to choice paralysis and a craven case of "Whatever will people think?," I'm nearly thirty!

Have I left this dream too late? And assuming I can find the nerve to do so ... how do I drop a bombshell like this so long after the logical time to have done so?

-- Anna-to-be?

As you approach age 30, you're kicking yourself for not pursuing your dream of a new name a dozen years ago, when you were 18 and had your whole life ahead of you. Well, I'm going to make a prediction. If you don't go ahead and do it now, in another dozen years you'll be 42...and kicking yourself for not pursuing your dream when you were 30 and had your whole life ahead of you.

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But I Want ALL the Names!

I love names! I have a longish list of my favorites, and a shorter list my spouse and I agree could be potential names for our children. We have a son and plan to have one more child -- which leaves me with a big list of names I love but won't be using to name a person. So what can I "do" with them? I'd love to "use" them somehow!

- Too many great names

Your question hits close to my heart. I'm forever falling for names, and wishing (for a fleeting moment, at least) for a new baby to apply them to. Each name is a dream in minature: a possible child, a possible future. Once certain names have spent time in your life, lingering on your favorites list, it can be hard to let go.

Can you pass your favorite names on to others? Anybody who has tried urging their name leftovers on pregnant friends knows that's not the answer. You can't make someone else dream your dreams.

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