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Sinead and William have two small daughters named Orla and Freya, and would love another child. Although they aren’t expecting yet, Sinead is already anxious about choosing baby names due to the reactions they got from William’s family with the first two names.

Criticisms of the names Orla and Freya have ranged from ignorant (the names are “masculine” or “old lady” names), to ridiculous (“It sounds fat”), to vulgar (fancied similarities between the names and obscene words). The criticism is ongoing even after a year or two, and they always gleefully pass on any silly or mean comments they receive about the names from others (“Mrs Tenby mixed Orla up with orca!”).

When they’re not name bullying their own flesh and blood, William’s family are nice, sane, ordinary country people, the salt of the earth and pillars of their community. They don’t have much of a filter, and distrust anything unfamiliar. They kept pointing out to Sinead and William how all the nice girls’ names were in the Top 10, and wouldn’t they prefer Chloe and Georgia?

Sinead has tried to express how she feels to her in laws, and explain why they chose the names, but the response is always along the lines of: You shouldn’t have picked ugly, weird names for your children if you didn’t want people to say that they’re ugly and weird.

William loves their daughters’ names, and is proud of them. When Sinead almost gave in to the name nagging and chose a Top 50 name for their first daughter, William insisted they go with the name they actually loved. However, he feels that his family have their hearts in the right place, and are only being honest. He thinks Sinead shouldn’t be too sensitive about a bit of family teasing.

Sinead’s background is slightly different to William’s. Her parents are Irish immigrants, and she grew up in the suburbs of a large city. She loved that her mum and dad named her Sinead Euphemia, a name that stood out amongst her friends and classmates. Growing up, Sinead was confident enough to correct children and adults on the pronunciation of her name, and enjoyed discussing her name with others.

However her little sister Aoife Catherine had a very different experience. Shy and reserved by nature, she felt humiliated whenever her name got mangled, and readily submitted to being called Eva to avoid any fuss. By the time she was in kindergarten, she insisted on being known by her middle name, and now goes by Kate. Her sister’s experience also makes Sinead wary of choosing anything too unusual, and fearful she may have burdened her daughters with names that could likewise cause them problems.

Sinead has a nice list of possible names that she loves, but almost every one of them makes her pause and wonder if it will be dragged through the mud by her in laws, or end up being more drama than its worth. She has already cut Saoirse, Cillian, Saskia, and Ceridwen for fear they will be “too weird” for people to cope with.

Maeve (her first choice, but their surname is similar to Grove – is Maeve Grove too much?)
Inez (has been told it sounds like a rude word)
Gwen (is Gwen Grove too alliterative?)

Middle name would almost certainly be Elizabeth, but Eleanor is a strong contender (both family names). Neither of these names sound right with Isobel, which would probably eliminate it.

Alasdair (but feels in laws will only accept Alistair or Alastair)

The middle name would be John, William, or Gordon.

Sinead feels a bit silly writing in about names for a baby who doesn’t exist yet, but she would love to get some feedback on names which isn’t from her in laws and to feel less anxiety about choosing another baby name.

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Sinead, I think it would be foolish for you to choose baby names based on the opinions of your in laws. As you know, their tastes are very conservative, and they are highly resistant to learning anything new. It’s a big wide world outside the cow paddock, but they don’t seem to want to know about it.

I think their comments have been appalling and unacceptable. Yet I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for your in laws. You’re a bright, highly educated, very successful woman, and without meaning to, I’m sure a hundred times you have made them feel like stupid, unsophisticated bumpkins.

You’re from the big smoke with fancy ways and book learning, and you make them look pretty small pond in comparison. I do think that they use your children’s names as a way to cut you down to size, and put you in your place.

It’s something a lot of families do, and look at this article I found on Clare’s Name News with daft reactions to baby names – even standard names like Poppy and Sebastian get absolutely hammered. I know plenty of people who’ve chosen popular names for their children, and they’re still too “weird” for the older generation.

I hope your inlaws plan to cut this out once your daughters are old enough to understand what they’re saying. However, I’m not too worried about your girls if they don’t. Because look at their parents – a mum who was a feisty little girl ready to stand up for her name, and a thick-skinned dad who says, “We love your names, and we don’t give a hoot what grandma thinks”. Not to mention some very outspoken relatives, so your inlaws might get a taste of their own medicine one day!

Another reason it would be crazy to make name decisions based on what your in laws think is that they are quite simply wrong. There’s nothing bad about the names Orla and Freya, and they don’t seem particularly burdensome. They’re pretty names with an interesting history, and they’re fairly easy to spell and pronounce.

Freya is not far out of the Top 100, so it’s not at all rare – in fact, parents often fret about using it, because “it’s getting too common” (Australian actresses Freya Stafford and Freya Tingley have given it a boost). Orla is much less common, but it’s one of those names you see often enough that it doesn’t seem outrageous: so far this year I have seen one baby named Orla. There’s also the foreign affairs journalist Orla Guerin from the BBC – have your in laws ever seen her on the news?

I wonder if you have been too busy to attend a playgroup or mother’s group in your community, because I would be surprised if you received any rude comments from other parents about Freya and Orla, or that they would have any problems with them. I’m sure they will fit in just fine with the kids in their area – I see baby names from your region quite often, and they have a pretty broad range, with several hip vintage and nature names. Freya and Orla may well have classmates called Elva, Lucian, and Fox!

Your sister’s experience with her name should give you courage rather than add to your fears, because it shows that even if someone doesn’t care for their name, it’s not a big problem. Your smart little sister was able to solve her name woes by the age of five by simply using her middle name. Mind you, I think the name Aoife would have been much harder to cope with when she was a child than it would be today: we’ve moved on so much since then. Okay, not where your inlaws live – but most other places!

I think you should make a list of names that you and William like, and not bother with what your inlaws will think of them. Clearly they’re not going to be happy unless you choose something like Jack or Sophie, and are probably going to make unpleasant comments no matter what name you pick. Besides, they’ve already got to choose their own childrens’ names – why should they get to help choose yours as well?

I feel a bit sad you’ve eliminated Saskia based on some silly comments from your inlaws. It’s such a pretty name, and it’s rather fashionable at the moment. Actress Saskia Burmeister has given it a boost, and there’s also been a popular kid’s TV series featuring a teenager named Saskia. Saoirse isn’t that uncommon either – there’s a couple of young actresses with this name, including Saoirse Ronan. It would probably have a couple of pronunciation issues though.

Maeve seems like a wonderful choice – fashionable, Irish, goes well with Orla and Freya, and easy to cope with. Maeve Grove is a bit awkward, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a dealbreaker. I do think Gwen Grove is too much though: it’s a real tongue-twister, and sounds like Glengrove with a lisp. Inez doesn’t sound like a rude word to me, unless I’m either mispronouncing the name or the rude word! However, I’m never sure how to pronounce this name, as everyone seems to say it differently. All your other choices are great, and I think Carys is a fantastic match with Orla and Freya.

Your boys’ choices are all really handsome, but quite conservative compared to the names you have picked for girls. Is that your natural name style, or have you been scared out of anything more unusual by family? Alasdair, Euan and Rowan all seem like natural matches with Orla and Freya, but any name you love will be fine.

I really think you are worrying too much, and it’s a shame that other people have spoiled what should be a joyful, exciting pastime – dreaming up names for your future baby! Don’t let them spoil it any longer.

Readers, have family or friends criticised your baby names, and if so, how did you deal with it? And what do you think of Sinead’s name choices?