The majority of parents won't change their child's name after writing it on a birth certificate. Of course, that's not to say it never happens — you probably saw Kylie Jenner headlining news about her son's impending name change within a few months of his birth. (Jenner intends to change it from Wolf Webster to an undetermined name at some point in the future.) But back to the majority of people: You likely choose your child's name, assign it to them, and never think twice about it unless you — or they — end up disliking it.
Switching your kid's legal name to a new one while they're an infant is harmless enough, but how do you decide to go about the decision if it's your young child who's seeking the swap? First, we need to chat about what's in a name anyway.
How important is a name to a child's identity?
Studies show that babies can recognize their own names between 4 and 6 months of age. And as your child develops and forms a sense of self, their name becomes an integral part of their identity, particularly if they know the significance behind their name. "A name is such a personal choice and is the first gift that we give our children. For that reason, it is loaded with meaning and desire and hope and love," says Joanna Fortune, a psychotherapist specializing in parent-child relationships and the author of 15 Minute Parenting and Why We Play. "The story of your name is a significant part of the story we live by."
Why might your child not like their name?
There's no singular reason for a child disliking their given name. Among the possibilities: They want a more "typical" name to fit in better with peers if theirs isn't common, they feel that it doesn't align with their gender, or they're in an exploratory stage where they're experimenting with their whole identity. Regardless, a child's disapproval of their name deserves thoughtful consideration, as it could alleviate stress and bolster self-esteem.
Below, you'll find the steps you can take to ensure your child feels adequately cared for if they're expressing discomfort with their name.
Step 1: Learn what about their name is troublesome.
Your course of action should depend on your child's reasoning for disliking their name. If your 5-year-old is still developing their sense of self and dislikes their name, you might consider a temporary change to what you refer to them as around the house and plan to follow up with them. A 12-year-old seeking to change their pronouns and name to align with a gender not assigned at birth may be best served by a legal name change.
Step 2: Agree to try a nickname.
Whether your child is still in the early years of development or well into adolescence, a compromise could be coming up with a nickname to call them. A tip for choosing one: "I would advise against body-based nicknames; they tend to be the ones children object most to," Fortune says. This means straying from names like "Shorty" or "Tiny" that they may feel embarrassed about later.
Step 3: Inform educators and parents.
If you and your child agree on a nickname they want to be called outside of the home, speak with your child's school, activity leaders, friends' parents, and any other significant adults in their life to inform them of the change. "State clearly and unapologetically that they are now using this name, and this is what they should be called now," says Fortune. Hopefully, doing so mitigates the number of times your child needs to correct someone about their name.
Step 4: Consider a legal name change.
Depending on your child's age, you may consider a legal name change. Fortune recommends waiting until your child is certain they want to stick with their new chosen name before changing formal documents, or waiting until they are old enough to go through the process on their own.
That said, she says the circumstances should be treated differently if your child wanting to change their name is connected to their gender identity. "If your child is living with a self-selected gender identity (rather than assigned-at-birth identity), the name you gave them may not be appropriate for them anymore and may, in fact, serve to trigger anxiety," Fortune says. "Allow them to tell you the name they are comfortable being called, follow steps regarding school and family, and support them with changing travel documents."
Step 5: Don't feel guilty or slighted.
If a small part of you feels guilty or regrets giving them the name you chose, remind yourself that you couldn't have known that they'd grow up to grow out of it. What's more important is how you handle their desire to change it, even if temporarily.
Don't let your pride keep you from having an open mind or taking action. You may have picked the name your kid dislikes, but it's not personal — they're just trying to find a way to express their identity in a way that feels right to them. So, it's not about you; it's about them.
And if you help them on this journey, they'll never forget your love and support.