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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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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

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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  • KNK

    December 3, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Yes, I do think that you have every single right in the world to name your child what you want. You’re the parent, after all. But then again, your mother is also *your* parent, so she also deserves to not actively be hurt, especially by decisions that can so easily be modified. There’s so much difference between someone making assvicey comments about the name you choose and your mother getting hurt by names associated with what was probably the most painful time in her life, maybe even in ways that you aren’t aware of. Yes, she absolutely should be happy that you have such a great relationship with your father, but still…. there’s a limit to what a person can emotionally handle, and this seems to press riiiiight on her buttons. At least throw her a bone, like Amy said. Incorporating her name somehow would show her that she’s important to you too…. but I’m not sure that I would pick such a contentious first name to begin with, just out of respect for my mother’s past.

  • cagey

    December 3, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Ugh. I really, really feel for the reader in this. My mom chose to leave my dad, yet still carries some weirdness about the divorce 27 years later.

    We did not use a name from my mother’s side in naming our children. My mom was disappointed, but I was unapologetic about it. IT WAS MY BABY. I chose a great-uncle’s name for my son’s middle name because the great-uncle meant a great deal to me and also had some personality characteristics that I hope to teach my son about some day. We chose my deceased MIL’s name for my daughter’s middle name. We only had 2 kids, so that was it for us in the naming game. My sister waited until Kid #3 until she chose a name from my mom’s family. And yep, my mom was none too pleased sitting through the naming of FOUR grandkids before she got her turn.’

    Eh. Whatever. I hate to sound callous, but you know what, this is YOUR kid, YOUR life. I am a little weary of folks allowing divorces that happened over 20 years ago affect the new generation. The new generation deserves to be unfettered from it and that is how I view it with my own kids. I already paid my dues, my kids deserve the chance to not have to deal with the choices that other folks make long, long ago.

    Sorry for the soapbox, but these things start with the naming of the baby, then carry forward – who gets to SEE the grandbaby more? Who gets to HOLD the grandbaby more? Who got the grandbaby MORE presents? Don’t even get me started on what the grandparents want to be called themselves. Hoo boy.

  • Julie

    December 3, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    I like the idea of saving 2nd son’s middle name to honor your mom and/ or her family. If her maiden name doesn’t sound right with the first name, there are other options:

    1. One of your maternal grandparents surnames or maiden names.

    2. You mentioned that your mother’s side is pretty limited… Are all of the names truly off limits? Most people won’t know you’re son’s middle name and he won’t use it everyday
    The combination doesn’t have to flow like poetry, but rather it honor your heritage.

    4. If the names on that side are “awful” can you use a version from another language? Or a name that sounds similar? Roland = Orlando, Garry = Grayson, Howard = Hardy

    3. If you’re mother’s name can’t be changed to a male name, give your son a name starting with the same initial: Betty = Brandon, Eileen = Evan, etc. and are some great resources.

  • tk_zk

    December 3, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    This was an issue in my husband’s family. The bitter divorce was when my husband was 7 and his sister 9.

    Sister, all grown up, has the first grandchild and wants to name him “P”–the same name as her father. It worked for her and her husband for a lot of reasons (it sounded the same in English and the native language of the baby’s father, for example). However, she asked her mom if it would bother her, and her mom said yes.

    She named the baby something else. A lovely, lovely something else. My mother-in-law (the offended ex of “P”) is the sweetest woman in the world. I do not think less of her for being honest that she would prefer that a beloved grandson not share a name with her not-beloved ex.

    Doing something–even something that’s as a big a deal as naming you child–can in fact be something that you might WANT to do in a respectful way to those you love most.

    My rec to the questioner is to find another name. I’m sure there are plenty of names that you love but just don’t work (ex boyfriend, old boss, neighbor, name of best friend’s baby, person who became famous for something stupid etc). This name doesn’t work either.

    I wouldn’t want to give my child a name that was an FU to my mom. It’s one thing to give the child a middle name that’s the last name of your entire paternal branch, b/c the whole family didn’t screw her over (I hope), but naming the child after the actual ex-husband is a little much.

  • Elizabeth

    December 3, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    I agree with Amy’s advice. Several remarks have referred to this gentleman as the mother’s ex-husband…seems to completely disregard he is, separate from her mother, this person’s FATHER. My parents also had a bitter divorce over 25 years ago, and yes, my dad was a terrible husband (no doubt worse than I know), and definitely not a great dad. We have a friendly, though not greatly involved relationship, talking every few months and seeing each other every year or two. However, if it were up to my mother, I would totally shun him and have no relationship whatsoever. BUT the thing is…she married him. And had a baby with him. I didn’t get a choice, I just have to live with the consequences of hers. Which I am totally fine about…I learned a long time ago to accept my father the way he is, I just wish my mother could accept that I am still in contact with him. So the fact that you have a new-ish, healthy relationship with your dad I think is really great, and you shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it. Maybe too her hurt feelings are as much about getting left out as him being included? Anyway, I think any decision you make is valid. Good luck!

  • Gillian

    December 4, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    Name your child what you want. My mother and father divorced when I was five and even though I’m still in college I already have to deal with my mother telling me that I cannot name any of my future children after my dad. It’s been fifteen years! Your parents divorce should not continue to affect your life in this manner so many years after it happened. Give your kid the name you want and your mom’s last name as its middle name or something similar. Do not let her guilt trip you over this.

  • rkmama

    December 5, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I don’t have the perspective from the divorce side of this but we did change our choice for the name we had picked out for our son, now 3. My husband and I had a terrible time agreeing on boys’ names but finally landed on one we loved (Ezra!). My mother flipped, said she would just call him Sam and that was that. I was nine months pregnant and distraught- not to mention not thinking clearly. We ended up going back to the books and picking a different name which I love and is a great fit for my son but after the haziness of the newborn phase wore off me I couldn’t believe I had changed my choice based on a tantrum from a 60 year old woman who in the end would love him madly even if his name was Iqunibbles. If our hypothetical 3rd child is a boy, this time around there will be no changed minds. Ezra it is.

  • liz

    December 6, 2010 at 9:12 am

    If it were me, I’d continue looking for a name that wouldn’t hurt my mom, since you’ve already honored your father with your first son’s middle-name.

    Think about other people yet to be honored in your family, a childless uncle? Or outside your family, a beloved teacher? Or outside people you know personally but still influenced you greatly, a favorite author?

    Or yes, as Amy said, a masculine version of your mom’s name.

  • -R-

    December 6, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I agree with tk and liz. You do have the right to name your child whatever you want, but you have already used a name to honor your dad, and this is really going to hurt your mom. It’s not just that your mom doesn’t like the name; it sounds like it will really hurt her.

  • LBH

    December 6, 2010 at 10:25 am

    I would give the baby the first name you want, but maybe let your mom choose the middle name. Whatever she wants. Even if it’s Sigfried or Ernst or Carmine (a name my mom seriously suggested for us, fyi). It might soften the blow a little?

  • G.G.R

    December 6, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Ugh! I had such a hard time reading through this. My parents had a terrible marriage and they FINALLY divorced after destroying eachother and me and my siblings. My father died three years ago and even now my mother will.not.stop.badmouthing.him. I can’t ever tell her that I’m sad that he’s dead because her first reaction is “why?” (until she catches herself and hugs me), I can’t be with her on his birthday or the anniversary of his death. On his first anniversary we burried his ashes at a very special place on earth for my family and she brought her new boyfriend (whom she has since broken up with) that nobody in my family had accepted and spent the entire day sitting in his lap, giggling and canoodling.. My brother left early and took the 6 hour train ride back home, and I sat behind a computer screen and had to keep excusing myself to go outside to cry with my sister. It was supposed to be a day to remember my dad, and instead my mum had to make some sort of statement about how she is sooo over my dad.
    WELL DIDN’T THAT GET SLIGHTLY OFF-TOPIC. What I’m saying is that I totally understand ‘under pressure’ and I feel a stomach ache coming on just thinking about being in that situation in the future. I even have to take photos of my dad off the wall when my mum comes over, otherwise she just spends the entire visit commenting on how awful my dad waas. Other than that she is a fairly reasonable woman. Her behavious shocks me to the core.

  • Melissa

    December 6, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Maybe think about it this way — think of that worst, really truly terrible break-up you had. Now think of giving your son that name.

  • S

    December 6, 2010 at 3:59 pm

    I agree with the commenters who said you should find another name. Your mother may have a tough time having to utter the name of a man with whom she had a difficult, painful emotional experience. I can imagine someone in her shoes being glad you have a fulfilling relationship with your father but still having her own painful feelings about him. I would think it’s not worth having her associate something negative with her beautiful second grandson – there are so many great names out there, you will no doubt find an alternative that you love.

  • jlc

    December 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm

    I am so worked up over reading this. Give your child your fathers name. It’s wonderful that you have a relationship with your father and that you want to honor him. And she needs to realize that giving your son his name has nothing to do with her or your feelings for her. I truely dont understand why you would need to consider someones feelings while naming your own child.
    It just seems so so petty to me that she cannot get over something (no matter how hard it was on her) for you and your child.

    You’re an adult now, she needs to get over trying to control you into taking her side. You pick the name you want and dont for one second feel sorry about it.

  • Kirsten

    December 6, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Melissa’s suggestion was good, but inaccurate (sorry…)

    Think of that worst truly terrible break-up you had, and now imagine that your child who was not in that relationship and didn’t have any of those bad experiences wants to name her child that same name. Not the same thing. At all.

    Perhaps I’m weird, but I think this situation is a perfect opportunity to reinforce to your mother that while HER relationship with your father is no longer a nice one – for the past two decades, YOUR relationship with your father is something that is important to you. I would likely go so far as to tell my mom in this situation that really, it’s not something where her decades long inability to forgive your father is relevant. I’m also pretty blunt and don’t have much of a filter. YMMV.

    It’s your kid. It’s your dad. Honoring him or not, YOU like the name; you want to use it. Do.

  • Jay

    December 6, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    I agree you have every right to use your father’s name. I also agree that your mother should be able to look past that. But, apparently, she can’t and it’s going to really hurt her. I would find another name. You nowhere say that you even love the actual name, just that you love your dad. You want to show your love and respect for your dad by using his name–but what about your love and respect for your mom?

  • Alice

    December 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    You should use your dad’s name. for the obvious reasons, it’s your kid, you love your dad and his name, but also think about this: you took your mother’s name after the divorce. That’s a pretty big thing, children traditionnally have their dad’s name, but in any case, they don’t CHANGE their name when their parents divorce. It’s like your dad isn’t your parent anymore? How’s that for hurt feelings? I think it sets a balance if you name your son after him. And as another poster said, you can allow your mom to choose a middle name so she feels involved and honored too.

    Some say you should try your hardest not to hurt your mom out of love and respect but it seems so uncalled for to lower your choice to this level of old grudges unable to move on. Here, she’s obviously the one who should be happy for you that you weren’t too damaged by the split, and accept that your dad is part of your family and close to you, out of love and respect for YOU.

    She will find it hard at first, but believe me she will just end up associating the name with her grandson and love him just as much. It’s like people with an unusual or very old-fashioned name. The first time you hear them it seems weird but after a while it’s natural, because that person you are familiar with has just replaced anything you associated the name with beforehand, be it a brand, an old lady name… or somebody you used to hate.

  • Wade

    December 8, 2010 at 10:42 am

    For all commenters saying she shouldn’t name her son after her father, ask yourself how you would feel about it if she wanted to name a daughter after her mother but her father objected (under similar circumstances).  

  • liz

    December 8, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Wade, I am.

    However, I can see a future for the grandson where his grandmother can’t stand to say or write his name, where she can’t stop favoring the other grandson over him.

    It happens. She’s already not saying the older grandson’s middle name.

    And the daughter has ALREADY honored her father with a name. She has. Naming another son after her father when her mother has repeatedly shown that she finds it hurtful? When there are a multitude of great names out there?

    Yes, the daughter can name her son anything she pleases, and it’s terrific that she mended her fences with her father, but her mom’s not there yet, and naming another son after him is not going to bring that about faster.

  • liz

    December 8, 2010 at 11:46 am

    Or, to put it more briefly, my father doesn’t know that my son’s middle name doesn’t just happen to start with the same letter as my step-father’s first name.

    My step-father does, and that’s what counts.

  • jaden

    December 8, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Since you’ve gone to a website looking for advice, it sounds to me like you know it’s your right to choose your father’s name but you also feel a gnawing burden to at least consider your mother’s feelings.

    While her divorce may still feel like a fresh wound for your mother, if she has issues with control in realms that are not hers to control (such as the naming of someone else’s child), perhaps this has less to do with the naming of a child and more to do with her own tendency to take over.

    If she tries to avoid stepping on others toes when it comes to the divorce, you might want to consider how much your feeling about your mom’s feelings will matter to you in the end. (I hope that makes sense!)

    You said she never utters your son’s middle name. Could it be because she resents it or because she knows that it hurts you that she is still stuck in the past when you’re ready to move on? We don’t know your mother, so only you know which it is, and determining that answer may help you decide which choice will give you the most peace. And hopefully that perspective may help you make your decision a little easier.

    Good luck and good health!