What to Do If Someone Steals Your Baby Name

Two pregnant women talking, one of whom is pushing a stroller.

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Any “Sex and the City” fan can recall the scene where Charlotte York is outraged at a baby showerbecause the mom-to-be “stole” her baby name — it's one of those classic television moments that spark conversation and debate. You might have even had it happen to you, or to someone in your friend group. Or, maybe you’ve heard a name you liked and plucked it, only to have a friend despair because you chose the name they wanted for their child. 

This can be a tricky situation to navigate, says Bethany Cook, a Chicago-based clinical psychologist and adjunct professor. “I doubt you’d find many who would be cool with others using the same baby name they’ve shared,” she says. 

Picking a name is a very personal and emotional decision, says Gina Janc, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Carlsbad, Calif. “It’s important to choose a name that holds meaning to you and your partner while navigating familial and societal pressures,” she says. 

Ideally, though, according to Cook, everyone would follow the “golden rule” of "treat others how you would like to be treated." She offers up her own experience: “Years before my wife and I were pregnant I shared the name we loved with the new couple who had moved in downstairs,” she says. “A year later we saw the same name on a ‘meet the newest member of the family’ email.” 

Many parents-to-be keep names secret until the baby is born for this exact reason (and no, Cook and her wife didn’t end up using that name, and she says they aren’t bitter about it!). If you find yourself in this situation, here are a few tips to help you out, including what to do when it’s a family name and what to do if you explicitly ask for it not to be used and it’s used anyway. 

What to Do When It’s a Family Name 

Perhaps there’s a name in the family that means a lot to a lot of people in your family, such as a grandparent’s name, or a maiden name. While Janc says that you’re not necessarily obligated to share your intentions with the entire family, it would be helpful to assuage any hurt feelings by approaching those that might be around childbearing age or who have expressed consideration of the name in the past. 

“You can say, ‘I know you love the name, and I do as well. So I wanted to let you know that I/we have a strong attachment to the name and have decided to use it for our baby,’” Janc says. You can follow it up by saying, “‘I look forward to raising our children alongside each other and supporting one another through motherhood,’” she says. The focus becomes more on support, honesty, and love, rather than competition. 

Cook suggests that if you are anticipating negative feedback or are anxious about announcing it, start thinking about the root problem. “If this is centered in competition, such as to see whose family branch gets the next ‘Mary Jane,’ or if it’s rooted in spite or malice, then there are larger problems that need to be addressed other than who ‘gets’ to use the name,” she says. The connotations can be different as well—if two kids “share” the same name, it feels much different than a family member “stealing” the name. 

Cook and Janc offer up using the same name if both parties are open to it, especially if it’s an important tribute. “If you rarely see each other and the kids don’t share the same inner circle outside of family events such as church, school, or sports teams, does it matter?” Cook questions. 

What to Do When It’s a Friend

Cook has similar advice when it comes to the situation of friends liking the same name. If there’s no spite, malice, or competition involved, then the two parties should be able to talk about it rationally, and hopefully, use the same name. She says that the big difference if it ends up being contentious, is that it’s much easier to stop running into a former friend than it is a family member. 

Janc says to try and tamper down hurt feelings, and to lead with curiosity by asking questions about the inspiration behind their choice of name and what they love about it. “You might be surprised by what you hear,” she says. 

What to Do If You Accidentally Steal a Baby Name 

In this case, you may find yourself as the one accused of stealing a baby name. And if you are on the receiving end of rage or hurt feelings and you weren’t explicitly told to not use a name, it can be blindsiding.

Cook does not believe that you have an obligation to change your child’s name if you weren’t explicitly told not to use it, but that you should start a conversation to ensure that relationships stay intact. Try asking for a compromise.

“You don’t know if you don’t ask,” she says, noting that she does not think a formal apology is necessary, even if the hurt party’s feelings are overwhelming. 

Asking Someone to Not Use a Name

You might feel very passionately that you need to ask someone to not use a baby name that you want to use, but consider the fallout. Janc says, "It's unfair to assume entitlement to a name, however, choosing a baby name is a very personal and emotional decision."

Cook has a slightly different perspective. "Asking someone not to use your favorite baby name is not unethical. It's a simple 'yes' or 'no' question. That being said, you must be ready to accept the answer, whatever it is," she says.

Cook also says that some people might pick up on how important a name is to you—and potentially use that desire for their own leverage. She advises stopping to think about how this might change the relationship and how you view the relationship. "Take a bit of time to reflect on all the possible outcomes," she advises. You can only control your responses and reactions, not what other people will say or do.

How to Resolve a Dispute Over Baby Names 

For Cook, if the name bothers you, then it is worth acknowledging. “It doesn’t matter about the history or who it is if you are upset,” she says. However, if you never told someone to explicitly not use the name, it can be hard to express those feelings. (Cook believes that if you never spoke it out loud explicitly, the name should be fair game.) Here are a few things to consider when trying to resolve a dispute over a name.

Start Talking

If you have told someone your name and asked them not to use it and they still did, you can talk to the other person. “Talk to them about your feelings in the hopes of being heard and validated at the very least,” Janc says. “It might not sound like much but it’s actually very powerful to be seen and heard by someone you feel has wronged you.” 

Janc says this can be accomplished by choosing your words carefully, and by considering timing, approach, and just how important this issue is to you. "It can help to share our feelings in a heartfelt and diplomatic way," she says. For example, you can explain that a name holds special meaning to you and share what that is.

"You can say something like, 'I was surprised to hear that you're choosing the same name too. Can you share what inspired you to choose that name as well?'" she advises.

Cook agrees that the framing of the situation is an important starting point. "You can add 'it's nothing bad' if you think they need a qualifier so they don't come to the meeting amped and ready to fight," she says. "You want to present them with a gentle invitation to chat."

Cook says the next step is to recognize someone's willingness to partake in conversation. "Thank them in a way you know they can hear, and won't think you're being petty or sarcastic. Much of the time, it's how you say the words, rather than the words themselves," she says. By keeping to a script that uses the front part of the brain—reason, logic, understanding—and not their midbrain or emotional center," you can try to keep the conversation from being emotionally charged, she says.

If you feel like it might get emotionally charged, it could be helpful to rehearse what you want to say so that you can keep yourself on track. "Write down your sentences," advises Cook. "Rehearse them with a friend, or have someone role-play with you the different outcomes. All of this preparation primes your brain and hopefully takes the edge off nerves of knowing what to say and when."

Hear Them Out, Too

You need to prepare yourself to hear them out, too, though, Janc cautions. "If you're able to keep an open mind, you may learn that their decision to choose the name holds as much meaning to them as it did to you. It's wise to be prepared for a variety of responses," she says, noting that they might feel threatened or attacked by your questioning.

Cook says that if this happens, be ready to stop the conversation. "You've gotten their answer," she says. "They're not interested in supporting you emotionally." If this person comes back later and wants to reopen the conversation, she advises being open to that. "Sometimes shock will set people off," she says, and you need to be emotionally prepared. "Regardless of how kind a person is, no one likes being told something they did or did not do bothered you."

Try to Compromise

From there, depending on how receptive they are, you can hopefully come up with a compromise, choosing the words to convey your feelings carefully. For example, Cook says you can say something like, "The other day, when you said you were using my baby name, it made me feel upset, because that name is really important to me for several reasons. My point in sharing this with you is that I value our relationship and I don't want this to be a point of contention in our family," for example.

That might mean calling a child by a nickname or a middle name, for example. If there’s a way for both parties to come to a conclusion as to how the name can be used for both, that is best for conflict resolution, says Cook. Maybe one has it as a first name, and the other as a middle, or nicknames are used.

Cook says it's important to have a specific goal in mind with the compromise. "You want resolution before the moment shifts," she says.

Consider the Long-Term

Both experts advise weighing the "worth" of the fight over the long term. “What if one of those kids grows up to hate their name and changes it anyway?” Cook says. “Then all that upset was for naught.” Remember, your child's perspective on their name might change over time—but so might yours. You might end up not caring so much years down the line, even if it is very much a big deal now.

Says Janc, "Ask yourself how important this will be five to 10 years from now. If it's a conversation that will create a divide, is it worth it? If you're hoping this conversation will change their mind, you are setting yourself up for disappointment," she cautions. She says that if your intention is to express curiosity, you need to emphasize that in the conversation in order to protect the relationship.

Janc also advises bracing yourself for any falling out, as some may respect the decisions you make for your child and others might have a hard time. But, she says, by expressing your feelings in a loving and empathetic way, you can set an example for your unborn child or children and any existing children. “Lead with love and set an example for your children so that they may learn how to navigate difficult life decisions with honesty and compassion,” she says. 

Keep it to Yourself

One of the best ways to avoid conflict is to not share the baby's name with anyone, advises Cook. “If someone accidentally uses your name, it’s not their problem to fix,” she adds. “We all have our limits.  Reflect on what yours might be long before you decide to have a kid.”

A Word from Verywell 

Picking a baby name is a very personal and emotional decision, and the ethics of "stealing" a baby name—either as the stealer or the one who is stolen from—are murky. It can be challenging at best, and can be detrimental to some relationships. You should weigh your options when thinking about names that might have special familial meaning or ones that you know friends have expressed interest in, considering how it might impact those relationships in the future.

If you are the one who “steals” a baby name on accident, there are steps you can take to help mitigate disappointment and hurt feelings. Look at the bigger picture of what this name means for not only your child, but also your family. Only you can decide what is "worth" it.

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