Ive been struggling with this for along time now and would really love to hear some opinions from outside of my family and friends, ok here goes-
I have 3 beautiful children my oldest and only daughter is called Ava Alison, Ava was born unexpectedly at 28 weeks, as she was born so early we really hadnt finalized name choices, my husband picked Ava as her first name and I chose Alison for her middle name, Alison is the name of my oldest sister. My sister and I have always had a rocky relationship but at the time of Ava’s birth we were getting along well and I felt like by naming my daughter after her it was a way of putting all the conflict behind us and moving forward.
My daughter is now 5 and since the birth of Ava my sister’s relationship with me has deteriorated, to the point were we no longer have contact at all. I dont want to go into to much detail but the word I use to describe my sister is a bully, she has been so awfull and spitefull towards me and my family she has caused me to suffer horrible anxiety and there is really noway I can see us reconciling in the future!
I very often address my children using both their first and middle names, I love my boys names but unfortionatly every time I use Ava’s whole name it makes me cringe, I hate reading it, writing it and saying it Im angry that she was named after someone that has treated us so badly. Ive been back and forth for the last 3 or so years as to whether I should legally change/ remove her middle name. Ava is now 5 and really does love her name so I feel as though it will be wrong and confusing for me to change her name now but I dont think I can handle my daughter having a name that I cannot stand to here or say!
My friends who have stood by me throughout my problems with my sister are 100% supportive of Ava’s name change but people in my extended family feel like I will be causing more drama and confusing my daughter. Please could you let me know what you think, I really appreciate any help or opinions thank you
This is a very difficult dilemma. Changing the name would be a huge, symbolic, tie-cutting step—even more so because using it was a symbolic tie-affirming step. I know you say there’s no way you can imagine you and your sister reconciling in the future, but this would definitely set a fire on that bridge, or vigorously fan the flames that were already there. Especially with family, I’d rather leave the bridge alone even if it never does end up getting used. I would be very motivated to see if there were another solution to the problem.
If we were making this decision based on your feelings alone, it sounds like changing the name would be something to seriously consider despite the cost. But I agree with you: your daughter is old enough that her feelings are now also crucial to this decision. Parents are in charge of choosing their children’s names—but once the children take possession of those names, there’s a point at which the name belongs to the child and not to the parent. After that point, the parent has the legal right to have the child’s name changed against the child’s wishes, but I don’t think they have the ethical right. It sounds to me as if your daughter has reached this point: she has taken possession of her name, and she loves it.
I would listen to family over friends on this issue. I’d be uncertain that a friend had really been able to imagine herself in that situation, or to consider how she’d feel if it were her own family; family dynamics vary so much, what would be normal behavior in one family would be disastrous in another family. Your family is much closer to it and may have a better grasp on how things will actually go and how the people involved will actually feel. Also, your friends will have heard only your side, and you’re the only person in this situation they care about; your family will have more of a big-picture concern for the family as a whole.
So what we have here is a nearly impossible problem. The association with your sister is causing you to hate saying your daughter’s name, which is a highly undesirable situation; but for a variety of reasons, it’s also hard to imagine changing it. Let’s brainstorm some options.
1. If you moved fast, you might still have time to change it to Ava Ellison or Ava Alice. This makes the symbolic cut to the relationship with your sister, and yet your daughter mostly keeps her name. This idea depends quite a bit on whether your daughter knows how to spell her name, would notice/mind the change, etc. I’m also not sure it would help: if you said “Ava Ellison” or “Ava Alice,” would it still make you think of your sister?
2. If your sister is out of your life, I wonder if there is any way to soften the association of the name Alison. Do you know any other Alisons? Would it help to watch movies or read books with characters named Alison? One of my sons has a middle name that has a very bad association for me (a high school relationship with a bad break-up), but it’s also my grandfather’s name; after enough time had passed since the break-up, the positive association won out. But a high school boyfriend is not on the same level as a sister. Still, with time and distance, the feeling that you can’t handle your daughter having that name may diminish.
3. You could stop calling your daughter Ava Alison. I know you’d like to call her by her first-and-middle, but giving up that preference might be the easiest and least tumultuous solution. I call my daughter Elizabeth Marie, Elizabeth St. Claire, Elizabeth Louise—and none of those are her middle name. Perhaps you could start a similar running joke with your daughter, allowing you to call her by a variety of first-and-middle names. Or call her Ava-belle, or Ava-lyn, or Ava-lou, or Ava A., or just Ava.
4. It might work to add a second middle name. This wouldn’t burn the bridge, and would perhaps allow you to transition slowly to calling her by her first name combined with the new middle name instead of the original one. You could also start using the new middle name as the default on forms that allowed only one middle name. This option depends a lot on what your daughter would think of that. She might find it fun to help choose, and might then even prefer to be called Ava with her self-chosen middle name.
5. You could wait, and discuss it with your daughter when she’s older. It’s hard for me to picture this, though: there’d be so much pressure on her to agree to the change even if she didn’t want to, and by then she’d likely identify with her name even more strongly.
6. You could discuss it with your daughter now, being as frank and detailed as appropriate for her current age, and ask if she would be willing to have a new middle name. Again, I am having trouble imagining putting this kind of pressure on a child, or her having enough understanding of the issue to be able to make an informed decision.
My own preference, I think, would be for #3: stop calling her by her first and middle, and see if that solves the problem to a bearable level. It’s a sacrifice on your part, since you’d rather call your children by their first and middles—but there is a cost no matter which option you choose, and this seems like the lowest price.
I might combine that with option #2: weakening the association of the name Alison as much as possible, while waiting for time to pitch in on this as well.
If dropping the middle name from use is not enough to solve the problem, my next choice would be #1 (using Alice or Ellison instead of Alison) or #4 (adding a second middle name and transitioning to using that instead of Alison); #1 is much more bridge-burning than #4, so #4 would be my own choice. But these depend on your daughter, and I don’t know if they’re a good fit for her or not.
Because I like to talk about names and hypothetical situations, I might also try a soft version of #6: raising the subject with your daughter, giving her a very vague and casual “everything’s okay”-type overview of the situation, and collecting her thoughts. This might be useful for any of the options, or for deciding among them. But it depends on your ability to discuss an emotionally-fraught subject in a casual way, and it carries with it the risk of communicating to her that there’s something wrong with her name, or of worrying her with family drama.
I am even more eager than usual to hear what everyone else thinks of this difficult situation.