‘Baby Name Mourning’ Is A Real Thing. Here’s What You Should Know.

'Baby Name Mourning' Is A Real Thing. Here's What You Should Know.

Long before becoming a parent is even in the cards, many people form attachments to certain baby names. For some, there might be a special family name that feels meaningful. For others, it’s the name of a character from a formative book or movie.

These cherished names don’t always make the final cut by the time a baby is actually on the way. But letting go of them can be an emotional process. In fact, the experience is so common that baby name consultant Taylor Humphrey has even coined a term for it: baby name mourning.

What is baby name mourning?

“Baby name mourning is the process of grieving ‘the name that got away,’” Humphrey told HuffPost. “There are many parents who feel really sad that they couldn’t use their favorite name for their child.”

There are a variety of reasons why people can’t use a particular name that they love. For some, it’s because their partner vetoes the name, or a close friend or family member uses it first. Others wait to use the name but then are unable to have a child or choose not to do so.

“Maybe you chose the name you love for a baby whose time on earth was cut short, and it feels inappropriate to use the same name for a rainbow baby,” Humphrey said, using the term for a child born to parents after a pregnancy loss. “Or your name style has evolved and you’ve outgrown a name you once loved.”

It wasn’t until Humphrey posted an Instagram video about baby name mourning that she realized just how common the phenomenon is.

“The concept of baby name mourning is not foreign to me at all,” said Deema Soufan, a psychotherapist who specializes in perinatal mental health. “As we as a society of parents have normalized that there can be grief entangled with bringing life into this world, phenomena such as this one have become more widely talked about.”

She emphasized that names have meaning and tend to go hand in hand with identity.

“As we move through life, we discover meaning in experiences that have been important to us,” Soufan said. “From there we filter down this list of baby names, often long before we’re even planning on having a baby. Essentially what can end up happening is we can focus on this idea in our head of what we thought something would look like, what we thought something would represent. And if that idea is shattered or ruptures, a lot of grief can follow suit.”

Expectations and dreams, especially long-held ones, trend to bring up big feelings.

“Perhaps you had a girl name in mind all your life and then you discover you are having a boy,” Soufan said.

“This can cause a lot of distress, and with that distress can come shame. This is due to the pregnant person feeling ‘silly’ for sharing that they are grieving that their journey to parenthood is already feeling challenging. It can feel like a massive loss of control as well. Oftentimes what will happen is that a friend or colleague may share that they are naming their child a certain name that you had in mind, and then all of a sudden a sense of dread lurks in and you feel as if you cannot use that name any longer.”

She emphasized that this is a common experience and part of why many pregnant people opt not to share their chosen baby name until after the birth.

“I’ve seen this happen for a few reasons — not wanting that ‘rupture’ to occur of feeling like they ‘have to’ change their dream baby name, or not wanting to hear unsolicited feedback about the chosen name,” she said.

Humphrey sees baby name mourning as a subcategory of “baby name regret” — the gnawing feeling that you’ve chosen the “wrong” name for your child.

“Among my name-regret clients, mothers whose partners vetoed their favorite name early on often regret not advocating more strongly to use that name for their child,” she said, noting that it’s common for a parent to choose a different name to pacify or placate their partner.

“The grief of not listening to your internal guidance, the grief of not advocating for your needs and desires, the grief of people-pleasing, and the grief of ultimately not using the name you love can send parents into a spiral of deep, dark name regret.”

How can parents cope with baby name mourning?

“I’ve had many pregnant women that I’ve worked with feel shattered when they discover that they can’t use the baby name that they had in mind,” Soufan said. “The work that we do from that point is a lot of deep exploration. It is helpful for me and for the client to understand, what was ‘underneath’ that baby name?”

Soufan asks questions like “What did that baby name represent to you?” and “What did it mean to you?” From there, expectant parents might feel better equipped to find another name that represents the meaning behind the original one, or to develop the courage to move forward with the original name despite learning that someone else has also chosen to use it.

“The advice that I have for anyone who is coping with baby [name] mourning is to approach your stance with curiosity and without judgment,” Soufan said. “I implore you to dig deep and explore what is at the root of this distress for you. Normalize your grief and accept it! Two things can exist at once. You can be over the moon about this baby and also feel like you are completely out of control, especially when one of the first parenting decisions that you get to make feels like it was taken away from you.”

She recommended sitting with your thoughts and examining what is reality and what is anxiety. Then figure out the best path forward.

“The takeaway here is that parenting decisions are hard,” Soufan said. “Naming your child is one of the first decisions that we get to make. It makes sense for this part to be stressful! Give yourself some grace and let yourself mourn! The more that we can develop compassion and curiosity for our feelings, the more that we can accept and move through them.”

Humphrey similarly suggested allowing yourself to grieve and not judging yourself for doing so.

“The transition into motherhood is life-altering,” she said. “You are looking for solid footing as you cultivate and get to know yourself in this new identity. So much is changing!”

Thus, it’s natural to mourn the loss of unused names as you mourn other losses in this transition.

“When we consider a name for our child, we enter the realm of fantasy and begin to envision an entire person, an entire life, an entire vector of potential,” Humphrey said. “We imagine ourselves parenting and nurturing this little spirit, helping them navigate life’s inevitable twists and turns. When we rub up against the reality that we cannot use every name we love, it only feels right to grieve the loss of these people that we’ll never get to know in the flesh.“

Just as people get attached to book or movie characters and grieve the end of their stories, expectant parents can grieve the character they’ve created in their minds for the person their child could be with a different name. They might also be mourning the fantasy version of themselves who would choose a certain name and the type of parent they might be.

“We have to give ourselves permission to grieve more than just the name, but all that the name represents — unmet desires, unrealized dreams, redirected paths,” Humphrey said.

She pointed to the trend of expectant parents sharing “names we love but won’t be using” on social media.

“I wonder if [the] trend is, in itself, a way of honoring these beautiful names that people have held on to throughout their pregnancies, but aren’t ultimately right for their babies,” Humphrey said. “It feels like a public eulogy: a final celebration of the names we considered, but didn’t ultimately represent the fullest expression of our children.”

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