The Official Rules of Calling Dibs on a Baby Name

When it comes to giving your future child a unique name—or at the very least one he won’t share with his first cousin—a good rule of thumb is to keep it a secret. But if your sister-in-law, cousin or college best friend is also expecting, and your spidey sense tells you she too is leaning toward Sienna, well, then you’re in a pickle (and not the kind you’re supposed to be craving). So we asked two experts—an etiquette guru and a baby-name-ologist (dibs on that title)—to lay down the law.

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Can you call dibs on a baby name before you are pregnant?

“I'm not so much of a calling-dibs kind of person, this being the creation of a new person rather than, like, a sixth-grader lobbying for the front seat of the car,” says Catherine Newman, best-selling author and beloved advice columnist. Pamela Redmond Satran, co-creator of Nameberry, backs this up. “I don't think you have the right to call dibs on a name until you're actually expecting the child who will receive it. But beyond actual timing, I don't think you can dibs a name that a lot of other people use and like. You can't, for instance, announce the day before you deliver that you plan to call your baby Sophia or Ethan, and expect that's a valid dibs.”

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Do you have rights to a name if you’re naming the baby after a family member?

For instance, if you get pregnant before cousin Susan, do you then get to be the one who names your kid after Grandma Mabel?

Again, Newman comes down firmly against calling—or even thinking about—dibs. “Is the worry that it's going to be confusing [to have two family members with the same name]? Or that your child's name will be at risk of seeming derivative? Oh well! You are about to have bigger fish to fry.” Our take: If Mabel is grandma to both you and Susan, go for it. If she is your aunt and Susan's Grandma, check in with her first to make sure she doesn’t want the name.

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How wide does your circle of “dibs” need to be?

Do you announce to all reproductively-minded friends and relatives your intention to name your kid Frankie if it’s a girl and Julian if it’s a boy? Do you stick to siblings and BFFs only—or make a sweeping proclamation on Facebook?

Here, the dibsing gets murkier. Redmond Satran offers some distinctions: “To be dibsable, the name has to be both unusual and have a special connection to you. Maybe you invented it when you were nine, maybe it was the name of your best Turkish friend the year you studied abroad, maybe it was your grandmother's maiden name. In those cases, Amandiella, Azra and Alderson are yours, and anyone who swipes them deserves psychological punishment or even banishment. What if it's a kind of unusual name widely known as your favorite—Ottoline, say, or Bridger? You definitely get to dibs that among your friends and relatives. If anyone copies it, it's like copying your dress and wearing it to the same prom. Very bad. But what if your father's name is James and you widely announce you plan to name your baby boy after him? Does your best friend get to also name her baby James? Yes. Does your brother get to? No.”

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How should you handle a conflict when two pregnant friends or family members want to use the same name?

Says Newman: “Remember that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Two kids with the same name in the same family or circle of friends? Honestly, they'll probably love that. Just call them name twins and get on with the business of loving them.”