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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Middle Name Challenge; Family Honor Names in a Divided Family; Honor Names vs. Dearly Loved Names

Jessica writes:
I am a devoted reader of your blog - I absolutely love it and think you give the best advice. I was convinced that because I'm such an avid reader I would never need to ask you for help, but here I find myself 30 weeks pregnant and at a total loss!

My name is Jessica, my husband is Patrick and we both have a hyphenated last name that sounds like Rinn-Loven. We have a two year old son named Milo Thomas and are expecting a little girl in early November who will definitely be our last child. After spending a LOT of time thinking about names, we are 99% certain that this little girl will be named Cora. We love that it's short, classic, feminine without being frilly and "Cora, Unashamed" is a favorite short story of mine. I'm a little concerned that it's getting too popular but think I love it enough that I don't care. If for some reason she comes out and absolutely is not a Cora, other favorites are Olive, Rosalind, and Matilda. But I'm pretty sure she's Cora.

But I'm writing because I am terribly stuck on a middle name. Middle names are important to me; we often call Milo by his full name and I love that Thomas is after my father in law who passed away soon before Milo was born and was a wonderful man. Since Milo's middle comes from my husband's family, we decided this baby's middle would come from mine. The problem is that my parents split up when I was very young and my family has always been very divided and I'm afraid if I choose one side I will be letting down the other. So here are our current favorites and the concerns we're having with each one:

Cora Hazel (husband's favorite) - Hazel was my paternal grandmother and someone I was very close to. Concerns are that the names don't seem to flow all that well together and my mother and grandmother very much did not get along, so I'm worried that my mother would be upset if I chose Hazel.

Cora Shane - my sister is named Shaynee and is the person I am closest to in the world. Plus, like me she represents both sides of my family. Problem is that I usually really don't like traditionally male names on girls, so I'm worried about using Shane (but Shaynee really isn't my style) plus I have a younger half-sister so is it awful to use the name of only one sister?

Cora Frances - this is a bit of a stretch but researching my ancestors I saw that my great-grandparents came to the U.S. on a ship called the France and I thought it would be nice and not too controversial in my family if I used Frances. My husband's not thrilled about the name, though.

We tried to think of non-family names that still have meaning for us and we both seem to like:
Cora Beatrice
Cora Clementine
Cora Flannery
Cora Juliet
Cora Scout

But none of these feel quite right. If we're not using a family name, we'd like the name either to have a nice meaning or for it to reflect a literary character or strong historic woman so that it still had some meaning for us. I know I might sound crazy to some people because it's "just" a middle name, but middles are really important to me and since this will be my only daughter I desperately want to get it right.

Any suggestions or advice you or your readers have would be much appreciated. Thank you!
Me again with one quick update in case you choose to post my question. We're still 99% sure our little girl is Cora and top contenders for middles are still Hazel, Shane or Frances but we've decided that our second favorite name is definitely Olive, so if the baby is not Cora she'll be Olive. My husband is 100% settled on using Cora, which I still love but I'm finding myself incredibly sad at the thought of never having an Olive, which is a name I have adored for a long time. So the question is, should we go with Cora Olive? Does that sound terrible together? Am I missing the chance to give her a special connection with a family member if I don't use an honor name like her brother has?

I think honor names end up being primarily for the satisfaction of the parents. I do think many people feel happy about their own honor names, and that they do feel a connection to that family member or historical figure as they tell their naming story over the years---but that many other people don't care much either way and/or don't feel an increased connection. I continue to feel so happy that I gave my eldest son my grandfather's name as his middle name---but my eldest son barely cares at all. My grandfather died when my son was very little, so there's no special connection there; the name was instead about my own connection to my grandfather. I think Rob likes that he has an honor/family name (and my grandfather definitely liked that I used it), but I think he would also have liked a non-honor name.

So for me, the sadness at never having an Olive would trump the connection to a family member or literary character---especially in a family where an honor name is likely to come with stressful issues and possibly hurt feelings. Your daughter would have the same middle-name naming story as my daughter does: that one of her parents loved the name so much, it had to be used. It's a good naming story; it has gone over well at our house in our tellings of it to her. The special connection of the name would be to you, because of your love for it. Furthermore, it's fun to think that because of that story, your daughter might use her middle name as her own daughter's first name someday: you might get a granddaughter named Olive!

But that's only how my own feelings are ranked. Your own feelings might not be the same: maybe when you think it over, you'll find that your sadness at not using a namesake name trumps your sadness at never using the name Olive. Maybe you'll find it would be enough to instead use the name Olive for a pet, or for a doll for your daughter.

If you don't use Olive, I think Shaynee is the clear best choice. With the name Hazel, I was thinking of my late mother-in-law and how I'd be okay (if a bit teeth-clenched for a moment) if one of my kids named a child after her---but I think my feelings would be more extreme if Paul and I had split up and it was my EX-mother-in-law we were talking about. I would hope that a sweet little granddaughter would give me a new association with the name, but it would be a hurdle because I'd know the association was MEANT to be there. With the name Frances (for the boat France), it feels like too slim a connection to be worth giving up the name Olive.

But with the name Shaynee, I love that it would be for someone you have a close relationship with (someone your daughter could also hope to have a close relationship with, hugely increasing the odds that the name WOULD give her a special connection with a family member), and I love your reasoning that your sister belongs to both families equally. I'd use the actual name, rather than modifying it: I think naming style is only a tiny, tiny issue with an honor name---and since neither the original name nor the modified name fit your style, I'd use the original. (If you do go with the modified version, I think I'd go with the spelling Shayne: it makes it more feminine AND makes it more like your sister's name.) Cora Shaynee Rinn-Loven. I am trying hard not to PUSH you to use this, because I anticipate it bringing you so much satisfaction in the future---and I'm imagining what a thrill it would be for your sister!

Another option is to use two middle names: give her a family honor name AND the name you love, and it's win-win. Cora Shaynee Olive. It's a lot of name with a hyphenated surname, but the names are short and most of them will be tucked away; for everyday use, she'd just be Cora Rinn-Loven.

I don't think you have to use the names of both sisters. I see how it could be a little awkward if you were having two daughters---but you're only having one daughter, so it seems like it makes sense that you'd just choose one honor name, and that the name you'd choose would be of the person closest to you. I also hope it will be delicately clear to the whole family that using your half-sister's name would be more fraught with issues than using your sister's name.

So, let's see. I think you'll be most happy with Cora Olive or Cora Shaynee, so those are the two I'm voting for. But there's another possibility, and that's that she'll be born and you'll take one look and both say, "Oh, man, she's definitely an Olive!" In that case, she could be Olive Shaynee: the dearly-loved name and the dearly-loved family member.

Name update! Jessica writes:
I can't thank you enough for posting my question. You and your readers' responses gave us a lot to think about and ultimately helped us choose our little girl's name. Cora Olive was born on November 7th and is just perfect. I'm so excited that I got my Olive and already can't imagine her by any other name! Thanks again!


Anonymous said...

I feel the same as Swistle. But I will suggest Shay as an alternate way to shorten Shaynee. I think that's pretty. Cora Shay. Cora Olive Shay. Cora Shay Olive. Olive Cora Shay. Olive Shay.

Anonymous said...

I was just going to suggest Shay!

hillary said...

I find the styles of Cora and Olive to be similar, and Shane/Shaynee to be way off on another planet, so I don't like them in combination. I REALLY like Cora Hazel or Olive Cora. I think Cora Olive is a bit awkward for some reason, but reversed it has a nice flow.

StephLove said...

Cora Olive or Cora Shay.

I love family names, but it seems like with your family situation it might make sense to either avoid seeming to take sides, or to use your sisters name as she is from both sides of the family, and very close to you to boot. I liked the idea of Shay instead of Shaynee. It's recognizable, but brings it more in line with your style.

Anonymous said...

My favorite based only on flow would be Cora Hazel, but I agree it seems like the potential problems/hurt feelings aren't worth it. You could use your maternal grandmother's name or perhaps your mom's name as a 2nd middle for balance-but that does seem like a lot with a hyphenated surname. I don't care for Frances as all, the family connection is a stretch and you don't seem to really love the name. Cora Shaynee seems like it'd have the most meaning and cause the least problems, but I agree Shaynee isn't ideal with Cora. Cora Shayne (that spelling as Swistle suggested) is better, and Cora Shay is actually quite nice. What about your sister's middle name? I think sharing a middle name with her niece would be a nice honor and perhaps it's a better match for style and/or flow?
Cora Olive isn't bad and I do like that you'd get to use both your favorites, but the flow of the schwa A leading into the O is a bit slurry for me.
So, my favorites in order:
Cora Shay(ne) or
Cora Sister'sMiddle,
Cora Olive,
Cora Hazel Othergrandmother'sName, Cora Hazel,
Cora Frances.

Jen said...

I feel I must comment because I too have a younger half sister. I would not use one sister's name over the other but we are all very close, so that definitely plays into it. I would suggest maybe your middle name?

Of your suggestions, I do like Cora Hazel (she is still your grandmother, after all). Or Cora Olive.

Meg said...

Maybe Jane, Jean, or Joan in the middle would work for you. All of them have the same meaning as Shaynee, God is gracious, so the baby would have a link to your sister.

I think Cora Jane, Cora Jean, or Cora Joan would sound great with Milo Thomas.

Rayne of Terror said...

I love love love the suggestion of Cora Jean.

Lucy said...

LOVE Cora Shay, so, so much! Is there any way to connect your half-sister's name? I just think it would be very sweet to include both of your sisters if possible.
Cora Olive is lovely and if you do feel it would be hurtful to use only a version of Shaynee but adding a name would be too much, I think Cora Olive, or even Coraline Olive, which has a wonderful flow, would be a great name. Btw, Coraline is a really nice little book and the title character is fantastic.

Southern jezeBelle said...

I suggest shay too! Also consider your sisters middle name?

phancymama said...

I agree with others that using a stressful family name is not the best option, and that using a name with no "strings attached" might be the most relaxing and freeing. However, I do also like the suggestion of Shay.

Like previous posters, what about your middle name or your sister's middle name? Or if you are looking for a name with significance, what about a favorite place, or a special place or street to you and your husband? Or a name from where you grew up? Or do you have a favorite author? I have always wanted to use Cady, after Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and I find Cora Cady to be pleasing to me. (But I like alliteration.)

I do like the name Cora Olive, and like that you would be using your two favorite names. Would the last name initials be ok with CO__? Good luck!

Jessica said...

Hmm. I'm big on honor names (especially for middles). I assume the two sides of your family don't have any ancestor names in common? From what you listed, it looked like the choices were slim so maybe it won't work out.

Do you like Shaynee's middle name? Your middle name?

Claire said...

I think Cora Shay or Cora Shane flows way better than Cora Shaynee(Cora Shay sounding the nicest).

Angie said...

Hmmm. I'm big on honoring middle names too, but my favorite combinations for flow, are the non-honor options that seem to be (for the moment) off the table:

Cora Beatrice
Cora Clementine
Cora Flannery

At least these names don't have any issues. But I know how it feels to struggle with giving one child an honor name and the other not. I gave both of my children honor middle names, and this felt like the best option for me.

However, my situation was a little different than yours. I also only have one daughter, and wanted to name my first daughter after my side (first son after my husband's side) and didn't have any contentious relationships with any women in my family.