Ask Miriam | What’s in a Name?


Dear Miriam,

One of my close friends recently had her second child, and she and her husband chose to give both of their children particularly unusual first names. While I was visiting my family over the holidays, they made a lot of comments about how strange this name was. I don’t really think it’s my business what people choose to name their children, and I will care about the kids no matter what they are named. That said, I thought this was kind of a tacky reaction from my family. What are some ways I could deal with this situation?

Not My Naming Problem
Dear Naming,
I took a couple weeks off advice giving while my kids were on winter break, and it’s good to know that holidays, cold weather and a new year have not changed the random pettiness that it’s so oddly easy to step into. Tacky is a pretty nice way for you to characterize your family’s reactions, in that it highlights the disrespect but also refrains from demonizing them more than their behavior warrants.
My best advice for how to respond is to say, “It’s none of your business,” and then change the subject. If your friend had been present or you thought that any of these comments might get back to her, you’d have a different responsibility to defend her/protect her from such talk, but since she wasn’t there, this was just idle gossip bordering on lashan hara (literally, evil tongue, but used to describe talking behind someone’s back).
In the future, the first time your family made an aggravating or teasing comment about this or something similar, you could try explaining why you find it unnecessary or inappropriate. The second time, you could remind them and then politely change the subject. The third time, you could say that you’re done with the discussion and walk away, not only because their comments are petty but because, at that point, they’re also being disrespectful to you by not honoring your request.
I do wonder about what else is going on in your family’s dynamics, though, and if you all find yourselves wanting for safe discussion topics at family gatherings. Sometimes, it’s easy to attach to a possible inside joke that’s not directly harming anyone present rather than risk treading on potentially explosive topics to internal family politics. If this sounds like a possibility, consider bringing a new board game or group activity to the next family gathering so that everyone has a common and harmless focus.
But, lest you think I’m ignoring the issue of your friend’s unusual name choices, well, you’re right. It’s absolutely no one’s business but the parents and, some day, the kids. Unusual names, in many circles, are the new norm, and if there are no parents of young children in your family at the moment, you may not be up to speed.
While the choices may be jarring to you, they could fit in perfectly at the playground. If you want to, you could say something like, “What was your inspiration for you daughter’s name?,” and then be prepared to say, “Neat, thanks for sharing,” regardless of the reasoning. And then, if they have a third child, just don’t tell your family.
Be well,


  1. Be interesting to see how the children react to their names in six-plus years and if they appreciate having “unusual” names. Hope they’re not teased.

    Maybe name giving will be changed down the road so that a person can pick his/her name. Could be comparable to picking what sex one believes he/she is.

    Just a thought.


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