Have you heard of ‘baby name mourning’? It’s a very real phenomenon and here’s my experience

It's a relief to have a name for my feelings

Mum stood on a beach hugging her two small children
(Image credit: Lucy Wigley)

If you have feelings around hearing certain baby names that you can't explain, it could be 'baby name mourning.' Mum of two and writer Lucy Wigley shares her experience of the very real phenomenon.

I've always been fascinated by unique baby names. I was that little girl whose pretend play centred around being a mum and having children - and choosing their names was the best part of this for me. I'd have little lists laying around filled with names I loved, and ones I wished I was called because I deemed my own name boring. I think I should've identified a calling as a kid to aspire to become a baby name expert. 

Throughout my life I've 'collected' names, and my eldest child Elijah got his name from a TV series I watched as a teen. I commit his particular name to memory knowing I'd never better it and if I had a boy it would definitely be his name. My youngest child Zachariah got his name from a film title my husband heard when I was pregnant. When he was born, the midwife told us the name was too much of a mouthful and we'd have baby name regret - we still love his name, but she was right to an extent and he now goes by his middle name - Ted. 

Like most people when they're expecting, I planned both boy and girl names. Having two boys, I ended up with a list of girl names that were never going to be used. I thought I'd easily be able to scrap this list having selected my very best two for the children I had. Instead, I started having strange feelings when I heard certain names that I couldn't put my finger on, and it's only recently I've been able to put a name to those feelings. 

Baby name mourning

Baby name expert Taylor A. Humphrey coined the term 'baby name mourning.' She describes this as "The grief of not being able to use the name you love," adding "The names we love represent more than just a name; they represent everything we believe about the world, and how we envision our future unfolding."

Taylor continues "The names we love reflect who we are in the moment we’re loving them. So when we don’t get to use those names that felt deeply resonant, it’s natural for us to mourn. Mourning gives us an opportunity to recognise how sad we are that we don’t get to use them. It’s an acknowledgement of the love we once had for these names, and for the part of us that’s SO disappointed that we’ll never get to use them for our children." 

These worlds feel quite validating for me. I'd landed on the names Ophelia and Henrietta for a girl, and for many years if I hear them, I have strange feelings that are a mixture of sadness, irritation, longing and occasionally, envy. I think I definitely suffer baby name mourning.

My experience of baby name mourning

I felt these strange feelings around baby names most keenly when one of the mums I knew from antenatal class named her baby Ophelia. I felt a sense of... annoyance. I had absolutely no reason to be annoyed - I was never going to be able to use the name anyway. I'd never discussed my unused names with antenatal friends, so it wasn't even like she's 'stolen' it, and I'm not one to hold a name hostage anyway - if you love it and have your heart set on it, I don't really think it matters if someone close to you uses it too.

I settled for messaging 'that name was on our list' with my congratulations message to my friend, then low key hated myself - why on earth did I need her to know that? When a family member then used Henrietta as middle name, I found myself doing the same thing, like a petulant child who's trying to get their own back on another kid for taking their toys. I still struggled to work out why I felt like this.

Hearing the 'baby name mourning' theory offers a little perspective. Taylor Humphrey mentioning grief at 'how we saw our world unfolding' really resonates with me. When I was pregnant, I had the usual romanticised hopes and dreams around what having a baby would be like, and what family life could be. I currently have a very unwell child - years of being ignored and misdiagnosed has resulted in life looking a lot different to how I ever anticipated it would. We still don't have a full diagnosis so I can't go into too much detail, but we aren't sure if life will ever look 'normal.'

I think hearing my unused names amid years of uncertainty, does really make me feel sad for the fresh-faced pregnant woman who thought life was going to be so different. The envy that rises in me possibly stems from the people using my unused names not going through what we're going through. I don't want to run into 'why us' territory, because the simple counter argument is 'why not you?' But the green-eyed monster at other people having the straightforward, boring level of parenthood I crave, is absolutely real and felt when they make a name announcement.  

"The green-eyed monster at other people having the straightforward, boring level of parenthood I crave, is absolutely real and felt when they make a name announcement."

I also have to address the elephant in the room. It's crossed my mind that maybe I have these difficult feelings on hearing the names because I'll *prepares for backlash* never have a daughter. I was indifferent to gender when I was pregnant, and thought two of the same might be easier, as I'd always been desperate for a sister and didn't have one and thought my own kids might feel the same way and want a same-gender sibling. From a practicality viewpoint, the same toys, clothes and someone to share interests with seemed ideal.

But seeing my football and ruby-loving husband have common ground with two boys who love them just as equally, is quite hard. He's always the person they want and ask for, and while I've attended rugby and football matches with my best smiling face and forced enthusiasm, I've simultaneously hated the crowd aggression and spend a lot of time wondering if I'd be stabbed by someone with the team's logo tattooed on their neck.

I love ballet and theatre, and do sometimes wonder what life would be like if I had somebody to share those things with. Although I have to say, having two boys has taught me so much about myself, my tolerance, and I definitely have an idea of the sort of men I want to shape and send into the world amid disappointing ongoing news about misogyny and violence towards women.

I'm glad I can finally put words to the feelings I have about unused baby names, this is something that's plagued me for many years. Although I didn't think I'd feel seen on account of an Instagram post, but we live and learn and often from the most unexpected places.

If you want my full list of unused names, I've included them here because you can never have too much baby name inspiration (maybe just don't tell me if you use them.)

Boy names

  • Castiel
  • Ezekiel
  • Isaiah
  • Jonah
  • Micah
  • Luca
  • Noah
  • Silas
  • Thelonious
  • Cole

Girl names

  • Ophelia
  • Henrietta
  • Aria
  • Cecily
  • Aurora
  • Ottilie
  • Olympia
  • Stiorra
  • Raven
  • Romilly

For more on baby names, take a look at these unusual baby names, and most beautiful sounding baby names. If you're really struggling for inspiration, there's even a tinder for baby names app.

Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and moms.com. In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.