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Baby Name Turf Wars: When the

Baby Name Turf Wars: When the “Wrong” Family Member Has the “Right” Family Name

By Amalah

Hi, I am having a baby name dilemma and came across your site so I thought I’d try to see your and your readers’ thoughts. We are keeping names secret until the birth and looking for neutral opinion. Here goes: I am currently due to have a baby girl in 8 weeks. It is our second baby girl and I am seriously considering naming her a particularly family name for her first name. Primarily it is my fraternal grandmother’s first name and is absolutely perfect on a lot of fronts.

But here’s the kicker: it’s also a major part of my sister’s name. It is her middle name and all growing up didn’t think much of it as we and everyone called her by her first name. Then at some point in her mid 20s she decided to start using her middle name (my grandmother’s name and name we are considering naming our 2nd born) as her first name when meeting new people. She went back to using her regular first name for awhile when she moved away and changed jobs but then she moved back and resumed use of her middle name as her primary name. This whole time I’ve maintained referring to her as her first name, the one we used all growing up and inside of the family but all her adult friends or new boyfriends when we occasionally see them call her by the middle name. Somehow it works and we all know who we are referring to and she responds to both. Same goes with my old friends from growing up. They probably know she goes by the second but refer to her as ” your sister” or first name but all my newer friends, like mom friends who might meet her at the baby’s birthday party she would introduce herself with the middle name that I’m considering.

We didn’t really consider it for my first child because we weren’t so interested in honoring a particular side of the family at that time, and wanted to go completely unique. Now it seems to keep coming back to me as the right fit for many reasons. Even though we live in the same city we don’t see my sister that much and we do our own thing. She doesn’t have kids and I do, etc…my daughter has yet another nickname for her which is an easy nickname way she refers to her which is easier for a toddler to say rather than “aunt so and so.” So there is no confusion there.

It’s really only awkward for the people around who didn’t know us as kids and will think I named my daughter my sister’s name. And that does bother me. I would have to explain the story somewhat each time. We are grown adults and I don’t ever think I’d ever actually refer to her as her middle name. We don’t see her that much and the thing is I wouldn’t be doing it to honor my sister and actually would just be slightly annoying to think I was trying to honor her because I don’t necessarily want my child to follow in her footsteps. It’s just a name I really like and bonus for the fact it was my grandmother’s name. Is it ok to seriously consider naming my child this? Am I being short sided since in about 20 years she’ll have a whole new set of social connections that don’t even involve family? Or will I regret it every time someone says “isn’t that your sister’s name?” And feel compelled to explain that it really isn’t …?

What do I think? I think you are way, way overthinking this. Give your daughter the name you like. When (if) people ask “Isn’t that your sister’s name?” stick with the simple (and true answer): Yes, and it is also my grandmother’s name. 

Don’t delve into the whole “well, it really ISN’T my sister’s name” because 1) that smacks of doth protesting too much and drags in the excess baggage you’ve got going on with your sister, and believe me, people making casual small-talk over your baby’s name will NOT want to hear all that, and 2) it’s not really true; it IS your sister’s name.

Yes, it’s her middle name, but it’s still her name. For some people, middle names are just extraneous things we rarely think about — some filler name that our parents thought sounded nice, or maybe a family name honoring someone we might not even have ever met. (Hell, I dropped my middle name altogether when I got married, so I understand this thinking completely!) But for your sister, her middle name CLEARLY means something to her and is the name she prefers to identify herself as. Which is completely and totally her right to do, and honestly not that unusual — I know people who strongly disliked their first names for a variety of reasons (hard to spell/pronounce, too common, too “unique,” etc.) and opted as adults to switch to their middle name, or a new, self-directed nickname.

I get the sense that you maybe view the name change as something kind of silly or flaky and have chosen not to indulge her in it. It sounds like she’s cool with that and understands that to old friends and family she’ll always be “ChildhoodName.” But to everybody who knows her now, she’s “GrownupName.” So some of that small intersection of folks might think you named your baby after her and not your grandmother. Meh. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t REALLY a big deal, even if it’s bothering you now. Even if your sister IS a silly, flaky mess of an adult human being, she’s your sister. I promise that no one will immediately assume that by giving your daughter the same name, you’re hoping your daughter will grow up be just like her aunt. You chose a family name (that’s already pulling double-duty) and that’s nice.

For personal insight into how little it matters what other people think of your “intent” behind a name: My nephew’s middle name is the same as my firstborn’s first name: Noah. I asked my brother if it was okay if we used the name, but we certainly didn’t choose it to “honor” my nephew. We just liked it. My second son’s name is a book of the Old Testament and one of my favorite childhood authors/illustrators: Ezra. Yet everybody asks if we were thinking of the 90s band Better Than Ezra. Uh…nope?

(As for my third, when people ask if we chose “Ike” because of Eisenhower, Ike Turner or Hurricane Ike, I answer none of the above: it was Ike Broflovski from South Park.)

So I guess my only caution AGAINST you using the name is if you can’t promise yourself to drop all the technicalities and background tangents and be okay with the fact that the name is also your sister’s name. Middle name, first name, whatever. If you can’t promise to be tactful and graceful when/if people — maybe even your sister! maybe she’ll be touched and this will be a step to repairing the relationship! – think you chose the name because of her, maybe…don’t use the name. (Is there a close variation on it, or a different version from another language?)

But really, I bet you’ll be just fine with the name, once you get out of the late-pregnancy nesting/OCD/OVERTHINK ALL THE THINGS! spot you’re in right now. (Which is so, so normal.) Let people think what they think, and be okay with them thinking whatever they think. It’s not much different from having to be okay with people not liking your name choice in general, or hating the way you spelled it or whatever.

(And remember that with “older generation” names all coming back in vogue HARD right now, I’m gonna guess that your daughter won’t be the only “GrownupName” she encounters, at which point you’ll probably get annoyed that people will think you chose it just to be trendy, rather than having a legitimate family claim to it.)

Practice your response: Yes, it is my sister’s name. She and my daughter are both named after my grandmother. Can you do that? Good. Go with the name. I’m sure it’s lovely and you’ll be happy that you honored your family with it.

Published December 13, 2013. Last updated March 27, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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