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.

How Baby Center’s 2013 Top-10 Lists Compare with the Social Security Administration’s 2012 Top-10 List

I must have received 10 newsfeeds (all from different sources) for Baby Center’s list of 100 most popular names in 2013. As you may know, Baby Center is one of the leading sources of information about birth and babies. They get their popularity information directly from expecting and new parents who are registered with them. It’s a pretty good source of information considering that  the 2013 “most popular names lists” are published by Baby Center about 6 months in advance of the official Social Security Administration popularity data, which the SSA releases on or around Mother’s Day every year.

But, when I took a look at the top-ten boys’ names for 2013 announced by Baby Center, I wondered: How did Jackson  jump to #1 on Baby Center in 2013 from #20 on SSA in 2012? How did Aiden jump to #2 on Baby Center in 2013 from #10 on SSA in 2012? How did Lucas jump to #4 on Baby Center in 2013 from #27 on SSA in 2012? And how did Jack jump to #10 on Baby Center in 2013 all the way from #45 on SSA in 2012?

(I should mention at this point that changes to either the boy’s or girls top ten lists (from year to year on SSA) are usually in increments of one or two ranks on the list. It is fairly typical for several names  to move up one or two ranks and several names to move down one or two ranks on the list. And every once in a while, a name will “swoop down” from #11 or #12 to #9 or #10 to provide some excitement for me and other bored commentators.)  Believe it or not, that pretty much sums up the changes, most years, to the top-ten most popular boys’ and girls lists from the Social Security Administration.)

When I looked at top-ten girls’ names for 2013 announced by Baby Center, there were only two big moves: Zoe moved up from #20 on SSA 2012 to #8 on Baby Center 2013. And Lily moved up from #16 on SSA 2012 to #6 on Baby Center 2013. But the moves I’ve just described from the SSA 2012 list to the BC 2013 list way go beyond two sigmas (even if you flunked Statistics, you probably know that’s big move).

Now use your eyeballs to compare BC 2013 with BC2012 on the chart I created below–which compares BC 2013 with SSA 2012 and BC 2012. Notice, on the boys’ side, that Jackson moved up from #2 (in BC 2012) to #1 in BCv2013). Aiden moved down from  #1 (on BC 2012) to #2 in (BC 2013). And Jack didn’t move anywhere. It was #10 (in BC 2012 and was #10 (in BC 2013). Those are the kind of small incremental moves from year to year that it is reasonable to expect when you are looking at data from the same population year after year. This tells us that data produced by Baby Center should be compared with Baby Center stats from previous years; ditto for SSA data to give you a feel for popularity trends.

Why? Because Baby Center registrations are a very different population base than the much larger population measured by the Social Security Administration. Most likely, the Baby Center list skews more upscale (higher income and education) than the American public. So it probably makes sense to accept the fact that Baby Center registrations have dramatically different demographics than the SSA database.

In the chart below, you can compare Baby Center 2013 with both SSA 2012 and BC 2012.But to avoid getting too excited, remember that the best way to look at the Baby Center 2013 most popular names lists is to compare them to the BC 2012 list to find out, directionally, what’s going on. (As you can see, I’m not very good at lining up data so it looks vertically straight. Sorry about that.)

Top Boys’ and Girls’ Names for Baby Center 2013 (vs. SSA 2012 and BC 2012)

1. Jackson  #22 SSA 2012    #2 BC 2012                 1. Sophia      #1 SSA 2012      #1 BC 2012
2. Aiden     #10 SSA 2012    #1 BC 2012                 2. Emma       #2 SSA 2012      #2 BC 2012
3. Liam        #6 SSA 2012     #4 BC 2012                 3. Olivia        #4 SSA 2012      #3 BC 2012
4. Lucas     #27 SSA 2012     #7 BC 2012                 4. Isabella    #3 SSA 2012     #4 BC 2012
5. Noah       #4 SSA 2012     #6 BC 2012                  5. Mia           #8 SSA 2012     #9 BC 2012
6. Mason     #2 SSA 2012     #5 BC 2012                  6. Ava           #5 SSA 2012     #5 BC 2012
7. Jayden     #7 SSA 2012     #9 BC 2012                  7. Lily         #16 SSA 2012     #6 BC 2012
8. Ethan      #3 SSA 2012     #3 BC 2012                  8. Zoe         #20 SSA 2012     #7 BC 2012
9. Jacob       #1 SSA 2012     #8 BC 2012                  9. Emily       #6 SSA 2012     #8 BC 2012
10. Jack     #45 SSA 2012   #11 BC 2012                10. Chloe    #11 SSA  2012  #10 BC 2012

I should probably mention that Baby Center’s report on popularity changes in 2013 calls attention to popularity gains by names associated with the following TV shows and celebrities:
-“Duck Dynasty”
-HBO’s “Girls”
-Bad Boy (Kanye West)
-Bad Girl (Miley Cyrus)
-Triple Threat Indie Girls (Lena Dunham and Lake Bell)
-Funny Guys (Alec Baldwin, Fred Armisen, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, Vince Vaughan and Jason Sudeikis)
-and American Presidents (Jack Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and Barack Obama)

I found this information to be helpful, but I was surprised to discover that Baby Center didn’t also echo trends mentioned by a variety of US and UK commentators, to the effect that popularity gains were also made by names associated with some other popular TV  shows: “Homeland,” “Breaking Bad, “Game of Thrones, and “Downton Abbey.” It’s possible these trends didn’t show up in Baby Center’s data or perhaps their analysts missed them–I have no idea which. It’s one of the confusing aspects of having two very different sources of popularity information based on very different populations which are published 6 months apart.

I also think there’s more to analyzing changes in the popularity of names than concern with the influence of TV shows and celebrities. Surely that’s not the only factor that affects the popularity of names. Here are just a few things I noticed:

– On the top-ten Baby Center (2013)  boys’ list, there are currently 4 “J”-names. That’s a rare happening. Notice also that the  4 “strong” “J”-names combine with Lucas, which has a hard “c” sound to give the top-ten list 5 “strong” names and 5 “soft” names which (like Ethan and Noah) use softer vowel sounds.  By contrast, last year on the SSA 2012 top-ten boys’ list there were 7 “soft” names and only 3 “strong” names. And, notice also that there are only three names with biblical ties on the 2013 Baby Center list.  (In recent years there have usually been 6 or 7 boy’s names with biblical associations on SSA top-ten lists.) FYI, Biblical names suggest values or good character–which is why they have been so popular for boys in the past.

– On the top-ten Baby Center (2013) girl’s list, the first six names all have “strong” “a”- endings. But notice that the last four names have “weaker” endings with the “y” or “ee” sound. On the 2012 SSA list there was only one name (Emily) with a “y” ending, and there were three names with neutral-consonant endings (Abigail, Elizabeth, and Madison.) Finally, on the 2012 SSA top-ten list, there was one name on the list which made a “smart” impression: Abigail. Parents will have to look farther to find a “smart” option and/or a biblical name that connotes “good character” for their daughters.