I Went To Extreme Lengths To Keep Our Baby's Name A Secret

by Rachel Garlinghouse
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Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

I didn’t want any name we chose for our kids to be stolen. Yes, “stolen” is a drastic word choice—and it is quite fitting. Anyone who has had a name they’ve claimed taken from them by a family member, friend, neighbor, or co-worker and used for a child knows what I’m talking about. It’s not cool, and it happens all too often.

We have four children, and with our first two, the name question was a non-issue. We’re a family-by-adoption, and we only had a few hours to name our daughters. Both times, we hadn’t even met the girls yet—but our lawyer needed a name to put on the paperwork to take to court. We had thrown around some names while waiting to be chosen for a child, and we were able to agree rather quickly. Once we went to court, we called our family members and friends to share the good news and reveal our baby’s name.

When it came time to name our third child, whom we learned was going to be a little boy, we had two months to come up with a name. I’m a planner, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to doodle-script some names on notebook paper. Brainstorming was in full swing.

I decided it would be a great idea to get my parents and siblings in on the baby naming game. One night while having a family dinner, I asked what they thought about the name I loved. When I told them I wanted to name our new son Clark—yes, after Clark Kent—I was met with eye rolls and groans. They took my idea and ran over it—before running with it.

My mom was certain our child must have a Biblical name. The idea of naming my kid Leviticus or Obadiah didn’t exactly thrill me. My younger sister, who was ready to start her own family, was really into nature-inspired names. I, on the other hand, wasn’t too keen on putting Lake, Pine, or Everest on my son’s birth certificate. Then my brother, who used to make us call him Rocky when he was young, offered up names inspired by historical figures. I wasn’t down with Abraham, Martin, or Frederick. No disrespect. It’s just that none of these ideas sat well with me.

I was more into non-traditional, not-popular-right-now names. I didn’t want my son to be among four other Aidens in his class. I’m a fan of vintage names, made-up names (that aren’t too out-there), and variations of popular names.

The conversation didn’t end until my son was born. I got several follow-up texts and e-mails from my siblings and parents—all weighing in on what our future son’s name should be. I decided then and there that collectively naming a child is a horrible idea. The more suggestions I got, the more annoyed and confused I felt. Plus, as a former teacher, I associated a lot of names with past students.

I finally just told everyone that my kid was going to be Steven Jr. after my husband—which was a total lie. Yes, this was a cop-out. And no, I don’t regret it. I was too stressed about the adoption to negotiate names with my second cousin. Plus, who could argue with naming a child after a parent without insulting the parent’s name?

When we went to adopt a fourth child, we had even more time to name her. Four whole months of name debates — but this time, the conversations were only between my husband and me. I was involving no one else. I didn’t want scoffs, snarls, or side-eyes.

We went old school, heading to the bookstore and looking through numerous baby name books. I also did tons of online searches, researching each name’s meaning and alternative spellings. I was determined to choose the perfect name. When we finally landed on what we wanted to name our baby girl, we ordered a beautiful gold wall-vinyl of her name to put on her bedroom wall.

As soon as it arrived, I applied it to the wall and snapped a picture to send to her biological mother for approval. Then I promptly taped white paper over the name on the nursery wall, making sure no one who visited would see the name — and judge it — before her birth.

Of course, this drove my extended family nuts. My mom told me I should just tell her, so she could work on one of her many crafty projects where she personalized items for her grandkids. I stood my ground again, not wanting any feedback. Though, I knew my mom would love any name we chose because it meant another grandkid was arriving. (Despite the fact that it wasn’t a Biblical name.)

Until the adoptions were official, we kept our babies’ names a secret. I would simply refer to them as “the baby” and move on. Yes, we got a lot of prompting and prodding to dish the chosen name. Some even tried to trick us into saying it. I only gave in once—telling my BFF what we were naming baby number four after swearing her to secrecy. I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

Maybe I should have dished the names sooner, just to get people off our backs. But the reality was that an adoption can go from happening to not at any moment on the journey—and I was afraid to share the name and have my heartbroken. Using the generic “the baby” was not only protecting the name we chose, but also protecting our hearts. I also didn’t want to risk a pregnant friend loving the name we chose, and then — oops! — using some version of it for their own kid. Though real friends don’t back-stab like that, right?

No matter how your children come to you, just name your kid what you want. Be warned. If you decide to share the name before your kiddo arrives, someone is bound to get under your skin and spoil your joy. If that happens, it’s a great time to let them know they’re welcome to name their kids whatever they want, too. What you choose isn’t up for debate—or theft.

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