Hi Duana.

I imagine that there is probably a significant backlog of emails from people who need help naming imminent babies, and I'm/we're not expecting, but I could use your advice.

Long story short, we are reproductively 'challenged'. Both of us are individually infertile in some way or form, and while it's not impossible for us to start a family, we've got a road ahead of us. If we get to that road, we'll tackle the burning question of what to name a child at that time. In the meantime, here is/are my question(s), posed with some sarcasm involved because humour is all you have, when what you want is a baby and it's not going to happen the easy way:

1) I have a list of lovely names that I would choose from, for boys or girls. This list is a secret, because I'm a private person and I don't wish to have my friends and family judge the names, or worse, steal the names on purpose. At the rate my friends are reproducing, I wouldn't be surprised if they ran out of names of their own, and in a fit of desperation, used some of these lovely names. In fact, several of the very lovely but top secret names have been used recently by people in my immediate circle, who are or were unaware of the challenges my partner and I are facing. This doesn't bother me, that the names we chose were so perfect that other people agreed and used them on their own. What I am asking is: do I adjust my list to remove the 'taken' names, keep the names and secretly get over it? What options actually exist for this scenario? Every time a name from our list has been used, it's crushed me, but I've gotten over it - so far. What about next time?

2) Do I actually have the right to be crushed, when the name I've kept from everyone is used by someone close to me? Do I tell them in 5 years when I've either had a child or given up altogether? Is this a topic that should/could be discussed among friends, and how would one do it?

3) Does this even matter, when the bigger picture here is that the list could become a moot point anyway?

4) I'm getting tired of answering the question of "when are you getting knocked up?" with a vague hand waving and topic change when asked, but launching into the whole story of why we're not parents already is too heartbreaking, and "None of your goddamned business" is really not appropriate. What do I say to all these name-thieves who are just clamoring for me to conceive?


Recently, a friend who is finished having children said, with more than a touch of wistfulness, “You know, if I were having children today, I think I would call them Gretel and Isolde”. It’s not that she dislikes her actual kids’ names, but she acknowledged that they were named at a particular point in time when she had specific tastes and preferences, and she might make different choices today. She was also, in a way, commenting on the children she wasn’t going to have at all. In a perfect, super-wealthy world, she might love to have another kid or two, but in real life that’s not realistic. So naming them and talking about them also kind of acknowledged the would-be factor.

That’s what I thought of when I first read your letter. Having a kid someday isn’t necessarily impossible, but your feelings of loss and being crushed are related to the children you’re not having and not naming today. You know? I think it’s totally fine to acknowledge that when names come up, in as casual or breezy a way as you can muster. Something like “Ohhh, I love that name. I used to think I’d name a boy that name someday.”

Here, you acknowledge a few things: 1. You have names you love and have been thinking about, with regard to 2. Children you want to have, and 3. By virtue of ‘used to think’, you point out that things may have changed somewhat.

If the person you’re talking to is a human being, they’re going to say “oh, so…what changed?” Or they’ll say (slightly defensively, forgive them), “Do you think you might still use the name someday?”

Now you get to decide what you want to say in each specific scenario. That you’re having trouble conceiving and it’s getting you down, or that you’re not sure that you want to name a child the same name as someone you already know, or, if you don’t feel like getting into it, just that you have to re-evaluate your list. 

Which brings us to, ‘Is this the kind of topic that could/should be discussed among friends’. I don’t know the relationship you have with your friends, but I say yes, unquestionably. I say that as someone who has no poker face and who always feels better after I spill my dirty secrets, but that’s my gut feeling.

Because the word ‘secret’ comes up in your letter a few times, and I know you’re talking about your list of names, but I think the coping and dealing and ‘getting over’ that you have to do might be easier if you’re not also pretending everything is fine. I also think that, depending on the age of your friends and the size of your group, infertility is something that is going to come up consistently, and you may be surprised at the up-to-now quiet people who can commiserate with your situation.

So I think it’s totally cool to say something like “She’s called Naomi! I always wanted a little Naomi. I hope if I have a little girl someday that I find a name I love as much as that.” Explain as much or as little as you want and see if you don’t feel better for not trying to keep things locked down. You might, and it might help you let the ‘used’ names on your list go a little. Because as the kid grows up, and Naomi starts using your friend’s weird speech patterns, or you see an athletic Jonas and know no child of yours will ever be allowed to hold a hockey stick, you’ll start to separate those names from the dreams you hold.

There are a couple of caveats here, however. 

The first is that you have to make sure you’re clear about what you’re sharing, and what you’re missing. It’s okay to say you love the name Naomi, and even to say, lightly, that you regret not having been able to use it. But remember that your friend hasn’t taken away your ability to use Naomi someday if you do have children, and if you can’t or don’t have a Naomi someday, your friend isn’t the reason you don’t have one. You know what I mean? You’re not having problems having a Naomi because she had a Naomi, and your friends are not taking your babies. I know you know this logically, but I also know that the feelings of hurt and longing don’t always converse with logic.

Still, those feelings are totally legit. You’re allowed to be sad that your list isn’t ‘happening’ right now, though from a name perspective, I do think you should trust that if you do have a child or children down the road, you’ll discover new names that you’ll love and want to give them someday.

The other caveat is that people say things without thinking, as you know, and this brings us to your last point, ‘what do you say?’ I feel like if people are dense enough to ask ‘so, when are you having a kid?’, they deserve the embarrassment they get when you respond with a shrug. The queen of the snappy comeback, Sasha has more about this here.

So much of this depends on your relationship with your friends, and I know that even women who feel they can tell each other anything suddenly feel a gulf between them when there’s a have-and-have-not situation like this. So whether you decide to ‘tell’ or not, know that you’re not wrong to feel wistful or even sad about the names gone by. Acknowledging them, even if only alone or with your partner, may help you feel better, and/or may make you realize that you would like to use a given name someday, if-and-when, friends’ kids be damned. 

Let me know how it all goes.


A long time ago, I said I answered letters from people who were imminently expecting. That’s because I didn’t (and don’t) see the benefit to telling people who already have an 8-year-old that I think their name sucks. I’m a jerk but not that much of a jerk.

As we’ve gone on, though, the letters I receive are so fascinating and interesting and still well within the realm of the discussion of how names affect our lives, and it’s my privilege to be able to answer some of them, too. Thanks for sending them.