Baby Naming Issue: Honoring Only One Grandmother, When Both Grandfathers Have Been Honored

Dear Swistle,

We have triplet boys and are expecting our fourth (and last), a girl. (Yay!) With the boys, we used family names for their middle names and tried to keep their first names in the same theme but with different first and last initials to give them their own individuality. I love that they are connected with their familial middle names but have distinct first names. The middle names are their two grandfathers’ names and my maiden name. (All the children and I have my husband’s last name as our last name.)

Obviously, we would like to continue this tradition with the girl, but we have two grandmothers to honor and only one child to name this time (which, honestly, thank goodness!). If the situation were reversed, and we had all girl triplets with single middle names and a boy on the way, I would have no qualms about giving him both grandfathers’ names as middle names. With a girl, however, I am less inclined to do this, as girls are more wont to accumulate even more names in life (for instance, my married name is my first name-middle name-maiden name (second middle name now)-last name (husband’s name). Of course, there’s no telling what my daughter will decide to do name-wise if and when she gets married, but I’d rather not run the risk of saddling her with a five name full name or of making her decide which name(s) to axe.

i would also not like to elevate either grandmother’s name into the first name spot. I don’t like the superiority it grants to one grandmother, and I would prefer to have the freedom to choose a name of our liking for the first name. The names in question are Elaine and Nina. I briefly thought of combining the name into one – Elainina – but that both feels like it doesn’t adequately honor either grandmother, and my husband informed me that in his native tongue the word translates roughly to “venison”! (ha!)

My mother has told me that we should choose any names we want, and that she will not be offended if her name doesn’t make it in (she is a very reasonable and unmanipulative woman, so I take her words at face value). My mother-in-law is less reasonable and more prone to histrionics. Sigh. I do not have a bad relationship with her, and would not like to engender one, but I also don’t want to determine part of my child’s name (and leave out my own beloved mother’s name) just on the basis of appeasing her.

So, is there some solution that I haven’t thought of here? What am I missing? Or is this just intractable?

Thank you so, so, so much, Swistle!

Robin

 

This is one of the troubles with honor names: not being able to honor everyone, and/or not being able to make it work out fairly. When we had our first son, we used the name of one of my grandfathers (the one I was much closer to) as his middle name. We didn’t know if we’d have any more boys so that we could use our other three grandfathers’ names: we just picked the one that was most important to us to use. At the time I don’t remember being much stressed out by it. We emphasized the honor name to the one grandfather who was honored, and didn’t say anything about it to the others, and also I was thinking no one would expect us to give the child all four of our grandfathers’ names at once.

But your case is a little different. If I understand it correctly, you have honored both of the children’s grandfathers, and now the plan is to honor one grandmother, which leaves out one of the children’s four grandparents while honoring all three of the others? Yes. I see what you mean. This is tricky.

I am generally disinclined to think ahead to what a child will do with their name upon marriage. I do give it a little thought, but it’s so impossible to predict how things will go. I gave all five of my kids (the girl as well as the boys) two middle names, with the understanding that any/all of the kids might choose to drop/add some names later on—and that that can be up to them. It’s a decision I feel they can handle, especially if I don’t make a big deal about it. Most people only use first/last in regular life, plus maybe a single middle initial for paperwork; it doesn’t seem to matter how many names are in between. And in your case, when I weigh “leaving out just one of four grandparents” on one hand, against “child might have to make a decision about how to manage names later on as an adult” on the other hand, it’s the one about excluding one grandparent that makes me feel stressy.

So I think that is what I would do here: I would give her both grandmothers’ names as middle names. I would do something like flip a coin to determine name order, and I would make that method known, if you want to avoid a feeling of ranking/superiority. I would leave it up to her what to do about those names later on.

But I also like the idea of combining the names. I like the sound of Ninalaine, if that doesn’t mean anything silly in your husband’s native language—or maybe even if it does: when there’s no solution that gives everything, this seems like a good place to sacrifice.

Or depending on the particular honor-name feelings/opinions of your particular families, you could start playing around with other things. Like both names have an N and an I and an A; would anyone feel honored by Ani? Or perhaps your daughter’s first/middle names could have the initials N.E. or E.N.

Actually, the more I think about this, the more I think THIS is what I’d do: use neither name. If anything needs to be said on the subject, say “With triplets we could use both grandfather names. But with only one girl—we didn’t want to favor one of you over the other. So instead we went with _______.” You don’t by any chance have a name that appears in both family trees, do you? Maybe you both have an aunt or grandmother or great-grandmother or great-aunt with the same name? Or do you have only one sister between you, so you could use her name? Or is there another family surname that could be used?

Another reason I like this Use Neither idea is that you have already honored two grandparents plus used your maiden name; honoring a third grandparent not only leaves out one grandparent, it makes one child’s name different. This doesn’t actually bother me, but it’s another excuse if you need one. We used names of our grandparents for two of the children’s honor names, but then split from that concept and went with other people (a parent, a friend, and a great-uncle) for the others.

But I want to say I also LOVE Nina Elaine. I know you don’t want to elevate one grandmother over the other, but it’s such a pretty name.

Baby Girl or Boy H@zen, Sibling to Aila and Eden

Hi Swistle,

I’m due with our third child in 9 days and I am starting to feel the pressure of finding the perfect name. We don’t know if this baby is a boy or a girl yet, but I feel fairly settled on our boy pick. We have two girls, Aila Margaret and Eden Diana. Our last name is H@zen. Margaret and Diana are both family names and I would like to carry on that tradition with using either Grace (my middle name) or Elizabeth. I’m feeling the pressure of continuing with a vowel for baby three, but I also like unique names. I’m struggling, Swistle! This is what we have:
-Violet (not a vowel and too popular?)
-Claire (again, not a vowel, but so girly and classic)
-Ava (way too popular, but I love it) or Ada (husband loves it, but I’m on the fence)
-Mae (I love the simplicity and timelessness of this name)
-Adalyn (okay, but I don’t love it)
-Nora (I love this because it combines both of our mother’s names, but again…not a vowel!)

Do I feel settled on any of these? Nope. Sure don’t. Help!! Any other suggestions? Should I just ignore the popularity of Ava and use it? Ignore the vowel rule that I have accidentally created?

For a boy, we are settled on either Sawyer, Isaac, or Abram (middle name Gene). I love them all and know I will know which to use after I meet our son, if it’s a boy.

Thank you for your expertise and advice. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

My best,
Kellyn

 

(I’m assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that Aila is pronounced like Kayla without the K. If it is instead pronounced like Isla, many of my suggestions will be off.)

From past posts on the topic I know we as a group are split on the “vowel theme” idea: some of us notice it and some of us don’t; I’m in the category that doesn’t notice it. In any case, I am also in the category that thinks it isn’t a theme until you have THREE children in a row with something in common.

From your girl list, I pick Nora. It combines your mothers’ names, and it discontinues the vowel theme by acting as if the actual theme was four-letter names. Aila Margaret, Eden Diana, and Nora Grace.

But if you’re planning more children, I would probably keep away from vowel names AND four-letter names, to avoid backing yourself into a corner for the next child. In that case my next choice is…well, pretty much any name on your list except Adalyn (because you say you don’t love it and because it’s almost a combination of the first two girls’ names) or Ava/Ada (which are just one consonant-sound different from Aila, if I’ve correctly guessed the pronunciation). I don’t think Violet is too popular; I haven’t met a single one yet, though of course this kind of thing varies considerably by location. Claire is lovely. Mae is lovely. Very nice choices, all of them.

If you would find it fun to discuss more options, and if you’re not planning more children, I suggest Iris. Aila, Eden, and Iris. All four letters, all vowel names, all two syllables. More suggestions:

Brynna
Carys
Cleo
Cora
Garnet
Greta
Imogen
Ivy
Jade
June
Kira
Livia
Margo
Maya
Mina
Laine
Maeve
Sloane

If at all possible, release yourself from the pressure of finding “the perfect name.” The parents’ responsibility is to find a good and useful name. Perfection is usually what happens afterward, when the name becomes so bonded to the child that it seems perfect by association.

Baby Girl or Boy W, Sibling to Atticus, Elm, and Orion

Hi, Swistle! I am newly pregnant with our fourth and final (FOR REAL THIS TIME) baby. You helped us previously with our daughter’s initials and our second son’s name so we trust your judgement!

Each of our kids is named for something we love. Our son Atticus for To Kill A Mockingbird, our daughter Elm for the summer camp in the woods where we met and got married, and our son Orion for the stars my mother always pointed out to me as a child. So that puts quite a bit of pressure on this baby’s name to also have special meaning.

I like the idea of picking something from a new “category” with literature, nature, and space already covered. We love the arts and sciences, I’ve thought of trying to pick something from music, history (especially strong American females given the current political climate), poetry, science, geography, or movies. My husband’s family is Scottish and he has a very Scottish middle name so something with Gaelic or Scottish ties could be another fun option. Really we’re wide open for suggestions! The only hard and fast rules are that it is easily pronounced on sight and fairly unique. We haven’t decided whether or not to find out the sex beforehand so we will pick both a boy and a girl name.

Thank you so much for your help, I can’t wait to hear what you and your readers come up with!

Amy W

Baby Naming Issue: If They Use the Mother’s Surname as the Baby’s First Name, Does the Mother Now Have to Change Her Surname?

Hi Swistle!

I am such a fan of your site, advice, and writing.

I am now pregnant with my first and stuck on a boy’s name. There are many girl’s names that my husband and I both like but boys names are harder for us.

If the baby were a girl, we would be in the neighbourhood of Vera, Eleanor, maybe Margot.

Some of the boys’ names we like are relatively classic but feel plain like William, Benjamin, maybe Leo.

My husband’s last name is Carruthers (spelled with an o in place of the u here) and my last name sounds like Hair-ick (spelled with an “rr” in please of the “ir”, and no hyphen).

For the longest time I’ve thought that my last name would make such a solid name for a boy. Nickname Harry possibilities, and paired with my husband’s Scottish/Irish sounding last name the combination of Hair-ick Carruthers sounds very proper.

However there are two issues with this.

One is that, well, my maiden name is still my last name. Although I always thought I would end up changing it, it felt weird-ish when we got married to just have a different name all of a sudden and the hassle of having to fill out so much paperwork from so many separate government offices wasn’t exactly enticing. If we did go with this name, would I probably have to change my last name?

Finally the harsh sound of going from the first name ending in ‘ick to beginning the last name with the hard “C” sound in Carr- might, I think, be problematic. I’m not sure but wanted your take on it.

My husband agrees that it would be a nice name for a boy but we’re both stuck on these two issues.

Appreciate your wisdom!

xx
Michelle

 

Oh, what an interesting question. I have mulled it over a bit and here is my own personal feeling about it, in two parts:

1. No, you would not have to change your own surname.
2. In fact, I think it makes it better if you don’t.

It may occasionally result in brief confusion—but, it seems to me, always FUN brief confusion, with a FUN (and easy) explanation. And I love the way it points out that your son’s name is your two surnames combined. It takes something I love (maiden names used as first names) and EMPHASIZES it.

The -ck/C- issue is fine with me. I find I pretty easily start putting a tiny pause in there, and also it feels like a minor and Worth It kind of issue.

Baby Naming Issue: Can a Name Be Haunted?

Dear Swistle:
Do you think names can be haunted — or at least have good vibes/bad vibes?

When I was pregnant with my daughter, Margot, I brought up Arthur as a possible boy name with my husband. He vetoed it without giving it much thought, and we selected another boy option at the time (which I no longer like).

However, since we had our daughter, Arthur just keeps coming up for me as a solid boy name (we are not pregnant now but hope to be soon). Part of it is that I’ve been having trouble coming up with boy name that compliments Margot’s sound and feel as well as I think Arthur does.

I always joke about Arthur when we discuss names casually, and my husband has not outright vetoed it this time around, so I keep bringing it up. I will say I’m not 100% sold on it, just like it very much and can’t think of a better option.

Then, open to other possibilities, I decided to go through some family genealogy records, and was looking through the names of my grandma’s siblings (12 of them). I was not familiar with all of them because many of them were born in Italy and were much older than my grandmother, who was born in the U.S. and was among the youngest in her family.

Well, I was shocked to see that my grandmother had not one but TWO brothers named Arthur, both who died young. One died as a young child in Italy and another died in infancy in the U.S. I never remember her talking about them, because they died before she was born. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding these deaths, other than the knowledge that infant mortality was common at that time.

My first instinct was that I could not use the name, because it means the name somehow has “bad vibes” — or might doom a new child to a negative outcome. But I brought it up to my husband and a good friend, and they both said, this is more reason to use it! This name is trying to be used, it has more meaning now, etc. Another friend, however, said, no, no, no! She couldn’t use it, and I feel that way sometimes, too.

So now I am left with a husband who is more open than ever to this name I’ve been lobbying for, but I’m unsure myself. I will say this grandmother was particularly special to me, and her mother’s name (Margarita) was a partial inspiration for Margot (or more like an affirmation that this was indeed the right name).

Grandma’s name was Edna, which I just couldn’t get myself to love enough to use, but I have thought of Ed-variations for boys that have some similar qualities to Arthur, like Edwin. But my husband’s last name (which we will use) is a two syllable name that ends in -en, so I tend not to like a lot of boy first names that share this pattern. I don’t know why, but I’m not into Edward. Maybe just too familiar.

What are your thoughts? Is this family tree a “sign” that I should use Arthur — especially since I keep coming back to this in my mind the last several years? Or a sign that it’s time to move on? I know many people use the names of deceased relatives, but this feels a little different.

If suggesting alternatives, I’ll just note that I love more vintage/literary/romantic sounding names. Hubby is open to lots of styles, but seems to like clean, but snappy sounding names, with a more modern-leaning feel. I think we hit the right balance with Margot – and maybe Arthur too?

We like Everett for a middle name, even though it is trendy, as this is in his family history and I think it goes really well with Arthur. Arthur Everett – en.

 

Short answer: no, I don’t think a name can be haunted.

A name certainly can develop bad associations for a particular person. If I date a terrible person and he leaves me needing extensive therapy, probably his name is always going to give me an unpleasant feeling even if I encounter it on someone else who is a completely nice and excellent human being. And when people write in and say, “Can I use this name even though it’s the name of my estranged relative who did some terrible thing that scarred the entire family?,” I advise against it: I don’t like the idea of giving a name to a child KNOWING other people will shudder about it.

But that is not what we’re dealing with here. Thinking of a few people in my own family tree who had sad/premature deaths (a great-aunt who died as a teenager of a sudden illness; another great-aunt who died as a child of an illness that is now preventable with a vaccine; an uncle who died in infancy; a great-grandmother who died in her forties during a routine surgery), I find their names very usable—and in fact, as your husband does, I feel it makes the names MORE usable. Thinking on it further, I’d say this: death in itself, even early/sad death, may increase the reason/motivation to use the name; it’s the person’s actions while alive that can be a dealbreaker.

I admit it gives me pause to hear that TWO brothers named Arthur both died. I think that mix of unusual elements might be what gives it that hint of fairy tales and curses. Is it the same for you? That is, if your grandmother had lost one brother named Arthur, would you feel less uncomfortable? And yet I still don’t believe a name can be haunted, or that the fates of two other users of this name would affect your child’s own fate.

I think in the end it’s going to boil down to individual, subjective feelings, and in this case I mean yours and your husband’s: everyone else might have brief feelings or reactions, but likely nothing with a deep-down lifelong impact. Your husband feels positively about using the name, so now we turn to you. Do you find that you are trying to talk yourself INTO the name, or OUT OF the name? Do you find yourself hoping we’ll say not to use it, or hoping we’ll dismiss the concerns? Do you find that you are TRYING to feel uncomfortable about it (i.e., feeling as if it OUGHT to bother you), or do you find that you are trying NOT to and yet still having trouble shaking it? When you think of the name, do you get an automatic little rush of happiness, or an automatic little shudder?

If you find you are trying to reason your way out of being bothered about it but you still ARE bothered, then it may be that this name is just not going to work. If instead you are persisting in liking the name but worry that it ought to feel weird or that it might BE weird, then I say brush off those concerns and use the name. I think it’s sweet to honor those relatives and to keep the name in the family tree.

To sum up: I do think a name can give particular people an unpleasant feeling because of associations they have with that name, but I do not think a name can be in itself some sort of bad-luck charm, or that a name could doom a child to a bad end. Nor do I think finding deaths in a family tree is a sign that you SHOULD use the name, or that the name itself is trying to make you use it. I think in the vast majority of cases, choosing a baby name is an activity devoid of supernatural influences or effects.

In this case, where you have plenty of time, I’d advise leaving Arthur on the list for now and seeing how you feel about it as time goes on and as other name candidates are considered. From my own point of view, it is certainly okay to use the name, and in fact appealing—but what will matter is how you personally feel about it.