When it came to naming her newborn baby girl, Carri Kessler didn’t hesitate. There was only one name she and her husband agreed on, and they both loved it: Ottilie.
“I have a friend in the U.K. named Ottilie and it’s beautiful, and ever since I heard that name I’ve wanted to use it,” Kessler told TODAY.
But saying it out loud was a different story.
“We started to get cold feet,” Kessler says of the moments after they welcomed their daughter, when people began to ask what her name was. “So, we’re in the hospital and we’re just not saying it. We started Googling other names that we should use — like, ‘Is she Hazel? I don’t know!’”
Despite their last-minute panic, they decided to shake off their doubts and just go for it. “Then the nurse came in and asked what her name was, and we said, ‘Ottilie,’” Kessler remembers with a laugh. “And she was like, ‘What?’”
That was just the beginning.
“No one could remember it and no one could pronounce it,” Kessler says. “I was like, ‘If you say it with a British accent, it sounds really good!’ And people said, ‘But you’re from Maryland.’”
She knew she was really in trouble six weeks later, when her grandmother revealed she still couldn’t remember the name.
“She said, ‘I don’t know how to say her name. I have Post-its all over the house so I can remind myself,’” Kessler recalls. “And I was like, f---. We’re f---ed. We’re totally f---ed.”
To her dismay, it just kept getting worse.
“Anytime anyone said her name, I kind of cringed,” she says. “Introducing her made me sweat. And I thought, we’re going to keep having to introduce her! This is going to be a problem forever.”
While it might not be the most common occurrence, plenty of parents find themselves in Kessler’s situation – regretting their baby name choice and wondering what to do.
“I think it’s something that happens more often now than it did a generation ago,” Pamela Redmond Satran, co-founder of Nameberry.com, tells TODAY.com. “Parents care a lot more and think a lot more about names now than they did back then, and agonize a lot more about names than they did say in the mid-‘80s.”
Writer Kelcey Kintner suffered baby name regret almost a decade ago when her daughter was born, and wrote a post for her blog, “The Mama Bird Diaries,” about the experience — one that still resonates today.
“I literally get an email a week from parents,” she told TODAY. “I feel for them because they don’t know what to do. I remember feeling like that.”
Much like Kessler, Kintner’s second thoughts surfaced almost immediately.
“I knew within a week or two that I did not like my daughter’s name,” she said. “And it wasn’t so much that I didn’t like the name, I just didn’t like it for her. I would look at her and I would know that was not her name.”
She remembers confiding in a friend who opened her eyes to an option she hadn’t considered: She could just change the name.
“I was like, ‘People do that?!’” Kintner says. “You need permission. It’s OK. It’s possible to make the wrong decision.”
These days, she finds herself offering that same counsel to distraught parents across the internet, who email her looking for her advice.
“New motherhood can be a very lonely place in general, and if you don’t like your child’s name, you just like suddenly feel so alone,” she says. “Most people want to know that they’re normal, that they’re not crazy. And they’re not!”
After three months of ever-mounting unease, Kessler broached the conversation with her husband Will — and found out, to her surprise, that he was “right on board” with changing little Ottilie's name to something a little easier to write on a cup at Starbucks. Her instincts were doubly confirmed when she reached out to her mom to float the possibility and found out that her family gave the idea a unanimous thumbs-up.
“Then we were like, ‘This is so exciting, we can rename her!’” she says. “All we did was talk about names. Is she this? Is she that? I felt like she was anything simple that wouldn’t give me anxiety.”
While they’d kept their name choice pretty quiet the first time around, this time, Kessler says she ran her final two contenders past “799,383 people” and ultimately took a sign from the universe — in the form of a friendly barista who offered his opinion — to rename her baby Margot.
But how to tell all the friends and family — especially the ones that had flooded their house with personalized gifts?
“That is people’s biggest concern — the reaction of other people,” Kintner says. “And it’s so much less awkward than it seems. People are so focused on their own lives. You’re like, ‘We’re changing our daughter’s name,’ and people are like, ‘Oh, ok, let me post another selfie on Facebook.’”
Sure enough, once Kessler and her husband had made their decision, spreading the word turned out to be a much smaller deal than they’d imagined.
“We sent out a mass email,” she says. “It was like, ‘Hey! Remember Ottilie? Her name’s Margot now.”
The reaction has been very positive, and the transition mostly seamless — though they don’t intend to try to pretend it never happened.
“I honestly think she’ll be like, ‘Why do we have a bench that says Ottilie?’ I feel like it’s a good story for her. It will be part of her lore,” Kessler says, noting that while most people have switched to calling her daughter Margot, she does have a friend who calls her Nottilie — as in, “Not Ottilie.”
“I honestly take her out now so people can ask her what her name is and I can tell them it’s Margot,” she says. “It’s a great thing. It’s really taken a lot of stress out of my life.”
For parents struggling with baby name regret, Satran says it’s important to act fast — she says the “absolute cutoff” for a change is one year — and not to get stuck obsessing over options.
“Sometimes I want to say to parents, 'Just pick something!' Whether you name her Jennifer or Gentry or Eugenia, it’s not really going to determine how good her life is,” she says. “You can overthink it too, because every name has advantages and disadvantages, and it can really be impossible.”
As for Kessler, when all was said and done, she went back to the original Ottilie who had inspired the choice and asked what the name had been like for her.
“She was like, ‘Yeah my name has been really character-building,’” Kessler says. “And I was like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that before?!’ I feel like life is character-building. She doesn’t need a character-building name as well.”