Welcome to ask a child-free person, the blog where I, a child-free person who studies motherhood for a living, negotiate common conflicts that arise between the parented and the child-free.
This is a question more controversial to many people I know than issues such as two-tier health care, photo-shopping celebrities on the covers of magazines, or Canada’s decision to deploy troops to Iraq. I’m not even being flippant here. People get SERIOUS when it comes to baby names. People get about as protective of baby names as I imagine fairy-tale trolls do over the bridges they guard.
So, many of us saw that episode of Sex and The City where Charlotte actually STOPS BEING FRIENDS with a pregnant woman who plans to name her daughter Shayla, a name she KNOWS Charlotte has loved since she was a little girl and wishes to bestow on her hypothetical daughter some day. Even Samantha, who has no intention of ever having kids herself, and so has probably not given much thought to the sanctity of baby names, calls said pregnant friend a “bitch” at her baby shower. I’m sorry, but when it comes to baby names, I really think this sort of behaviour is an overreaction.
Baby names are not commercial jingles for Jell-O or Pop Tarts, they cannot be copyrighted. Names belong to society as a whole. Legally, there is no limit to how many people can name their child the same thing. If there were, there would be a lot fewer Sophias and Olivias running around in diapers, because that shit is going to get CONFUSING for Kindergarten teachers in a few years. At the same time, every profession has hazards, so having to deal with three Arabellas in your class at one time is something I think most JK teachers are resigned to.
So, how can I justify this stance? Aren’t we told it’s bad manners to steal from our friends? It’s true, I for one would get VERY offended if a friend decided to wear to my birthday party the exact same dress she KNEW I was planning to wear. In fact, that would make many people I know LIVID! But because baby names are more important than dresses, I believe it is okay if that same friend uses the same baby name you are saving for the future, or even one you have already given someone.
Listen, names are important. We use them every time we call out a child’s name to comfort them, admonish them, or yell at them for eating Play-Doh for the fifth time this week. You have to like your baby name A LOT, because your kid has it for life. Now, because you’re friends with them, it’s not entirely surprising you and a friend might have similar tastes. So yes, perhaps you might both adore the name Adeline, or maybe you’re both wild for the name Aram. That happens, and my advice is you should accept that.
If you care about a friend, would you REALLY want them to be forced to give their child a name they only feel somewhat good about? If your friendship is pure, I’d like to think the answer is always no. Your kid will probably meet other kids with the same name at some point. No matter how obscure you THINK the name you chose is, someone else has ALWAYS chosen it too.
I grew up with a common name. First and last. My name is so common, in fact, that while living in The United Kingdom for grad school, the NHS once accused me of healthcare fraud because there had been another girl named Sarah Sahagian born on my exact birth date in Scotland in 1986. Do I wish my parents had called me something else? Nope. I got over it. They loved the name Sarah and loved saying it. They named me after my great-great aunt, and they didn’t give a damn that other people they knew were calling their kid the same thing. Why? Because the most important thing is that YOU love your baby’s name. It doesn’t diminish its beauty just because other people love it too.
Sarah Sahagian is a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York U, where her academic specialty is motherhood. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, xoJane, & The Beaverton. When she’s not writing her dissertation, Sarah reads a lot of novels about other angsty young women, streams a lot of Netflix, and tweets about topics ranging from reproductive rights to who’s going to win The Bachelor.