Men, cultural perception tells us, generally can’t be trusted around the house. They can’t decorate for shit, do laundry worth a crap, and, of course, look what happens when you leave them to feed a child. Or when you leave them to name the child. Let a man to give your spawn a name, and why, he’ll name your son after a football team. Or Mickey Mantle’s number.
But is that more stereotype than reality? And if not, why don’t more men step up in the baby-name game? Or do they, only to be thwarted by their girlfriends and wives? Or perhaps men shouldn’t be involved in the process at all. After all, she’s the one who’s grown and birthed the thing; wouldn’t she know best what to name it?
Cultural perception tells us that women are baby crazy, and baby-name crazy. They have a greater investment in the child while gestating it, and will likely do more of the work caring for it. So it only follows that it’s women who go deep in the forums on baby-name debates, scour the websites and do the legwork. They are the ones who often have a baby name picked out since girlhood, one they guard ferociously so it can’t be stolen. (Yes, people steal baby names.)
Men? Not so much. If men are hoarding a name for their future offspring, they certainly don’t go around spouting off about it. Maybe men have a family name they’d like to see continue, if, or when, the occasion arises (other than own surname, of course). But typically women start the name game, and men weigh in with suggestions, eyerolls, indifference or outright hostility. Often, couples fight it out until they agree — by devising lists, narrowing it down, eliminating the terrible and possibly asking a third party to weigh in.
But often, agreeing actually means just giving into what Mom wants.
In a recent survey of 3,000 parents, researchers found that some 15 percent of couples said they argued regularly during the pregnancy over the baby name, and while a minority are so incapable of reconciling that they toss a coin or draw a name out of a hat, almost half just let the mother have her way. Four of 10 mothers said they don’t even consider the father’s wishes on baby’s name, and four out of 10 fathers said they back down completely. Another survey found that mom gets final say 64 percent of the time.
There are a lot of reasons this makes sense. The woman’s giving birth and she’ll spend far more time feeding and caring for the baby. Second, it’s still likely a baby will get the father’s surname anyway, already giving him a naming advantage. For this reason, it might seem obvious that the mother picks the first name. Third, couples may split up naming rights based on gender: If it’s a boy, the father picks; if it’s a girl, the mother picks. Sometimes it’s split based on first name and middle: She gets first, he gets middle, or vice versa.
Anecdotally, I’ve heard stories about women conceding naming rights to the father so he’ll feel more invested in the child. And couples who give the mother the first child’s naming rights, promising the father the naming rights of the next child. There are scads of sites offering “baby names Dad will love,” as if to suggest a mother must win over the father’s enthusiasm by presenting a name he’ll respond to. One site lays out how to win a dad over to baby names by basing them entirely around sports and cars.
But when I asked parents I know who’d won the day on the baby name in their pairing, I got every kind of answer, most of which pointed to a collaborative, egalitarian process, give or take. But it can go any number of ways, proving it’s impossible to prescribe what any couple should do.
“I picked out our son’s name,” Keith told me. “My wife picked the middle name. It was a shockingly smooth process.”
“We decided together,” a mother named Lee told me. “Though I got more input on the middle name since our daughter was getting my husband’s last name (something else we had to discuss since I didn’t take his name).”
“Mom won,” Jeremy told me. “She loves Windsor Johnston on NPR. Winnie for short. I wanted Darcy.”
“I wanted to name my oldest son Dexter, ended up naming the dog Dexter instead,” Jerry said.
Those who decided together claimed to have a story of simultaneous realization: Two couples were watching television and heard a name and both agreed in the moment it was the one. One father of twins said they each picked a name for one, though his wife decided who would be called what.
Another couple let mom pick a girl name, dad pick a boy name.
And other parents found themselves up against a name they didn’t like, with a lot of pressure to prove why it was a bad idea. “I searched diligently to find a person we did not like with the competing name and my choice was the winner,” Patrick told me. “After crafting that argument, middle name I had no say whatsoever.”
One father said their child’s first name was easy, because it happened to be that his older brother’s first name is the same name as her dad’s middle name. Another father’s wife’s sister’s dog died while the wife was pregnant, making that name a contender, which eventually won.
In other words, two things are clear: The politics of naming are fraught enough as it is and deeply idiosyncratic and personal, and the decision-making often only tracks to partners alone.
One man was dead set on naming his child after his namesake, but when spoken by his strongly Southern-sounding wife, the name sounded ridiculous. But they both granted each other a veto power that allowed them to opt out of their worst-case scenarios such as that. They ended up going with another family name — hers.
Most of the parents portrayed these exchanges as collaborative, even though some of them sound a lot like women winning out one way or another. But maybe that framing is critical to the couple’s peace of mind. They chose their choice; most people don’t want to spend their lives fuming. In the aforementioned survey, 36 percent of fathers said they accepted their wife’s name choice just to have an easier life.
It’s unclear if that’s what happened to Queens man Nicholas Soukeras, who was adamant that they name their soon-to-be-born son Spyridon, after his father. This was in spite of his Russian wife’s insistence she shouldn’t have to name a child something she can’t pronounce.
In response, Soukeras created a petition asking for the 100,000 signatures needed from the general public for his wife to grant his wish. If the child turned out to be female, he’d grant her naming rights. If it were male, she could rightfully claim the territory of the middle name, as well as naming rights to any second born son.
He made his case: The petition, he wrote, is not just a petition, but “an outcry for the right, privilege and authority, under God and in accordance with the laws of the Greek Orthodox Church and in the tradition of all Hellenic peoples throughout the world, to name his first-born son ‘Spyridon’ after the petitioner’s father, Spyridon Hristos Soukeras.”
Sadly, his argument, like that of so many men before him to give first names to their children, crashed and burned. He got only 5,452 signatures.