We are expecting our second baby in June! Our first is sweet Sylvia and I emailed you about why we chose to keep her name a secret until she was born in 2010. Loooong before Sylvia was born, my husband and I had settled on a girl name and a boy name that we both adored and loved and swore to always stand behind. No one has ever complained about Sylvia's name, especially since we kept it a secret. But with our boy name, I am much less confident, and alas - I'm stuck in this ancient and sacred promise I made to my husband.
He loves the name Willoughby.
We discussed this name after a few short months of dating and from the moment he mentioned it, I fell madly in love with it, too! It sounds British and sophisticated when I picture a grown up man, yet soft and cute for a cuddly baby boy. We agreed that he could have Willoughby for the first boy if I could have Sylvia for the first girl and that was all fine and good until I got pregnant and...now I'm afraid! I know my family will think it's weird. I'm not against anyone calling him Will if they really have to, but I think Willoughby goes so well with Sylvia and I hate how "Sylvia and Will" sound together. I'll be referring to my kids as "Sylvia and Willoughby - cutest siblings ever." I also know my family will think it's too long (our last name is four syllables, very Italian, ends in "iotto"). I know they'll say it's a terrible name and I'm afraid everyone will hate it!
Should that matter? I still love it - I can't find any other name I like more than this one. My husband would be devastated if I even mentioned another name to him, but this case of cold feet has me worried to pieces! Talk me down, Swistle. Tell me this name is perfectly okay!
Willoughby is definitely in a different league, surprise-wise. It's not even in the Social Security database for boys in 2010 (which means it could have been given to 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 boys, but not as many as 5) (it was given to 6 girls), whereas Sylvia was #555.
I'm picturing it on grown men I know (my husband, my brother, my dad, my friends) and it is a little startle every time---in a way that another modern not-their-name such as Wilson is not. If I picture it on a cute little toddler or an elementary school child, it seems adorable.
The girl name Willow is an issue here: it gives a misleading clue. Ditto for girl names such as Shelby and Abby and Ruby and Libby and Gabby. On the other side of the scale is the common boy nickname Will and the -by ending boy names Colby and Bobby and Toby.
Length doesn't seem like it should be a concern, if they didn't object to Sylvia: both names have three syllables.
Whether everyone else's opinion should matter or not---well, it depends. On one hand, no, right? Parents get to name their own children. And it's classic for the grandparent generation to grouse about the names currently being used for babies: "Too weird! Why can't people use NORMAL names like the names WE used for OUR babies (which OUR parents thought were too weird)?" And of course there will always be some people who dislike the names we choose, no matter WHAT names those are. And it's also classic for people to come around to the names once they get used to it on the beloved baby.
On the other hand, this is why naming is such a huge responsibility: our children have to live in this society with the names we give them, and it's a hard row to hoe to live with a name everybody hates. And within our families and friend circles, of course we WANT people to respond favorably to the name, rather than cringing every time they say it.
So it's a matter of balance: weighing what we think society/family/friends will think of the name with what WE think of the name. This is one reason I like The Baby Name Wizard's test so much: she suggests considering whether you would like to be a child born now and given that name. I also like the test of looking around at grown-ups and imagining them with the name. And of course there's the careers test: imagine the name on a manager, a waiter, a coach, a lawyer, a teacher, a carpenter.
If a name fails too many tests, I think the middle name slot is an excellent place for it: there is still the happiness of using it, but without the downsides.
Promises to use a particular name shouldn't be made, or honored. Too much changes between the time the promise is made and the appearance of the actual baby. If you decide you're not comfortable using Willoughby (and I could be wrong about your feelings: I'm basing it on "alas" and "stuck," but the more important words could be "madly in love" and "afraid" and "cold feet"), it will be disappointing to your husband, but it's not something you have to feel contractually obligated to follow through on. My main advice for back-to-the-drawing-board situations is that the task is not to find a name the two of you like better than the name Willoughby, but rather to find your favorite from the names that remain. And also that both parents are responsible for finding the new options: this is not a matter of one parent needing to convince the other to dethrone a favorite.
Let's have a poll over to the right to see what everyone else thinks of the name Willoughby. [Poll closed; see results below.]
Poll results for the question "What do you think of the name Willoughby?" (519 votes total):
I love it! I'd want to use it! - 39 votes (8%)
I like it! I'd consider it! - 58 votes (11%)
I like it for someone else's baby - 161 votes (31%)
No particular opinion either way - 21 votes (4%)
Slight dislike - 136 votes (26%)
Strong dislike - 104 votes (20%)