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Do I Have to Compromise on Names?

My husband and I can't agree on a girl's name. I suggested a name which means 'beautiful' in his native country. He hates it. We always said the rule should be that if either of us dislikes the name it's gone from the list, but I feel extremely strongly about this name. I feel I should have the final say as I've already made a huge concession to him in the naming department, which he doesn't fully understand. His family is Scandanavian and I have his surname. My family is Greek and Irish. With his surname and the laws governing names in his country, we can't choose a name from my side of the family. I accepted that without a fuss. I feel that I've already compromised more than enough, and besides, I'm the one who has to give birth! Despite what we've previously agreed, I'm ready to dig my heels in and insist on the name. Please help! - Hormonal

Oh dear, you really do feel strongly about this name, don't you. Strongly enough, perhaps to override your own good judgment? Take a deep breath, and let's look closely at what you've said.

When you were getting married, taking your husband's name seemed practical and reasonable. Yet now that you're thinking hard about names, that past decision is suddenly looming larger. That's a common experience, especially in multicultural marriages. A woman born, say, Misaki Yamamoto, contemplating a son to be named William Davenport, may find herself saying, "but what happened to my heritage?"

Yet you're not saying that. I'm struck by the fact that you're not demanding a name from your own family traditions, but rather a particular name from your husband's culture. What's more, it sounds like the surname issue only reared its head once he shot down your favorite name. Frankly, it sounds like you've become so attached to this name that you've talked yourself into a past injustice...in order to justify doing some injustice of your own.

This is a dangerous temptation. On the basic fairness level, it's a little late to say "Surprise! You actually gave away all say in the names of your children when I took your surname!" On a relationship level, you're manufacturing marital grudges at a time when you and your husband need to be closer than ever. In terms of parenting, you're asking him to spend his life calling his precious daughter a name he loathes. A name should be a bridge to bonding, not a source of simmering resentment. And on a style level, if the native speaker in your family says this name sounds lousy in his language, you should probably listen.

I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but I'm just trying to bring you back to your own excellent sense. You started out this process knowing that no parent should have to cringe at his or her baby's name. Not getting your first choice isn't reason enough to abandon that essential wisdom.

Comments

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January 17, 2011 11:13 AM
By hwar (not verified)

The best way to cure yourself of this impulse to override your husband's opinion is to imagine if the situation were reversed, and he got to choose the baby's name without any input from you. Uncomfortable, right? I gave up MANY names to find one that my husband liked too. At the time it was irritating and frustrating, mostly because he just liked to say "no" to my suggestions instead of offering ideas of his own. A few things helped. One was putting names I really liked but he nay-sayed on a "limbo list" where we'd revisit them at a later time. Sometimes his opinion would change after thinking about the name for a while. The other thing that helped was identifying what naming style each of us had. Mine was more eclectic and unusual, his more traditional and mainstream. So we had to find a name that was uncommon but sounded common, if that makes sense. One you figure out how your tastes are different, it may be easier to figure out where your taste overlaps. I promise, there is a name lurking out there that will suit you both! Keep looking!

January 17, 2011 12:18 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Hear, hear, name lady! I know how hard it is to let go of a name you love (or several!), and it's SO hard when you can't totally see eye to eye with your spouse on it. Having a baby, though, is enough stress on a marriage, so don't be tempted to add to it. Life isn't fair. Just keep looking. You'll find something that you both can live with, and you'll fall in love with the name entirely when you see that beautiful face it's associated with. Good luck!

January 17, 2011 3:18 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Another piece to consider: your sweetie's dislike of a particular name may have more to do with a negative association with someone who bore it than the name itself. Perhaps someone named "Lovely" bullied him in school, or cheated on his best friend, and struggling to get past those unpleasant memories doesn't seem worth it to him (and, depending on the situation, it could be entirely understandable why he'd rather not tell you about the "Lovely" in his past who ruined the name for him).
It's also possible that the name has more subtle associations in his culture that you as a newcomer can't yet appreciate. It might sound like a "mom name" or a "grandma name" to him (do you know if it's tied to a particular generation?), a "hippie name" or too hopelessly conventional. Perhaps, more harmless but annoying, it just happens to recall the protagonist of a cereal commercial and the jingle gets stuck in your husband's head whenever he hears the name!
(Perhaps try thinking of a name from our own naming culture that seems like a no-go to you, and imagine a newcomer making her best case for it. Which of the following could your spouse talk you into: Prudence, Shasta, Prairie Dawn, Madonna, Mildred, Comfort, Darlene, Pretty, Shakira? You can probably picture a family each of these names could be right for - I do like some of them - but it may not be yours!)
Also, while to you this name has an appealing meaning hidden behind a pleasant exotic sound, to a native speaker a word name like "beautiful" may just feel too literal: it might sound workaday, prosaic and boring, or perhaps even silly. Imagine encountering your child's name routinely in unrelated conversations, product descriptions, etc. - it might just not feel "special" enough to him for his precious baby girl.
Suggestion: you might find it interesting to find out more about the naming culture in his country (or his family) - e.g. are word names common there? This might yield some insights into why the name feels "off" to him, and if nothing else it might help you run across other ideas both of you might like. For example, could your favorite name work as a middle name, or are there other conventions about middle names that might be important to him or to you? Ask him how he feels about the names on his family tree. For the names that interest you, try doing a Google image search for babies to see who is using those names today. Are they common or not? Does your husband have an idea why? Do you and he want a common or uncommon name?
Finally, enlist his help in brainstorming. Tell him what it is that you really love about your favorite name, not as a way of trying to sell him on it, but so that you can use those insights to find another name that shares the qualities that are most important to you. Is it the meaning? The link to his culture? The sound? What qualities are important to him in a name?
Good luck! I'll be dealing with cross-cultural naming myself, so I sympathize with the challenge of finding names you can both really love in a largely unfamiliar naming culture!

January 17, 2011 4:06 PM
By emily (not verified)

could you maybe use this name as a middle name? or a nickname?

January 17, 2011 7:12 PM
By Andie (not verified)

You always give such great advice, Name Lady =) This is exactly what I needed to hear this week

January 17, 2011 7:36 PM
By Senga (not verified)

Short answer: yes, you both have to compromise on your child's name. It's good practice for the many aspects of parenting that require shared decision-making!

January 18, 2011 1:29 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I was in the same boat as you. I am Scandinavian but with my husband's VERY Italian last name there was no way I could have a Norwegian first name for my son. And my hubby didn't like any of the names I came up with. So I had him write a list of names and we built on that and ended up using the Italian version of my great-grandfather's name.

January 18, 2011 1:39 PM
By Laura Quilter (not verified)

Well, I'm going to suggest that the correspondent has a point, and I think the Name Lady has made a few assumptions I find problematic.

I certainly wouldn't assume that the correspondent has "manufactured" a grudge. While many women, and some very few special men, choose to compromise their own names for a new marital union, it is usually a sacrifice of some sort. Maybe a willing and happy one, but not always -- sometimes it is just the easiest or simplest route to avoid conflict, and sometimes the woman hasn't even really been given the choice.

She also mentioned that there are laws governing the names in her country. This is not uncommon, either. The Name Lady blogs about the taste for unusual names in the US. It turns out that many countries restrict unusual names, some going so far as to restrict access to using gender-neutral names.

The Name Lady also suggests that style-wise the native speaker might find a name inappropriate. The original correspondent did not say any such thing -- she said the spouse "hates it". It would be appropriate for the Name Lady to suggest to the writer that she inquire and consider why the husband hates it, and that might be one reason -- but I certainly wouldn't infer that his hatred was necessarily because the name was stylistically inappropriate.

So in my opinion, it is certainly legitimate for her to point out to her spouse that there has been already a great deal of limitations placed on her choice of names, and to suggest to the spouse that the onus is on him to do a bit more in the way of concessions.

That does not mean that he has to accept a name he loathes, or that's culturally inappropriate. It does mean that she has a right to bring up these naming compromises that have already been made, and weigh them in the equation too.

As for calling a child a name you hate, or even don't like -- lots of people have done this through time, and the thing is, you come to love the child. So that's useful not just for the wife to consider here, but the husband.

If it were me, I would keep working at it. Perhaps the name she likes can be a middle name; even if the hosting country regulates the types of names, it may not regulate the numbers of names. She might also check to see if there are exemptions to the naming laws for non-native families.

January 18, 2011 2:31 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

I agree with the earlier poster who said he may have a problem with the name because of some horrid and/or hurtful person in his history who carried it. Personally, no matter how much I loved the name, I'd drop it there. But, I also agree that a name you once hated, once applied to someone you love, will become a beloved name. The love will eclipse the bad. Usually.

As far as the differences in ethnicity, and how a name sounds to the ear of speakers of another language, think of how many Asians we know who choose names they think sound wonderful and will fit in, but they just.... don't, usually because they're at least two generations outdated. Marvin, Melvin, Fanny... I could go on naming real people I know who have chosen horrid names.

I work with high school foreign exchange students from 60 different countries. I was surprised at how many of my students thought my dog's name (Sheila) was a beautiful name. Once I could move my prejudices aside (trailor-trash, cafe' waitress, grandma, Aussie English for 'broad' or 'chick'), I had to admit, it is a pretty sounding name, but I still would ever saddle a human child with it, because then she'd have to deal with all those prejudices. The dog doesn't care.

My brother (American of Scottish ancestry) married a Spanish girl. Their first three kids have names that work well in both countries, but they did choose the Spanish spellings, which is sometimes an annoyance for Sofia who thinks people are spelling her name wrong (No, Sofia, it's not wrong; it's the English spelling, and you're in an English speaking country. You can't be annoyed with them, just explain and move on). My brother had his heart set on naming their forth child after our older brother who died at age 11, Andrew. Eva,understanding, allowed it, and for the middle name Andrew got the English version of her father's name. So, three children have mixed Spanish and Scottish names (which is perfectly acceptable in the US) and the other has a name which is all... well, from the same island anyway.

No big deal though, in Spain, and in snuggle-time with Mommy, the boy is Andres. He answers to both and it's caused no confusion.

January 18, 2011 2:35 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with some of the previous comments that you should put the name on the back burner and see what he thinks a little later. The name we've decided on for the baby I'm pregnant with was one my husband originally strongly disliked. But a couple of months after I suggested it he admitted it was growing on him. We put it back on the list and in another month or 2 it was one of his favorites and the one we decided on.

Also, I understand how after you choose a name you can be sad that your family isn't represented. My first son's name is after my husband and he has my husband's last name. I sometimes still feel sad that my family isn't represented. If you can't use a name directly from your family maybe you can find a name that works that has the same meaning as someone in your family.

January 18, 2011 2:56 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The post by Pamela made me laugh. We don't live in Australia (U.S.), so maybe that's part of the difference, but Sheila was on my short list of names for my daughter. (Not the one we ended up using in the end, though; I believe it was among the many dh rejected.)

He also rejected my favorite name of all, which is the one we ended up using. Like some have mentioned before, he too shot down pretty much every name I liked (in fact, I can only think of ONE of the probably thirty plus names I threw out there that he did NOT reject) and he stuck loyally to one or two names he liked, which I happened to hate, unfortunately. Because of this, he ended up needing to be a little more nuanced in his critique of names. Did he really HATE a name, or just not like it? This was pretty much due to the sheer volume of names that he immediately rejected. I think he realized he wasn't giving many of them a fair chance because they weren't one of the two names he loved. I'm really proud of him that he was able to do that because I know it's hard when you LOVE a name that much.

He grew to love our daughter and her name, happily.

We actually used his grandmother's first name for my daughter's middle name, which he wasn't thrilled about, either. It's not my favorite name, either, but it flowed incredibly well with the first name we chose and it pleased family. None of the other names I had picked seemed to fit well with it in the middle name spot, either. It's still kind of funny to me that we used the name, but no one was really wild about it. It works, though.

January 18, 2011 3:04 PM
By Wendy (not verified)

I agree with the Name Lady, and I have this to add.

My husband and I took a while to compromise on a name for our daughter, and I'm so glad we did.

I can see now that our baby is part of both of us--she takes after her dad in some respects and me in others. And a name that only reflected me (or only reflected my husband)--wouldn't have suited the person she is at all.

Though I clung to some of my original choices for a while, the name we compromised on turned out to be the perfect choice.

January 18, 2011 3:17 PM
By nedibes (not verified)

I have to agree with Laura Quilter--I think there is more going on here than just a snit over a first-choice name. Hormonal states pretty clearly that she is not insisting on a name from her family or culture because it is AGAINST THE LAW, not because she doesn't care about that. She's trying to find a name that has some part of her in it; since family tradition and culture are out, that pretty much just leaves style.

On the other hand, I think it's true that forcing a hated name on her husband is a bad way to go.

One possible compromise: Hormonal and her husband can come up with a long list of possibles, and Hormonal can then pick her favorite from the list, even if it's Mr. Hormonal's least favorite on the list. That might leave her current top name out, but at least it would give her some feelings of control.

I also agree with the suggestion above to put the name in question on a wait-list, to be revisited for possible inclusion on the main list at a later date (like in the hospital). It's amazing how our name preferences can fluctuate in a few months or even weeks--if they focus on some other names for a while, Hormonal might find something else that fits better, or Mr. Hormonal might decide it's not so bad. But neither will happen if the name becomes a bone of contention in their marriage.

If they end up with a name that would not be a first choice for native speakers--well, I think that's not uncommon for children of immigrants, and (so long as it's not something truly offensive/embarrassing) those 2nd gen children who are raised with a healthy sense of their culture and self-esteem are generally able to appreciate the fact.

Full disclosure: I might be a little touchy on this subject, since I'm a "Dana Yamamoto" and my wonderful "William Davis" husband took my last name when we got married partly because I didn't want to give up that part of my identity :).

January 18, 2011 3:29 PM
By Tiana (not verified)

I think husbands have this nasty little habit of saying "no" just to say it. My husband shot down all the names I suggested too. On top of that, he was unwilling to suggest names he liked. He was also unwilling to give me a real reason as to why he disliked the names. This type of situation is super frustrating, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out that it's the situation "Hormonal" is dealing with.

With my husband, unless he outright vetoed a name & gave me a reason why, I never took a name I loved off the list. After having the names roll around in his head a bit, he realized how much he actually liked them. We have 4 names picked out for our future children. Out of 8 first & middle names, 5 of them are names I loved and he said "no" to when I first mentioned them. 1 first & 1 middle name (for different children) he loved and I only liked, and just 1 first name was a name we both liked from it's first mention, but decided we loved it after some time.

I say to keep presenting the names you love, along with other/new options, and see what happens. Don't take a name off your list unless it's absolutely hated with a stated reason. Frankly, if he doesn't start coming up with his own suggestions, I say warn him & then leave him behind in the naming decision. Why can't they understand they need to have more responsibility besides just saying "no"??

January 18, 2011 4:24 PM
By Juli (not verified)

One suggestion that has only been touched on in other comments is to actually research the naming laws you're dealing with. You may need to do some extra paperwork, but most countries that place restrictions on baby names have a loophole for multi-cultural or immigrant parents. Perhaps a name honoring your heritage isn't completely out of the question, after all.

Without specifics, we can't help much with the name you love but your husband hates, but I will say this: I'm always suspicious of name "meanings". Names are labels, and unless they happen to be identical to an everyday word (heather, faith, urban), they have no meaning except as pointers to the person(s) they label. Heck, even when a name is identical to a word, that word's meaning has little to do with its use as a name: do you expect a girl named Heather to be fuzzy, shrub-like, and purple?

January 18, 2011 4:49 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I'm confused, does Hormonal live in the country with the naming laws? Since she calls it "his country" it sounded like they don't live there to me.

But if they do live there and have to follow the laws, then she should find out the exact rules and get the list of approved names. She may actually find many she likes.

Lots of names can cross-over cultures, especially between European countries. So a name that takes into consideration both sides is not out of the question.

But yes, if he hates the name then I think you should look for others.

January 18, 2011 6:11 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have to respectfully completely disagree with the answer given. The letter-writer has already made several sacrifices for her partner: a) giving up her last name and taking his, b) living and giving birth in his country (HUGE sacrifice, esp. pragmatically speaking when you think about international custody issues should something unfortunate happen in the future), and c) having to abide by the laws in the country to give her child a name that has zero cultural connection to her. These are all big sacrifices. I think the letter-writer has bigger problems than a name if her partner can't see this!

As for what she could actually do, if he isn't going to come around and consider these issues, I guess she could suggest using her favorite as a middle name? Other than that, there must be other cute names in that culture. If he starts rejecting all of her suggestions though, I'd put my foot down because that is ridiculous.

January 18, 2011 6:13 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

One more suggestion -- maybe they could change their last name? Or give the child a different one?

January 19, 2011 12:31 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Is it Finnish? Because the other Scandinavian languages' words for beautiful were decidedly not cute, according to Professor Google (think "vakker"). "Kaunis" was the only one that even remotely resembled a name.

January 19, 2011 4:35 PM
By Lisa (not verified)

Difficulty chosing names is not a problem restricted to culture issues. Like a couple of PP my ex refused to discuss names he liked and instead said he hated every name I suggested. So my advice - Yes you need to be able to compromise. Write a list of names you like, I did it in order of my own preference. Don't even bother discussing it with your partner unless you want him to write a list of his own, my ex had no interest. Put it into your hospital bag. Once the baby is born pull out your list and say "Here are my suggestions for names, chose something". It worked for my son, his father chose his first name and gave me a choice of 2 for a middle name. They weren't my first preference, I haven't had another son so my absolute favourite name goes unused, but hey, I can at least say I had some input into his name and it's a name I still like.

January 25, 2011 12:21 PM
By Adrian (not verified)

In Hormonal's own words: "We always said the rule should be that if either of us dislikes the name it's gone from the list." I'd urge her not to lose sight of that. If one parent hates the name, it should be out of consideration, period. There's really no other choice. Otherwise you just set things up for simmering resentment, possibly for a long time.

I guess I'm a little bit of an oddball in that I'm the husband and I'm the one doing research on names and coming up with ideas. I drew up a list of names, adding in the names my wife previously said she liked, and then we sat down and went through the list, name by name. Some names we were both indifferent about. Some names she loved but I didn't like. Other names I loved but she didn't like. ALL of those names got tossed out, and what was left were the names we picked from, because we both at least liked them. She ended up picking the boy name, and I handled the girl name (middle is set, but still going back and forth between two names for the first).

Picking a name is a microcosm of the art of compromise and partnership that it takes to have a successful marriage. The important thing is to work together and not give up -- you'll both find a name you can live with (and hopefully a name that you both love). Good luck.

January 27, 2011 11:31 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Tell us the name! We're dying to hear it!

March 1, 2011 3:05 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

*No* Greek or Irish names are allowed in the nameless Scandinavian country, by law? (If the poster is even living in that country.) This seems really unlikely.

May 19, 2013 5:56 PM
By Atlanta Roofers (not verified)

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