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Baby-name remorse -- what do you do?

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  • Some parents have regrets about their child's name
  • It is legally possible, not always easy, to change child's name
  • Expert: Get child's input on name change after two years of age
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By Anna Jane Grossman
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(LifeWire) -- Pauline and Jeffrey Eadie, of Cleveland, had gathered the family together to watch home movies of their two older children as babies. In one movie, Jack, now 5, was looking skeptically at his then-newborn sister, now 3. "In the video, I was saying, 'Jack, go to the baby, go hug her,'" says Pauline. "And then at some point I said, 'Go kiss Emma.'"

Oh my gosh! Don't call me that!

Unaware that her name had been changed when she was a newborn, Pauline Eadie's daughter, Caroline, looked at her and asked 'Who's Emma?'"

The Eadies are among a surprising number of parents who, following the birth of their child, suffer namer's remorse. In a recent poll of 1,219 mothers conducted by BabyCenter.com, 10 percent considered changing their baby's name. The reasons they gave ranged from being inspired by another name to having a relative disagree with the choice.

Regret is common after any big decision, and few prenatal decisions these days are as open to debate as picking a child's name. Rare are the parents who haven't invested in a small library of baby-name books or trolled the Internet for a name unique enough to be usefully Googled, but not so weird as to cause ridicule.

"Today, there's this perception that naming a child is almost like naming a product -- there's this huge national drive now to not be like anyone else," says Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard" and founder of the blog BabyNameWizard.com.

That may be one reason some parents have second thoughts when they realize they've picked the present-day equivalent of Jennifer or Justin.

In her first few years, 6-year-old Sophie Sauber's parents, Rob Sauber and Suzanne Ramljak, of Connecticut, were overwhelmed by the number of Sophies they encountered daily. Four out of 13 kids in their daughter's preschool class were named Sophie, and other parents were constantly yelling it at the mall. When Sophie was almost 4, they asked how she'd feel about being called Isadora, a name they'd considered before she was born.

"She understood our reasoning and liked the name. We weren't going to force her," says Ramljak. One day, after a trial period of a couple of months, she introduced herself as Isadora. "It was like, 'That's her name now!'"

Noting that by 12 months children already recognize the sound of their names, Dr. Karla Umpierre, a Miami psychologist and family counselor, encourages parents to get the child's input and approval if they decide to change the name after age 2. "It's best to change the name before then, because by 2 or 3 they have a sense of identity, and it could send mixed messages. The child might ask himself, 'Do you want to change me?'"

"Stability is very important for children," says Dr. Umpierre. "And changing a name could create a lot of insecurity."

For most parents, the urge comes long before the baby can say his or her own name. Wavering is not uncommon for those who figure they'll pick a name once they see the baby. "But that's a tall order to put on a newborn," says Wattenberg. "It's hard to look at this 7-pound thing and say, 'Oh! She's an Abigail!'" So they choose something quickly and then spend weeks second-guessing themselves.

That was the case for the Eadies. When their daughter was born, the nursery was full and the nurses were rushing them to sign the birth certificate and leave the hospital. "Emma seemed pretty," Pauline Eadie says. They sent out birth announcements, "but it just felt strange coming out of my mouth." They decided they preferred a family name, Caroline.

Adrienne and Matt Grayson, of Charleston, South Carolina, settled on the name Luke early in her pregnancy. "I also loved the name Beckett, but it felt a little weird, like Apple," says Adrienne Grayson, referring to the name actress Gwyneth Paltrow gave her daughter. When the baby was born, they named him Luke Beckett Grayson. What followed was a sea of engraved picture frames, monogrammed pillows, "Welcome Luke" signs drawn by the Grayson's older children -- and a wave of regret.

"I couldn't shut up about how we should call him Beckett instead of Luke, and I also started mourning my maiden name, Shaw," Adrienne Grayson says. "I thought I should've made that his middle name because we weren't going to have more kids."

The more she reflected, the more she wanted to change Luke's name to Beckett Shaw Grayson. The process involved hours on the phone with the Social Security office and the county clerk. She found that although it's legal to change a minor's name (as long as both parents consent), states don't always have a well-oiled system in place for regretful parents.

When her son's new Social Security card arrived, it read, erroneously, "Shaw Luke Grayson."

The Eadies, too, were bounced from one government agency to another. Eventually they filed the paperwork with a probate-court judge to change "Emma" to "Caroline."

Since learning of the name she had for the first eight weeks of her life, Caroline has taken to renaming her dolls.

She also has announced that she prefers the name Emma. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Anna Jane Grossman is a freelance journalist in New York City.

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