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My sister-in-law stole my baby name!

What to do if a friend or relative wants to use the same moniker. Dr. Gail Saltz advises.
/ Source: TODAY

Q: I’m not sure where to start, but this is my problem. I recently found out that my sister-in-law has decided to name her baby a name that I have been saying for years I would name my next baby, if I have another one. It is not something my husband and I are working on, but it is still an option.

I know that I do not have a trademark on the name and that people are allowed to name their children whatever they like. But for some reason I cannot let this go. Every time I think about it, I want to cry. Should I let her know how I feel? I am afraid she won’t understand and will think I am immature.

A: If the baby has already been born and named, I see nothing to be gained by disclosing your hurt feelings. If the baby has not yet arrived, you could gently broach the subject.

As you said, you cannot trademark a name. Your relatives are free to name their baby anything they want. Understandably, however, their choice of “your” name has upset you.

It is human nature for people to like — and to copy — things that others like. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! So if you say Maltese are the most adorable dogs ever, a friend or relative might then choose “your” breed of dog, because they value your opinion.

I’ll add here that it’s better not to tell people what you might be naming your kids, hard as it is to keep that a secret. This is not just because they might use the name themselves, but for other reasons as well.

If you solicit opinions, you risk having people say they hate that name, or the classroom bully had that name, or that name somehow has unpleasant connotations. These are things people would never tell you if you hadn’t been discussing names ahead of time. You will always remember such negativity and it will strain that relationship.

Disclosing a secret is a way to create intimacy. Your sister-in-law’s action is all the more hurtful because you shared your secret and it now feels that she has betrayed your trust. In your note, it’s unclear whether you specifically requested that she not use the name, which is important in terms of whether it was a betrayal, a misunderstanding or a truly innocent action.

So what was your sister-in-law thinking? There are a few possibilities. Maybe you reminded her what a beautiful name it was, so it was in the front of her mind. Or maybe she forgot your conversation, and truly doesn’t remember where the idea of the name come up. If it’s a very popular name — Emily and Jacob are currently the top names for newborns in the U.S. — she could have arrived at it independently.

Maybe you led her to believe you are not having more children, so you yourself will not be using the name. Even if you did have another child, there is no guarantee you could use the name, depending on whether you had a boy or a girl.

Then again, it’s possible she “stole” the name because she feels no particular allegiance to your feelings. If this is the case, then you and your sister-in-law clearly have a distant or even contentious relationship. Even if you aren’t fully conscious of your rivalry, it is likely this is only one of many disputes. It might be more fruitful to challenge her on a different issue.

As I said, if the baby already has been named, it’s pointless to express your hurt and disappointment. It will not change the baby’s name, but will create animosity centering around this innocent child.

If the baby hasn’t yet been born and you decide to express your feelings, you should do so in a non-aggressive way. You could suggest that she reconsider using the name because you have been mentioning for years how much you like it and are keeping it in reserve for a future child, and if you did have another child it would be odd for cousins to share a name. Then ask for her feedback on this point.

Be prepared for her to disagree. She might use the name anyway, but at least you will have started a dialogue.

She may not know how important this issue is to you, especially because you aren’t certain you will have another child. She may be perfectly agreeable about picking another name. Then again, she may be annoyed if you request she not use the name, given that your own use of the name is purely hypothetical.

Regardless, it is not your decision to make.

If you do have a baby in the future, you can still use the name, even if it’s already taken. In many cultures, there is a strong tradition of relatives having the same name. There are ways to avoid confusion, using different nicknames, initials or descriptions: Em and Emmy, Jake and Jack, Big Jacob and Little Jacob.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Think twice before sharing a future baby’s name. Because anything regarding babies is so emotional, such sharing can turn in an unexpected direction.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of "Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts," which helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .