I know that several times on your blog I've read about people worrying that they can't use 'someone else's' baby name. You often say that names don't belong to any specific person, and I'm wondering if there is an exception to this!
There is a name that we love, but it is the name of my husband's deceased sibling, and since his parents and I have a shaky relationship and this is the sort of thing that could 'rock the boat' we've opted to not use the name. Even though we love it. Even though it's our favourite and has been for years and we had decided on it since we got together for our hypothetical child.
So I'm wondering, although we've made our minds up for this baby, (love the name so much we've even shelved it under 'maybe there is a possibility of using this sometime in the future?' in our list of names) is there ever a time when a name really DOES belong to someone else?
There are two different issues here: one is whether someone can own the rights to a name, and the other is whether a name's association is too strong/difficult.
When people tell me that, for example, they named their baby Braden and now can I please keep a pregnant friend from stealing it, or if someone says they can't use a name because it's a distant family member's middle name, or if someone is complaining that they've wanted to use the name Charlotte since childhood but now a friend stole it for her baby so they can't use it anymore, or if two people in a family are fighting about who gets to name their baby after grandpa---all those are situations when I bring out the idea that no one owns a name. People who have used a name (or have planned to use it) don't get to say that now that they've used the name, no one else may now use it; people who want to use a name don't need to cross it off their list if they find that anyone else in their lives has used it or has known someone who used it. Certainly there are situations where we might CHOOSE not to re-use a name out of consideration for the other person (maybe we know they'd be upset, and we don't want to upset them), or because we have our own reasons (maybe we COULD duplicate our cousin's daughter's name but we'd prefer not to), but it's not because we are not allowed to use the name. Names, as I am fond of saying until everyone is sick of me saying it, are not one-time-use items.
So! We've covered that pretty thoroughly and regularly. However, what you're talking about here is a different kind of issue, and it's the Strong Association issue. Can someone name a child Cher, or Madonna, or Adolf, or Apple? Sure, but there is an instant association, and it's too strong for most people to want to deal with. It's not that Madonna's parents "own" the name; it's that the name is now so strongly associated with the famous Madonna, it's nearly impossible to separate them. Similar issues crop up when someone's favorite name from childhood turns out to be the name of the other parent's previous fiancée, or the other parent's family dog. Or when someone would like to use the name of the family black sheep, or of their sister-in-law's first husband who was abusive, or of someone who has recently become famous for a terrible crime. Or when someone wants to name a child a name that has since been used for a well-known product. Again, it's not that anyone is claiming those other name-holders (or the name-holders' parents) OWN the name or the rights to use the name; it's just that those names come with significant associations that mean most people voluntarily choose not to use them.
In this case, it's clearly an association issue. The concern is not that your in-laws will feel that they used the name first for their baby and so now no one else is allowed to; the concern is that the name will make them think of their child who died, and this is presumably a very strong and complicated association for them.
However, using the name of someone who was loved and then died is generally considered a very pleasing and sentimental and meaningful tribute in our culture. I don't have enough of the details for this case, so I don't know where the hard feelings might come into it, but it seems like the simplest solution would be for your husband to go to his parents and say that he'd like to name a child after his brother/sister, and ask if that would be too painful for them.