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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.


Published June 12, 2015. Last updated June 12, 2015.
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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  • Cheryl S.

    June 12, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    The bottom line is THERE ARE NO DIBS IN REAL LIFE.  Sorry.  Does it suck that they picked a name you love? Yes.  Does it suck worse that you told them that you loved the name 6 months ago and they still chose it (consciously or unconsciously)?   Yup.

    Is there anything you can do about it? NOPE.

    There is no way to have that conversation without sounding childish. Don’t do it. You need to find other names you love and move on.

  • Ann

    June 12, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    This is such a weird American thing. In my family it is not unusual to have some names be commonly used. That is the whole concept of nicknames. We know which Math is “our Math”. Different than the Math Mai married and different from all the cousins and kids named the same.
    If you like the same so much, having 2 in the family is a double blessing.

    • A.L

      June 13, 2015 at 9:38 am

      I agree with this entirely! You can still use the name you love even if someone else (even a family member) has that name too. They live on the other side of the country so the opportunity for confusion is low. Besides, unless you pick something really weird and obscure, at some point your kid is going to share his name with someone– neighbor, classmate, teammate, coworker, etc. It’s no big deal.

      Throughout elementary school there was at least one other kid with my name in my class. But it didn’t matter. And it won’t matter for your kid either. He will be special and unique no matter what his (or anyone else’s) name is.

    • IrishCream

      June 15, 2015 at 1:05 pm

      It’s not a particularly American thing, it varies around the country and from family to family. Many American families pass names down over the generations so the same three names are shared by half the family!

    • Jenn

      June 15, 2015 at 11:32 pm

      Just thinking this.  My whole family is from the deep South and half the men and women in our family have the same names, either as first or middle names.  Old names that have been in the family for 5+ generations.  My sister’s son is William Stephen and my cousin’s son is Billy and my father is Bill and my other cousin is Steve and my mom is Barbara Marie and my great aunt is Bobbie (Barbara).  I am named after my father’s favorite cousin and my sister is named for my grandmother.  I love it; it gives me a sense of belonging to history and it is seen, correctly, as a sign of respect to those who came before.  I realize that this isn’t the OP’s situation; however, it’s a shame that so many people are proprietary about baby names instead of seeing them as what they should be – a way to honor and remember the people who had them before you.

  • Melissa

    June 12, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    It seems like this is a lot of strife to put yourself through for a totally hypothetical boy baby. You may not have boys! Or you may change your mind! Or you may look at your boy baby and say “Wow. He is not a ___at all.” Or you may decide not to have kids! Or your I laws may only have girls and you can use it! But none of that is really in your control. And is probably years out (engagement, wedding, newlywed period, baby growing 9ish months).

    Full disclosure: I am married to a man with a normal name, but his brother (now deceased) had a horribly weird, unappealing to me name. This is a name his cousin and grandfather had too. He asked me if we could name a son this name. I felt his happiness and need to honor family members was more important than my disliking the name. I agreed we should use the name. Well, we only had daughters (and are D.O.N.E.) and I’m so glad I didn’t stress about it.

    Good luck with your engagement, marriage and future kids! I hope you find the perfect name when you are pregnant!

  • Sassy

    June 12, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Could you maybe switch the first and middle? So still use the name in a different order?

    I understand really wanting to use a name and not being able to. I wanted to name a son after my father, but my husband’s brother named their son after his father, and that son died. My husband really didn’t want to use my father’s name and not his, and I categorically refused to ask his brother and sister in law to use their father’s name. So we picked a different name for both boys. And their names fit them perfectly! It seems like such an important detail before you give birth but really once they’re here and growing it’s really just an afterthought. Oh, there’s monkey again. I don’t think I’ve ever said my son’s name and thought oh man I just really think he should have been Bob, if that makes any sense. A name for a baby shouldn’t cause hurt in a family.

  • K

    June 13, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Perfect response, Amy. LW, sorry, but you do not get to participate in the process of choosing a name for your niece/nephew. At all. A name is such a personal thing for a family. And if the BIL claims they didn’t get the idea from you, maybe they’ve really convinced themselves of it. And maybe try to consider the possibility that that’s actually what happened — they could have independently decided that Cory and Winifred combine beautifully to make the name Corwin, who knows? And all of Amalah’s points about all the reasons you could change your own mind about a name are 100% right. Especially the gender thing. And, like, big picture stuff here: you’re not married and (I assume) not TTC yet. For plenty of people, it takes years to conceive. Or they are never able to. Of course, knock on wood, and I wish you all the fertility and blessings of babies you could want, but keep in mind that having a baby is not necessarily a given. And that being the case, suddenly something like a name seems far less important. And yeah, you/the in laws might have only girls. And as Amy says, babies take a LONG time to cook. A long time during which a lot can change. So don’t stress about it, your babies will end up with the perfect names for them. 

  • Maree

    June 13, 2015 at 7:13 am

    I think your only chance is to let your fiancé (his family=his conversation) tell them that you plan on using that name for your first child but that it is ok for them to use it too – just want them to be aware that there will be a double up. Then let it go, just drop it and then in 5years or whatever if you have a boy then they can’t say they weren’t warned.

    I used a similar conversation with my best friend. Our dads have the same first name so I raised that I was planning on using it no matter what. In the end I had the first boy but I am still ok if she plans on using it too in the future. I don’t think cousins with the same name is that unusual – they are likely to have different middle names and birth years.

  • brooke

    June 13, 2015 at 8:28 am

    At the end of the day, you relationship with your SIL and BIL (and their future child) is more important than you getting your way on this. Let this one go. It’s not a deal breaker.

  • Lee

    June 13, 2015 at 11:30 am

    My SIL tried to “dibs” us when I was pregnant (and she was still years away from having kids), the only difference was we said what first & middle names we were planning on using for a boy/girl and she then attempted to lay claim to ALL  FOUR OF THEM.  Because, well, that one was her great-great aunts name, and that one is her cousins middle name, and she’s just always loved that one and she’s sure she told me that, so obviously I wouldn’t dare use it. Umm… Okay, so I’m 8 1/2 months pregnant but I’ll just start from scratch to oblige you and your unconceived children. 
    We were actually out at a restaurant with our whole extended family when this conversation took place, and when we tried to tactfully tell her she was crazy (and were backed up by everyone else) she literally threw a tantrum, crying and wailing, and storming out of the restaurant, then proceeded to nag us incessantly until our son (whom we named after my father/her second cousin twice removed or something) was born, at which point she pouted and whined that it wasn’t fair, blah blah. Incidentally, she tried to pull this with her own sister as well.
       So the moral of my story is… Irregardless of what happens here, you’ll never regret handling yourself with some dignity. It sucks, I agree they scooped you, but what can you do?  You can’t force them to pick a different name, and if you make too big of an issue out of it, you’re the one who will look bad, not them. 

  • melissa

    June 13, 2015 at 2:20 pm

    I don’t think you can stop them from using the name, but they can’t stop you, either! You can gently let them know (again) that you have been planning to use that name for a while, and that their decision to also use it will not change your minds. They can decide if they are willing to risk it, but they will have made an informed decision.

    That is, of course, if YOU can accept that the boys will have the same name. That does kind of suck, but it would not be that unusual and I think everyone would deal.

    Amy does have a point, though. You may change your mind when you actually see your little baby and realize that “the name” is just not his name!

  • Elfie

    June 13, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I agree with the argument that you may change your mind when the time comes for you to have children, or that you may not even have a boy at all, so in that sense it’s not something to overthink.

    But fundementally, I disagree that there is no such thing as name dibs before pregnancy. My sister and I love names and name discussions, and have pretty much picked out our future children’s potential names (several girl and boy names each). We’ve essentially both called dibs on our faves, discussed them at length, and it is always a conversation I enjoy. It is also an agreement I would never break. I wouldn’t ever dream of using her favourite names! I think dibs can work and ideally should be taken into account. If something really matters to someone, why hurt them?

    So I would totally undertand if you took this up (politely, gracefully and without any hint of agressivity) with you SIL. Word it any way you like, allowing her all the options she wants, but make it clear that it matters to you, and nothing will change the fact that this is a name that you love, have had in mind for a long time, and are very likely to use given the chance.

    • Kim too

      June 19, 2015 at 12:24 am

      But that’s an agreement you’ve made with your sister, between the two of you. It doesn’t stop your husband’s sister from using the names, even if you tell her about it years in advance.  It just doesn’t. No such things as dibs (ok, unless two people have pinky promised on it when they were 13, and even then – well, sometimes sisters have been known to jerk each other around.  Because things change.)
      I follow a lot of name blogs, and really the best you can hope for is  “hey, we both have really great taste – because that’s the exact name I have always wanted to name my son. and I still may.” Asking them not to use it because you really, really want to crosses the line.  She’s got the kid coming, not you, time to suck it up.

  • K

    June 13, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    I love Lee’s response, and I’ve seen something similar happen. I personally don’t believe in dibs, and I also don’t see a problem with similar or same names within the same family. If a name is that special, everyone should get to use it. It seems counterintuitive to me to be territorial or prideful (meaning “we came up with it first”) about something meant to honor someone else (assuming this is more about honoring his parents than just “I like this special snowflake name”).
    I remember feeling intensely certain that I knew what our hypothetical baby names would be, and then when the time came I had the same feeling Amy did – that name belonged to a different baby. So we chose a new one and it’s great, and honestly as important as it seems right now, I can promise you it won’t be in a few years, and it is certainly not worth messing around with your relationship with family. Say nothing, and when you actually are pregnant you can call dibs on whatever you want, and hope that other people believe in dibs too 🙂

  • Lou

    June 15, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I have cousins that both have the same name and for the record, as far as I’m aware, no one in the family really cared (either at the time of their birth or presently). I share my middle name with all my cousins on my Dads side. My first name is the middle name of another of my cousins. See, in the long run, it doesn’t really matter. Names are names. They are special to each person but also common enough to be considered names at all (if that makes any sense). Bets of luck with the naming of your future children but if you like a name, I say, just go for it!

  • T

    June 15, 2015 at 11:26 am

    Ugh so sucky. My favorite girl name was taken by my husband’s cousin. I’m still resentful but have never ever said a thing. Luckily we had boys and it was never an issue. But if it’s your name and you love it, use it! Although you might find it annoying if they say you named your kid after their kid. That alone would be reason enough for me to let the name drop. 

  • R

    June 15, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    This is why I always see it as best practice to not share names until the baby is born. There might be some whining, but my experience is that people usually don’t complain too much about the name once they are looking at the bundle of joy.

  • Stephanie

    June 15, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    I would definitely not bring it up with your finance’s family.  My brother-in-law (sister’s husband) tried to claim dibs on a boy name we were considering when I was pregnant with my first.  My sister was not pregnant at the time, and they weren’t even trying at that point. It REALLY pissed me off.  We didn’t find out the sex of the baby ahead of time and ended up having a girl, so moot point.  Fast forward to many years later, our second child was a boy and they had two girls.  We did not use the coveted name for our son because we had changed our minds by that time.  
    My  main point is that I still remember my complete outrage at my brother-in-law trying to “claim” a name, and it was SIXTEEN years ago.   You very well could change your mind, it happens all of the time.  And if you don’t, and still love it if and when you are expecting, keep those baby names to yourself until the baby is born.  Everyone feels like they can comment on potential baby names, but it’s a rare soul who fells that way about an actual, real live person’s name.  

  • Courtney

    June 17, 2015 at 12:48 am

    Wait, you’re waiting six more MONTHS for the baby to be born to even know if this is an issue. That’s plenty of time for SIL to change HER mind. You could send an email with a whole list of other fun names, to see if you can throw her off the scent. Or just wait it out. It sounds like the chances of this baby actually getting your chosen name are actually pretty slim.

  • Amy Renee

    June 23, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    Late to this, but I think there is only one exception to calling dibs on a name – when there is a long standing family tradition. In my family the oldest son of oldest son etc is named Matthew. Period, always, for at least 5 or 6 generations. There is not a Matthew in my kids generation yet, but I wouldn’t use it because it would tick off my whole family, and my cousin would have to decide if he wanted to break tradition or if he wanted to have a duplicate name in the generation.

    I think if you are marrying into a family with a tradition like this, you should be told of it and not break it if you don’t want a lot of family tension – but that does not sound like the letter writers case, so sorry, no dibs in her case.

  • Caroline

    June 24, 2015 at 4:19 am

    As Amalah has said, there’s not much to be done. Were it me, if and when you come round to having a son…

    use the name. Just use it. They will not like it but if and when something gets said, you just say ”oh yes, I KNOW, but remember all those years back before anyone had kids and DH told you that was the name we’d go for? Still love it!” Why not? I would. Does it matter? It sounds as though this couple live some way from you so…?
    And this is assuming that anyone has a son ever, and that you don’t change your minds – which you might. Just pretend they haven’t used it and continue with your own plans. You see… you can’t call dibs, that is totally true BUT NEITHER CAN THEY! The 204 Isabella’s and 156 Connors in my son’s class are testament to the fact that names gain popularity suddenly and from nowhere. See what happens and use the name if you want to, when the time comes. I definitely would.

  • Anna

    June 29, 2015 at 12:27 am

    When I was newly pregnant with my first, my in-laws got a new puppy and named it my husband and my favorite girl name. We mentioned that we were wanting to use that if we had a girl but they named the dog that anyway. I was pretty furious for a while because i just didn’t want my kid to have the same name as her grandparents’ dog. In the end my husband and I picked a different name and it is just perfect for our daughter. Things work out in the end but it can be so frustrating to get through 🙂 Best of luck, OP

  • liz

    July 8, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    I have never understood this issue. I’ve got 2 cousins named Daniel, the same ages near enough. Their moms are sisters, and it’s not an issue. I’ve got aunt and a cousin, both named Devorah. Two grandmothers named Sylvia. Two cousins named Shane. Emma, Emily, Ella, Ellie, Estie and Esther. Jillian, Eu1an, Julian, Julia. Ann and Anne and Annie. At least three Steves, and I’m one of two Elizabeths.

  • Missie

    July 10, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Actual conversation in my mom’s family, December 8, 1970:
    My Dad to My mom’s mom: Hey! Guess what? You have a new granddaughter and her name is Melissa!
    My Grandma: Another one?
    Dad: Another what, granddaughter?
    G:No, another Melissa?

    Unbeknownst to my parents, my mom’s brother and wife had a baby girl in Oregon the day before my mom had me in Florida. Her name was Millisa Colleen and mine was Melissa Ann. Whenever we played together, it was “the two Missys” or Missy D and Missie C. No big deal. It was rather funny. 

    My sis in law had two girls before we had our girl, and she used four names that I had totally loved and wanted for our girls…that we hadn’t had yet. Ended up, we only had one girl, and I didn’t use ANY of the names I thought I had loved for years and years beforehand. We just knew we would name our baby girl Rachel….except she didn’t feeeel like a Rachel. So she is an Alison. There’s no way she would have been a Rachel. 🙂

  • Samm

    August 9, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    I had a favorite girl’s name all picked out for the longest time, I wanted to honor my favorite aunt and loved the nickname. Then I met my husband and it is his mother’s name. I do not like her, at all. Life happens and sometimes it makes you change your mind. You never know how you’ll feel about a name before you look at your baby and try it out. Maybe she’ll end up not liking it, maybe she’ll end up not having that gender, maybe you’ll end up changing your mind. It’s not with the stress.