Reader Q&A: 4-Week-Old Nameless Son

I’m always humbled and flattered when a reader reaches out for help. In this case, I felt a huge responsibility because reader Carrie’s little son has already passed his one-month birthday and still has no name!

This is a classic case of when every name seems wrong. With Carrie’s permission, I have posted her request with minor editing. The baby’s last name has been partially obscured for privacy reasons.

Carrie writes:

My son is 4 weeks old and still nameless. My husband and I cannot agree. We looked at pretty much every name in existence and are down to Archer, Oliver, Charlie and Bodhi/Bode/Bodie (just deciding on spelling.) We are actually starting to look at other names and rehash our old long list because we cannot agree and nothing is standing out.

Oliver is my #1 and has been a favorite for years. Our older son is named Liam, and Oliver was on our short list for him as well. It was in our final 2 and he was two days old before I agreed to name him Liam. My husband knew the instant that he saw him that he was Liam, so I trusted him and his fatherly instincts. Today, he is very much a Liam. It fits him perfectly.

We hoped the same thing would happen, that one name would just fit when our second was born. We didn’t really have a short list, though, so we were flailing, and still are.

My husband is stuck on Archer. I do not mind it, but it isn’t a favorite of mine. And here’s the big problem: our last name is S***er. I’m not a fan of how Archer S***er sounds together, but I’m not sure how important that is, really.

Yesterday, my husband informed me that he doesn’t even like Oliver anymore. I’m not sure where that’s coming from since he’s been ok with it all along.

Charlie and Bodhi are our alternates. We both like them, neither of us love them. I feel like my husband is just holding his breath until I finally give in and name him Archer.

Nothing seems right and I am ready to give up. Do you have any advice? Help? Please? We are pretty desperate

My response:

Given that your son is already 4 weeks old, I feel your urgency. I didn’t realize hospitals discharged parents with a nameless baby, but that rule must be a myth. When I read your letter, a few things stood out.

The first one was that you said you had already looked at every name in existence. This led me to suspect that you need to narrow down your list and a list of names from me may only add to your dilemma. But none of the names on your shortlist seem like the name.

The second thing that stood out was that you and your husband made your list together, but for your first son your husband made the final decision. I suspect you would like a chance to make the final decision on son two’s name. And that is reasonable, especially if you don’t think you are going to have any more children. At the same time, I don’t want your husband to feel like he is settling for a name he doesn’t like. I don’t want either one of you to feel like you are settling for a name that doesn’t feel right.

It sounds like you and your husband are at an impasse. You really like Oliver. He really likes Archer. Neither one of you are willing to agree to the other name.

I agree the flow with Archer S***er isn’t ideal. It wouldn’t be a big deal if you both loved the name, but it sounds like you don’t love it. I thought Oliver would have similar problems with the -er ending, but since it has an extra syllable and the stress on a different syllable, it flows a little better with the last name.

Sometimes the right name is one that had been previously discarded. I think revisiting your long list is a good idea. I’m going to give some suggestions, but only because I suspect some of these names were on your long list, and if you see a name on my list and your long list, maybe that will make you more confident about a discarded name.

Oliver made me think of Owen, Olin, Olson, Calvin, Clive, Everett.

Charlie and Bodhi made me think of Freddie (big in the U.K.), Louie, Huey, Jamie, Darby, Chauncey, Clancy, Kirby, Toby.

Toby reminded me of Tobias, but then I said Tobias with S***er, and didn’t like how they run together. Which is too bad, since I love Tobias and like how it pairs with Liam.

I also thought of Declan, the name of another reader’s son from a recent Reader Q&A post, that I thought you might like. It pairs well with Liam, and S***er.

Declan made me think of Duncan and Deacon.

Liam and Owen made me think of Ewan (top 100 in Scotland, but surprisingly underused in other English-speaking countries).

Or maybe Charlie or Bodhi is the name.  They are both nice names, and perhaps if you and your husband can’t live with the other’s favorite, a good compromise is picking a name you both like enough but neither one of you love.

We would all love our children’s names to just hit us with this overwhelming conviction that “this is the name” the second we hear it, sort of like love at first sight. But sometimes love comes at second or third or fourth sight, and I suspect that may be the case with your second son’s name.

I didn’t love my son’s name when I chose it. I chose my son’s name for family significance and because my husband didn’t like any of my other suggestions and had none of his own. But I love my son’s name now. I’m convinced the name I chose fits my son, and I know you will feel the same way, even if you pick a name you simply like and don’t love right now.

Good luck.

Carrie’s response:

Thank you so much for your quick response.  I didn’t respond immediately because I thought we had it and on  Wednesday evening, thought we were going to go with Bodhi, but now are, of course, rethinking.  I have reservations about how well Bodhi or Bode will serve him throughout his life.

Your suggestions were great ones and many of them we went over. Funny, we just started talking about Duncan a few days ago.  We both agreed that we like it a lot, love that it has Scottish roots (like Liam) and agree that our little red-haired guy actually looks like a Duncan.  However, two big drawbacks.  First, we live in New England and Dunkin Donuts are on every street corner.  Second, no good obvious nicknames, or simple shortenings, which is an important factor for me. So, Duncan is off the list, sadly.

Declan was suggested recently and we seriously considered it.  My husband liked it, and we agreed that it went nicely with Liam, so I gave it a shot.  We watched the grandparents call him that a couple of times and I liked it less the more times they said it.  The sound is too harsh, I think, I’m not sure.  There’s just something about it that doesn’t sit right with me.

We considered Owen, Louie, Jamie, Toby, Calvin and Everett.  Owen is a family name with a negative connection for me, unfortunately.  I have considered overlooking it because it is so perfect, but I can’t.  I like the nickname Cal, so we discussed Calvin.  My husband likes Calvin for the Hobbes connection but Calvin sounds really dorky to me, which I can’t seem to shake no matter how much I like it.  I like Everett a lot, and its also a family name for me, but my husband doesn’t like it, unfortunately.

We had a long talk last night on our drive home from Thanksgiving, and my husband just doesn’t like Oliver.  He tried to make himself like it, he said, but he couldn’t.  I don’t mind Archer, I kind of like the nicknames Archie and Ace, but it is a little heartbreaking to me that I won’t really *love* either of my boys names.  Oliver and Wilder are the only names I love, and they’re both out.  I feel like if I agree to Archer, I will just be settling and my husband will have named both of our boys.  Or maybe I am just over thinking it all.

It feels like everyone who names a child falls in love with one easily and then sticks with it and it’s that simple.  It is great to hear that it hasn’t been so easy for some others, and that even for others, like you, you don’t necessarily love a name when you choose it, and that’s ok.  Thanks for that vote of confidence.

I would love to hear others input also, so if you want to share on your page, that would be great!  

Looking at Liam’s chalkboard easel here in our living room, it is filled with crossed off names.  Here are just some of them:

Finnegan, Griffin, Boone, Duncan, Pax, Wilder, Cooper, Owen, Keaton, Theodore, Milo, Beckett, Dutch, James, Rafferty, Beau, Indy/Indiana, Bartholomew, Thatcher, Dempsey, Noah, Asa, Brodie, Aaron

Thanks so much for this!  🙂

My response:

Your concern with Duncan is familiar because we also live in New England around a lot of Dunkin Donuts. While I never noticed the connection, my husband did, and he vetoed it for our son. My husband’s main concern was that he was a chubby child, and in case our son took after him, he didn’t want our son carrying the extra Dunkin Donuts burden. Ironically our son is a peanut.

You may have noticed that every name will have a drawback. The trick is to decide which drawbacks you can live with. Maybe my readers can shed more light on which drawbacks they could live with and which ones are deal breakers. But in the end, the decision is very personal. For me clashing with the last name is a deal breaker, while clashing with a sibling name is not, unless distinguishing among the siblings’ names is difficult. Someone else may disagree with me.

The names crossed off your easel are terrific. I really love Rafferty, and know a little boy named Thatcher, which has grown on me. I was going to suggest Thatcher, along with Fletcher and Spencer, but was trying to steer you clear of -er ending names because of your last name. But if you find that name you both love that happens to end in -er, I wouldn’t nix the name for that reason alone.

Readers: What would you named baby boy S***er? Which drawbacks are deal breakers and which drawbacks could you learn to live with?

When Every Name Seems Wrong: The Cure

Do any of these stories sound familiar?

Scenario 1: We Don’t Like Any Names!

You and your other half are expecting, and you have poured over baby name books, looking for a name that jumps out at you and screams, This is your baby! but after looking at thousands of names, none of them seem right.

Scenario 2: Good Names are Ruined by Bad Kids!

You or your partner work with a lot of kids, maybe one or both of you are teachers or day care workers, and you hear the same names or a group of similar names every year among your students. Or you find a name you like and it gets ruined because of a problem child.

Scenario 3: We Can’t Agree!

You and your other half have very different tastes in names, and you each despise the other’s favorites. Finding a name that both of you can merely live with seems like too much compromise. You want to find that name both of you love, but with your different tastes that task seems impossible. What to do?

The Game Plan

While I’m not claiming that naming a baby is a completely logical process, having a process can help you conquer overwhelm. Here’s the process we’ve developed to help deal with these all too common scenarios. The steps are:

  1. Take a Break
  2. Manage Your Expectations
  3. Determine Your Priorities
  4. Focus on What You Can Control (Let Go of What You Can’t)

Take a Break

Assuming you are not days away from birth, sometimes taking a break is the best thing to do. For one week, do not discuss, read or even think about names.

This might be hard. As a distraction, focus on other activities to plan for your arrival. After birth, you will be too tired to do anything but feed, clean and dress your baby. Before birth is a good time to decorate the nursery take up scrap booking, etc.

If you happen to come across an interesting name during your week-long naming hiatus, by all means, put it on your list, but other than that, avoid actively searching for names. After not thinking about names, your mind will be clear of clutter and you can continue to the next steps.

Manage Your Expectations

Perhaps taking a break is not possible if the birth of your child is fast approaching, but no matter where you are in your pregnancy, you can manage your expectations. How do you do that?

Realize you will not find the perfect name, but you will find the right name. The right name may not grab you but could gradually grow on you over time. Instead of looking for a name that will give you an exhilarating rush, think about names you like on real people.

Determine Your Priorities

Think about what you want in a name. If unsure of where to start, these guide lines can help. Some examples of name priorities are:

1. How the name coordinates with the last name
2. Style – How the name coordinates with sibling or future sibling names. Do you generally like modern or vintage names?
3. Uniqueness – Is fitting in important or do you place a higher value on individuality?
4. Family tradition – Do you wish to continue family name traditions or do you wish to create a new family name tradition?

The order of these examples is in no way the suggested priority. Order of priority will vary for each family.

Determining your priorities will help narrow down choices. The growing name pool has overwhelmed parents with so many choices, explains Laura Wattenberg on The Baby Name Wizard Blog.  This phenomenon has been coined The Paradox of Choiceby psychologist Barry Schwartz who argues that consumers given too many choices will feel overwhelmed.

Cut down choices and manage overwhelm by using your priorities as a framework.

Focus On What You Can Control

Remember The Serenity Prayer?

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

the courage to change the things I can;

and the wisdom to know the difference.

I often replace “change” in the serenity prayer with “control” in my head, and the message is essentially the same. First focus on what you can control and then accept what you can’t control.

You can control:

  1. Your baby’s name

You can’t control:

  1. A formerly unique name becoming popular seemingly overnight and ending up on five friends’ babies over the course of two years.
  2. An otherwise wonderful name becoming the name of the a child who could have been the devil’s spawn.
  3. Your favorite name getting used for a friend or acquaintance’s baby
  4. How your child will feel about her name as she grows up.

We have just gone over the basic framework for this series. Over the next couple of weeks, we will go over examples of how to apply each step in real-life, based on the scenarios described.

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