Baby name theft is actually a thing

Photo: supplied

Photo: supplied

Back in the ’90s, before Gwyneth had Apple and Beyoncé had Blue Ivy, Seinfeld’s George Costanza tried to think up a unique name for his future child. In the episode, George reveals his name of choice – Seven – but to his dismay, his fiancee’s pregnant cousin likes it so much, she decides to use it herself.

What was intended as an absurd plot line apparently rings true. Google ‘stealing baby names’ and 800,000 results pop up, ranging from grievances shared on parenting forums to articles debating the issue. There’s even a term for it.

“We call it ‘name sniping’,” says Jennifer Moss, founder of BabyNames.com and co-host of The Baby Names Podcast. “We get several messages, probably one or two a month, about it happening.”

The anxiety around name sniping can be enhanced by parents wanting to give their kids names that are one of a kind – an especially modern desire and phenomenon.

When Moss checked the US Social Security Administration’s records for 1950 and 1960, she found that one in every three children had a name that ranked in the top 10 most popular names of the period. “Now it’s less than one per cent,” she says. “That’s telling us that parents are thinking outside the box and want a name that’s different from everyone else’s.”

Sherri Suzanne, the founder of My Name For Life, a consultancy that helps parents select a baby name, credits the trend for unique names with an increasingly globalised world and changing social mores. “Some of it is simple mathematics: there are a lot more names from which to choose,” she explains. “We hear new names daily on TV, in movies, on the internet, and in the news.”

The experts agree that name sniping is a bigger issue when it happens within close circles, rather than among acquaintances. Suzanne usually encounters it when there’s a question of who a name “belongs” to. “I have had siblings quarrel over who had greater claim to a deceased relative’s name: did the younger sister have a right to use the name, since she had a child first? Was the older sister more entitled to the name by birthright?”

Photo: supplied

Photo: supplied

So, what’s the etiquette when it comes to baby names, and how can cases of name sniping be resolved peacefully? “There aren’t hard-and-fast rules about it,” Moss says. “If it’s a close friend or family member who’s considering a name, you should really ask them first if you can use it.”

If you discover someone’s leaning towards a name you already told them you’d picked out, Moss advises having a face-to-face conversation – but keep it light. “Names are very personal to people, so I’d say approach it in a friendly manner and be open to compromise.”

And if you can’t come to a resolution, let it go, and find a new name. After all, in Suzanne’s words, “the world is full of amazing names”.

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