Dear Bruce: How Can I Talk My Son Out of a Name I Hope they Don’t Give My Grandchild?

Q: I hate a name my son is thinking of naming his baby. How can I talk him out of it?

A: If you want to have even the slightest chance of changing your son’s mind, accept the fact that naming their baby is the prerogative of your son and his wife. It’s not your call. Accept the fact that they will pick whatever name they like and that you will live with their choice. (Fighting a passive-aggressive battle about a name you don’t like is juvenile and undermines your credibility as the “adult in the relationship.”)

Next, change the way you frame the issue. Saying you “hate”‘ the name they are considering sets up a cataclysmic life and death battle. Instead, say that the name they seem high on “never would have occurred to you.” Notice how that lightens the stakes and implies that nuclear weapons won’t be used to settle the matter.

The goal of “talking your son out of” the name he likes is highly unrealistic. Lower your sights and lighten your rhetoric accordingly. Describe what you’d like to accomplish as: “introducing a different perspective,” or “planting the seed of a different idea.” See how that language is much less “win/lose”–hence much less “threatening?”

(Time for an anecdote: I had a relative who always had to be “right”–about everything. Although he was smart enough not to verbalize what he was thinking, what was running through his mind as he argued passionately for his point of view was: “I’m right. You’re wrong. You big dummy!” When he started arguing, people sensed he was trying to run over them with a bulldozer and leave them flat as pancakes in the middle of the road. So instead of considering what he had to say, most people would dig in stubbornly and cling to their initial position for dear life.)

Can you see how a “bulldozer strategy” like the one my relative used is the least effective rhetorical strategy possible? And now that I’ve told you this anecdote can you see why using language like “introducing a different perspective” or “planting the seed of a different idea” is much less threatening and confrontational and might open the door to change, if only because your son might be curious to discover what your new “perspective” or “idea” might be.

Now that you’ve increased the odds that you and your son will have a productive discussion, you are ready to provide some new perspectives and new ideas in the  form of blog posts I’ve written about a variety of issues that might be causing a conflict between you and your son. (Psychotherapists call it “bibliotherapy” when they “prescribe” books for their patients to read.  So perhaps we should call this approach “blogotherapy.”

If your son is considering a name that is highly unusual and may come across as strange, weird or uncomfortable, suggest he read “Why Unique Names Can Be a Hassle.” It describes a research project that asked people if they liked their own names. Many respondents who had been given unusual names didn”t like their names for a variety of good reasons.

If your son is considering a traditional name that seems boring or humdrum to you, suggest that he read “How to Find Charming, Uncommon Names for Your Baby.”

If your son has picked a name you think is for “losers” and you would like to steer him towards a name that will help his child succeed in life, suggest he read “How to Come Up With a 5-Star Name  for Your Baby.”

If you think your son has picked an “outrageous” name similar to names selected by celebrities, suggest he read “10 Mistakes That Have Caused The Biggest, Baddest Baby-Naming Blunders.”

If your son has picked a name so popular there are likely to be more than one child with the same name in your grandchild’s kindergarten class, suggest he read “How to Pick a Unique Version of a Popular Name.”

When you realize your son has made up his mind about a first name “that never would have occurred to you,” change the subject and suggest he read “Middle Naming: How to Pick a Useful Middle Name for Your Baby.” (One of the main purposes of a middle name is to act as a “back-up name” should the first name not work out.)

By using a blogotherapy strategy, it is no longer you against your son in a winner-take-all confrontation. You really are providing a new perspective in the form of articles I’ve written which may shed some new light on the subject. And that’s really all you can hope to do.

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