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Heavy Meddle: My Mother-In-Law Is Steamrolling Our Baby Naming Process

How to best solve a baby naming conflict with the in-laws? (Kris Kesiak/flickr)
How to best solve a baby naming conflict with the in-laws? (Kris Kesiak/flickr)
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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions to advice@wbur.org. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

Dear Steve,

How would you best solve a baby naming conflict with an in-law? The catch: I would like to use my mother's middle name. My mother-in-law would like to use her middle name, as well — as in hyphen it. The other catch: my mother-in-law and I share the same first name.

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Signed,
Fearing Name Blame

Dear Fearing,

Your question reminds me of an anecdote that I hope will help put things in perspective.

When my wife discovered that she was pregnant with our first child, a little girl, there was much excitement in the Almond clan. Why? Because there hadn’t been a baby girl Almond in nearly six decades! Just boy after boy. The family line was due. My dad, in particular, was delighted. But he was also eager that we name the baby Elizabeth. In fact, he took to referring to the baby as Elizabeth. He thought it was a beautiful name, old-fashioned and elegant and flexible. “She could be called Liz or Betsy or Beth!” he cheerfully explained. Elizabeth was also the name of the heroine of “Pride and Prejudice,” one of his favorite novels. The guy had his reasons. And for that matter, he had a middle name all picked out, too: Ann, in honor of his beloved mother-in-law.

As it turns out, we liked Elizabeth Ann quite a lot. It was on our list of finalists. But in the end, we chose names that were a bit more esoteric: Josephine Collette. (My wife’s favorite literary character is Jo from “Little Women.” As for Collette, we just liked the way it sounded.)

Anyway, in the blurry hours after Josie was born, I remember hurrying down to the lobby of the hospital to call my dad. “Hey pop,” I said. “You finally have a granddaughter: Josephine Collette Almond!”

There was an ominous silence.

“What happened to Elizabeth Ann,” he said finally. Then: “Josephine Collette? Since when are we French royalty?”

Oh God, I thought. Did I just create a situation? Is he going to bear this child a grudge?

Whatever you call her, you will fall in love with her (and so will your mother-in-law!) and all this huzzah about what to name her will seem kind of beside the point.

The answer, Fearing, is: No. Almost as soon as he said this, he did what every sane grandparent on earth does: he asked about how the labor went and what Josie looked like and how much she weighed and all the other important questions that prevail when a new life enters the world. The name thing was a fleeting disappointment, quickly swallowed up by the encompassing joy of the birth.

Which is as it should be. Step back a few steps here, Fearing. Your daughter-to-be isn’t a football stadium. She’s a little human being. Whatever you call her, you will fall in love with her (and so will your mother-in-law!) and all this huzzah about what to name her will seem kind of beside the point. We could have called our daughter Kweezle Turdella and we would love her just as much and be unable to imagine her as anything other than Kweezle Turdella. And not only that, but you’re not even going to call the kid by her proper name. You’re going to find all kinds of weird goofy nicknames like Goo and Diggy and Rorobella.

So that’s the big picture.

As for your particular situation, I feel compelled to note that it sounds fraught.

To summarize: you would like to give your baby your mother’s middle name (say, Julia). Your mother-in-law wants you to give the baby her middle name, too (say, Sharon). But the latter is also your name. So your mother-in-law wants you to name the baby Julia-Sharon. Mom is Sharon Jones. Baby is Julia-Sharon Jones. That sounds awfully confusing.

Ultimately, this is a decision that you and your husband should make. And my basic take (commenters, feel free to take me to task) is that the woman gets the deciding vote because she is the one who carries the baby inside her for nine months, then pushes it out of her body. It seems to me she’s entitled to naming rights, as well as a great deal of love, support, ice cream and painkillers. If you want to honor your mother (perhaps she is deceased?) by choosing her middle name, that’s what you should do. What matters isn’t what you name the baby but how much you love her.

We had our third child, another girl, nine months ago. Again, my dad hoped for Elizabeth Ann. We went with Rosalie Annabelle, because she looked like a gorgeous little rose at birth. My dad is head over heels in love with her. We all are. That’s how it works.

So mazel tov on the impending birth!

You have a lot of joy in store for little Kweezle Turdella Julia-Sharon Fearing.

Steve

Okay folks, now it's your turn. Did I get it right, or muck it up? Let me know in the comments section. And please do send your own question along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don't have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your dilemmas via email.

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