TAKEN: Why Choosing a Name is Scarier than a Liam Neeson Movie


At my baby shower last month, each guest submitted a “name suggestion” in this cute little keepsake jar, hoping to spur me along on the journey toward solidifying this first permanent piece of my new son’s identity. Great names abounded, and for almost every one my obsessive, skeptical mind immediately came up with a reason why that name couldn’t possible work. It’s too common! It’s too rare! It’s the name of my neighbor’s dog! It’s DIAMOND! (Incredibly, that person and I are still friends.) ; )

As my due date looms closely overhead, a mere 15 days away (which could really mean one day away, or almost 30, but who’s counting…), it is inescapably sinking in that we still don’t have a name for our child. And sometimes it feels like we’re actually drifting further away from a decision than getting closer. We have about a zillion options of course – many, many fine, acceptable, lovely options. The world is our oyster, right? We can choose ANY name we want!

Or can we? And if we can, why do I feel more restricted than a size 2 bride-to-be at an all-you-can-eat buffet?

In today’s parenting world, there seems to be this intense, mounting pressure to come up with not only The Perfect Name, but The Perfect Name that no one in your family, friends circle, school district, zip code, book club, PEPS group or social media stratosphere has already – brace yourself – laid claim to.

It’s exhausting. And bordering on impossible. And there’s no rulebook! I thought deciding on Anderson’s name was hard, but this is double duty, semi anxiety-inducing business. I am not in school, speak toddler for a living, am 8.7 months pregnant barely waddling around, and should not have to think this hard.

In addition to the normal criteria one must dissect when choosing a name (Are the initials embarrassing? Will people latch on to obnoxious nicknames? Will this naming trend be So. Over. by the time this kid hits kindergarten? Will he really be taken seriously when he’s 40 years old if I name him Rudy?), the second kid naming process brings with it its own unique naming dilemmas, as outlined by my own personal obsessive criteria:

1) Can’t start with M. All of Anderson’s Morris cousins have ‘M’ names. They got there first, and they chose great ‘M’ names that work beautifully for their families, but I feel it is our family’s turn to branch out a bit and diversify beyond the M.M. I began this branching out with Anderson and feel compelled to continue.

2) Can’t start with A. I just don’t like the idea of three of the four names in our family starting with A. Plus, let’s face it – there is an undeniable convenience factor to being able to text your husband mid-day and quickly write, “Need help with A tonight, J is sick” instead of having to spell out, “Need help with Anderson tonight, Augustus is sick.”   Yes, this is what my level of technical laziness/time efficiency has come to.

3) Can’t rhyme with/be too similar to Anderson. We like the name Emerson, but “Anderson and Emerson” is just too much “erson” for any one family.

4) Can’t be too dissimilar to Anderson. I think of Anderson as this clean cut, familiar all-American name. To each their own, but that’s how I personally think of it. To go with a name for a second child that is too exotic, Old Testament, oddly spelled, or edgy, just doesn’t jive. I need the names to feel like a cohesive set. Like we pre-purchased them as a bundle from a cute little everything-is-name-embroidered Pottery Barn catalog and just had to wait 2.5 years to unveil the second one.

So. These are JUST SOME of the factors that go through my mind with every single name we deign to consider for our second child.

And I haven’t even gotten to the biggest, most tedious and exhausting hurdle we face with (almost) Every. Single. Name.


So friends, please help aid me in maintaining my sanity by joining me in a discussion over what “taken” does or should mean. OK? OK.

Obviously, a name is “taken” if it is being used by one of Anderson’s cousins, or closest friends, or one of our closest friends’ kids. These are all people who are a regular part of our life and parenting journey. These kiddos’ names are safe. I’m not some brazen name thief.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. Say we were considering the name Henry. I have multiple Facebook friends who I haven’t seen in person in years, who named a child Henry. Will they feel like I’m stepping on their toes if I dare to give my son the same name? Will it upset our civil, if rare, Facebook chatter? What about the parents of the two older Henrys in Anderson’s preschool? Will they be like, “Don’t they know this preschool has enough Henrys? What are they thinking?”

Now, Henry isn’t actually on our short list, but it represents many, many, many names that are, have been, or could be – but are clouded by this self-imposed, oversensitive, ultra-accommodating conviction that thou shalt not consider any name that anyone you have ever brushed shoulders with has bestowed upon their child.

This sounds so ridiculous when I actually say it out loud. But it’s a true feeling, and I’m guessing I’m not the first second-time parent of our generation to experience it. When you’ve been immersed in the parenting community for a couple of years, you have so much more exposure to kids’ names than you did before you became a parent. You learn the other kids’ names at church, in your neighborhood, at the playground. The names of your husband’s employee’s kids, your son’s new classmates in preschool and – let’s not forget – the names chosen by your dozens or hundreds of internet-based acquaintances, nevermind you only see 5% of them in person on any sort of a regular basis.

When I try to accommodate all these distant connections in my life, my list of viable names dwindles from about 95 to 3.

Something’s got to give.

So I’m giving myself a break. I am no longer promising that if I have been acquainted with you in some way in the last decade of my life, our children won’t possibly share a name. If I’ve passed you three times in the hallway at church, our kids might share a name. If we had a class together in college, our kids might share a name. If you worked with me seven years ago and we haven’t seen each other since, our kids might share a name. If I see you less than once a year, I might consider your name fair game.

If this happens to you, please take it as a most sincere compliment on your naming abilities. And if our kids ever end up in the same classroom, I’ll let you have the first crack at your choice of nickname.

Bottom line – I recognize that if choosing a name is our biggest problem right now, we’re in good shape. And I do know somewhere deep down that we will settle into “that perfect one.” I just need to know that I’m not alone on the neurotic journey to get to that settled place. So when you see that confident, joyful announcement of our son’s arrival and his name sometime in the (hopefully very near) future, please tell us it’s the most brilliant name you’ve ever heard, and pat yourself on the back for being just as brilliant…if you happened to have arrived at it first. : )

I hope you feel as good reading this as I do writing it. I will now return to aggressively dog-earring baby name books and picking apart every moniker in existence… Wish me luck, and please, submit your criteria-approved name suggestions here.  🙂

2 responses

  1. As I wasn’t at your shower, not sure of all the names you received. But with Morris as the last name, eliminating “A’s” and “M’s”, the ones that come to me immediately that go well with the all-American boy of Anderson are: Connor, Jackson (or Jack), Taylor/Tyler, and Charles (Charlie). Whatever you decide on, know that it will be perfect!

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