As soon as I found out the sex of my boys, my mind starting spinning with thoughts of what we’d name them.
My first son’s name was a slam dunk: Benjamin, the name of my beloved maternal grandpa who had died just a few years prior. But his middle name was a bit of a question mark. I thought maybe we’d use my paternal grandfather’s name, but we were also considering my husband’s grandfather, with whom my husband had a very close bond.
Innocently enough, we shared these thoughts with family members. Everyone had an opinion about the middle name—passionate opinions, tearful opinions. I understood to some extent: When you are talking about beloved family members who are gone and missed, it can get that way. But I had severely underestimated the insistence that certain members of my family had about which names we (the parents!) should choose.
We ended up giving him my husband’s maternal grandfather’s name as a middle name. Part of it was because we liked this name best; part of it was the bond my husband had with his grandpa; but part of it was…pressure, guilt, and a whole lot of freaking pressure.
Little did I know this baby name drama was my first taste of family members offering their sometimes very strong opinions about parenting. From sleeping to eating to weaning, everyone had an opinion and seemed insistent on sharing it.
As time went on, I developed a thicker skin, and became more comfortable with my own choices as a mother no matter what opinions were voiced around me. But perhaps I was a bit too confident, because when it came time to name our second child, I made the same mistake again—I included family members in the naming discussion.
Why hadn’t I learned the first time?
This time we weren’t considering naming our child after anyone who died. We were just trying to think of a nice, simple name for our baby. Nothing bizarre like Diesel or Denim, nothing strange like Kale or Celestial. Our choices included Simon, Charlie and Peter. What could there be to argue about?
We were leaning most toward to Peter. We had been spending nights reading Peter Pan to our older son. Soon after, we read him the Narnia books, and we all adored “King Peter.” When I closed my eyes and felt the baby move, he seemed like a “Peter” to me. Sometimes moms just have this sense, you know?
Still, nothing had been decided, and we casually mentioned “Peter” as a top choice to our families. Some liked it well enough. Some were sort of neutral. And some hated it. No, not just, “I don’t really like that name,” but “Please don’t name the baby that.”
I didn’t even probe for why, or what on earth was wrong with it. I was so uncomfortable with the reaction that I excused myself from the conversation, locked myself in the bathroom and cried.
It seems dramatic now, recounting this all. But in my heart, I knew our boy was a Peter, and I couldn’t believe that the name had been so harshly slammed. Plus, I was terribly hormonal. In fact, that same night my water broke and I went into labor with my Peter.
The name discussion didn’t exactly taint my experience of laboring and birthing our son, but it was there in the background. I was still raw from how upset I felt by family who were so freely announcing their hatred of our top name choice.
When my little guy emerged, with one eye glued closed with goop, and his cute little crooked jaw line, we started calling him “Popeye.”
But when our older son came an hour or so later to meet him, he immediately asked us what we picked as his name. He had been in on name the discussions too, though I wasn’t sure how much attention he was paying. When we told him that we hadn’t decided on a name yet, he looked at us like we had nine heads. “His name is Peter,” he said, incredulous.
That sealed the deal, and we were happy to name him that. As for our family members who didn’t approve, they never uttered another word. Once Peter was here, that was his name, and there were no more negotiations or questions.
I don’t exactly blame my family for voicing their opinions about our name choices. Perhaps they could have been more open-minded and less forceful with their opinions. But we were the ones who put the name choices out there, and although we weren’t directly asking for opinions, maybe we should have known to expect them.
Ultimately, what to name your kid—like so many parenting choices—should be completely up to you and your partner (if your partner is part of the picture). Truly, no one else’s opinion matters. And most of us aren’t talking about naming our kids anything outlandish or harmful. We’re talking about a goddamn name.
If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t have told any living soul one tiny, minuscule thing about what I was going to name my kids. Nada, Zilch, Zero—no one’s business but my own.