My husband and I have a 3 month old baby. We kept the baby's name a secret until he was born, and we named him William James (first and middle name).  We loved both names and went back and forth on which would be the first and second, as we thought both ways sounded lovely. My husband's best friend and his wife were expecting when we had our baby, and on our first Skype call with them after Will was born, they told us that it was such a coincidence because they are going to name their son James William. I thought they were joking, but the baby was born yesterday and they actually named him the exact reverse of our son’s name. I am super annoyed at this!! Am I allowed to be annoyed at this?


Possibly the most unilateral statement I can make after writing this column for years is that the uniqueness of names, and the pride parents feel in their choices, is at an all-time high. It’s got to be an offshoot of the idea that we are unique, that we can prove our well-read-ness or cool factor or thoughtfulness based on the choices that we make, including what we name our children. Even though parents a generation ago might have been a little nonplussed to discover their Jennifer was one of six in a classroom, it didn’t sting the way it seems to today.

I know it stings. I know you thoughtfully considered the names you chose, and maybe they had family meaning to you or they were named after historical figures you loved. I know that when your baby arrived and the name fit him, you felt like that was the moment when you actually did the thing and made up a whole person from scratch!

But I know you know that those names can be significant to other people, too.

You are, to put it very gently, not the only people who have James and William in your family.

Moreover, since you referred to your son as Will, you already know what I’m about to say next…

These kids, who may grow up as friends or as mere ideas to one another (since you said you had a Skype call, I’m assuming they’re not right down the road) are never, ever going to discuss their middle names. Will and Jamie, or James and Wills, or whomever they turn out to be, may someday realize they share inverse names, but… they’re not going to care.

Which means you have to not care.

Especially since there may be other James Williams, or William Jameses, in your son’s future, and yours. There probably will be.

“Yes, but they’re not our close friends!” But they might be... because people who have a lot in common might choose the same names.

“But we chose them first!” Look, if they’d called their son William James, mayyybe I could see why you were annoyed – but again, there’s a reason popular names are popular. They’re good names, and more importantly, they’ve been good names that people have been choosing for nigh on a couple of hundred years now. You kind of can’t fault people for doing the same things you did yourself, which is to say, if you, in this day and age of five different spellings of Kaiden, like two of the names in the top 5 most popular names in the US, well… they’re the most popular names in the US. Moreover, if you like William James and your friends like James William, those are the kinds of people you both are, and no amount of wishing is going to turn them into people who would choose Zebediah Warren, you know?

So, of course you can be annoyed, in a general sense that you’re not the only ones who love the name you love. But your friends didn’t use a rare name that you strongly suspect they hadn’t heard of until you chose it. Even if they had, and this tussle was about Dashiell or Augustus, I’d say, friends are friends because they have things in common. It would suck, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

But you cannot give the impression that you are annoyed because they ‘stole’ your baby name. They didn’t – it’s not the same name. Only the four of you know about the middle-name interchange. More importantly, popular is popular for a reason.  That doesn’t mean you need to go rooting around the 900-level on the baby names popularity registry just to avoid this situation… but it does mean that all the reasons you love the name – it’s classic, it goes anywhere, it’s universally loved – are also the reasons the name is universally loved. You know?