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Baby Name

Baby Name Turf Wars

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I am currently 24 weeks pregnant with our second child, another boy, and am really excited. My husband and I are pretty keen on family names, and we named our firstborn after my father in-law, and used my father’s last name as the middle name (I took my mother’s maiden name after my parents divorced).

Advice Smackdown ArchivesGiven that my parents had a fairly ugly divorce, it’s safe to say that my mom was pretty disappointed that we incorporated my dad’s name. In fact, I’ve never heard her utter his middle name. Ever. With a second son on the way, my husband and I are planning on giving the baby my dad’s name. One, because it’s a pretty traditional name, and two, because I love my dad and think it would be nice. The catch is that my mom doesn’t understand how I could ever forgive my father for the divorce, and honor him like that. Also, my mom’s side of the family is pretty limited in possible names for boys. However, we fully intend to use my mom’s name, should a girl ever make an in-utero appearance.

My feeling is that despite how the divorce impacted me as a little girl, that was TWENTY-TWO years ago. After 10 years of awkward, my dad and I now have a really great relationship, complete with shared holidays, multiple calls during the week, and the fact that he is positively smitten with my son. To me, putting the past in the past is entirely worth the relationship that we share today.

So down to the nitty gritty: I love my mom tons, but do we really need to start looking for a new name? We’re not planning on divulging the name until the baby is born, and I kind of expect the respect and understanding of our families – am I expecting too much?

Thank you!
Under pressure

No, you do not need to start looking for a new name. Naming your child is entirely your decision — and your decision alone. And you are perfectly justified, entitled, allowed, etc. to use your father’s name for all the reasons you mentioned. Honestly, I’d back you up on this even if you had a lousy relationship with your father but were still choosing his name just because you liked it.

Now I can see two distinct advice paths branching off from this issue, the first being that you stick with your plan to keep the name a secret until the baby is here, meaning your mother can’t harangue you about it for the next 16 weeks or so, and just brace yourself for some inevitable hurt feelings from her immediately after the birth. You can expect respect all you want, but if you know she was disappointed and weirded out about the middle name LAST time…yeah. You should definitely expect the same — or more– this time, when you’re talking first names.

The second would be to tell your mother ahead of time to let her get used to the idea. I’m…usually very much against this, just because every time I mentioned our name possibilities to family members I was immediately offered their not-very-favorable opinions. Even when I said, “We’ve decided on X,” the name was still treated as if it was something up for debate, and something our minds could be changed over, and of course that ALWAYS hurts parents-to-be’s feelings. So while I understand wanting to figure out a way to perhaps lessen the blow for your mom, I’m still thinking your current plan of secrecy is the best one for YOU, because she probably will think she might be able to change your mind before the baby is here. Presenting it as a Done Deal after the birth is probably the best way to minimize any drawing out of the drama.

Of course, yes, your mom should probably have found some healing and forgiveness during the past 22 years, or at least accept that you have a positive relationship with your father and THAT IS A VERY GOOD THING. I can only imagine how frustrating it must feel to realize that 22 years later, your mother still sees the divorce in terms of sides for her children to ally with, instead of feeling relieved that when all is said and done, her children have managed to emerge on the other side with two intact parental relationships. But that’s not your problem, and I sense you know that.

One problem I do possibly sympathize with your mother a little on is the fact that now her ex-husband will have been TWICE honored with grandchildren’s names. It’s one thing to say, “we’ll use your name next, promise, if we have a girl!” but…if you haven’t settled on a middle name, perhaps consider using her maiden name (as it is also part of your name, too)? Or a masculine version of one of her names? There are SO many possibilities that allow for giving a son a name that honors a female relative. Ezra’s middle name is Harrington, which was my mother-in-law’s maiden name. Noah’s middle name is Corbin, which is the Latin version of my own maiden name (Corbett). My mother’s name is Judith, so Jude has occasionally come up as an option, etc.

Again, I COMPLETELY support your decision and right to name your child whatever you choose, family baggage aside. But since you are very much for using family names, it might not hurt this particular time to do some creative compromising on the middle name and think outside the “male babies get male relatives’ names” box a little bit.


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Published December 3, 2010. Last updated April 17, 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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