Imagine being pregnant with a much-wanted baby, and full of all the happiness and hormones and excitement that brings. Imagine all the fun you will have picking baby names! But now, imagine you hate your partner’s baby names. What do you do? A reasonable person might go back to the drawing board and come up with some new names, and possibly get together as a couple to think about mutual interests to find a name that both parents love. A reasonable person would not jump right to, “I should divorce the tacky lady I impregnated and go find myself a Jackie Kennedy type with whom I will have six classy daughters, all named Caroline.” But that’s where one distraught young man finds himself, and that’s why he wrote in to Slate’s Dear Prudence column to ask for advice.
The man who is questioning his entire marriage and future co-parenting because he doesn’t like his wife’s baby names may well be one of the weirdest letters anyone has ever sent to Dear Prudence,
and that is really saying something, because sometimes Dear Prudence writers shoot their neighbors’ dogs. “Prudence” is really Mallory Ortberg, co-founder of the sorely missed women’s site, The Toast., so if anyone can handle these questions, she can. But still, she probably did not expect to find this in her email recently:
“My wife and I were elated to find out we are going to have a daughter!” the husband wrote. “We decided to discuss names last week and gave ourselves three days to prepare our ideas. I spent a ton of time on this and even put together a presentation with each name and the reasons I liked them. I chose some important family names and some special names from literature and the arts—all of which I think would be beautiful. My wife showed up with a few names scribbled on the back of a grocery list as if she hardly even cared! Also her ideas were trashy misspelled names like Lauryn and Bethonie and 18th-century presidents’ names like Madison, Taylor, and Polk. I was so disappointed in my wife for not taking this seriously, as I feel it is very important. Honestly, this episode has me questioning the foundation of our relationship, let alone raising a child together. Obviously, I can’t just leave now because I am committed to the child, but how can my wife and I get past this major red flag in our relationship? I have tried to discuss it with her and she doesn’t even think she has done anything wrong, so we are at a major impasse.”
There’s a red flag here, but it’s not the wife’s taste in baby names.
It’s more the fact that this tightly wound husband spent three days preparing a PowerPoint presentation like he was trying to win a job at Google, not name a baby. Frankly, his wife sounds like the more rational person here, even if she really did suggest naming her baby girl “Polk.” (Personally I don’t believe that. I suspect she suggested “Madison” and “Taylor,” and he said, “Well why not Polk if you’re obsessed with 18th century presidents!?” and now when he tells the story, he adds “Polk” to the list to make her ideas sound worse.)
The pregnancy and baby-naming process appear to have brought some deep-seated class anxieties to the surface of this dude’s brain, because there’s no mistaking that’s what he’s talking about when he says his wife likes “trashy” or “misspelled” names like “Lauryn.” He thinks his wife’s baby names are “lower class,” and thus he thinks his wife is lower class, and now he is “questioning the foundation of our relationship” and regretting the idea of raising a child with her.
One notes that he referred to his own suggestions as “important family names” — not just family names, but “important” ones, because his family is important — and “names from literature and the arts.” This guy is so deeply wrapped up in socio-cultural signifiers that he’s basically wearing them as a poncho. (I’m taking bets: How many pairs of boat shoes do you think this guy owns?)
“Obviously I can’t leave,” he writes, and while it is batshit insane that he even thought about leaving his pregnant wife because he didn’t like her taste in baby names, one can’t but imagine this marriage is destined for divorce soon. One hopes little Bethonie Madison isn’t too broken up about it.