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Almost a year ago our daughter was born and we named her Harriet. In the first week after my daughter was born my partner’s family came to visit and started calling her Harry. My partner and I had always thought that if a short name were to be used it would probably be Harry, but I didn’t anticipate it might be used so soon. My partner is fine with Harriet being called Harry, but I feel sad and frustrated that the name we chose is not being used. I am not sure the reason behind it, but it feels to me as though they have decided that the name we chose was not acceptable. I have had a number of sleepless nights because of this and when her family is using the name to my daughter I feel very tense and it makes me feel down. I have discussed it a few times with my partner, but she seems to be fine with the name Harry being used and says that it has been so long now that we cannot really say anything. The fact that a lot of her family thinks we use the name Harry with her at home, when we do not, also makes me frustrated. How I should deal with this situation?

Edit: I have changed my daughter's name as I didn't feel comfortable putting it here, but the same principle applies.

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    Is it because "Harry" is a boy's name? How about choosing another nickname like "Har" or changing it to "happy" or some variation of the name, or something completely unrelated? If you consistently go by something else, other family will catch on. My daughter landed with the nickname "Bubble" completely unrelated to her name that evolved over 3 years, and now everyone uses it.
    – stan
    Feb 14 at 16:42
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    Sorry for confusion but I didn't use her real name in the post, as I have just clarified in my edit, so it's not related to the name sounding male. I guess I would prefer to have an alternative name, rather the one chosen by my partner and me. Feb 14 at 16:50
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    I'll also add, to some extent it's inevitable, my husband and I named our daughter an already shortened name (similar to harry) and it got shortened to har anyway. My husbands nickname is "A" because his name is so short already, the only way to make it shorter is literally to make it one letter. It is shortened because of laziness. If there's an option you can tolerate and 'choose' better, it's probably early enough for you to enforce.
    – stan
    Feb 14 at 16:51
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2 Answers 2

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I feel this question, because it's something I struggled with for a while - not with my in-laws, but with my partner.

My partner used a 'cute name' for one of our children, sort of equivalent to Harry as you describe above. She started using it when our child was (relatively) old - five or six - and it was something that honestly drove me nuts. It didn't fit our child, in my mind, and I really resented it.

I thought about talking to my partner about it for quite a while, but decided not to. Not because I think it's a bad idea to talk to my partner about my feelings - we are pretty good about that, I think - but because I struggled with whether it was appropriate to do so. I knew that if I told her it was annoying me, she'd stop using it.

Ultimately I came to peace with it, because I came to the realization that nicknames are up to the person being nicknamed, and not up to the people around them. Further, they're really in a way personal between the two people involved - the person using the nickname and the person being nicknamed - and can reflect how that person feels about the other person, and their unique relationship. If my child is "Harriet" to me, and "Harry" to my partner, that's okay; our relationships are different, and those differences are reflected in that.

Your daughter will, over time, decide how she wants to be known - not at 1, of course, but when she's old enough she will express herself. I did so - I was "Joey" to various people for a while, and decided I didn't like it, so I asked them to stop. But my grandmother continued to call me Joey until she passed, and that was okay - because it was something special between us.

So my suggestion as to how to deal with it is: accept that other people may use a different nickname, but use your chosen nickname. Don't worry about what they "think" you use at home - that doesn't really matter. Use the name you like best for now, until she is old enough to speak for herself, and then use what she prefers. Your in-laws will have plenty of things you need to correct that make a material difference soon enough!

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How I should deal with this situation?

This is an open-ended question, which means any answer is equally acceptable (not equally liked, mind you, but equally acceptable.)

You can simply ask: "I'm curious why you call her Harry instead of Harriet. Can you explain that to me?" In most cases, it's a sign of affection for the child and is not a reflection on you.

However, I think there's an important element here that I would encourage you to examine carefully: your own feelings about yourself.

My partner is fine with Harriet being called Harry, but I feel sad and frustrated that the name we chose is not being used. I am not sure the reason behind it, but it feels to me as though they have decided that the name we chose was not acceptable. I have had a number of sleepless nights because of this and when her family is using the name to my daughter I feel very tense and it makes me feel down.

Your partner is not supporting you (no judgement, just a fact.) That probably causes you to feel unsupported and/or alone. You use the words "I feel" a lot: I feel: sad, frustrated, tense, down, [judged and found wanting]. I say judged because "it feels to me as though they have decided that the name we chose was not acceptable" isn't a feeling but a belief or notion that this reflects poorly on you (they are judging you.) I say, your feelings about yourself because hurt feelings rarely occur in a vacuum. If, for example, you feel, say, "less than", unrelated things might reinforce that feeling of being "less than". If you feel, say, alone in this world, unrelated things might reinforce that feeling of "aloneness". Our feelings about things are colored by our experiences, which in turn affect how we feel about ourselves. So it's important to work on and understand them.

It's not necessary in Parenting.SE questions to go into how in-laws treat you, and you haven't, but if, in general, they treat you well and with respect, then please assume they feel no differently about you regarding the name you chose for your daughter. Changing a child's name makes it more personal to the person doing it: a long ago President's son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr., was affectionately called "Jon-Jon" by his family and a nation. A child named Hannah will be "Hannah Banana". If, on the other hand, they like and respect you, but don't like the name you chose for your daughter, that's just tough beans for them; it's still your daughter's official name.

If, however, your in-laws tend to treat you less-than-well, this is a situation that reinforces the notion that they disapprove of you, and anything doing that will be hurtful. It will hurt that your wife basically agrees with them and not you, and it will remind you every time you hear that name that you are not loved/respected as you (and all people) want to be loved/respected.

In either case, if it's causing you a loss of sleep, you need help to sort out your feelings ("I am not sure the reason behind it...") and may need someone to help you do that, someone who can also challenge your belief system without you feeling threatened. That person is usually a stranger, like a therapist or an advice columnist, or someone on the internet.

My partner and I had always thought that if a short name were to be used it would probably be Harry, but I didn’t anticipate it might be used so soon.

Ok, so it happened sooner than you expected. You were unprepared for the actions of others. This happens to people every single day, because we can't control others, only ourselves. Can you shrug it off? If not, why?

If you really want to be active about their choice of names for your daughter, you can remind them every time they are about to see her, upon opening the door, "Hello, X, and please remember that my daughter's name is Harriet, not Harry." That, however, might signal that you don't respect the feelings of others about her name, or them in general. Sometimes it's OK to put your feelings first; just remember that everyone has them, and you can't control what others think or feel.

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