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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.

"Name-stalking" is different from name-stealing, which is about territorial boundaries. You don't seem so concerned about other kids infringing on your daughter's unique name turf. (Kudos to you!) You're worried about what your ex's name choice might mean about him and you. Is he using this name to send you a signal? If so, isn't that creepy?

It would certainly be creepy, if true. But the names alone aren't enough to set off my warning bells.

Zel and Zella are different in ways that go beyond the last two letters. You created the name Zel from a favorite sound. It's genuinely unconventional, verging on unique. Zella is a rare name, but not unconventional. In fact, it follows a classic recipe for names on the cusp of fashion.

Consider that Ella, Bella and Stella have all soared in the past decade to become top-100 names. Zella takes that super-popular sound and gives it a quirky little twist. The exact same twist on Aiden and Jayden has vaulted the name Zayden into the top 250 for boys. And yes, Zella is rising.

It's perfectly plausible, then, that your ex could have chosen the name Zella without knowing your Zel. It's even easier to imagine his wife doing so. What if Zella is a name the new mom always loved, or one from her family tree? (It was quite common a century ago.) If you suggested that little Zella was named after your Zel when she was really named after her great-great-grandmother, you might end up looking like the name stalker.

So I recommend assuming the best. Treat the similar names as just a weird coincidence unless proven otherwise, and when you see the new parents, stick to "Congratulations."


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March 10, 2014 1:32 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Huh, I'd never heard the name Zella before so I looked up the popularity stats on the Social Security website. It was solidly in the 200s from the 1880s through the early 1900s. It didn't fall off the charts until the late 1940s. Never doubt the Name Lady!

In addition to her comments, I'll also add that you and your ex-boyfriend obviously ran in the same social circles (sounds like your social circles might still have a considerable amount of overlap). It's pretty typical for people who have other things in common to also like the same or similar baby names, even when those names are very unusual. I agree, just offer congratulations and then move on.

If your current relationship with your ex-boyfriend makes you uncomfortable for other reasons (and it sounds like it might) now might be a good time to increase the distance. He & his wife will be busy with their new baby, so it might be easier for you to quietly back away from the friendship.

March 10, 2014 3:25 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I was expecting to see a letter about how an ex names all his/her kids the same as the LW.

There is no need to be flummoxed. Congratulate them and move on with your life. As the above poster said, it's typical for people in the same social circle to have similar tastes. People in the same social circle can also be inspired by each other's name choices.

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