I'm wondering about the etiquette around a certain naming issue that I'm having.
I am a teacher and one of my students (a girl) goes by an "old man" type of nickname. It's kind of like she goes by "Elliot" -- a name that is identifiably masculine, but that doesn't sound ridiculous on a girl. Unlike "Elliot," however, this name is not popular for boys or girls -- in fact, it's never been very popular. The most popular that it was was #273 and that was back in the 1800s. It hasn't even been in the top 1000 since 1968. The long-form of the name (as opposed to the nickname) was given out more often, but even it barely ever broke into the top 100 (and this girl is definitely not going by the long-form of the name). This student has a common and feminine name, but she's gone by this unusual male nickname for as long as I have known her and everyone (students, teachers, even her mom) calls her by it.
In addition to this girl being a student of mine, her mom is also a teacher at the school -- so her mom is a colleague of mine. And our staff is small and all the babies that have been born to staff members are welcomed with a big announcement to the whole school community.
So here's my problem. I LOVE this girl's nickname and would love to use it as a middle name for a future daughter. But I don't know whether it would be TOTALLY awkward. It would be obvious to everyone involved that I'd never thought of the name (or even heard of it, really) before meeting this student. Would that be embarrassing? Like I'm naming my kid after a student? Would the colleague/mom of the girl feel weird about it? She's not my best friend at work and she can be kind of critical, so I don't know how she'd react.
And I would feel weird for the student as well. The student is well-known and popular, but also pretty shy. I'm pretty sure I'm not her favorite teacher, so it's not like she'd feel super-honored or anything. It's already pretty awkward for her to be the kid of a teacher and have friends in her mom's classes. I'd hate for her to feel even more awkward when a teacher names her kid after her!
Just as a reminder, I'm only thinking of using this name as a middle name -- not as a first. But it would be impossible to hide the middle name from the staff and students at the school -- and awkward to try! What would be the best way to go about this? Should I just give up on the name? Talk to the mom in advance? Talk to the girl in advance? What would make the most sense?
I have two different answers. One is for if you're right now pregnant with a baby girl, and the other is for if you're not.
If you're not, I think what makes the most sense is waiting to see if it will be an issue at all. Maybe by the time you're naming a baby girl, neither the student nor her mother will be at your school, or maybe you'll be at a different school where no one has ever heard of the student. Or maybe by then you won't still want to use the name, or maybe the other parent won't want to, or maybe you'll have changed surnames and there will be a clash, or maybe your favorite first name will sound bad with it. Or maybe you'll only have sons. Or maybe by then the student's mother will have said wistfully in the staff room, "I just wish there were OTHER girls with that name! She loves her nickname but hates being the only one!" Or maybe you'll have a boy first, and this student will end up babysitting for him and become so special to your family that it will make perfect sense to give your next baby her name as a middle name.
If on the other hand you're currently pregnant with a baby girl (or you're pregnant and not finding out the sex until the birth), and if the other parent also wants to use the name and it's great with the first name and last name, then let's see if we can figure out a way for you to do it.
I agree it seems like the awkwardness/weirdness of it is not avoidable. Our goal, I think, is to see if we can reduce it to usable levels. I'd start by scouring your family tree and the other parent's family tree. I mean, SCOUR it. Go back as far as you've got, and search every twig. Let's say this student's name were Clementine, and she were going by Clem. Search to see if you have ANYTHING like that in your tree, either first names or surnames. Clement? Clemence? Clemmie? Clemens? Clemmons? VanderClem? ANYTHING. If you find anything, you can now say breezily "It's a family name." And as everyone looks at you a little incredulously, you can add casually, as if suddenly realizing there could be offense taken if it sounds like you're NOT naming after your colleague's daughter: "And of course, Clem Johnson is such a nice girl, it definitely helped the name catch my eye!"
If there's nothing in the family tree, I think I would take an intermission and consider again whether the awkwardness/weirdness is worth it. We all have these names, I think, where we really really want to use them, but there's some reason we just CAN'T: name of husband's ex-wife, name of our daughter's half-sister or step-sister at her father's house, name of a celebrity, name the other parent hates, name that is hilarious/embarrassing with the surname, etc. I mean, it's not that we literally CAN'T use the name, but at some point the issues overwhelm it and we reluctantly cross it off. These names become excellent conversation material later, especially with other name enthusiasts: "I wanted to name a son after my dad James SO BADLY! So of course I end up marrying someone with the last name Bond." or "I'm STILL mad at Alan for hating the name ____! That's been my favorite name since I was a CHILD!" And it can be fascinating to the child to hear what other names were considered.
Are there any names very similar to the nickname, that you might like just as much? This is where my stand-in name isn't going to help with making a list---but I'd look for names that rhyme with the nickname, or have similar sounds, or are from that same style category. I might browse the 1800s name lists for similar guy nicknames, or see if there were any similar guy nicknames in the family tree.
If you come through this intermission strengthened in your resolve to use the name, I think my own strategy would be to start talking about baby names with colleagues (you don't have to give away the first name you're actually going to use, if you want to keep it a secret---just mention other names you've considered), and start mentioning that you're "thinking of using" the middle name Clem. This would give everyone a heads-up, which I think would go a long way to reduce the anticipated awkwardness after the birth. (I wouldn't ask the mother or the student if it were okay to use the name, unless you're prepared/willing to abandon the name if they say no.) I'd come up with some responses ahead of time to things I thought others might say. Them: "You mean...after Clem Johnson?" You: "Oh, not really---but of course that's where I first heard the name, and she's a great girl so it certainly didn't HURT the name. I just found it really grew on me." Or "I'd liked the name already for a boy, but having Clem Johnson in my class is how it occurred to me I could use it even if I had a girl."
Does anyone have any other ideas of how to pull this off with the least awkwardness possible? And let's have a poll over to the right to collect general reactions to the idea. [Poll closed; see results below.]