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Baby Name Turf Wars: Calling Dibs Before You're Pregnant

Baby Name Turf Wars: Calling Dibs Before You’re Pregnant

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I need advice on how to handle a situation with my SIL-to-be. It’s a bit strange because I’m not yet having a baby, I’m actually not even married yet. But I have been in love with a baby name for years. Before I was even engaged, my fiancé and I talked baby names because the name I have loved works out to be a combination of his parents names and we thought it was so perfect.

After our engagement we went out with my fiancés brother and his wife. We had agreed to keep our name a surprise for when we were pregnant, but in his excitement at the cleverness of the name and being caught up in the baby talk, my fiancé shared the name with his brother. Now, 6 months later, my SIL-to-be is pregnant and just announced the name I have loved for years as their boy option because it’s a combination of my in-laws’ names.

They are waiting to find out the sex of the baby until the birth and I’m looking at a long next 6 months of praying they have a girl. My fiancé confronted his brother who didn’t remember the conversation and I don’t know how to, or if I should, try to talk to my SIL. I feel like an in-person, private conversation is the best approach but we live across the country and won’t see her until just she’s 7 months along. Any etiquette on handling this?

Thank you!

This sucks, but I’m afraid there’s really not much you can do. You can’t really call “dibs” on a name until you are pregnant and can actually announce that “hey, this is the name we’re going with.” Which is what has just happened, sort of.

(Although even after announcing your name selection, the concept of “dibs” is not anything ironclad and gets routinely ignored by friends and family. Another pregnant woman in the vicinity can still be like, “THAT’S PERFECT I LOVE IT,” or suddenly inform you that “OMG THAT’S OUR SECRET NAME AND I’M DUE FIRST SO GUESS WHAT I’M STILL USING IT.”)

Your fiancé messed up by sharing the name and putting it out there and in their minds. I mean, there was an entire Seinfeld episode with that plotline, with George Costanza throwing an I HAD DIBS temper tantrum over an actually-pregnant couple using “his” name for his hypothetical child. (Please don’t be George Costanza.) Your future brother-in-law claims to not even remember the conversation, so either they really do genuinely think they came up with the name themselves and feel zero obligation to change their plans as you guys retroactively attempt to claim dibs…or he is flat-out lying, remembers the conversation and knows they are deliberately poaching your name and they are using the “we got pregnant first, you’re not even married yet, so #sorrynotsorry” justification. Which I will agree is totally jerky, but what’s done is done. Bite your tongue around these people going forward, lesson harshly learned.

Sure, I suppose you try can talk to or email your SIL, but I would REALLY take a long, hard look at the situation and decide if this is REALLY worth causing possible offense/hurt feelings/confrontation over. She might have a girl and not even use the name. YOU might only have a girl and not even use the name. Not to mention that just because you’ve loved a name for “years and years” and it’s clever and meaningful to you NOW doesn’t actually mean you’ll still be in love with it by the time you’re pregnant.

My husband and I also had the PERFECT boy and girl names picked out long before I got pregnant, and never, ever used them. They were names we’d picked out for our someday hypothetical babies, and once I got pregnant with our ACTUAL babies, they suddenly felt not right,  like it was some other baby’s name. (Same with our “backup” names for each individual baby. Once a name — even a name we loved! — was passed over for one baby, that automatically disqualified it from future hand-me-down use.) This is totally not a universal experience, but I’m just sharing what happened because it really did surprise me how my “perfect” names that I loved for years suddenly felt off and wrong.

You might have similar feelings, but realize that by causing a stink in the past over the name with your in-laws, you’re boxed in and obligated to use it. Even if say, 1) the name skyrockets in popularity over the next few years and becomes tired and played out, 2)  you meet someone with the name who is a total freaking jerk and they kind of ruin it for you, 3) you have a big huge falling out with his parents and no longer want to honor them with the name, 4) the name makes national headlines because of a terrorist/serial killer/genocidal maniac/absolutely horrible Young Adult fiction protagonist, or 5) literally a million other possible scenarios that could cause you to fall out of love with a name.

If after reading all that, however, you feel just as strongly that you still want to talk to your SIL, I don’t really have much etiquette advice to offer. Personally, I would keep my mouth shut and my fingers crossed for a girl, although admittedly that sets you guys up for future conflict in case they get upset at you for using a name they feel entitled to keep in play for subsequent pregnancies. Your fiancé confronted his brother, who PROBABLY said something to his wife, and it clearly wasn’t enough to make her rethink the name choice. She more than likely knows you guys feel like they’re name poaching and doesn’t care. You can try a direct appeal as one last resort — I’d probably just email so it happens as early in the pregnancy as possible, and politely assure her this is the only time you’re going to bring it up and not going to hold a grudge — but just keep your expectations low and your emotional ties to this particular cluster of letters in check.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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