My question doesn’t deal with specific names, but I’m hoping you and your readers will want to tackle it anyway. Both of the names we have picked out are names with great meaning to my husband and I. Recently, I’ve started having nervous second thoughts, not about the names themselves, but about family ramifications and protocol.
For a girl, we are planning to name her after our mothers (my mother’s for a first name, his mother for a middle name.) My mother is still living, his has passed away. The names sound beautiful together, and we love them. My mother is very easygoing and I am 99.9% confident that she will be honored if we name our child after her. Still, are we obligated to inform her beforehand? (We’d like for it to be a surprise. Is this a bad idea?)
For a boy, we would like to name him after my grandfather who has passed away. I had a special bond with this grandfather , and this is well known in our family. After he passed away, he left some personal family treasures to me, which caused some hurt feelings from other family members, particularly his daughters, (my aunts) I’m wondering naming a child after him might cause hurt feelings in the family, or be perceived as snobbish in some way. Similarly, should I talk to them about it before naming this child?
Finally, are there any other points of etiquette with regard to naming a child after a family member (living or dead)? We would appreciate any or all advice as we are considering family names very strongly…
Thank you so much.
I would like to be able to wave these concerns away with a pfff sound: to say, “Don’t be ridiculous, of COURSE your mother will be honored! And your aunts might even feel somewhat mollified about the inheritance issues when they see further evidence of how much you loved their dad.” And I do think that’s the advice most likely to be true. But I am a writer on the internet, so I’ve been made painfully aware time and time again that if there is a situation in question, there will be not just one or two people but a whole GROUP of people offended and angry about it.
This is due not to The Evil of the Internet, but rather to the way the Internet lets us so easily collect data from an enormous pool—without being able to compare the size of the sample to the size of the pool we took it from. If we get twenty comments on this post and ten of them say “I would BOIL WITH RAGE if someone used my name without asking me first!!,” we don’t know if that’s ten people out of twenty or if it’s ten people out of seven billion. This makes it impossible to confidently say to you, “No, keep it a wonderful, wonderful surprise for your mother, OMG she will be so happy, this is so much fun, be sure to let us know if she CRIED WITH JOY!!”: I have to keep in mind the few people who would be offended and furious by something that is widely considered a very touching honor.
Sigh. The world can be a hard place to live.
Well. Here is what I will say instead: If you think your mom is 99.9% likely to be pleased, I would go with that. And yes: surprise her. I think that after this many years, if she were the sort to be upset/unhappy at having a baby namesake, you would know. She would have said things in other contexts (birth announcements, friends’ children, any discussion involving namesakes or how she chose your name) that would have given you a feeling for it over time.
And in the case of your grandfather’s name, I will say the same: Use it. If you knew for a fact that using his name would injure your aunts’ feelings, I would then advise you to gently prepare them for the idea that you were likely to do so, to cushion the news—and yet I would still say you should use the name. Your intentions and motivations are GOOD: you’re not naming a child to rub anything in their faces, and if you WERE trying to rub their faces in anything, “naming a baby” would be a pretty silly way to do it. Furthermore, since your grandfather has already died, they can’t even grouse that this is a way to kiss up; and since they’re presumably done having/naming children, they can’t grouse that you’re stealing a name they wanted to use. (It is making me tired, thinking of all these ways people could misunderstand each other. *world-weary sigh*)
You asked about other points of namesake etiquette, and aside from various cultural/family/religious traditions (which people generally already know, if those traditions apply to them) the main thing I keep in mind when considering family names is whether another family member might feel like they have a bigger claim to the name. For example, if my brother were a Jr., I’d be hesitant to name a child after my dad: seems like my brother should get first dibs. I might discuss such a namesake with my siblings anyway, even if there were no Sr./Jr. issues, just to see what’s what and to avoid unpleasant surprises/misunderstandings.
In most cases, though, I think discussions of dibs and claims tend to be ugly and inappropriate: a certain birth-order grandchild doesn’t have dibs on a grandparent’s name, for example, and two or three or even ALL the grandchildren can ALL use the name without it getting used up. And things get even trickier, because of course a person can call all the dibs they want and be as nasty and hurt-feelingy about it as they can, but if they never have children, or never have a child of that sex, or if the child’s other parent doesn’t agree to the name, those dibs are meaningless—and especially silly if it caused someone else not to use the name.
Whew. In short (TOO LATE), I think it is delightful that you want to use family names, and thrilling to imagine the happy surprises, and I fervently hope that when you announce the names of your children there will be rejoicing throughout the land rather than bitterness and family strife.
Name update! Traci writes:
I wrote awhile back about the protocol for using a namesake name. (You responded here.)
The baby is a boy, and so we named him after my grandfather, Clayton. As you may recall, I was a little nervous that some of the aunts would find the name pretentious or flaunting my special relationship with him, and I’m happy to say that has not happened. Instead, they were quite pleased, and proud! Not only this, but my grandfather’s sister (my great aunt) was so thrilled she was moved to tears! We love Clayton’s name, and are so happy we used it. Thank you to all of the commenters and to Swistle, who encouraged us to follow our hearts. I’ve attached a picture!