The discussions can get intense, said Ms. Tannen, whose youngest grandchildren are twins named Cedar and Shepard. “This is the first stage grandparents realize that this is not their child and they have no control,” she continued. “You have to resign and some are good at it and some are terrible.”
Sometimes parents find face-saving solutions, such as giving children first names with which they will never appease one or the other grandparent.
But clashes over names can backfire, Ms. Tannen stressed, if they make new parents angry enough to withdraw. Parents serve as goalkeepers for their children, and as I learned from my conversations, they remember feeling defeated decades later.
Fortunately, as Ms. Ciolfi found, these conflicts tend to fade after the actual arrival of the grandchildren. “As soon as you are pregnant everyone has an opinion” about names, Ms. Tannen observed. “Once there’s a baby, it would be pretty stupid to hold onto it.”
Even Ellen Robin, a math teacher in Sebastopol, California, and her late father-in-law have overcome their contradiction.
She still keeps a file of angry letters that he sent after she and her husband decided, somewhat impulsively, to call their new son Ivan. “He named our child after the ‘worst anti-Semite of all time’,” she recalled 36 years later, referring to the terrorizing Russian tsar Ivan the Terrible. “He said, ‘You cursed this baby.’ He got so mad. ”Her mother-in-law helpfully sent out a list of names she thought were acceptable.
“I’ve never been bullied like this before,” said Ms. Robin, 69. As a compromise, she and her husband renamed their son Jesse Ivan. But they always called him Ivan and, to their surprise, soon their in-laws too. “After a couple of months it was like nothing had happened,” she said. She and her three sons all developed warm relationships with their father-in-law.