Carolyn Hax: Grandmother-to-be wants input on baby’s name

Carolyn Hax
Columnist May 11, 2012

Hi, Carolyn:

When my husband and I were first talking about having children, my husband suggested my mother’s name and his mother’s name (“Elaine Nicole”) or our fathers’ names (“Timothy James”).

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Now we are having a little girl, and my mother-in-law has not stopped making comments to my husband and me about how her name has been given as the middle name and my mother’s as the first.

It is getting to be old news, and I am not sure how to handle the situation — or if it should even be approached. We didn’t give her an explanation for our choice, as we didn’t foresee the “commentary” that would follow. My mother-in-law enjoys drama and likes to be controlling, so I already know I should proceed cautiously. Please help.

Irritated in California


Truly, there is no limit to the stupid things people will fixate on to convince themselves that they matter. (And persuade others to remain a safe distance away.)

The easiest route here is to choose two non-family names for your baby. And, experience should also tell you that the easiest route to this easiest route is to keep the new name to yourself until it’s on the birth certificate. Do gently warn them it’s coming, though: “Oh, nothing’s set in stone . . . 

When she hears the baby’s name and (presumably) flips, say simply that using the grandmothers’ names meant someone had to be first and feelings had to get hurt — and so you both thought better of it.

Now, saying that will possibly get her more fired up, but fault-finders will find fault no matter what you do. I’d point out, too, that any time the choice is available to hoist her with her own petard, it makes sense to take it, but that would be petty of me.

The second easiest route is to stick with your original name plan, and explain your reasoning. Specifically, give your mother-in-law a puzzled look and say, “Well, someone had to be first, so we decided to be fair and do rock-paper-scissors.”

Now, saying that will possibly get her more fired up, by suggesting you middle-seated her not through careful deliberation (or dramatic conspiracy), but instead according to playground law. But, I respectfully submit that any distress she feels will be self-inflicted. I’d also say it’s richly deserved, but that would be petty of me.

Here’s what will ease your path even further: Shut everyone out of the naming process, not just your mother-in-law . . . and don’t shut anyone who isn’t dangerous out of the baby’s life, especially not your mother-in-law. Mothers of sons commonly harbor deep fears they’ll be excluded from their grandkids’ lives in favor of the mother’s mother. Don’t fulfill this prophesy; include her. That is, unless her behavior is genuinely harmful, vs. merely obnoxious.

The toughest route here is to treat the subject as open to perpetual discussion. State your case as matter-of-factly as possible — whatever that case may be — and indicate that you meant to honor the mothers, not hurt them. If she presses, then repeat: “I said we meant no harm. To me, the issue is closed.” Ever after, respond to any comments from her with a raised-eyebrow smile and a return of your attention to wherever it was before.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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