So, your new boo is totally the whole package — cute, smart, funny, and supportive of your goals. She loves long walks on the beach, has impeccable style, and always surprises you with flowers and chocolates after a long day at work. She’s mature about her feelings and ready for a future together. There’s just one problem: she shares your mom’s name. Dating someone with your parent’s name can be really awkward at times, especially when you’ve come to associate the name with your family and your childhood.
It may seem like a small thing, but names can actually trigger major emotional connections for people. When you’ve grown up hearing your parents’ names over and over, you come to recognize those names in that familiar context. It’s the same way you probably associate the name of a close friend or an ex with that particular person and their role in your life. Research suggests that emotional memories remain the strongest in a person’s mind (whether or not those memories are accurate is another story). So, if a name is associated with a specific set of intense memories, it’s no wonder that you have trouble disconnecting it from the context you’ve grown accustomed to.
But if you meet someone amazing, it probably seems like a waste to throw it away just because they share your parent’s name. I spoke with board-certified psychiatrist Dr. Susan Edelman and family and relationship psychotherapist Dr. Fran Walfish to get perspective on how to handle this awkward situation — and it all comes down to reframing your perspective on the name itself.
“It isn't unusual for people to be in relationships with a person with a similar name to a family member,” Edelman explains. “When you take time to get to know someone, you're more likely to know them for themselves rather than thinking of them as your parent.” When you’re just beginning to talk to someone, the association with your parent’s name might feel awkward — but the more you can put that aside as you get to know them, the more you’ll come to see them as a whole person, not just a name. And this will allow you to look at the name in a different light by creating new memories associated with it.
“You might want to remind yourself about what you like about this person as an individual rather than focus on their name,” Edelman suggests. “Ultimately, their name isn't very important to whether you can have a healthy relationship with the person.” Sure, a person’s name is part of their identity, but it doesn’t say anything about whether or not they’ll be a good partner for you. Try to focus on the qualities about them that really draw you in.
If you’re still experiencing a mental block, try figuring out a nickname for your partner that’s distinctive and different from what your parent goes by. “As time goes on, you may find a pet name for your honey such as ‘baby,’ ‘sweetheart,’ ‘dude,’ ‘handsome,’ or another term of endearment,” Walfish says. This also works if you want to address your partner by name in bed without wanting to curl into the fetal position. Just use the pet name or nickname so there’s zero association with the name that makes you cringe.
Ultimately, it may take a bit of work to get past your stress related to this shared name. Walfish suggests approaching the situation “with humor and laughter.” Sure, it’s awkward, but it’s also something you can work through that shouldn’t ruin your connection with someone. Embrace the weirdness as you try to reframe your association with the name. Before long, you’ll have new emotions connected to the name that won’t make you think of childhood memories. Instead, it will remind you of your partner and all the warm, fuzzy feelings they bring to your life.