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Couple arguing

Scarlett and Toby have a baby daughter, and it took them eight weeks after her birth to choose the name (they went a little over the deadline for registration). It was a very stressful process and they disagreed on basically everything. Part of the problem was that they waited until she was born to choose the name beause they were convinced they were having a boy, so they weren’t prepared with girls’ names. Then everybody else seemed to have an opinion on what name they should choose, and that made it harder to decide, rather than easier.

Eventually they managed to compromise on a name, but Scarlett was unhappy that her favourite girl’s name couldn’t be used. She feels that choosing a baby name is often portrayed as one that’s fair and equal, with the parents choosing a name together they both really love, but she knows from her own experience that this isn’t always the case.

Scarlett would like to know which parent should have the final say on the baby’s name in cases where there is clear disagreement. During the time that she and Toby were arguing over their daughter’s name, often in front of other people, she was told many times, by both men and women, that the mother should have the final choice.

After all, the mother has carried the baby for nine months and birthed it (no small task!), will probably be doing the majority of child care, and therefore using the name more frequently. Scarlett is aware this isn’t how everyone’s family situation works, but it’s the reality of her life, and of most women she knows.

Then again, Scarlett wonders how important this is when being a baby and child is such a small part of a person’s life, and their name should really be for their adulthood and old age, not their few years of childhood growing up with mum and dad.

Scarlett wonders what couples should do if they can’t reach an agreement. Does one choose the first name and the other the middle name, then reverse for the next child? Would it be a bad idea to pick the name out of a hat and let fate decide? In other words, is there a simple rule to be followed that can eliminate arguments?

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You’ve asked the $64 000 question there, Scarlett (or the $600 000 one, allowing for inflation and currency conversion). And the short answer is that no, there is no standard rule to be followed to decide who gets to make the final decision in naming disputes.

As you’ve discovered, many people subscribe to the idea that the mother should get to make the final choice, due to her unique role in pregnancy and childbirth, and historic tendency to be more involved with childcare. I’m not completely convinced by it, because it seems as if you could make a case to say that since the father is so left out of the pregnancy/birth/childcare, the least you could do is let him name the baby.

I know some men say that since they are the ones most likely to be making the greater economic contribution, and for a lot longer than nine months, the father should get more of a say (I’m not convinced by that argument either – apart from anything else, you shouldn’t get to buy your child’s name).

I’m uncomfortable with the whole idea of “mum chooses” or “dad chooses”, because it seems to be setting the parents up as antagonists, with one of them the victorious winner, and the other the despondent loser. As you’ve found, the stress of the baby naming process can bring on quite enough conflict as it is without creating a system that pits you against each other.

Ideally, you should work together to come up with a system that reduces the amount of conflict you have, and facilitates open communication. I think already you’ve learned a few things that you won’t do again that will make it easier in the future.

You know now to start the baby naming process well before you give birth, and to make sure you have a list for both boys and girls names, and not to let other people get involved in your baby name arguments. As you’ve found out, no matter how well meaning your friends and relatives are, they rarely prove helpful, and can often just confuse things further.

If you reach a point where you just flat out disagree on what the name should be, then there isn’t one single option which will suit everyone, and it’s up to the two of you to negotiate on an outcome which suits you best (or you dislike the least).

It might work out for one of you to choose the first name and the other the middle name, but there could also be problems with it too. What if mum wants the name Gemma and dad wants Emma – how happy would you be with Gemma Emma? Or if there’s a severe style mis-match, could you live with Doris Mikailyah? And if you swap the next time around, will your children’s names sound a bit odd together if you have a Harper and a Demetrius? And what if you end up having only one child?

Choosing a name out of a hat sounds like it might work better if you both agreed on several names, liked them all fairly equally, and just couldn’t pick between them. If you actually dislike each other’s name choices, I can imagine it might be quite a blow to have a name you really loathe forced on you by a hat. I think you’d have to come up with some rules, such as vetoeing in advance anything you really hated.

Compromising on the name, as you and Toby did, can work out well. They say the sign of a good compromise is that both people are unhappy with the result, but that’s not good enough for your child’s name – you both need to be happy with the name you choose. You might have a pang of disappointment that your favourite name didn’t make it, but the chosen name should be one that you both like and can imagine using for the rest of your lives.

The important thing is that you see yourselves as a team working towards the same goal: a great name for your child. But in the end, how you go about it is whatever works for you and Toby. Nobody can tell you how to choose a baby name – there’s no right or wrong way.

Readers, what do you think is the best way to resolve differences when it comes to baby names? And what methods have you used successfully?

POLL RESULT: A clear majority (69%) thought that if parents didn’t agree on the baby’s name, they should resolve their differences and reach a compromise together. However, a significant minority (18%) believed that in the case of a baby name deadlock, the mother’s choice should take precedence. In contrast, just 2% of people thought that the father’s choice should be used to break a deadlock. In fact, Dad getting to choose the name fared worse than blind chance, with 7% voting for a coin toss or the name being pulled from a hat. 4% were in favour of a trusted outsider, such as a grandparent, best friend, or family adviser (perhaps a minister of religion) being given the responsibility of choosing the name – quite eye-opening that this was twice as popular as the father getting to choose the name. Nobody thought that complete strangers should be entrusted with choosing the baby name, with online polls and radio phone-ins completely rejected as options.