There are few discussions that you have on your path to parenthood that can produce more disputes than choosing a name for your newborn. After all, it’s something that’s intended to be stuck with your child for life.
But even though they’ve had nine months to prepare, some parents’ minds are still blank once their baby arrives. And for one mum from Sydney’s western suburbs, this situation is now extreme – seven weeks on from welcoming her baby girl into the world, Kellie* is still struggling to select a suitable name.
“My fear is what happens if further down the track I think ‘oh, I really like that name, I wish I’d gone with that,’” she explains.
Her partner hasn’t been able to help, having acquiesced all naming rights to Kellie after battling to agree on suggestions when their first child was born. And while many mums would rejoice at this free reign, that’s not the case for Kellie.
“It just makes it harder,” she laments. “He could be the one to say ‘I like this one better’ and I’d say ‘done, let’s go with that.’”
Louisa, from Melbourne, can understand Kellie’s position. She waited a lengthy period to name two of her three children.
“Our daughter was named on her second day but our boys took three and four weeks respectively. We found naming boys much harder,” she says.
“But we decided to wait until our children were born to choose a name so we could get a sense of who they were.”
Kellie admits she also tried that idea, but that it didn’t help, saying, “I’m not one who can look at a baby and say ‘oh yes, you look like a this or that’.”
Sarah Wayland, a Sydney-based counsellor for women and children, offers some insight into why mothers can struggle with this task.
“As with every aspect of parenting, each family approaches the endless list of questions (including names) with different solutions. What may be simple for one may be complex for another – cultural influences, uncertainty as to the child's gender before the birth or traditions within extended family might all impact on the time it takes for people to find a name,” she explains.
Both Kellie and Louisa struggled with the opinions of others when making their decisions.
“People struggled to understand and wanted us to hurry up,” Louisa reveals. “I found it harder the first time as I hadn’t expected it to take so long; the second time it wasn’t really a big deal for me at all.”
Kellie says that a lot of people have been understanding and have said “’Well, it’s a big thing, they’re stuck with that for the rest of their lives’.”
But many others seem to think the situation is “strange and mean”. Even her own doctor, at her daughter’s six-week check-up, surprised her, saying her situation was “the worst I’ve ever had.”
“I do get a little bit anxious,” Kellie admits. “I just don’t understand why I am struggling so much to name this poor child.”
To explain Kellie’s anxiety, Wayland points out that the time soon after birth can be a very vulnerable time for many parents.
“The pressures of those tasks - such as naming your child - may have appeared quite black and white before the child arrived, but in the midst of the lack of sleep, the hormonal changes, the different roles within the family, some of those 'usual tasks' may seem insurmountable.”
Insurmountable or not, the clock is ticking for Kellie; the law will soon dictate that a selection is made. In each Australian state, the baby’s name must be provided within 60 days of birth. Parents who don’t comply can face a fine, but this hasn’t been imposed to date – even though a little more than 2 per cent of all births in NSW in 2012 were registered after the deadline.
Of course, it’s important to register your child’s name – it impacts on access to Medicare, Centrelink, and even school enrolments.
For those who find themselves in Kellie’s situation, there are a few avenues that can be explored. Apart from the baby’s other parent, family and friends can provide a great sounding board, as well as offer encouragement in the process.
Kellie’s mum offered practical advice, saying, “Why don’t you call her one name for two weeks, see how you go and if you don’t like it, call her a different name for two weeks?”
From a professional viewpoint, Wayland counsels that this inability to commit to a name is a sign that additional support should be offered.
“If those around the family are concerned with the paralysis that parents might be displaying, a referral to a community health centre may provide the opportunity for some gentle questions to be asked,” she says. Wayland also recommends contacting organisations such as PANDA, who offer tailored support for parents suffering any sort of anxiety during the early stages of parenting.
Kellie’s final advice is to not tell others your short-list before the birth, as her selections were coloured by the opinions of her peers.
“If you just say ‘this is my baby, this is its name’ and they don’t like it, they can just talk about it to other people – not you.”