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Baby name-snatching sometimes gives birth to disputes

| Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jonathon and Gwen Jankovich kept their first daughter's name a secret for seven years.

After having their first choice, Grace, stolen by a friend, the couple wasn't taking any chances.

The Jankovichs, formerly of Irwin and Coraopolis and now of Bradenton, Fla., aren't the only couple to fall victim to name-snatching. Jennifer Moss, founder of the Los Angeles-based , says name-stealing is a hot topic these days.

"I'd never heard about it until a couple of years ago," says Moss. "Now it's popping up on our message boards -- people saying, 'How dare she take my name.' "

When Gwen was pregnant with their first child, the couple didn't want to know the sex, so they came up with a boy and girl name they both loved. But sharing with a friend led to their first-choice girl name getting snagged.

"It wasn't anger, just disappointment. We were so happy about the name Grace," Jonathon says.

The Jankovichs came up with a fallback name: Glory. However, the first baby ended up being a boy, Gideon, now 7, and two more followed: Graceson, 5, and Gaius, 2. That meant their second-choice girl name stayed on the shelf until six months ago, when Glory Autumn Treasure Jankovich was born.

"We got so protective of our names," Jonathon says. "People would say, 'Come on, tell us.' For seven years, we held on to that name. We never told them."

Sometimes, having a unique name in mind can protect expectant parents from theft. Teresa Mikita of Sewickley wasn't afraid to let others know her first daughter's chosen name ahead of time. Fiona Mikita, now 17 months, was named after an antiques shop her mother used to frequent.

"No one had dibs on that name," Mikita says with a laugh.

However, Mikita, who does plan to have another baby someday and has two more common boy and girl names picked out, says she'd be more cautious next time around.

"I wouldn't want to reveal it. It's like some sort of superstition," she says.

Not all name-stealers have intentions of thievery. When Cheryl Irwin of Cranberry was pregnant eight years ago, she and husband Martin threw a naming party. The couple knew the sex and name they wanted already, which they wrote on a cake to be unveiled later in the evening.

When it came time for the big reveal, the reaction was not quite what they expected.

"Our nephew had yelled, 'Madison!' That was what I was going to name our daughter!' " says Irwin. "So I guess I 'stole' the name, with not really knowing that I would be stealing."

Lauren Little of Allison Park did share her names when she was expecting, both to get a feel for how she liked them and because she simply enjoyed saying them.

"I was just so excited about this baby, I just liked hearing them," she says.

But the name she and husband Matthew chose for their daughter, Allison, now 2, also was the name of a friend's 1-year-old.

"I thought, 'Oh no, I'm copying her.' But then we talked about it, and she said she would never care about that," Little says. "She was so nice about it. Now when we're together, we have Big Allison and Little Allison."

Moss of says because there are no hard-and-fast rules, name-stealing should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

"There are so many little circumstances," Moss says. "It depends -- is it your sister or a distant friend• Will the kids grow up together• It depends on how close you are. If it's somebody at the country club, who cares?"

For parents who find themselves as possible name-stealing targets, Moss suggests approaching the person in a positive manner -- compliment the choice, then see how they'd feel if your children had the same name.

If talking it over doesn't work, Moss's advice is simple: have a backup.

"Start looking through family history and researching your family tree," she says. "It's not only first names, but some people are using surnames as well. Think of books you loved, characters, teachers who might have influenced you."

Sue and Pasquale Rocco of Dormont used their Roman Catholic and Italian backgrounds to influence the names of their four children. Their first, Silvana Marie, 4, was named after Sue's aunt, Sylvia, and both of their grandmothers, both named Marie.

"We did not disclose the name before the birth but even after, many members of the family on one side or the other appeared to have an opinion about the name, mostly wondering why some other name wasn't chosen," Sue Rocco says.

They kept the names of the subsequent children -- Dominic Alfred, 3, Antonin "Nino" Clement, 1, and newborn Chiara Annata -- under close wraps, but not for fear of having them stolen.

"I've found that people, most especially family members, will actually try to talk you out of the name you've chosen, as if it weren't your child and it was open for discussion," Rocco says.

Kara Simpkins and husband Brian of Allison Park used their family as inspiration for names when she got pregnant last year. Their boy name was to be Michael David, after her grandfather and his father. The girl name, however, was just something they liked: Abigail Marie.

They hesitated telling the family for fear of an onslaught of input, but told anyway.

"Of course, my grandmother said she hoped it was a boy," Simpkins says with a laugh. It wasn't: Abigail is now 10 months old.

The choice to tell also was based on a lack of competition. Simpkins is an only child and her brother-in-law is six years younger.

"No one else was getting pregnant around the same time," she says.

But when it comes to siblings who both have their hearts set on a family name, like that of a parent or grandparent, Moss says whoever gets pregnant first gets dibs.

"You can't reserve it forever," she says. "Some people want to reserve names, and they're not even pregnant. Is that fair• Nobody really owns a name."

After all, as Moss points out, once the baby is born, name issues tend to become the last thing anyone cares about.

"They love the baby, and the name comes along with it," she says. "It might seem like a major issue, but when everyone sees it, they love it and forget about such minute details."

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