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Monday, March 3, 2008

Family Names

L. writes:
How do you feel about people who name their children -- ALL their children -- after someone else? I have a cousin who has three kids and a fourth on the way. So far each of her kids has a name that already belongs to someone in the family: an aunt, a grandparent, or even one of the parents' names themselves (example: If the father were called "Paul," for instance, one of the girls' middle names might be "Paula").

I think it's lovely to name a baby after a relative, to honor that relative, to carry on a tradition, etc... but every child? I just don't know. I'm wondering what this mom is going to do when she "runs out" of family names -- and also, MEOW, why can't she think of anything original?

(I am rude. Forgive me. Perhaps you, yourself, have done this, and I don't mean to offend if you have.)

I had to give this some thought: I realized I don't actually know ANYONE who does all family names like that. I know a lot of people who do namesake names in the middle name position, which I think is charming.

And, after thinking it over, I think namesake names are charming in the first-name position, too. As with every "all the names the same" theme (such as starting with the same letter), the parents should think VERY CAREFULLY beforehand about whether they have enough naming material even if they end up having more children than they think they'll have. It's especially sensitive with family names, because if you use three family names and then you switch to non-family names, the remaining non-named-after family members may wonder what the heck is wrong with THEIR names.

Family names come with an automatic side of confusion, of course: if you name your son after your father, your mother is going to have to specify which John she's talking about every time she's chatting with her friends. This may be minor, depending on which family name you're using (your spouse's vs. your cousin's), but it's nice to have thought it out beforehand rather than being surprised by it.

An additional issue with family names is that most of the ones available to choose from will not be generationally timely. Parents are eager to use the names of the great-grandparents they've never even met, because that's where the Emmas and Violets and Maxes and Jacks are. The family members whose names have actual significance to the namer tend to have names like Ruth and Robert, Barbara and Jerry. (These things go in cycles, so all these baby Emmas and Jacks will be naming THEIR babies "after great-grandma Ruth.")

Something that doesn't bother me is the originality issue. Almost all names have been used and used and used, so that I think words like "original" or "unique" are useless in naming discussions. (People usually mean "unusual," anyway.) Naming the baby Madison is not more original than naming her after the namer's Aunt Joanne or after the baby's Aunt Kimberly.

Use the comment section below and the poll to the right [poll closed; see below] to weigh in: What do you think of using family names? Have you done it? Are you glad, or are you sorry? What do you like--or not like--about it?

[Poll results:
Like the idea of family names and did it or plan to do it: 60 votes, roughly 77%
Like the idea, but not for us: 8 votes, roughly 10%
Don't like the idea: 10 votes, roughly 13%]


LoriD said...

I used family names (or variations thereof) for all my kids' middle names.

My oldest daughter's middle name is Leanne, after her two grandmothers, Lenore and Joanne.

My son's middle name is my maiden name.

My youngest daughter's middle name is Laine, from my mother's middle name, Elaine.

I really like the idea of using family names as middle names, as it gives the child a story to tell. Unless you have a really small family, I can't see running out of names.

Tessie said...

We like family names for middle names also. I guess I don't see a problem with it for first names either, as long as you don't back yourself into a corner by "leaving anyone out". Although SOMEONE is always going to be cranky, no matter what name you pick, so I guess I wouldn't even worry about THAT.

I love the idea of mother's maiden name for middle name. Mine is so ridiculous that unforunately I didn't have the heart to do it, but still I think that's a neat idea.

brenna said...

Did it. But only because family names happened to be names we really liked. Marie is my middle name, and my older daughter's middle name. And it's also my aunt's and great-aunt's middle name, too. And my older daughter's first name is the same as my grandmother's middle (Isabel), but when we chose it, we didn't know. My son's middle name is the same as his father's first. And my younger daughter doesn't share her name with anybody.

JMC said...

I used family names as my kids' middle names for all except my first. She doesn't feel left out or anything; it was just a different time in my life and I thought about things, including naming children, differently than I do now or did when I named my younger three.

Had I had any boys, my maiden name may have come into play. Used to be, I thought it would be too weird as a first name, but then Angelina went and named her first kid Maddox, which is my maiden name with a different spelling (Ds where mine has Ts). So now it wouldn't seem as weird for a first name, except for when people thought I named my kid after a celebrity kid, but misspelled it.

Jana said...

I like the family name as a middle name concept, too. My daughter's middle name is Anne (my mom's middle name which just happened to be my favorite book character's name, too) and my son's middle name is Murray (my maiden name and I definitely wouldn't use it as a first name unless I was giving birth to an 80 year old Jewish man which I was not). #3's middle name will be Rose (my mil's middle name) or James (my husband's middle name) depending on the gender of said baby. I'm hoping it's a boy just b/c I don't really like my mil all that much, but we thought we had to be fair after giving #1 my mother's middle name (and she - my mil, not my mother - has whined about it ever since).

Maggie said...

I am named after my mother (first and middle names) and she after her mother, etc, etc. That is a LOT of the same name! However, we all go by (or went by, since my mother and I are the only two still living) different nicknames. However I think that we have used up every conceivable nickname for our first name, so the next person in our family is going to have to either leave out one of the names or start using the middle name to call the child by.

The only thing that I don't really like about this is that, for as long as I can remember, my mother has talked about 'when you have a daughter and name her...' making it always feel like if I ever do have a girl that she was named before I was born and that I don't really have a say in it.

My sister is named after my grandmother on my father's side, but my poor youngest sister didn't get a family name at all. I picked her name because it was the same as a girl I used to play with at the babysitter. I've always wondered if it bothered her to be the only one of the three without a family name...

Mairzy said...

I love using family names. It gives a name more weight and meaning.

As you pointed out, however, many of the last generation's names are stale to us. And my grandparents' generation had very unattractive names -- Irving, Edith, Zethel, and Ernavelle. So I'm glad we're not locked into strictly family names.

I started out thinking we'd use family names for middle names. That lasted one child. For the next child, my husband wanted to use the middle name Michael. I argued that it wasn't a family name. Everyone I complained to -- including my own family -- said, quote, "So what?"

I'm glad now that I gave in. My son is thrilled that Daddy chose his middle name, and it did free us up to consider a wide range of names for our next child. We gave her the same middle name as my friend-since-sixth-grade. That did give rise to an interesting answer: when my mother asked, "Why did you spell it with just one L?" I had to answer, "Um, I don't know. Ask Courtney's mother."

We did decide not to use any siblings' names -- don't want to show favoritism -- even though I like many of them. Then again, that doesn't mean that our kids would enjoy having these middle-aged names stuck on them. Imagine being named for your dad's brother Larry, after all.

M said...

You need another option on the poll:

Liked the idea, did it, and now HATE it :)

Swistle said...

M- I know, the poll isn't very ALL-INCLUSIVE on this one, is it? Leave your story in the comments! I'm sure people will be interested!

Julia said...

I love family names, but that's because I'm the product of the concept. My first name is grandma's (on my mom's side) middle name. My middle name is my great grandma's (on my dad's side) first name (Rachel). Both women I'm named after are (were) incredible people and I've always loved that I'm named FOR someone because they are so great. If they weren't so great? Well, I'd understand not liking that.

Daycare Girl said...

We did first names that we just picked because we liked them, and family names for middle names. So far it's worked well. Except both kids are named after somebody in my husband's family, so that's one more reason to want more babies.

Cass said...

It's a Jewish tradition to name after a deceased relative. I know a lot of people use the name as inspiration and just pick a new name starting with the same letter (so you could name your kid Rhiannon and say she was named after Grandma Ruth, for example). Of course, my parents the hippies named me pretty literally after my paternal grandparents, who were still living.

Our kids have family names as their first and middle names - the first names are directly pulled from our grand- and great-grandparents, and the middle names are letter-inspired. But we LIKE all the names, so it was more that than anything else. Plus, it helped reign in what could otherwise have been way too many naming possibilities.

I do think that for any future children we'll want to have at least part of their name be family-inspired, but we have big enough families that this won't actually be too limiting. Especially when you consider the initial thing.

melissa said...

When we found out our first child was a boy I was sure my husband would want to carry on the "family" name after himself, his father, his grandfather, etc. I was OK with it if that's what he really wanted but I was pleasantly surprised and very happy when he said "He deserves his own name." I think that's very true and in hindsight I'm glad we don't have to specify who we re talking about all the time. We did use his middle name which I think carries on the family tradition somewhat.

M said...

My son's first name is after my great-grandfather (whom I never met). His middle name is after my husband's father.

I'm named after my great-grandmother, so now I "have" to name my daughter after her great-grandmother. (I plan to use her middle name as my daughter's middle name, but I can't say it's one of my favorite names in the world. My grandma was hands down my favorite person in the world, though, so I don't mind.)

On top of that, all the women on my husband's family have the same middle name ... and I know my MIL would "like" for us to do that (but Husband and I both agree that my SIL can carry that tradition on).

Anyway, I'm pregnant with Baby 2.0 and feel this pressure to come up with something clever and "normal enough" that honors various family members. We'd like to include something that honors my MIL (whether it be her maiden name or her father or something).

I honestly feel selfish picking a name "just because I like it." I really wish I could just get over that ... and it'd probably be easier if Kiddo C wasn't bogged down with family names already.

I plan to email you for some guidance once I get closer (I'm a little over 20 weeks now). We ::hope:: to find out if Baby 2.0 is a boy or girl tomorrow morning - so long as "it" cooperates!

And I know the poll can't be all-inclusive. I was just being a smart-ass :) I love this blog, because I'm totally obsessive about names (in case you haven't gathered that), and for so long I thought I was the only one!

Stephanie G said...

In my family (which is massive, because I'm talking about my mom, her 6 brothers and their spouses and kids; as well as my father, his brother and sister and spouses and kids) we all have original first names but our middle names are family names (save for my cousin Caitlyn Emily, as Emily was just a name that was a major contender for her first name, so my aunt couldn't give it up- funnily enough, 6 years later my other aunt named her second daughter Emily and Cait went through a phase where she wanted to be known as "Caitlyn-Emily" LOL).

I grew up thinking that middle names HAD to be a family member (or friend-so-close-their-like-family)'s name! Even though I learned that's not true, I still like that tradition a lot (otherwise, middle names feel pointless to me - that's just my opinion though, I don't expect others to agree!).

I do like the idea of using a family name as a first name if it is a name you also really like. I like it especially if the first name is chosen for a relative you want to honour.

For example, my long-term boyfriend and I have discussed our future baby's names and we both agreed that we like the name "Sophie Alexandra". Sofia was the first name of his Polish maternal grandmother, whom he was VERY close to when he spent summers in Poland, and who unfortunately passed away in 2005. I happen to think Sophie is an adorable name, one I've always liked, and we'd get to incorporate his grandmother's name (but in a way that it's a name I like, with a spelling I like). FYI, Alexandra is his only sister's name, so I'm going to use it for a middle name for my first girl no matter what (I only have brothers myself anyway, and Alexandra works as a middle name quite well with most first names!).

Wooo...that was long-winded! I wonder if anyone made it through that whole comment??? LOL.

I like names SO MUCH. hahaha. Thanks for this wicked blog.

Mommy Daisy said...

We knew right away that we would use my husband's first name as our son's middle name. My husband's middle name is his father's first name, and his brother's middle name is his father's middle name. My mom didn't have any boys, or she would have done something similar. But I don't know if we'd continue this for another boy. It would mean his middle name would be his paternal grandfather's first name. Then what if there were no boys after that to use my father's name for?

Yes, I wonder about those things. If I used my father's name for a future son's middle name, will my father-in-law feel left out?

Then there is this girl middle name deal. My grandmother, mother, mother-in-law, and myself all share the same middle name. When I was a kid, I thought it would be great for me to give to my first daughter as a middle name. Now...not so much. I think it's too outdated. So, I hope I don't disappoint anyone by skipping it.

But I feel like the family names are best reserved for middle names. Then I feel a bit more freedom in choosing first names on my own with no pressure.

Mayberry said...

Here is the best family name story I know: My friend married a man who was the third in a line of "Buddy"s. He goes by his middle name. So when their first son came along, she went along with tradition and gave her son the first name Buddy, and a middle name which is what everyone calls the child.

AFTER he was born and named, she idly asked her FIL where the name Buddy came from anyway. He replied that it was "after a dog my grandfather had." Yes ... she named her son after a DOG.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea overall, but I'm having a small personal dilemma I'm saving up for submission when I'm closer to my due date. :) The high-level version is, my husband is a "Jr" and it's always been understood that if we had a son, he would be "III." I like my husband's name and this was completely fine with me...until now that I'm actually (and finally) pregnant. There's a chance this will be our only child, and I'm surprised to find myself sad at the thought that I won't really get to name this baby if it's a boy, what with a pre-ordained name already chosen. So, when the time comes, I will be looking for advice on other dilemma about the "III" issue is that between my husband and his father, they have already used every variation of the name I can conceive of using. And the initials do not lend themselves to a melodious nickname either.
I feel ridiculous that this is bothering me as much as it is...but I guess pregnancy really IS a crazy time, eh? :)

Five Froggies said...

I like the family names. I was about to vote that I didn't do it for us, but I realize we did. #1 No. #2 Named after Husband. Matching initials, he is GSPIII, the middle name is the same. #3 Her middle is my first, although I go by a nickname (Elizabeth) #4 His middle is my baby brother who died as a toddler's middle name. #5 No. So 3 out of 5 got some type of family name. I kinda wish the other 2 had a family name in there.

However, I was always worried about naming after grandparents or greatgrandparents and then feeling like you need to include both sides of the family. I really didn't want to feel guilt or burdened to use a name. So we really stuck to naming after ourselves (the parents) but in the middle names, cause I think messing with Jrs and "Big" and "Little" can get confusing.

Daycare Girl said...

Anon- I had a friend named Manfred Something or Other III, and he went by Trey. I like the idea of that- it makes sense but can be very different from whatever the actual name is.

Anonymous said...

We did a combo of family and just because we liked it names. But made sure each child had at least one family name. And made sure we used both sides of the family!

My oldest is Zoe, and amazingly enough she is the fourth. All the Zoes who came before her had to deal with this 'weird' name. Now she is one of many.

Beth A. said...

My daughter is named after my husband's grandmother, who died a couple months before she was born. We didn't necessarily set out to name her after a family member. It happened more that the name was high on our list already, and it was just finding out his grandmother had liver cancer that clinched it. But I think it was most important to us that we find a name we liked and it being a family name was just a bonus. I had noticed that we both had a grandmother named Frances, for instance, but I never thought about using it because I don't like the name (and two of my cousins have now used it as a middle name for their daughters, so our grandmother is well honored without me).

I tend to lean towards naming after people who have died, or at least a name with a lot of possible nicknames. My father has the same name as my mother's brother and I have a cousin who is William Wilder the fifth, so we've had enough confusion from people having that same name that I don't want to add to it.

We use family last names for middle names, which is interesting to me because my parents grew up 2000 miles apart, yet both come from families with that approach to middle names. I guess it's both a New England and Southern phenomenon. But this is why I can say I'm probably the only woman I know who has her father's middle name - it's his mother's maiden name.

Quart said...

My favorite girl's name turned out to be my husband's deceased grandmother's name. Now we're struggling for a middle name because we don't want living grandmother to be offended that we named our baby after one and not the other.

My son Will (William Theodore) is named after my husband (who is William Travis and goes by Travis) and my grandfather and after seeing the reactions my family had to naming him after grandpa I am pretty sure we'll end up using both grandmas names. It meant a lot to everyone, it made us feel good and it's fun to tell my son stories about his great-grandpa, who he's named after.

JMC said...

Here's some interesting (to me) family name things:

I'm grew up in Charleston, SC. Family names there can be considered pretty important, particularly if you're firmly ensconced in the upper class or above. I am not, so none of this affected me in any way other than knowing people who it did. My brother had a friend, who was a BOY, named Allison. His father was Lindsay, grandfather was Alison, great-grandfather was Lindsay, and so on. Every other generation had an Alison and every other generation had a Lindsay. But they were an old family in the area, one of them even had a fishing tournament named after him, the annual Alison Oswald, Sr. Memorial Tournament.

Also, I went to school with a boy named Beverly. And a boy named Gresham Meggett, which was the name of the vo-tech school associated with our high school.

These boys' families had been on the island (this was James Island, across from the Charleston peninsula) so long that the names weren't considered odd, and the boys were never teased (that I saw) in a negative way. There was a little good-natured ribbing from their friends. Well, not with Gresh, I only remember him as being pretty much a jerk.

JMC said...

Oh, and I almost forgot Crosskeys. As in William Crosskeys Royall the 983rd or whatever number he was. Yes, I went to the public high school with descendants of LEGEND, I tell you. ;)

Anonymous said...

My son's middle name is my father's first name. I did it because I wanted to name my son after someone or something I wanted him to grow up to be like, and my father is the best man I know. I also wanted to honor him because I think he's so great, but because my brother is a deadbeat, I'm his only chance at carrying on his name in any meaningful way. I just want a little bit of him in the world long after he's gone.

Stephanie G said...

To the anonymous comment above this, that's such a sweet thing to say. I'm a daddy's girl myself, also with a brother who's a bit of a loser, and so I found your story touching. I too hope to name a future son of mine with my father's first name as his middle name.

I really do think it's a nice way to honour someone, and a nice way to connect the child to a relative or ancestor.