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You named him what?! Offbeat baby names can deliver bundles of trouble

The Kansas City Star

When Anna Roth finally settled on a name for her first baby, she excitedly called her mom.

The reveal was an unforgettable moment, to be sure.

“Yuck,” her mother said. “I hate it.”

Roth was momentarily stunned, but she named her son Finley nonetheless. The 27-year-old Gardner woman laughs it off. Friends told her that her mom would learn to love it.

“I still hate it,” says Joyce Coy, who hasn’t budged one iota even as her grandson prepares to turn 1.

She calls him Bug.

Many new parents are skipping family tradition and bucking grandparent objection when it comes to baby names. Parents are forgoing “Junior” and casting away family names that have been passed down — reluctantly or not — for generations in favor of modern monikers.

After all, did singer Alanis Morissette consult her mom before naming her baby girl Onyx this summer? Now that would be ironic.

“Lately among my clients the source of stress between the generations is not so much about carrying on family names. It is more often about getting grandparents and friends to accept contemporary naming trends such as unisex names — Is Peyton a boy or a girl? — and vintage names,” says Sherri Suzanne, who helps parents create names as part of her New York business My Name for Life. “The generation that produced Jennifer and Jason doesn’t always see the appeal of Henry and Sadie.”

Count Coy squarely among those who detest unisex names — like Finley.

“It’s a crossover name or whatever they call it. I think it’s a girl’s name, and it reminds me of Mrs. Finley, who was old and mean,” says Coy, 60, of Overland Park, describing a family acquaintance from decades ago.

Roth laughs.

“I think it’s funny. I give her a hard time about it sometimes. She doesn’t grimace or say anything about it now,” Roth says.

But friends and family are shocked at Coy’s response.

“Joyce, that’s mean!” they tell her.

“It’s not mean, it’s the truth,” says the grandmother who spends many hours loving on Finley and has a wonderful relationship with Roth. “I couldn’t pretend like I like it. To me that’s lying. I don’t have to like it. It’s not my kid.”

So how much stress does picking a name entail?

So much that a growing service industry is helping parents pick names. It should be no surprise, given how much emphasis businesses have placed on branding in recent decades. Why should a baby’s name be any different?

Suzanne spends 30-plus hours working on a single name recommendation and charges several hundred dollars. Experts point out that such services have solved all types of problems for parents — and preserved family harmony at Thanksgiving.

“I’m proud to have generated lovely names in recent years for a mother looking to honor her indigenous Mexican heritage, a parent with a speech impediment searching for a name without challenging sounds, a Brazilian-American wanting an English name that read the same in Portuguese and multiple families where Mom and Dad had completely different tastes,” Suzanne says. “It is heartwarming to find the name that relieves anxiety and brings peace to families.”

Rachel O’Brien, of Holt, Mo., didn’t hire any consultant, but she and her husband had a firm list of parameters for naming their babies.

The names had to be easy to pronounce, end with an “n” and have no more than two syllables. If the name showed up in even one top 100 name list during the last five years it was booted.

“We got Raegan Grace and Corbin Paul,” she says. “We did not tell anyone ahead of time because I didn’t want their judgment. We have a very large family on both sides with lots of strong opinions, and the people-pleaser in me couldn’t deal with being swayed by others. I wanted to decide all on my own.”

At Home Holistic in Overland Park, owner and doula Ashley Walburn has seen and heard it all. The yoga and holistic center specializes in services for mothers.

She can’t forget the time several years ago when a grandmother couldn’t get past a name, even in the delivery room. After the monumental exhilaration of a baby, the room was filled with love. Then Grandma walked in.

“She came in to meet her new grandbaby and didn’t say, ‘How are you?’ The mom had just had a new baby,” Walburn says. “The first thing she said was, ‘Tell me you didn’t name the baby that.’ That was the first thing she said!”

It rattled everyone.

“It was really, really upsetting for the mom,” Walburn says.

Walburn has advice for anyone who doesn’t like a name, even people who think they’re close to a mom. If somebody asks your opinion, then it’s OK to give it.

“You can still give it in a kind way,” she says. “If there are two names, say, ‘I like Tom better than I like Matt.’ But don’t say: ‘I hate Tom! I was afraid you were going to choose that.’ 

Being kind is so much easier.

“It really ends up being an injury to your relationship with that person. It’s just being unconscious versus being mindful. If you take a moment and think — could this impact this person in a negative way — they probably wouldn’t have said it,” she says. “It feels so poisonous and feels so personal.”

Then again, sometimes snarky grandparents’ hearts are in the right places.

Like it or not, names matter. So does spelling.

“Names that are unflattering, evoke unpleasant associations, deliberately form puns or rhymes, or are not pronounced or spelled in a manageable and intuitive way make life more difficult,” Suzanne says.

She often encourages clients to flip their thinking.

“I want parents to worry less about popularity or uniqueness and instead pick a name they love to say and pay attention to how ‘user-friendly’ (the) name is. How confidently would a person with that name introduce himself or herself? How easily can a teacher call on a child with that name or how easily will a prospective employer read it off a resume?”

And if your friend’s or family member’s chosen baby name still doesn’t meet your standards?

Walburn knows exactly what you should say: “ ‘Congratulations! What a great name!’ Even if you hate it.”

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