Pre-birth Nicknames & Why We Use Them

“I told my brothers that I want to name my future son Tiernan,” the labor and delivery nurse said. “They don’t like it.”

“And that’s why you don’t tell people what you plan to name your baby,” I told her.

Pre-birth nicknames started in my family when my mom was pregnant with my youngest sister. My dad and brother didn’t want to know the baby’s gender until her birth, so the rest of us chose a couple of male names from the name book that could also work for a girl: Fifi Dingbang.

When I was pregnant with our first child, we decided to carry on the practice of giving our children pre-birth nicknames. There were actually a few different reasons behind this decision.

Unwanted Opinions

As in the example above, there is always someone who wants to express their opinion on whatever name is chosen. We would rather not hear family and friends say how much they hate the name or offer suggestions of names we should choose instead. So, with that first child, we told everyone we were going to name him Wolfgang Amadeus. At first, a few people thought we were serious. When they realized we weren’t, they continued to try to get his real name out of us, but Brett and I refused to budge. In the meantime, everyone called the baby Wolfgang Amadeus, or Wolfie for short. After going through the same thing with our second child—whom we called Brunhilda—people who know us well stopped asking what we planned to name our babies. We were left to settle on a name in peace.

(The exception to this was when we had a hard time deciding what to name our second son. We finally asked my mormor for a list of Danish names she liked, then chose a name from her list. But, we didn’t tell her which name we chose until he was born.)

It’s Fun to Hear Reactions

You may think that Brett and I have an odd sense of humor, but it’s fun to hear what people say when we tell them, with a straight face, that we have decided to name our child Wolfgang Amadeus, or Brunhilda, or Holger Danske, or Knudsine (or the full Knudsine Larsine Jensine Hansine Brittany). We’ve heard the polite, “Are you sure?”, the moderate, “You’ve chosen a different name, right?”, to the direct, “I hope you’ve chosen something better than that.”

I still remember the call my mom got from an anxious neighbor saying, “My son tells me you’re naming the baby Fifi Dingbang. Is that true?” Twenty years later, we still chuckle about it.

Acceptance of the Real Name

We just had our fourth child. So far, no one has tried to convince us to change a child’s official name when we announce it after birth. Choosing an unpopular, strange, perhaps somewhat ridiculous nickname ensures that whichever name we really choose will sound much better. Each child’s real name is a unique (in America) Danish name, and each one has been accepted by family and friends. Knudsine was definitely the strangest nickname of the four, but her real name has received the most compliments. I mean, at least we didn’t actually name them Wolfgang, Brunhilda, Holger, and Knudsine, right?

A Baby’s Face Can Say So Much

A person’s name should fit their personality and their face. Have you ever looked at someone and said, “Even though his name is David, he looks like a Brandon”? We want to be sure that the name we choose fits the face we see and the personality we sense after a baby is born. With each child, as Brett watches the nurses clean him or her up, I ask him, “Does the name fit?” Four times out of four, he has nodded. I’m heard of parents changing their minds after they see their baby, though, so we want to be sure. We’d rather not share the name until we are.

Social Media Anonymity

I once read that Shannon Hale had to choose whether she would post pictures of her children but give them fake online names, or use their real names but post no pictures after the age of 1. She went with the real names. Brett and I chose the opposite. On our more public profiles (mainly Instagram and Twitter), we refer to our children by nicknames. The pre-birth nicknames save us the trouble of coming up with something else later. They’re funny enough that people should realize they aren’t real, but they help us to maintain consistency. When they grow up, our children can choose for themselves how much they want to reveal online.

As for choosing our children’s real names, in case you don’t think we take that seriously…

Years ago, when a good friend of mine was expecting her first child, she told me that she prayed about the name she had chosen for her baby. She wanted to be sure that she and her husband didn’t make that decision without counseling with the Lord. Brett and I decided to take the naming process just as seriously. Since we both have Danish ancestry, we chose to give our children Danish names, as I mentioned before. We also like to honor family members we love and respect. Once we have a first and middle name we like, we take them to the Lord. So far, we have felt that each name is right.

Perhaps this is another reason we’re so guarded with our children’s names and choose to give them nicknames before birth. The decision on what we name our child is ours and ours alone and we don’t take it lightly.

Of course, this does create a difficulty for us when others are having a baby of their own: we can no longer ask what they plan to name their baby. After all, how can we expect them to tell us something we aren’t willing to reveal ourselves?

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