Real Simple’s Modern Manners columnist answers a reader question.
Q. What do you do when your parents won’t call your kids by their given names?
Christine Miller Droessler
San Francisco, California
A. As absurd and inconceivable as this question may seem to some, child-name rejection appears to be a bona fide cultural phenomenon. I have a colleague whose mother didn’t like her grandson’s name, Max, so she started calling him by his middle name, Oliver. An old friend’s father, after learning his new granddaughter’s name was Margo, bellowed, “That’s a hooker’s name!” Still another pal’s mom said outright, “I don’t like the name Leo.”
Crazy, right? Maybe these overreactions can be traced to the fact that so many of us choose names from our parents’ parents’ generation (see Max, above) and so our folks are predisposed to find them old-fashioned. Or, conversely, they recoil at names that seem too quirky or modern (think Bowie). Or maybe grandparents simply feel blindsided. I’m not advocating that people consult with their moms and dads beforehand. On the contrary, my friends who did regretted it, realizing they had opened themselves up to an endless string of future vetoes. (“Why on earth would a toddler take yoga?” or “What the heck is the Suzuki Method?”) But this could be the point where the problem starts.
I didn’t tap my parents for naming advice before my first child was born, and when my husband and I announced her name, Thelma, there was a long, stunned silence accompanied by a look of horror and disappointment. To soften the blow, we offered up Tillie as a nickname, which they took to immediately. But we quickly realized our baby was truly a Thelma, even as an avalanche of gifts and cards came in, all addressed to Tillie. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I could see that if we didn’t put out an APB, pronto, the nickname would stick. We explained to our families that we were calling her only Thelma, and to their credit, they readily accepted her real name.
So speak up about what you would like your child to be called, and the sooner the better. I’ll bet, eventually, your folks will warm to it. When I checked in with my friend whose mother had originally hated the name Leo, she told me her mom had recently gushed, “He’s just such a Leo!” Hey, if my folks could learn to love the name Thelma, anything is possible.