Dear Prudence

Help! Is My Baby Too White for This Name?

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 2 of this week’s live chat.

A smiling biracial baby
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Q. Baby names and cultural appropriation: My husband is Black, and I’m white. We’ve been trying for a baby lately, and while thinking up names, my husband suggested his mom’s name if it’s a girl. She died when he was a teenager, but from everything I’ve heard about her, she was an admirable woman who I would have loved to know. I’m on board with this idea; I think it’s a fitting tribute. The problem is that I don’t know if our child will look more Black or more white to people, and his mother’s name is one that is very associated with Black women in America. I don’t want people to see two “white people” together and assume that I just co-opted a name most often used by Black women because I thought it was cool or trendy. At the same time, I don’t want to name my daughter based on what other people will think of us and want to be able to honor my husband’s mom. Can we still name her this? Can I feel OK not explaining that she’s mixed-race every time we tell someone her name and inevitably get weird looks from other white people? Am I being an asshole?

A: I think you should listen to your husband and to the part of yourself that doesn’t want to choose your child’s name based on what strangers might think of her someday. Your child is going to be Black and biracial regardless of her appearance, and I don’t want you to think you have to resolve or reassure the curiosity of other white people if she doesn’t always read as such to them. To that end, please do not plan on explaining “she’s mixed-race” to white people who may (or may not) look curious when they meet her or hear her name or anything else. If strangers ask intrusive questions or indirectly communicate surprise upon meeting your daughter, they are being rude and entitled. You should not work to reassure them or satisfy their idle curiosity, but cut them off and draw them up short. Implicit in your statement “I don’t know if our child will look more Black or more white to people” is the idea that if she looks “more white” than otherwise, you should de facto treat her as a white child, and vice versa. That’s not to say that her life won’t ever be informed by her appearance, but regardless she’s going to have a Black parent, a Black extended family, a Black history, and a relationship to Blackness that’s all her own, one that’s not dependent on the judgment of white strangers. It may very well be that you and your daughter encounter “weird looks” from other white people when you two are out together, but the best response to that is not to develop a policy of explaining her ethnicity to such people. You can teach your daughter to dismiss rudeness, to refuse to concede that strangers have a right to demand she resolve their discomfort with perceived racial ambiguity, and to cultivate pride and appreciation for her own Blackness.

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Q. My neighbor thinks he’s family: I live in a small town in the mountains. Our neighborhood doesn’t have fences for the most part (it helps the deer roam freely without clipping a heel on the chain-link), and we all live on a half-acre lot or more. I recently renovated my backyard to include a sitting area with a fire pit. I have an older neighbor who is living, alone, five states away from his wife (odd, I know). I am a middle-aged family man with four kids, and we love sitting out and looking at the mountains with our new fire pit. However, every time we’re outside trying to have a bonding experience, this lonely neighbor comes over and wants to talk about his day (remember, no fences, so he can see the fire from acres away).

I like this neighbor and he’s a great guy, but I can’t seem to enjoy alone time outside with my family without him coming over. We’ve stopped using the fire pit/seating area outside because of fears we’ll have to entertain the neighbor for hours. My kids even asked me recently, “Are we ever going to sit out again before it gets too cold?” and I said “We would, but I don’t want to entertain the neighbors.” I don’t want to be rude—I just want to use my new backyard addition without neighbors joining in. I don’t want to hurt the feelings of a friend and neighbor, but would love to enjoy my yard alone. What do I do?

A: Chat with him for a few minutes—really, just a few minutes—and then say, “Thanks for stopping by! We’re going to get back to [dinner/our conversation/stargazing], so I can’t keep catching up, but have a great rest of the evening.” You don’t need a fence to politely end a conversation, and it’s not rude or hurtful to end a conversation with your neighbor, no matter what his relationship with his wife is like. Telling your kids “We can’t sit in the backyard because I don’t know how to say no to a friendly neighbor” sends a really strange message about boundaries. You’re not sending the Little Match Girl out to die of exposure if you say, “Nice to see you, Fred, but I can’t catch up just now.” You’re just ending a friendly conversation, which is a perfectly normal thing to do.

Q. In love with my best friend: For lots of reasons, I ended up moving in with my best friend during the pandemic. I think I’m falling in love with them. It’s the little things—cuddling on the couch watching TV, going on a walk and then spontaneously holding hands, lots of hugging and physical affection—and just the other day they made a joking comment, “If you ask me, we should totally get married,” and then made another joke about being friends with benefits (we’re both single and were talking about how COVID has made us both sadly celibate). The signs are clear, right? But at the same time, we’re roommates and I’m afraid if I tell them my feelings, I’d lose my best friend. Do you have any insight? I think the safer option is to keep quiet, but I’m afraid of losing what could potentially be a loving romantic relationship. I’m just afraid I’m seeing something that’s not actually there.

A: I don’t think you’re imagining things. Lots of best friends are affectionate, but if yours has suddenly started holding your hand on long walks together, cuddling on the couch, and suggesting the possibility of sex and romance, I think you can safely say the signs are there. If you decide you don’t want to risk the friendship by saying anything, that’s fine, but you certainly don’t seem to be reading too much into ambiguous or platonic gestures. Obviously the fact that you live together makes things a little more complicated. But given the situation you’ve described, I think saying something like “I’m not sure if you were joking the other day when you talked about being friends with benefits. If you were, that’s fine. But I think our relationship has taken on a new charge lately, and I like it, and if you feel the same way, I think we should give it a shot” is likely to go over pretty well. You’re already holding hands and joking about marriage, which is to say you’re already taking a substantial portion of the “risk” inherent in adding sex and romance to a friendship. Talking about it isn’t that much riskier—it just means you’re acknowledging what’s already there.

Q. My partner needs their own social life: When my partner and I first started dating years ago, if I would go to a party or to hang out with friends, he would get upset if I didn’t invite him. It reached the point where I started inviting him to everything to avoid his complaining about not being invited. Years later, I can’t get time with friends without him. I have essentially become our event planner. He doesn’t do any work to maintain friendships with his own friends. So he never has plans. His only social life is through friends he met through me and only when I take the initiative to make plans, and friends always invite my partner when they have parties because it’s just assumed we will come together. We’ve talked about this before, and my partner claims he isn’t as insecure as he was in the beginning and doesn’t have a problem with me hanging out with friends without him. However, because my friends always invite us as a couple and he never turns down an invite because he never has anything else going on, I never get the chance to see friends or do anything without him. It’s great that my friends and he get along so well, but I am starting to feel like everyone is treating me like I am not my own person anymore. How do I get space?

A: Invite your friends to hang out with you—just you, by yourself, and make it clear in your invitation that you’re looking for one-on-one time, or at least time without your partner. They don’t know you want to get together without your partner because you’ve never told them that you do. All they know is that you always bring him to parties and get-togethers, so they have every reason to assume that’s how you prefer to socialize. Make your own chance to do things without him! Take him at his word when he says he’s got a handle on his insecurities, and schedule a tête-à-tête with one of your friends right away.

It may be that, as you start to reestablish your own social life, you find yourself increasingly frustrated by your partner’s lack of independence. Pay attention to that!

Q. Not your name: My mother, “Amelia,” married a man with two daughters. She was killed in a robbery when I was 17. She was good and kind and taken from us too soon. I don’t begrudge my stepsisters their relationship with her. Their biological mother was a waste of space, but my stepsister is pregnant with a girl and plans to name her Amelia. I know on a certain level she wants to honor the memory of my mother since this is the first granddaughter, but the news made me vomit. It is stupid. It is irrational. I am in a committed relationship, but we are miles away from marriage and kids—but it is my name. It is my mother. It should be my daughter. I can’t tell my stepdad or my stepsisters. It will hurt them. I don’t want to hurt them. But I can’t stand the idea of this child being Amelia—it makes me want to scream and cry. My boyfriend tells me that if we have a girl, we can call her Amy or Lia or switch up my mother’s middle and first name. He tells me I need to not freak out and just accept this. He is right and I know he is right, but I can’t accept this on a gut level.

A: I’m so sorry that this has been so painful for you, and I hope you can ease up on yourself in some ways. It may help to remind yourself that you don’t have to “accept” your stepsister’s decision in the sense of liking it or feeling good about it. You can’t control it, and it would be wrong to object or to ask her to reconsider, but you can feel as angry and frustrated and grief-stricken as you need to in private, and to work through those feelings as best you can on your own. It’s also true that while your relationship to your mother is distinctly your own, she was also a mother to your stepsisters, and their relationship to her belongs to them. Something can be painful and true and reasonable all at the same time. If you have a daughter someday and you would like to name her Amelia, you can—and you don’t have to come up with nicknames or approximations either. Plenty of kids share a name with their cousin, especially if that name has family significance, and it doesn’t dilute the meaning or significance. Whatever confusion may result is usually dependent on proximity and is fairly easily dispelled with time. Scream, cry, write in your journal, vent to a trusted friend, talk to a therapist. Let yourself feel angry and irrational and territorial and whatever else comes up for you. Don’t try to stifle your feelings—just make sure that you’re able to process them in appropriate contexts so that you can offer friendliness or at the very least non-intrusive neutrality to your stepsister.

Q. Who gets the dog in the divorce? I am a cis woman divorcing my husband of four years (I initiated it). We had an unhealthy dynamic in which I prioritized his needs over mine. He has chronic, severe depression and hasn’t been participating in his treatment, he has problems with drugs (which he refuses to acknowledge), and after losing his last job he’s been so picky that his job search has been totally ineffective. I’ve been supporting him financially and emotionally for years with nothing in return and finally decided I’m done.

The only issue in our divorce is our dog, who we adopted together and is equally bonded to us both. My ex and I both want to keep her permanently. We’ve been sharing custody since we separated with the understanding that this is temporary until we agree on who will get her. My lawyer hasn’t been much help in this regard because in our state, dogs are considered property. My ex is moving out of state soon, and we’ve agreed I’ll have custody for the first few months. He thinks he’ll get a job and move back to our state in that same time frame. Here’s my question: After he moves, should I continue to compromise and share custody while my lawyer makes my case to his lawyers? I am tempted to be more adversarial and refuse to share custody once he leaves (which is my right) unless and until I am legally required to do otherwise. Would that be a terrible thing to do? Is there an option here I’m not seeing? I’ve tried to make my case to him directly to no avail.

A: If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re proposing to exercise your legal right to maintain physical custody of your dog while your husband is out of state. I don’t see anything terrible in that. You and your ex in fact seem to have already agreed to this arrangement. He seems convinced that he’s going to get a job and move back soon without any trouble. Maybe he will, and maybe he won’t, but it’s impossible to predict that from here. I imagine you’ll have a stronger legal case for maintaining sole custody if the dog’s been with you for the duration of your ex’s absence from the state, too. You’re not proposing anything illegal, and it doesn’t sound like you’ve made promises to your ex you don’t intend to keep, since you’ve made your case to him about wanting to keep the dog. You also both seem to be clear that shared custody is a temporary arrangement and that you’re both seeking permanent custody, so it’s not as if you’re doing something underhanded and selfish while your ex just wants to share. I can’t promise you that you’ll never feel guilty or conflicted about your decision, so it’s really a matter of figuring out whether you think this guilt is appropriate or misplaced. Obviously it’s a painful situation, but I don’t see any other options besides either letting your ex have the dog (which it doesn’t seem like you want to do), sharing custody permanently (which neither of you seems interested in), or seeking custody yourself.

Q. Am I asexual? Recently I’ve been doing a lot of therapy and soul-searching. I believe I may be asexual. I used to enjoy sex, but now I view it as a painful chore. I want to tell my partner, but I know his reaction will be dubious at best. But I have to explore this part of myself. I feel like I would be happier single and living with my dogs instead of worrying my partner will try to initiate sex. How do I tell him I’m done? We’ve been together 25 years, if that matters, but we’re not married and don’t have children.

A: I understand why you fear your partner’s dubious (“at best”) reaction, but consider the alternatives: If you don’t say anything and simply stop having sex with him without explanation, your relationship will suffer, and if you don’t say anything and try to fake enjoyment during something that now feels like a “painful chore,” your relationship will suffer (not to mention your own individual suffering). I don’t know if you used to enjoy sex under a different set of conditions or whether you now consider that previous enjoyment unrecoverable or dependent on not yet having realized you don’t like sex at all; your partner may have questions for you there, and it may prove useful to you both to talk about that, even if “useful” in this case just looks like a reasonably amicable breakup. You say you have to explore this part of yourself and that you believe you’d be happier single than in a sexual relationship—that’s useful information. If you think he’d be interested in a relationship where he pursues sex with other people but you two don’t necessarily break up (and, of course, if you’d be interested in the same) you can broach that subject too.

But I notice you don’t say anything about your feelings for him or about the 25 years you’ve spent together in your letter. If you don’t want to try to redefine your relationship together, if you instead simply want to live happily with your dogs, then you should tell your partner you want to break up. But whether you tell him you no longer want to be in this relationship or you just don’t want to have sex anymore, don’t let the fear of his reaction hold you back. Assume that he will be sad and hurt. That doesn’t mean he’ll never recover, or that keeping your mouth shut is a healthy alternative. Tell him what you want, and listen to what he has to say in response. Whether you two decide to try to adapt together or to part ways after 25 years, honest disappointment and frustration is a lot easier to deal with than confusion, silence, and trying to read your partner’s mind.

Q. Re: Baby names and cultural appropriation: Why is a white lady asking a white guy if this is OK? If anything is “problematic,” it’s that.

A: I can’t agree that two white people having a conversation about race and racism is inherently “problematic,” or that the letter writer should take my advice at the exclusion of her partner or any of the other Black people in her life. I took the driving force of her question to be “How can I understand, support, and nurture my future Black and biracial child, and what are the ways in which my own assumptions and beliefs about whiteness might impede such support?” That’s a meaningful question, and one worth considering seriously and extensively, and I wish her and her family all the best.

Q. Re: My neighbor thinks he’s family: Some people blithely ignore cues like the one you suggested. I’m definitely projecting here, but I’m curious what advice you’d give if that happens. I’m thinking of a family member to whom I’ll say, “OK, I’ve got to hang up!” and she’ll go, “OK! I’ll talk to you soon! Did I tell you what Suzanne said to me at work today?” Because it’s the phone, I can hang up, but it happens in person too. What would you do if he doesn’t leave or is the type to go, “Oh, in that case I’ll pull up a chair!”?

A: I’m not too worried about this neighbor just yet because it doesn’t seem like the letter writer has offered any cues yet, just engaged in friendly, long-winded conversations while secretly hoping he wanders away. But yes, at that point, you just have to be firm: “Sorry, this is our family time, and you’ll have to go.” It’s not fun, but it’s not impossible either. And if the alternative is building a beautiful backyard fire pit that you never use because you’re too afraid to be firm with your neighbor—well, the choice is clear.

Q. Re: My neighbor thinks he’s family: I think the letter writer might need to be a bit firmer if the neighbor has a habit of sitting down with them for hours. It seems as if this neighbor isn’t the best at picking up social cues, so a subtle “Thanks for stopping by! We’re going to get back to [dinner/our conversation/stargazing], so I can’t keep catching up, but have a great rest of the evening” could be met with “Oh, I’d love to join you for [dinner/stargazing/whatever]” as he sits himself down. I think it could help, if the letter writer is willing, to set up a time once every month/week/fortnight/whatever to invite your neighbor over, and in setting up this arrangement make clear that that is the only time you are entertaining.

A: I agree that, since the neighbor sounds like a generally pleasant person and the letter writer seems somewhat interested in being friendly, setting up occasional, specific get-togethers is a lovely idea, and that it should still be accompanied by firm signals when a spontaneous conversation is eating into family dinner time. So yes, if he doesn’t say good night when the letter writer says, “Well, we’ve got to get back to stargazing,” then he’ll still have to follow it up with something firmer. But he can do it! “Sorry, you can’t join us” is still polite.

Danny M. Lavery: Thanks, everyone! See you all next week.

If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat, click here to read it.

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From Care and Feeding

Q. My toddler likes to make himself throw up for fun: This is a bit gross so read at your own risk. My kid is 15 months old and has discovered he can make himself vomit by sticking his finger down his throat. He only does this when he is in a high chair or car seat. If I try to stop him from doing it, he enjoys the attention and will escalate the behavior, so I’m thinking I need to let it happen, but it’s pretty hard to be chill when your kid is covered in vomit. Advice? Commiseration? Read what Nicole Cliffe had to say.

Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.