How to avoid having regrets about giving your child a bad name

words Al Woods

Naming your child is a huge responsibility. You have to make a decision that both you and your child will be able to live with for your entire lives.

More than that, what someone is named can have an effect on many aspects of their life. Whether that’s right or not, it’s true – studies have shown that names can impact everything from how much money we spend to how employable we are. Is it any wonder that so many parents worry so much about giving their child a name?

giving your child a bad name

Living to Regret It

Recent studies, conducted by parenting sites, have shown that as many of 20% of parents come to regret giving their child the first name they chose. Below are a few of the reasons these parents gave for their remorse – hopefully reading them will help you avoid the same fate!

Giving your child a unique name, or more specifically a common name with a unique spelling, may seem like a great way to help them stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, many parents report that unusual or non-traditional name spellings cause all kinds of problems. Not only will friends, family members, teachers and colleagues all likely spell it incorrectly, the child themselves may struggle to learn it. And there’s only so long you can handle literally everyone you know getting it wrong before it starts to get annoying.

A similarly spelling-related annoyance for many parents occurs when their child’s peers, friends, loved ones or other family members shorten the name to something the parent doesn’t like. Of course, an easy way to get around this problem is to simply not give them an easily-shortened name, but some parents would rather run the risk and go with a name they love. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to make sure everyone in your kid’s life only ever calls them ‘Jennifer’, for example, and never ‘Jen’ or ‘Jenny’.

Another oft-reported reason for regretting a naming decision is that the parent never actually liked the name in the first place; they just went along with it for whatever reason (common reasons include family tradition, pressure from a partner or just not wanting to argue about it). This is a sure-fire road to name regret; if you didn’t love it in the first place, it’s unlikely you ever will – no matter how much you love the person it’s attached to.

Many people choose their child’s name while they’re still in the womb, and refer to the child by that name from the point that decision is made. But what if, when the baby comes, the name just doesn’t ‘fit’? Many parents find themselves in the unenviable position of having gotten attached to a name that, when it comes to it, just doesn’t work for their kid – no matter how much they love it. Some will plough ahead and use the name anyway, others will change their minds; being forced to give up the name they’d become so attached to in the process.

So should you change your child’s name? This isn’t a road that many parents go down, with only a few so horrified by the name they chose that they go ahead with changing it, but it might be the only solution if you genuinely can’t live with it. You may also choose to leave it up to them, and let them change it once they’re older if they want.

A more unusual, but no less frustrating, reason for baby-name regret is that something happens in popular culture that changes the public perception of that name. This is much more common if a child has been given the name of a figure from popular culture, such as a TV or movie character. To give an example; how many parents do you think have named their kid for their favorite TV character, only to have that character turn out to be the bad guy a couple of seasons later? Or given their child a seemingly innocuous name only for that same name to be given to, say, a hurricane?

True story: a friend of a friend gave her son the somewhat unusual name Dexter, which she had loved since she was a child. Three years later, the TV series Dexter began airing, where the main character – complete with her son’s name – turned out to be a serial killer. This may seem like nothing, but it’s proven that instances like these can change how parents feel about their kids’ names.

Family names are common in countries right across the world. This might be a traditional first name, middle name or last name, but choosing a family name can be a step on the road to regret. This is especially true for people who use family names just to appease someone else, or to fit in with a family they are married into, or because it’s just the ‘done’ thing. Family names also often skew a little older, and many parents don’t want to give their child a name that was trendy when their great-great-great grandmother was born. While name trends are cyclical and many more traditional names are popular today, this is not always the case and giving your child a name generally associated with the elderly may hurt not only you, but them too.

kids names

Common, or Uncommon?

Are you more likely to regret giving your child a common name, or an unusual one? It’s actually not quite that straightforward; common and uncommon names are equally likely to be regretted, but for wildly different reasons.

Several studies have shown that children given ‘normal’ names, the Jacks and Rachels of the world, are more likely to succeed in their chosen career. This is due to common names being viewed as more trustworthy, and the people with those names as being sensible or level-headed. However, the parents who give their children these names often wish they had been a little braver in their choice. It may come down to what is more important; their name, or their future.

On the other hand, parents who give their children unusual names often worry that their children won’t be taken seriously as they become adults. Giving a child a name that other people find amusing or ridiculous can lead to them being mocked, bullied, or worse. Some research indicates that children given ‘comical’ names are more likely to be passed over for jobs, promotions or other opportunities. This might not matter if you’re Audio Science Clayton and your mom is famous actress Shannyn Sossamon, but it might if you’re just an Average Joe (or average Bear Claw, or whatever). And even some celebrity babies did take the plunge and change their name – have you heard of the film director Duncan Jones? He was born Zowie Bowie, son of David Bowie. He changed it after going by the name Joe in his teen years.

How to Avoid Name Regret

If you want to avoid baby name regret, here are ways to protect yourself and your children.

Our first tip is to do your research; we already mentioned how perceptions of certain names can change with time, and that’s hard to predict, but you can research any current perceptions and occurrences of the name you’ve chosen. For example, you may be thinking your name choice is unusual only to find out it’s in the top 10 most popular. It only takes a few minutes to check and could save you years of wishing ‘if only’.

Many people like to ‘surprise’ with their name choice and flatly refuse to reveal it until after the baby arrives, but telling a few trusted people what you’re planning to call your future child can help you get to grips with whether it’s a good decision. They might know something that you don’t, or just provide a useful sounding board for you to discuss your thought process.

Think ahead. Don’t leave coming up with a shortlist of baby names, or settling on a favorite, until just before he or she arrives. If you’ve been struggling to come up with something all these months, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be hit with a sudden burst of inspiration in the birthing suite. Come up with at least a few potential names that you like, even if you’ve not made a final decision.

If you’ve managed to make a shortlist but can’t decide on a final name, don’t try and cross off names by considering their flaws. If you do that, you’ll always associate even your favorite name with all the things you don’t like about it! Instead, think of reasons why you like each name on the list. One name will have more positives than the others, and will come out on top for all the right reasons.

Whatever decision you come to about your child’s name, remember this – it’s unlikely to do them any serious, long-term harm (unless you’re the Kiwi parents who named their daughter Talula does the Hula from Hawaii). Take your time, don’t worry, and the right name will come to you.

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