When you second-guess a name

It’s happened to many of us. For whatever reason, we find ourselves second-guessing or outright changing our minds about a name for a baby, adopted child, pet, fictional character, or ourselves. This doesn’t mean the original name is bad, just that we’re having second thoughts.

When second thoughts strike, it’s important to consider why we’re no longer wild about that name. Such reasons might include:

1. You planned to change the birth name of an adopted child, but started feeling guilty about erasing such a visceral part of her or his native culture.

2. A name you loved for years has leapt to the top of the charts, and you don’t want people to assume you mindlessly followed a trend.

3. You discover the name you picked out months ago is this generation’s Jennifer or Jason.

4. The name you had your heart set on just doesn’t feel right on the baby once it’s born, or on a pet after you bring it home.

5. You’re from a culture or family where there’s enormous pressure to always and only name kids after relatives instead of original names you truly love. The thought of never getting a chance to use a special name you’ve loved for years would always haunt you.

6. You named a character before you were well-versed in names, and now you want something that’s more than just “there.” Absolutely nothing wrong with names like Jack, Beth, Bob, and Kate, but characters with distinctive names tend to be more memorable.

7. You’re choosing a new name for yourself as part of converting to a new religion, and realise how common it is in your community in general or that faith as a whole.

8. You want a new name for yourself for another reason, and the more time goes by, the more you realise it just doesn’t fit with who you are. That name also might sound ridiculous on someone of your age, since it only appeared on the charts a generation or two after you were born (like a certain 1976 Olympic gold medalist’s new name).

9. A name you love is very common, and you don’t want your child to go through school as, e.g., Sarah with an H #10, or every dog in the dog park responding when you call for Bailey.

10. The name has acquired a pop culture association you’d prefer to avoid.

Like with all gut feelings, there’s always a reason something’s bothering you, and keeps bothering you instead of quickly resolving like a case of cold feet. You need to decide if you truly want to change a name, or if you love it enough to overlook extreme popularity.

Yes, many people might assume you were mindlessly following trends and can’t think outside the Top 100 or a very small pool of traditional names, but if you chose that name in honour of a beloved great-grandparent, special friend, or person in history or the Bible whom you really admire, popularity shouldn’t bother you. You would’ve chosen that name regardless of current trends.

For a very long time, I’ve chosen the names of my journals in advance of starting them. Since #3, Cecilia, my journals have been named after songs, and I’ve always paired them (e.g., two songs from each band or performer, though not necessarily one after the other). Thus, I knew Cecilia’s pair would be Emily, after this gorgeous song:

By the time I was nearing the end of my seventh journal, Athena, I was starting to have serious second doubts about using Emily for the next one, since the name had become so freaking popular, and my taste in names is anything but Top 10. But then I realised popularity meant nothing when I’d had the name in mind for so long, and she was my journal and no one else’s. Emily also took her name from such a beautiful song, and the name is a classic.

I’m now fast nearing the end of my eleventh journal, Khanada (Ka-NAY-dah), and had started to reconsider naming the next Mary. It turned out I was mostly frustrated at this vow I’d held myself to all these years, exclusively naming journals after songs, having to pair them, and never using names I just like.

Since I released myself from that vow, I once more am very happy about naming my next journal Mary. I may indeed still name future journals Magnolia and Suzanne, but not because I felt compelled to.

Always consider your reasons for rethinking a name, and weigh the pros and cons of each decision. Sometimes it’s just cold feet, while other times there are compelling reasons to choose a different name.

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