name stealing

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Is My Baby’s Name a Crime?

When my son was born, I loved his simple and original name. But a close friend responded to our announcement with shock that I had used her name, the name she had picked out for a future child. She's not pregnant, married, or in a serious relationship right now, so I never ran my name options past her. I was completely unaware of her plans for the name, and I let her know that at the time. She's still hurt, though, and (months after the fact) is telling everyone that I betrayed her. This recently led to a confrontation between us over the phone that grew so heated, with so much yelling on her end, that I've stopped communicating with her. I just don't think she can be reasonable about this issue.

Now my son is a year old and I have a negative association with his name. I can't stop thinking about how I should have called him something else to avoid this drama. I want to love his name, but I'm having a very hard time forgetting about the negative end to my friendship. How can I make myself love it again?

–Guilty by Association

I have long maintained that name thievery is not a prosecutable offense. Names are not scarce commodities that we need to hoard and preserve for future use. They lose nothing by sharing—as the parents of any Noah or Sophia will tell you!—even within the same family, let alone a wider social group.

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Can I Give My Baby the Same Name as My Friend's Baby?

Last year, a lifelong friend of mind used a name I really wanted to use. I was just getting married at the time, but now I am pregnant, and I still love the name. I don't want to upset her by copying, but I have always loved the name and didn't know she liked it too. What do I do? Find a new name? Ask permission? I don't want to make it awkward, but my husband and I really have a hard time agreeing on any names, and this is the only one we absolutely love. Help!

–Potential Copycat

You had it in two: Ask for permission. If you do it carefully, it won't be awkward. Most people appreciate being asked and are happy to give their blessing. And it's certainly worth trying before you skip right to finding a new name.

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Our Favorite Name Is Taken – By a Dog!

My husband and I are expecting our first child, a boy, very soon. We've chosen a name, but haven't shared it with anyone. We have new next-door neighbors who moved in a few weeks ago. I just found out yesterday their DOG has the same name as what we planned to name our son. I feel devastated. We live in a city, in close proximity to our neighbors. It took me a long time to settle on a name, and we have no backups. Should I feel foolish or not care?

–So Defeated

Unfortunately, I'm a Name Lady, not a fortune-teller. And that's what we really need to answer this question. Do you have any idea how long you'll be in your home, or your neighbors will? Maybe they'll outgrow their space and move on, or you will. And—how to put this delicately?—the dog won't be around forever.

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I Have the Same-Name Blues

I'm sure you've gotten questions about this before, but what is the etiquette for same or similar baby names with friends and family? I've loved a specific name since childhood. My husband and I haven't been able to have children yet, but my cousin just used that name for her fifth child. And my second favorite name was used by a friend from high school. I have a HUGE family, too. There are going to be no names left that I love!

–Worried About Stealing

Wading into the waters of name "stealing" is always tricky. While it's true that no one owns a name, and theoretically you should be able to use any name you like, you specifically asked about "etiquette." Etiquette means caring about other people and trying to be considerate of them. It means not making the (arbitrary) decision that your claim to a name is more legitimate than someone else's, and that therefore you have the right to hurt their feelings.

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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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Has an In-Law Outlawed My Baby Name?

I've loved a certain name since childhood, and planned on giving that name to a daughter. Recently, my brother married a woman by that name (though she goes by a nickname) and caused a lot of tension in the family. Is it strange for a girl and her aunt to share a name, especially if it's not traditionally a family name? And will people think that we named the girl after her aunt? Should I let them?

- Want to Keep the Family Happy

My usual advice about name duplication is to be straightforward and cheerful and simply ask the people involved. But in your case, there are quite a lot of people involved, aren't there? A lot of people you care deeply about and want to "keep happy." Not just you and your partner, not just your brother and his partner, but other relatives embroiled in the "tension" in your family.

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I Don't Want To Be a Name Thief!

My husband comes from a large (LARGE) family and has about 30 first cousins. Needless to say, it's starting to get difficult not to overlap names with that many people. One of his cousins has a little boy named after her father. It just so happens that it's also my father's name, and I've always loved it. I know that there are always people posting on here about name stealers. Would I be one? (And if we end up having a girl, I know that she'll have the same middle name as the same cousin's daughter -- it's my own, my sister's, mother's, and grandmother's.)
- Hopefully Not a Thief

Like many emotional "crimes," name thievery is a highly subjective business. Some people are flattered when friends and family choose their name, while others are outraged. Even my most standard advice -- when in doubt, just ask -- isn't foolproof. The most name-sensitive among us can be offended by the mere question.

Yet even on this slippery ground, there are some rules of thumb:

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Who's the Name Thief?

My husband and I named our son Daniel nine years ago. Apparently, my husband's sister had dreamed of a son with this name since she was a teenager, but didn’t bring it up until he was a few years old. My sister-in-law has unfortunately not been able to have children but is now trying IVF and has declared that her son will still be named Daniel. As she is single, the surname will also match my son’s. She seems unable to accept her dream has not turned out. Even if a son does not arrive for her, things have turned sour. Please help!

- Who’s the Thief?

Let’s go back to the start of this tale. Almost a decade ago, you and your husband unknowingly chose the baby name that your sister-in-law had secretly cherished since her youth. When she learned of your choice, she didn’t object or make your happy moment be about her in any way. In fact, you never even know about her attachment to Daniel until much later. Now she’s undergoing fertility treatments and has told you that she’s never lost her love for the name.

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Help! He’s After My Name!

We had been trying for years to get pregnant and we finally did. My coworker and his wife got pregnant shortly after us. This coworker is super competitive -- I try to limit the baby talk as not to incite this part of him. One day, however, he came up behind me and announced that he and his wife have decided on a name. It is the exact name I had told other coworkers weeks before, and have been referring to my baby as this ever since-- same first, same middle! They had some other names picked prior that were very modern, whereas my chosen name (which is uncommon) is not. The middle name is a family name I had already told him we were using, regardless of the first.

I know he only told me in order to "claim" the name, but I have no idea how to react. Our baby is due three weeks before my theirs. Do I abandon the name I've fallen for or move on? How do I respond to him at work? I didn't know I had to claim my name in order for it to be valid.
- Cornered

You’ve called your coworker “competitive.” “Competitors” have the drive to take themselves to the top; “saboteurs” take more pleasure in sending others to the bottom. This fellow sounds like the latter.

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My Car Stole My Sister's Baby Name!

My sister has loved the name Mia since she was a child. When I turned 16 I was given her old car and decided to name the car Mia, naively thinking that I knew my sister would like it. She was horrified when she found out and demanded I remove the name from my car but at that point my whole family was calling the car by name. It has been 6 years and Mia the car is still in the family. My sister is now expecting and feels that I have "ruined" her favorite name. I assure her that the name is still open for her child but she is holding a grudge. Is Mia the car going to overshadow Mia the baby?
- Guilty Name Thief

Good heavens, our most cherished baby names are under assault from all sides! As if it weren't bad enough dealing with friends and relatives who "steal" the names for their own babies, and neighbors who bestow them on their pets, now even our cars are getting into the act. Is no name safe?

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