Outrage at Baby Name “Theft”: Petty or Justified?

Number 11 on the Top 10 Baby Name Tips Parents Want to Hear is:

Claiming dibs on a name is perfectly reasonable, especially if you don’t plan to have kids for years and have no clue of your future partner’s identity.

Of course you can’t claim dibs on a name silly! But as someone who doesn’t want a friend showing up at a party wearing the same outfit or using the same color to decorate her family room, I feel your pain.

One annoying crap piece of advice I will spare you is the old trite, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. We all know imitation is not always flattery.

Now that I’ve commiserated with you, let’s get down to the tough love.

  • Unless you can copyright your baby’s name, there is nothing you can do to prevent others from using it.
  • Even if you name your baby Hortense, you never know when Hortense will become in-style and others will clamor to it.
  • Even if Hortense never becomes in-style, if you hate Hortense, would you use it based on the logic that no one else would “steal” it since it’s so ugly? That suggestion is ridiculous.

“Name theft” is one of those things you can’t control. When picking a baby name, you will save yourself some grief when you let go of what you can’t control.

For entertainment purposes only, here is Upswing Baby Name’s “Name Theft” Empathy Scale, representing typical Moms (or just women) who are miffed by baby name theft. Please note that none of these Moms are real but the stories are similar to real-life stories. Their plights are ranked by empathy level. The first one is the least empathetic and the last one is most empathetic.

“Name Theft” Empathy Scale

Miffed Mom 1. – A nonexistent child’s very common name was stolen: A single woman without a boyfriend who could be years away from having kids, mentions in passing to her friend that she wants to name her future son Ethan (#2 in 2010). Fast forward one year, she is still single and her friend gives birth to a son and names him Ethan.

Miffed Mom 2. – A nonexistent child’s very unusual name was stolen: Another single woman, also without a boyfriend, who could be years away from having kids, mentioned in passing to her pregnant friend that she wants to name her future son Cecil (not on the charts). Fast forward 5 months and her friend has a son and names him Cecil.

Miffed Mom 3. – An existing child’s common name was stolen and there is an age and geographic gap: Mom to three-year-old Amelia was mad when she learned her cousin who lives about 1,000 miles away, who she only sees every few years, recently had a daughter and named her Amelia.

Miffed Mom 4. – An existing child’s common name was stolen and the kids are close in age and proximity: Next-door neighbors and friends are expecting girls within three months of each other. The expectant Moms discuss baby names. The first Mom wants to name her daughter Chloe. The second Mom says she wants to name her daughter Mia. The first girl is born and named Chloe. Three months later Chloe #2 is born.

Miffed Mom 5. – An existing child’s very unusual name, without any particular meaning, was stolen: Seven years ago, Alta’s parents were proud to choose an unusual name for her. Her name remained unusual. Fast forward to the present and her Mom’s co-worker gives birth to Alta #2.

Miffed Mom 6. – An existing child’s very unusual and meaningful name was stolen: One-year-old Caledonia was named after the town in Minnesota where her parents met. Caledonia’s parents shared the story behind their daughter’s name to their college friends. Recently these friends gave birth to Caledonia #2.

In all six cases, the name “stealers” had every right to use the names they chose. Yet, at risk of sounding presumptuous, most of you probably feel Miffed “Mom” 1. (not a Mom yet to an Ethan) was being very petty, while Miffed Mom 6 (Caledonia’s Mom) was at least somewhat justified. The question is: when does the line cross from pettiness to righteous indignation?

And does it matter? Even if indignation is righteous, isn’t life too short to wallow in it? Even if you have been a “victim” of name “theft” I doubt you intend to wallow in indignation – that’s extreme – but you just want some empathy.

Name “theft”, always an interesting topic, doesn’t always have cut and dry solutions. Logically all names are up for grabs, and can’t really be stolen, but we are emotional creatures.

Applying logic to “name theft” proved difficult. For example, I struggled with order on the “name theft” empathy scale. My opinion was that parents “should” be less possessive of common names, but somehow Miffed Mom 4’s (Chloe’s Mom) anger at times seemed as justified as Miffed Mom 6 (Caledonia’s Mom).

Consequently, I almost changed the order of Miffed Mom 4 and 5. Miffed Mom 5 (Alta’s Mom) may have picked an unusual name, but her kid’s name was stolen seven years later, by a co-worker, not three months later by a close friend and next-door neighbor who failed to give her any heads-up (Chloe’s Mom).

Regardless of whether you agree with the “name theft” empathy scale, some sensible suggestions for coping with “name theft” are:

  1. Keeping future kid’s names to yourself is wise.
  2. If you are considering using the name of a friend’s child, letting this friend know ahead of time can lessen hurt feelings.

Even Miffed Mom 6 might have felt a little better if her friend had spoken to her before giving birth and said,

We just love your daughter’s name, and realize the name is meaningful to you. Since we have fond memories of our camping trips together in the “Wild Turkey Capital” of Minnesota, Caledonia has meaning to us too. Would you be OK if we also named our daughter Caledonia?

Readers: Would you re-order the name theft empathy scale? On the “name theft” empathy scale, which “Miffed Moms” are being petty? (Multiple answers are allowed, unless “none” is selected.)

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Comments

  1. I have a James, super common. I like to tease one of my friends who also has a James that she ‘stole’ the name. It’s extra amusing, because our James was picked because we couldn’t agree on anything else, and their James is a fifth generation family name. It’s not a big deal to either one of us, especially because mine’s a Jamey and hers is a JT. Now, we’re expecting our second, and she’s already had hers. She has made it clear that if we used Violet, it wouldn’t be so funny. That, I tend to agree on. Two identical sib sets would be weird.

    • I agree that Violet is off the table. Do you know for sure that you are having a girl?

      • Don’t get mad, we’re pretty much set on Fiona Margaret. Came to me like a bolt of lightning one day. Before we concieved, we had planned on Daphne Margaret, but Daphne doesn’t feel right for this Pookie. It’s just not her name. (Not that we know for sure she’s a girl yet, but you know…) For a boy, nothing sounds right, but our backup name, in case I’m wrong, is Rhys Calder.

        • Name thief! j/k it’s all good. Fiona Margaret is very nice.

          If Paul had been a girl, I considered Daphne because I think Fiona and Daphne make terrific sister names, if you ever have two girls.

      • And OMG, pregnant brain much? I can read. No, we’re only sixteen weeks, so we don’t know for sure if she’s a girl or not. My intuition strongly says girl, and I knew just as strongly with Jamey as I do with Fiona. I will be very upset if I’m wrong. I would love another boy, but I just can’t even fathom this baby named anything but Fiona.

  2. British American says:

    I like the empathy angle of this post. I know that you can’t ‘own’ a name or even really ‘claim’ one. But I experienced my own version of Miffed Mom #4 last spring :

    Friends are expecting gender-unknown babies within one week of each other. The expectant moms discuss baby names. The first Mom has decided to name the baby *rising name that entered the Top 100 last year* if the baby is a girl. The second Mom makes it clear that she doesn’t know what to name the baby if it is a girl. The first Mom tells the second Mom “We will be using *this name* if we have a girl.” Second Mom says “Oh, we like that name too. It’s on our list.” Second Mom has her baby first. It’s a girl. She names the baby *name that first Mom decided on*. First Mom spends the next week wondering what to do if her baby is a girl also. She has her baby. It’s a boy.

    So I can see how all of the Moms in the scenarios would feel upset. Maybe Miffed Mom #1 doesn’t realize that Ethan is very popular.

    At least in the above situation #4, it would be obvious who decided on and used the name first.

    Similarly with #5 and #6 – mutual friends would know who was the ‘original’ Alta or Caledonia. I definitely see that the ‘original Moms’ would feel miffed that their friends didn’t come up with a name that was ‘their own idea’.

    I can see being less possessive over more common names. If the name in our situation had been very unique or uncommon I think I would have been even more hurt. Instead it’s a name that has been on the rise and I knew it was rising and I’ve since seen it on other babies and toddlers locally. It was also a family name in our case, so that made me love it more too, as it was the name of a now deceased special family member. But the other family had a longer version of the name as a close family member’s middle name, so that canceled out our ‘family claim’ anyhow.

    So it worked out well that our gender-surprise child was a boy. Funnily enough the other family had a definite boy’s name picked out. Made me wonder how they would have felt had we had our baby first and we’d gone with “their one name”.

    • That stinks that you thought of the name first, and then you were left wondering whether or not you should still use it. In your shoes, I would be so relieved to have a boy!

      You make a good point that Miffed Mom #1 may not realize that Ethan is so popular, especially being single without any older kids. I remember 5 years ago I had briefly considered Ava for my oldest – I loved how it went with our last name. But my husband’s cousin used it on her #3 daughter. Her older daughters had names I knew were popular – Abby and Emma. This made me wonder how they came up with what I thought was a more unusual name for their youngest daughter. Then my friend mentioned she knew 2 people who had daughters and named them Ava in the past 3 months. This got me thinking. Ava was never a serious contender, and as I began to suspect the name was more popular than I thought, I completely removed it from the list. I researched the name statistics for the first time and was shocked at how popular Ava had gotten in such a short time.

      With Miffed Mom #1, one comment I was going to add, but removed during editing, was the possibility that Miffed Mom’s friend didn’t even remember where she got the idea to use Ethan, and wasn’t intentionally stealing the name.

      • British American says:

        Thanks for the empathy! :)

        Yeah, that was a rough week and it did make me hope that we were going to have a boy, as that would eliminate the issue. At the time, I was leaning more towards thinking we were having a girl, so that didn’t help. The name was my husband’s top pick – a name he wanted to use for our 2005 daughter – but he didn’t like the longer version of the name that I liked. So he still wanted to use it anyway and I guess we would have done. I was trying to figure out what would be a good short middle name to use and then possibly call the baby by her first and middle to differentiate the two babies. Or I brought up the longer version of the name to my husband again – but he still didn’t like it! :P We both *hated* the thought of all our mutual friends thinking that we had stolen the name – it felt really icky that we would look so lame to name our baby the same name just one week later.

        Interesting about Ava. I like that you did some name statistic digging! :)
        When we had our first in 2005 I didn’t know much about name popularity either. I only knew a couple of other new babies at our church. I did buy the first copy of the Baby Name Wizard and that book talked me out of Lily. It said something about how if you’re looking for an unexpected choice then don’t choose Lily, as it’s on the way up. I just checked and it was #52 in the 2004 stats that I was looking at. Up to #17 in 2010.

        On a similar vein, our local librarian is expecting her first child. A girl in July. I’m very interested to hear what name she picks. She’s been leading preschool storytimes for a few years, so she’s in a prime position to know what is popular locally and to see how adventurous some parents are with more unusual names. I’m hoping she picks something more unusual because she’s already met 20 little Lilys and Olivias.

        I do agree about that possibility in case #1. If I was Miffed Mom #1 I would regret having shared my top name choice – wondering if I’d planted an unconscious seed, if not a conscious one. And then you one day have to decide whether to still use Ethan or not – if you have a boy and your husband/boyfriend likes the name also.

        Oh and you get more empathy from me if you’re a name nerd and your name gets ‘used up’ before you get to use it! :P :)

        I have another friend who once told me that she would have used Henry for her 2009 son, had I not used it for my 2007 son. She wanted to avoid using names of kids she already knew. I personally like that rule, but obviously not everyone does. And she actually went on to name a second son a name that she did know other children with – so rules do bend. :)

  3. megalady says:

    I’ve seen someone get irritated because a friend “stole” their son’s name for her dog. I totally understand name possessiveness, but I think it’s silly. I have felt disappointed when my exceedingly rare favorite name has popped up in various places, but one just has to let go lest one become bitter.

  4. I think Miffed Mom #6 is the only “justified” mom. If a name is common (like Lily or Michael), it’s just silly to get riled up about it. Common names are common for a reason: they appeal to a wide range of people. Unusual names get sort of iffy, but if Miffed Mom and Thief Mom have the same unusual taste… so be it. When a name is unusual AND meaningful to Miffed Mom and Thief Mom uses it for no particular reason, I can totally see getting upset over that.

    I know two cases of Miffed Mom #6 that have occurred in my own family. The first happened with my aunt and uncle. At my uncle’s request, they named their son Dalton after Patrick Swayze’s character from Road House. My uncle LOVED that movie in high school. Fast forward a few months later, and my uncle’s high school girlfriend names her son Dalton… because my uncle loved the character so much. Keep in mind this is a small town where everyone knows each other and went to school together and goes to church together. My aunt and uncle were understandably mad and sort of creeped out.

    I also have a cousin who named her son her grandmother’s maiden name. Obviously very meaningful for her, and it’s a rare name in general. Then what happens? My cousin’s friend later gave her DAUGHTER the same name because she thought it “sounded cool.”

  5. “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet”
    Juliet, Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

    That is to say that the names of things do not so much matter, only what things are. It’s petty to worry about others using the name of your child, much less the “name to be” of a child unborn. Your child will grow up to be their own person, and whatever their name may be, it will be different in their mind from the way it was in your mind when you chose it.

  6. My mum has always loved the name Isaac for a boy and she told her at the time flat mate and her first son is Isaac it is also my little brothers name and mum has not seen this friend in years. I have shared some names wit my sister and she likes them and we agree whoever chooses it first wins

  7. Months ago i mentioned to my sister in law that i would like to have a daughter in the future and name her Alice after my Great Aunt. She gave birth to her daughter the other day and used Alice as a middle name, although its only the middle name i feel so upset and hurt by her doing this and now feel like i wont be able to use it in the future if i am lucky enough to be blessed with a daughter. I want to ask her why she did this knowing my love for the name but dont want to upset anyone by causing a fuss. Could someone please give advice???

    • If your sister-in-law is calling her daughter by her middle name, I might be hesitant to use it, but don’t feel that would preclude you from naming your daughter Alice. Assuming your sister-in-law is calling her daughter by her first name, I would not hesitate to use Alice if you get a chance. The only reason not to use Alice is if you happen to find another name you would rather use.

      You could even say your daughter was named after both your Great Aunt and her cousin. Your child might think this is neat. I wouldn’t say anything to your sister-in-law unless you find yourself pregnant and then you could say to your sister-in-law that if you have a girl you plan to name her Alice after your Great Aunt and her cousin. I only suggest saying that if it would make you feel better. I don’t find it necessary to say anything to your sister-in-law.

      This situation might seem disappointing now because you thought of Alice first. But these things have a way of working themselves out. Either you won’t have a daughter or so many years will pass before you have a daughter that time will change your perspective (either you won’t mind using Alice or you will find another reason to use another name).

      • FYI – Since the original post was published back in April, I plan to post this tomorrow, 10/30 to give your question more exposure with a more recent post. I believe if more readers see this, some readers could have some good advice for you. If we get rude responses, they will not pass moderation or will get taken down.

  8. Name theft is a big thing with me, mostly because I’m trying to avoid having my kids have really common names. So, I do tend to be pretty judicious about who I tell what I’m thinking we might name kids. I also am awful because I try to find out what others who are also expecting are going to name their kids, not so I can copy, but so I can avoid duplication, especially if they’re due before me. Once a kid is named, though, there’s nothing you can do to avoid others from following your example. Taking after, to me, isn’t nearly as big a deal as taking “before”, as is the case when two friends or relatives are both due within a few years of each other.

    So far, I don’t know any other kids with my daughter’s name…until I read this webpage. I have a Fiona Dawn, too! And it was so hard to come up with, with so many rejected names, and the middle name/first name combo being one I wasn’t wild about, but she’s named in honor of my mom (Dawn) who died two days before she was born. (And my mom approved of the name Fiona. That’s from Burn Notice. Not Shrek.)

    • I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. What a wonderful way to honor her. My daughter’s middle name is honoring for us too. She has the same middle name as me and my Mom, and Dawn is also my Sister-in-law’s name. I wouldn’t have picked Fiona Dawn for aesthetic reasons, but I feel it looks and sounds OK.

      • I’ve gotten used to it, but even before my mother got sick, we considered using her name for a hypothetical future child, and it was always on our middle name list. But I thought the combo of “Fiona Dawn” sounded too hick–kinda like Prairie Dawn from the Muppets! Now, I just think she’s a dinosaur: a Fionadon.

        • I’ve noticed Dawn has that effect when paired with a lot names that are fashionable now. For example, Sophiadon, Lyladon, Elladon, all sound like dinosaurs. My Mom and I have names with a different rhythm that must have been popular for the 70s. My Mom was born in the 50s, but her name Kimberly, was on the rise then, and ended up ranking just below my name, Angela, the year I was born. It would make sense that Dawn would flow better with those names since it is also a considered 70s name. Yeah, Dawn was is a little dated, but with middle names, I don’t care as much, especially when they are honoring.

  9. I had a hard time with names. I have five children, and an unusual name myself.
    My husband has a very common name and he hates it, especially as his step-brother who is only three months older has the exact same name! There’s lots of my Brad, your Brad comments. Makes it weird.
    My boys all have middle names that honour someone in our families. My girls middle names are the names I was going to call them, but got usurped by my husband.
    My eldest sons name is Caleb, and at the time no one had even heard of it! Now it’s pretty common. His. Idle name is James after my father who passed while I was pg. and my mothers eldest brother.
    My second son was named Jaiden by my hubby, and although I didn’t like it, there were no other kids around with it, or anything like it. Now it’s more common than Caleb! His middle names are Thomas and Walter, after my mothers second brother, and my uncle who is my surrogate Dad (and Pop to the kids).
    My first daughter is Joelle, my hubby’s ex’s name and I hated it for that reason, but he swore he just liked the name and as my Mum is a Josephine and my grandpa a Joseph, and my middle name is Jo, it kind of hit the honouring mark. It’s why her middle names are what I wanted to call her, Hannah Grace, (which turned out to be family names on hubby’s side).
    My next son is Kyan, very unusual and the only name I liked when pregnant. It’s after my brother Ryan and my sister Kacey. His middle names are Michael and William, after my husbands cousin who passed around that time and my mums youngest (and final) brother.
    My youngest daughter is Cheyla (pron. Shayla). I was set on Mia but when she was born early, we discovered there were 5 Mia’s on the maternity ward and another in the Special Care nursery! It was too popular. I was gutted and pressured by hubby to give her a name for Christmas so agreed to Cheyla (the name of one of my long time friends). It was the only other name he liked. Now is kind of weird that she is also a Cheyla but not spelled the same way. She always says, “it looks wrong” lol. Her middle names are Mia Cate (after my aunt Catherine). Incidentally, I have not heard of a single Mia anywhere around us since. Figures! Lol.
    I had a name picked out for what I believed would be a coming son, but then my cousin used it on her new son. We shelved it and turns out we didn’t need to choose a name anyway.
    My sister chose a name I’d never consider, so that was lucky, and he goes by his initials anyway. Darius James, DJ. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that our sons share a middle name. I like that we both got to honour Dad. Plus there is like 10 years between them.
    If it were to be on the agenda again, I have put my foot down and said I am choosing the name and hubby doesn’t get a say in it! He’s named three of the five, so it’s my turn!

  10. My husband and I were pregnant earlier this year and, in our excitement, we picked names that we both loved for either a boy or girl child: “Jack” and “Emily”. In our naivete, we shared our name choices with family and close friends: my best friend and her husband, and my husband’s best friend and his girlfriend. Sadly, I miscarried, but as we both loved the names we decided to shelve them for a later pregnancy, ever hopeful.

    About a month after my miscarriage, my husband’s best friend’s girlfriend fell pregnant – with twins. I was very happy for them, albeit tinged with a jealousy which I kept to myself. A happens with a new pregnancy, names came up in casual conversation. I was devastated when I discovered they loved “Jack” and “Emma”. “Emma” did not faze me, being different to “Emily”, however their choice of “Jack” had me seething, particularly as it hadn’t been all that long since we’d told them our name choices.

    When they found out that they were being blessed with a boy and a girl, they openly declared use of “Jack”, although changed “Emma” to “Holly”. I am still devastated, especially as “Jack” would have been in effect had my pregnancy run to full term and had it been a boy.

    I know that I cannot lay claim to the name and would not be upset had I a) not discussed names with them and they chose it anyway, or b) had I not been pregnant at the time of choosing the name.

    I do not know if my upset stems from remaining emotion over the miscarriage or if I am being justified in my hurt over this matter. I want to confront them and inform them that we still want to use the name and will if we have a boy one day, however it has been pointed out to me that honesty may not be the best policy here.

    Advice?

    • I am so sorry to hear about your miscarriage. {hugs}

      This is a difficult predicament. Maybe your feelings stem from your miscarriage, but that doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t justified.

      I feel there is no reason not to use Jack if you are blessed to have a boy later on. You already shared your plans to use Jack with these friends, and I don’t feel you need to share your plans again. Your plans are your own, and whether or not your share them is your choice. While this is probably not the case, if your friends feel you need to get their permission to use Jack or feel upset because you decided to stick with your original plan, that is rather presumptuous on their part.

      Now that I think about it, I would advise against bringing the subject up. You have every right to use Jack and there is no need invite the stress from confrontation after what you have been through. And if you decide not to use Jack for some other reason — maybe you will find another name you genuinely like better that will have nothing to do with your friends’ choice — then you may feel committed to using Jack creating more internal conflict. It’s just not worth it.

      I wish you nothing but the best, and I hope you come to peace with what’s happened. In your shoes I would be disappointed too, but I suggest not letting your friends’ decision dilute your enthusiasm for your name choices.

Trackbacks

  1. […] names. Comments from readers of this Name Lady article, They Want My Baby Name, suggest “Baby name theft” is a foreign concept to my grandmother’s generation. Best friends would both name […]

  2. […] in April I wrote about “baby name theft“. This is one of our popular posts, and gets lots of views six months after publication. Last […]

  3. […] themes. And the common themes weren’t the controversial baby names topics such as “baby name theft” or meddling, biased, unsolicited family advice, although these themes did come […]

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