What's in a Name? Deciding whether to Name the Baby You Lost.
I've known, unfortunately, many women who lost babies during various stages of pregnancy. I've walked beside them as they struggled to make meaning from the loss, picture their lives without a new baby, and make decisions about the future. While I've explored lots of important questions with parents after babyloss, there is one that always receives the same answer from me: it depends. The question of whether to name the baby you lost really does depend. It depends on you, your partner (if appropriate), your grief, and whether you feel a name will, or will not, bring you some comfort. Below are some common questions about naming a departed baby.
What if there's a name I love, and I wanted to name my baby that? Can I still use it? Indeed, some parents fall in love with certain names and would prefer to "reserve" the name for a future pregnancy. Some, however, feel that the name now belongs to the child they lost, and they may even feel superstitious about giving a future child the same name. Some parents create tributes to their lost babies through using their names as a middle name or variation of it should they have another pregnancy. Finally, some parents feel strongly about naming both their deceased babies and future baby the same name, so that the two siblings will share an important connection. There are a variety of ways to approach a name you love, and you might even consider other variations, associations, or interpretations of it. For example, if you had hoped to name your baby Violet, you may wish to call a future child Rose, or Dahlia, honoring flowers or colors. Or, you may consider using the same name in a different language, or different spelling. You don't need to abandon a name you love, but you may want to explore creative variations.
What if I lost my baby early in pregnancy? Does s/he still deserve a name? When you lose a baby, there is no need to justify your connection to the pregnancy, your hopes for what your baby would have looked like, or the dreams and wishes you had for that child's future. Gestational age does not correlate with severity of grief, meaning that you can feel just as upset losing a pregnancy at the beginning as further down the line. Don't feel that you are not allowed to name your child because others won't understand the significance of this act. In some circumstances, giving your child a name can help you feel even more closely connected to him or her, and ease some of the pain of your grief.
Am I crazy if I don't want to give the baby I lost a name? No, not at all! There are a variety of reasons why parents may choose not to name the babies they lost. Some religious traditions may hold certain beliefs about reserving a name for the living, or perhaps giving your baby a name may be too painful a reminder of your loss. Maybe you currently feel disconnected and numb after your experience, and names don't seem to fit or capture your experience. It is perfectly fine to refer to your baby as "baby", "baby girl/boy", "angel", or even "s/he". You may find that you associate your baby with certain elements of nature, such as plants, animals, insects, or water, and you may prefer to remember your baby by thinking about these images or even finding a picture reflecting these.
How do I describe my baby to his or her siblings without a name? You may choose to refer to your baby as "big/little brother/sister", or you and your children can come up with a name all together. See my article about explaining death to young children for how to begin this discussion.
During these extremely trying times after your loss, it is important not to push yourself into a decision about a name, and to try to maintain a gentle mindfulness about it. It can be so challenging during grief to quiet your mind and self-judgments, but reminding yourself that you're not "locked in" to your decision forever can be helpful. If you named your baby and regret it, there is no reason why you can't distance yourself from the name. Conversely, you may find, later down the line, that you feel the need to give your baby a name. Some parents find that names help them create an identity for their baby to remember, and some find it just too painful or not helpful. A key measure for you here is how comfortable you feel after deciding (or not deciding) on a name. Does it feel like a relief, or a burden? Ultimately, allowing yourself some grace as you move forward with this thought process is important, and it can be helpful to talk about it with others in your life that feel safe and non-judgmental. Know that whatever you decide will be right for your baby, and for you, too.