Stop Arguing: Try a Win-Win Approach to Baby-Naming

“Getting to Yes” is the name of Roger Fisher and William Ury’s classic guide to win-win negotiation. It’s a brilliant and highly efficient way to reach agreement on any topic under discussion, and avoid ineffective and annoying argumentation (or worse: expensive and time-consuming lawsuits).

Fisher and Ury’s breakthrough concept isn’t only for diplomats from different countries or lawyers for multinational corporations. You can use it to resolve any kind of dispute, including those that may arise during the process of searching for your baby’s name.

If you haven’t read their book, here’s the basic idea: Instead of “debating” your “opponent” so you can “win” an argument and your opponent will “lose,” think of negotiation as a way to help both “partners” or “collaborators” in the “discussion” gain something of value and limit their losses.

Notice that the “rules of engagement” in win-win discussions are very different from “win-lose” disputes. If both participants “win,” it’s the kind of “negotiation” that’s perfect for conversations between parents about baby names. If one parent “loses” when the other parent “wins,” how can that result possibly be productive for either the parents or the child?

Rather than setting out to “beat” the other parent into “submission” (or get “beat” if your argument isn’t powerful enough), why not start the discussion by setting some goals that both of you share?

For that purpose, here are some questions that can help both parents reach an agreement about the purpose of the naming process and how it will be conducted.

Shared Goals to Consider:

  • Would you both like to wind up with a name that reflects well on your child?
  • Would you both like to find a name your child will enjoy and want to keep?
  • Would you both be willing to screen a name under consideration for “user-friendliness” to make sure that it won’t be too hard to spell or pronounce, will be versatile, won’t create uncomfortable gender confusion, will make a positive impression, and won’t come across as dated, archaic, weird or embarrassing?
  • Would you both be willing to pick a middle name that provides a reasonable “fallback” in case the first name doesn’t work out for some reason?
  • Would you both agree that the selected name must be one that both parents like a lot and look forward to using?
  • Finally, would you both promise not to argue on behalf of (or worse, insist on) any names your partner doesn’t like?

By agreeing that the most important goals of the name search are to find a name that both parents and the child will enjoy using and to not argue about names one partner doesn’t like, you can happily start looking for a name that will be chosen based on collaboration and consensus.

I suggest you sign and date a “Shared Goals” document that can include some or all of the items on my list above, plus any other goals you both share. Make sure you keep it in your baby name book or with the list of names you’re making for mutual consideration.

Now that we’ve pretty much outlawed the kind of language and behaviors that are likely to produce conflict rather than consensus, let’s take a look at some factors from other sources that may provoke conflict: family requests or obligations.

  • If you are asked to honor a family member who has an awful name, try selecting a wonderful name that starts with the same letter instead.
  • If you are asked to honor a religious tradition (and you subscribe to that tradition), search long and hard for a way to do it that will be beneficial to your child and that you can both agree on.
  • If you are asked to honor an ethnic tradition, know that there are terrific names in every ethnicity, and make sure to select a form of the name that will not cause your child discomfort while living in a multicultural environment.

In dealing with any of the above requests or obligations, make sure to stand up for the goals you have both agreed to. No matter who claims the right to tell you what name to pick, explain that you have both signed an agreement to choose a name that both parents will like and child will like. If either parent dislikes the name or believes it’s not in the best interest of the child, the suggestion is vetoed, kaput, fini, terminado.

That little speech will have the liberating effect of freeing you up to pick a name that you’ll both be excited to call your baby—and that your child is gonna love.

© 2013 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

4 thoughts on “Stop Arguing: Try a Win-Win Approach to Baby-Naming

  1. I really like this idea of having a “shared goals” agreement in place before even getting to the names. It might seem like a strange way to begin the naming process, but I bet it could help a lot of couples stay civil to one another, and stay focused on the task at hand.

    • The big isssue is to figure out what the main goal is:
      addressing family “politcal” issues, picking a name most likely to work well for your child, and/or keeping the baby-naming process rational and civil.
      All are legitimate goals, but thinking about them before
      you start is likely to produce better results and
      less stress for both parents.

    • Hi Nancy, I received a Pingback which I traced back to your website. I noticed you had quoted from my Win-Win article–so I approved it. Recently I found some content on your website about hard-to-pronounce Irish names. I mentioned a few of the names and provided the correct pronunciation for them. I praised your website and linked readers back to your original (2008) article. I hope that’s OK

  2. Pingback: Name Quotes for the Weekend #9 - Nancy's Baby Names - Baby name blog featuring girl names, boy names, rare baby names, popular baby names, baby name popularity graphs, baby name meanings, and more.

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