Naming your child will be an experience you won’t forget. Whether you choose a name that’s meaningful to you or one that you just love the sound of, it can be one of the most exciting things about having a newborn. However, years later, your child might decide that they just don’t love the name you selected for them. So what are you to do in that situation?
According to studies, babies can begin to recognize their names by the time they are between 4 and 6 months old. As they grow and develop, they begin to come into their identities, and a huge part of that is their name.
According to Joanna Fortune, a psychotherapist specializing in parent-child relationships, who wrote the books Why We Play and 15 Minute Parenting, says: “A name is such a personal choice and is the first gift that we give our children. For that reason, it is loaded with meaning and desire and hope and love.”
There are many reasons why your child can end up liking their names, ranging from wanting a more unusual name to stand out, or the opposite, a more “normal” name in order to fit in. They could also feel like their name doesn’t fit with their gender identity, or they are trying to figure out their identity altogether.
It’s important to first try to understand what your child is going through and why they have decided they do not like their name. This will go differently depending on how old the child is, as if they’re younger, you can try to test out a different name while at home and see how it goes, while older kids might be more adamant about legal name changes.
You can start out with a nickname and see whether or not your child feels better after that. Fortune suggests: “I would advise against body-based nicknames; they tend to be the ones children object most to.”
If the nickname goes well, you can let their teachers know, as well as parents of their peers, that way everyone can start to call them by their preferred nickname. According to fortune, it’s important to “State clearly and unapologetically that they are now using this name, and this is what they should be called now.”
If your child is old enough and feels very strongly about it, you can then consider an actual legal name change. It’s important to wait until your child is certain that this is a permanent change that they want to make, or to wait until they are old enough to do it themselves.
When it comes to name changes in order to reflect their gender identity, Fortune explains: “If your child is living with a self-selected gender identity (rather than assigned-at-birth identity), the name you gave them may not be appropriate for them anymore and may, in fact, serve to trigger anxiety. Allow them to tell you the name they are comfortable being called, follow steps regarding school and family, and support them with changing travel documents.”
There’s no reason to feel guilty or hurt, even though it can be natural to feel this way. You chose the name that is meaningful to you, and while that is a beautiful choice, ultimately you want your child to feel comfortable with the name they have to walk around with forever. Make sure you let your child feel supported and don’t take it personally.