Duana Names: When Names Hurt

Duana Posted by Duana at September 20, 2019 20:28:22 September 20, 2019 20:28:22

Hi Duana, I apologize in advance if something like this has already been asked...

I have a two-year-old boy. One of my best friends who lives in another country far, far away has a three year old daughter. He just welcomed a second child and named him the same name as my son. When he announced his birth to me via messenger, I was like, 'you're kidding right?' I couldn't hide my WTF-ness and anger. We've known each other for so long (since middle school, and we're in our mid-30s now) and are so brutally honest with each other that it's not that weird that my reaction was like that. He said his wife really wanted that name for a boy even before they had their first child and that he had no choice. I told him that names are super important, and our boy was nameless for a week because we couldn't agree on the perfect name. I am really happy with what we chose because it's a classic name that's really uncommon amongst my group of friends and 'social media contacts'. I literally don't know any friends or their friends' kids or nephews etc who have that name...

Oh I gave it to my friend HARD. I told him to stop blaming his wife, that he had equal part in choosing to use this name. He mentioned to our mutual friend that he had jokingly told me months ago that he was gonna name his kid '___' and I thought he was literally joking. I thought he was saving to reveal his kid's name, after birth, like lotta new parents do.

I honestly don't know why I'm writing this. We haven't talked for months, since I unleashed my fury. I'm still pretty annoyed when I think about this... but it's not like I can make him change his kid's name either you know? Maybe I want an apology, I don't know. I wish he had asked me early on, 'hey listen, wife and I really like this name for our boy so are you OK with us using it for our kid?' or something like that... but would I have been OK with it then??

I know we don't own any names. But I think it's totally offside what he did, when I talk to him online almost every day, about our lives, our kids. He doesn't plan to move back immediately, and I know our kids won't grow up together in the same neighbourhood, but we have many mutual friends and when he does visit, we all make efforts to meet up etc.

Duana, am I a crazy bitch? Please be honest. Everybody I've talked to said that what my friend did is weird, but what can you do... But I'm still pissed! I've also heard few more stories of friends not talking because of similar drama... jesus, who would've thought baby names can cause so much sh-t? Please share your insights, thank you tons.

___

Oh, wow. Oh man. I hope you’ll forgive me for starting with an extremely obvious statement – you are really hurt by this. 

I point it out because you use a lot of words like ‘offside’, ‘pissed’, ‘annoyed’, and my personal favourite, “my WTF-ness and anger” – but in my capacity as a name therapist (as opposed to a licensed human one), I think it’s because those are easier to say than ‘I’m hurt’, which can feel like it’s too extreme. You can be pissed and annoyed and angry if someone sideswipes your car, or if the project you were looking forward to at work gets pushed until next fiscal year, but you can only be hurt by people who know and love you. Who you feel know you well enough to know what your boundaries are, and then stomp on them anyway. 

To leave the specifics behind for a second, let’s get to the factual stuff. I was interested in you pointing out that your friend lives far, far away, because that matters particularly in this issue. You included the name in question but specified it was not for publication – and I agree with that, because we don’t want to litigate whether you could feel entitled to be hurt if it were this name, but not that one. 

However, it’s worth noting that the name in question is a bit of a contradiction – like, I was surprised at how different perceptions of this name could be based on where you live. Here’s what I mean: in two significant English-speaking populations, it’s in the top 10 most popular boys’ names; a third English-speaking country has it close to the top 25. But then, in two other massive English-speaking nations, notably very far away from those first three geographically, it doesn’t crack the top 100. It’s an enigma! 

So that’s part of what’s going on here. You’ve chosen a name that is, for you, rare and beautiful. Carefully sourced – unearthed, even – to give your kid something special, something that you want because you love him enough (and value the power of names enough) to give him something that’s his alone. 

But your friend, by contrast, is going, “okay yeah, I get that it was special to you, but my wife really wanted it, and like… it’s a name, dude, it’s not a Hogwarts Letter, what’s the big deal?” I don’t know if he lives in one of the places where the name is super-popular, but if he does, you can understand how he doesn’t feel like he’s taking something from you, particularly, a piece of your son’s uniqueness, a little patch of identity that you staked out for him alone. In fact – brace yourself for this one – he probably thought, on some level, that he was sharing something with you. Or maybe even, subconsciously, that your kids would be connected in a way that was positive, a way for your friendship to keep connected across land and sea. 

Sorry about that last paragraph, by the way. I hated having to write it, because there is absolutely nothing worse, when I’m upset, than someone pointing out the positive intentions of the person I’m mad at. 

So now the questions that remain are ‘do I get to be upset?’ and ‘what do I do about it?’. 

I think where you’re getting tangled up is that you do get to be upset, in the sense that you value the name and its associated individuality, and you hate that it’s now ‘taken away’, given that you guys share a social circle. I could give you all kinds of reasons why that’s not true, because your Cameron (this isn’t the name, but I reached the point in the article where I needed an example name, so here we go) has spent the last two years creating and defining characteristics everyone you know will associate with the name, while his Cameron will have to follow in your Cam’s footsteps – but that’s not really the point, right? 

The problem is that, as you point out, there’s nothing to do about it. You can’t change his kid’s name, and you can’t go back in time and make him reconsider or make him ask, so you’re doing the only thing you can, and being upset AT your friend. HE created this situation, HE did the hurtful thing – and what’s worse, he won’t even acknowledge that it’s hurtful. Like, did he even really know you at all? 

That’s what really hurts here, by the way, and that’s why you haven’t talked to him in months. That’s what’s really underneath all of this – you know that, right? “Were you even listening when I was talking about my family and our lives? Do you even think about me, or about my feelings?” I’m jumping all the way into some other professional’s lane here, but that’s what this is really all about: that you feel ignored, and unheard. “I thought we were friends. I thought we were close.” 

Trouble is, now you’re not talking to him, and you still feel ignored and unheard, and you’re definitely not friends, at least not right now. 

So, this is one of those bitch-of-adult-living situations. Are you justified in being hurt? Maybe, yeah (or maybe not, where ‘nobody owns a name’ is concerned, but this is about you and your friend and whether he should know how you felt about the uniqueness of a name). Is there anything you can do about it? Not about the situation that caused the problem, no. But you can adjust your reaction to it. 

Do you want to? 

You can tell your friend what you’ve learned about how you were feeling (including ‘this crazy woman on the internet tried to make this about our friendship’, if you want to) but you can’t make him react the way you want to, or even apologize.  

You can call your kid by a nickname or his middle name, to preserve the feeling of individuality, but you can’t predict whether someone else will come along and have that name, or how you’ll feel if someone with his name does something terrible someday. 

You can accept that this upset you, and give yourself absolution for the fact that you reacted the way you did, but you can’t guard against a friend never again hurting you, inadvertently, in a way you didn’t expect. 

This is the thing about names. This is the letter that explains why I will never, ever stop finding them fascinating. They are arbitrary labels, on the one hand, but they are tied up inextricably, now and forever, with our identities, and the identities of those who choose them.   

You asked me to give my insights on whether you were a ‘crazy bitch’, and I hope you can see the answer here. I think you had a huge, maybe outsized, reaction to something that doesn’t trigger everyone the same way – but I completely empathize with the reason why – which is that you’re very aware that names are never just about names; they’re about everything we love and everything we want to be. 

Give yourself a break, think about what this is really about, and how you want to deal with that problem – and please, if you can, let me know. 

Photos:
istock/ Getty Images

Tags: Name Nerd
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