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Baby Name Turf Wars

Baby Name Turf Wars: Dream Names & Pregnancy Loss

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I have a question and I don’t know who else I could ask. I’ve seen you give out some amazing advice, so I thought you might be the best one to answer it.

I recently had a little boy, he’s currently eight weeks old. We chose not to find out what we were having, so we had several names picked out when we went to the hospital. We had two choices for a boy – name him after my husband and have him be the third, OR name him after my husband’s best friend who passed away (I’ll use ‘John’ for the purpose of the story). When people asked us what we were having, we were open about our choices. Towards the end of my pregnancy, my sister-in-law found out that she was also expecting. We were thrilled!

Fast forward a bit to the arrival of our little guy. We were so torn on what to name him that it took us an entire day of actively debating. In truth we loved the idea of naming him after my husband’s friend more, but we were afraid that if we didn’t use my husband’s name we would end up never having another boy to use it on. So, we named him after my husband. (And we don’t have any regrets about it. Isn’t it funny how babies become themselves?)

Anyway, fast forward a little more. My sister-in-law was having some complications with her pregnancy and ended up losing the baby at nineteen weeks. My heart is absolutely broken for her. But here is my problem – the baby was a boy and they named him our second choice name – ‘John.’ I’m not upset with her for choosing the name, but I know that I told her it was one of our choices – perhaps she didn’t remember. My husband and I were planning on using the name in the future, if we have another boy. I don’t want to cause any awkwardness or end up hurting her by using what was our dream name. Should I just let it go until we’re expecting again and then ask her how she feels about us using it? (I definitely won’t be talking to her about it anytime soon and risk hurting her.) Or should we just drop the dream name that meant so much to us? I would never want to hurt my sister-in-law or cause any problems, but we would still love to use the name.


There are so many hypotheticals swirling around here it’s making my head spin a little. I feel like eight weeks after the birth of baby number one is a litttttttle early to be worrying about a possible baby name turf war for baby number two. Who might not be here for several more years, who might be a girl, who might just not feel like a ‘John.’ And it’s also really too soon to have any real sense of how your sister-in-law will process her loss or feel about another baby in the family getting the same name. Best to table the whole issue now, because there’s not really a reason for it to exist as an “issue” yet.

Perhaps, down the road, your “dream name” might not feel like such a “dream name” anymore. It’s now associated with the death of a loved one twice over. You might find that it’s gotten too popular or that there’s a close variation on it that you like just as well. (Add it as an inspiration on Nymblr and see what suggestions pop up.) You might fall in love with a completely new name that you never considered the first time around. And yes, you will definitely need to discuss using the name with your SIL, and she may very well veto your using it. Would that be unfair of her? Maybe a little, but I think respecting her loss and wishes in the name of family harmony and sensitivity are more important.

(Maybe it would make a good middle name? That might be an easier “sell” for your SIL — not having to constantly hear/say her deceased child’s name in reference to a  living child.)

Personally, and this is just us, we basically started our baby name discussions from scratch each time around. Despite having three boys and typically having two names “in play” up until the day of the birth, none of the second-choice names ever really got considered again. I’m not sure why. I still love all our backup names, but once we deemed them not “right” for one of our babies they never felt “right” for any of the subsequent babies either. (And yes, I know what you mean about how babies become themselves! We always briefly debated the first-choice/second-choice names before filling out the birth certificate, but all three times it was instantly clear to us that our first choice was just who he was already.) So as much as ‘John’ means to you right now, you might feel more open to a new possibility down the road, particularly if you sense your SIL seems protective of her son’s name.

And sure — there’s always the chance that in a few years, you’ll be expecting again and still feel very strongly about the name, and can present it to your SIL as a way to honor both your husband’s friend AND her son. She might be touched and give you her blessing.

(And then you have a girl anyway. Good one, universe!)

But who knows! It’s certainly not a topic you have any reason to bring up anytime soon. You’re not even on Step One of the Baby Number Two Naming Process and you’re worrying about Step 763. Accept that you might not be able to use the name. Try to be okay with that, even though sure, you might still be able to use it, maybe. But again, who knows! You might not even want to us it! Or need to! (See: girl babies from here on out.) Let it go for now.

Published September 5, 2014. 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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  • C

    September 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    Amy is as always diplomatic and her advice is sound but in case you were looking for permission to use the name and/or a sense from others if this was OK, or how they’d feel. Honestly? I think even asking your SIL, would be mean and hurtful to your SIL. It just would be. 

  • jill

    September 5, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Completely agree with Amy.  We have 4 kids (two boys, two girls) and the back-up names for our kids never really came back into play when I was pregnant the next time around.  We didn’t know what we were having with the first two (boys) so we had girl names picked out and then came up with completely different names for the twin girls that we had later (and knew they were girls from 20 weeks on).  
    If someday you DO end up pregnant with another boy and you DO absolutely want to use the name again, then you should talk to your sister-in-law and explain your situation.  But not anytime before then.

  • Karen

    September 5, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Wow, how dreamy is your newborn that the name your sister in law chose for the child she lost at 19 weeks is this week’s Big Problem? 

    And we also went with an entirely new set of names each time.

  • b

    September 5, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Even 5 years and two subsequent healthy pregnancies after I lost my son at 38 weeks, it gets me every time I run into someone with his (thankfully not too common) name.  If my SIL had asked me to use that name, I probably would have said yes (I get that people don’t own names) but it would have been incredibly hard to deal with every time I saw my nephew.  If you have occasion to need another boy name someday, please find another one.

  • B

    September 5, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    I lost my daughter five years ago at 40 weeks pregnant and every time I hear her name, it still makes me sad and brings the loss to the front of my mind again (and it never is too far away as it is, even with two wonderful children).  Out of respect for her loss, please don’t even ask her and put her in the position to have to say yes or no.  I’m trying to be really polite, but I think you need to have more sensitivity over the loss your SIL has suffered and will never recover from.  

  • Sarah

    September 5, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    OT, but Amy, I would love to know what your second choices were for each of your boys! 

    OP, I’m an outlier on this one (especially for someone as into names as I am) since I think the turf wars tend to be overinflated (e.g. I have no theoretical problem with first cousins having the same first name, even if close in age, so long as the last names are different), but I would say let this one lie until it actually comes up.

  • C

    September 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Its been said but I’ll say it again.  No one owns a name but please don’t give your child the same name as your deceased nephew or ask your sister-in-law if she’s okay with it.  

  • S

    September 5, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    A loss of what was expected to be a viable pregnancy and actual child at 38 or 40 weeks of pregnancy is hugely different from a spontaneous abortion at 19 weeks. It’s weird that the SIL named her miscarriage, especially a name you already mentioned wanting to use very recently. I agree with being outwardly sensitive to keep the peace, I just also think you don’t need to ever worry about this because it was weird to have named a miscarriage.

    • MR

      September 5, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      I’m trying to be diplomatic and assume you didn’t mean to be insulting. But, to say that this loss is a spontaneous abortion, and that she is wrong for naming a baby that was very real to her for almost 5 months is incredibly insulting. Yes, there is a difference between a stillborn at term and a miscarriage after the first trimester, but miscarriages after the first trimester are also still incredibly rare, and make that baby no less real to the mother. I suffered a second trimester loss, and I named our baby too. Plans were being made for this baby. He was wanted and we were looking forward to meeting him on the outside. I had seen and heard his heart beat. He was real. And quite frankly, who are you to tell me that that baby was not real enough to me to name?? It might be weird to YOU, but it made sense to HER, and she is the one suffering the loss, so that is all that matters.
      OP is trying to be sensitive to her sil and do the right thing. Telling her she shouldn’t worry about it because her sil is being weird in her grief is very insensitive.

    • Kay

      September 5, 2014 at 5:29 pm

      Not that weird. More people are acknowledging pregnancy loss and encouraging things like naming the baby to help mourn.  Maybe that’s not what you would do or even what a majority of people would do, which is fine.  However, the OP’s SIL did name her baby and even just the fact that she DID choose a name says something about what this pregnancy/child meant to her.

      Really, honestly, OP, unless you absolutely cannot imagine possibly naming your future baby boy something else, I wouldn’t even bring it up.  Ever.  You feel you’ve maybe lost your dream name, but your SIL lost her dream of life with this child. Out of respect for that, please reconsider (if or when the time comes).  Especially knowing as you do that children do become themselves.  

  • jmk

    September 5, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    My SIL lost twin girls two years ago at 19 weeks. Her water broke early, she labored and delivered them, and held them as they passed. Of course she and my BIL gave them names. In fact, their names and the few mementos from the hospital (blankets and the like) are really the only thing she has left of them. Please choose another favorite boy name.

  • Paige

    September 5, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    I know how hard it is to give up your “dream name” but I think in this case it should be off the table. Your SIL would be reminded of her loss every time she heard/said his name. I think it would be devastating and I wouldn’t want to be put in the situation where I had to feel like a jerk saying no to a name choice.

  • S

    September 5, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    No, you’re right, I wouldn’t mourn that way. Beyond doing your best to support the pregnancy, I think it’s unhealthy to have any expectations for a living child before viability is reached. A spontaneous abortion before viability is a painful loss of a dream, but it isn’t the loss of a very real baby. At 19 weeks, there is no chance for life, at 23 weeks, you hope it lives, at 28 weeks, you expect it’d be in the NICU for a long time but hope for few lifelong consequences, etc. This is why it’s unimaginable when a full term baby dies. To put a name off limits for an entire family for your own private mourning isn’t right. I do agree that asking the SIL about using the name puts her in an awkward position, having already attached a name to the miscarriage. If you want to use the name, just use it, the SIL probably won’t tell you the truth if asked. She’ll be trying to keep the peace. But it would be a kindness to warn her. However, I agree with the sentiment that if you can choose another name, it’d keep the peace.

    • Amber_S

      September 6, 2014 at 12:37 pm

      Everyone has a very different experience with pregnancy. Take a minute to acknowledge that any time someone experience a major life event (such as pregnancy or loss of a pregnancy), their history, background, circumstances and personality are all vastly different than our own.  It’s impossible to really understand another persons experience.  I don’t believe it’s healthy to dictate what others’ beliefs or expectations or feelings should be regarding a pregnancy.  

      I hope you experience patience and compassion from the people around you.

      • Preemie Mama

        September 8, 2014 at 6:53 am

        My son was born at 32 weeks. He was in the NICU for 4 weeks. During that time he had two roommates. A boy, born at 28 weeks and a girl, born at 17 weeks. All three children are now 2-2,5 years old and healthy. Tell me again there is no chance for life before 19 weeks. At 19 weeks, having told at least your family about her pregnancy, I doubt the sil thought of this loss as her own private mourning. She named her baby boy and told her family his name so they could grieve his loss with her. How must she be feeling, seeing her new nephew and OP being loved on by the whole family and knowing in a few short weeks, that should have been her too? Also, OP, why do you assume she just snatched your dream name? Do you know what significance it has for her and her husband? Maybe that name was their dream name already, way before you said it to her.

        • IrishCream

          September 8, 2014 at 1:30 pm

          I wonder if you could be mistaken about the baby born at 17 weeks? From my time as a practicing nurse (several years ago), I remembered that the youngest surviving premature baby was 21 weeks and five days. I can’t find any confirmation of a younger baby surviving, sadly.

          • Preemie mama

            September 8, 2014 at 3:36 pm

            Not mistaken, as her mother repeatedly told her birth story during our time at the hospital. Of course, all I have is her word for it, but who in the world would make something like that up?

  • Z

    September 5, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    There’s just so much wrong with this.  Would you ask your SIL if you could use the name if her baby lived and she still used it? I imagine the answer is no because typically cousins aren’t named the same unless it is a tradition.  By you asking her you are saying that her baby doesn’t matter.  I can’t even really believe you are annoyed with her and wondering if you mentioned the name to her at some point.  She lost a child and gave it a name.  It is off the table just like it would be if she didn’t lose the child.  Perhaps you should read up on pregnancy loss as I can’t imagine you are giving much comfort to your SIL if these are the things you are thinking about after she lost a child.  I’m sorry if this is  not  “diplomatic” but this is infuriating to me.   

    • Kay

      September 6, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      “I can’t even really believe you are annoyed with her and wondering if you mentioned the name to her at some point.”

      This part is seriously confusing and irritating me as well.  If you did — and you don’t remember for sure — but if you DID mention that you were considering that name while you were pregnant, and then you named your child something different, I’m pretty sure your SIL would have every reason to think that it wouldn’t be a big deal to name her child that, regardless of how it turned out, since you obviously went with a different name.  I mean, we’re all saying that your SIL doesn’t “own” the name, and that’s true, but to address the point of whether she had the right to use it (which seems to be part of your rationale for using it in the future? That she shouldn’t have named her child that because you’d brought it up as a name possibility?) is that you didn’t own the name.  There is no reason to be annoyed with SIL or sort-of accusing her of some kind of name-turf wrongdoing because she chose a name that you DIDN’T USE.  Unless you also had a conversation with her where you explicitly said, “And I call dibs for that name for any future children I might ever have,” — which I assume you didn’t because that would be insane — she had no reason to think it would be a problem to use “your” name.  You decided against it.  

      The more I think about this whole situation, the less sympathetic I find myself becoming to the OP.  

  • Jenn

    September 5, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but if any of my siblings wanted to use Jamisen’s name (my 22 weeker) I would be honored that they asked. Not everyone gets to that point, but, when the time comes, you could ask. Just be gentle.

  • Liz

    September 5, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    I wouldn’t use the name because the potential family politics aren’t worth it. But I do think that what the SIL did is super obnoxious.

  • Jacquie Kush

    September 6, 2014 at 2:18 am

    If the baby had lived, would you consider naming your hypothetical baby #2 the same name as his cousin?  I assume not.  You need to let this go, that name has been taken by another baby in your family.
    My nephew was still born and I would never dream of using the name.  When I hear the name now, I still think of that baby.

  • Caroline

    September 6, 2014 at 7:41 am

    I think IF and when you ever get to a point of having another baby AND it’s a boy, I would use it for a second name. I wouldn’t ask permission, but I would take SIL out for cake or something and explain that this was one of your original name choices, it means so much to you because of her brother’s close friend who died, that you truly don’t want to hurt her and so want to honour the fact that this is HER first son’s first name, but you plan to use it as a middle name. That way you are telling her way in advance (hopefully by then she’s got a little one of her own to love and comfort her in her tragic loss), you aren’t just stampeding in meanly and as a second name, it will not be routinely used. That’s what I’d go with. If there is a female derivative of the name and you have a girl, use it!

  • B

    September 6, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    I think Amy was a bit too nice on this one. I think this is a touch self-centered. You had the opportunity to use the “dream name” and didn’t. You don’t get to claim a runner up name – period. Then to worry more about your desire to use your “dream name” more about offending a family member – who will be your family member for the rest of your life? And knowing the name is now attached to a tragic and horrible loss? That trumps however you are upset about the name. There are a bizillion names out there. Get over it.

  • Kathleen

    September 6, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    I have a friend who was/is in your sister in laws position in this scenario, and they were not asked before the name was used. They were very hurt and this, along with other poor behavior, caused a large rift. So, please, do ask – although I’m with Amy, none of our unused names felt good the next time around, even the girl ones we never got to use!

  • Emily

    September 7, 2014 at 2:17 am

    Absolutely DO NOT use the name and DO NOT ask her about it. Your sister in law has suffered one of the most devastating events that can happen to a person. You might want to check out Glow in the Woods ( for some perspective on how your sister in law might feel.

    The name has already been taken by a baby (your deceased nephew) in your family. End of discussion. My sister in law had a 23 week still birth a couple of years ago and I can’t even fathom using the name of my nephew. It’s HIS name.

    • Melanie

      September 9, 2014 at 5:07 pm

      Agree.  The more I think about OP’s letter, the more I am horrified by it.  You have a newborn, your SIL lost a child, and this is what you’re thinking about?

      • Isabel Kallman

        Isabel Kallman

        September 9, 2014 at 6:15 pm

        I have decided to close comments on this post.

        People write in letters looking for advice because they are torn, don’t know what to do and basically come to us vulnerable asking for advice from an internet acquaintance, basically a stranger. These are questions they may not feel comfortable asking others or are embarrassed to ask their IRL friends. We have spent 8 years building a place where people can feel safe asking what others may see as silly or selfish questions because of this fantastic community that has chimed in with unbelievable intelligence, important perspectives and sensitivity/empathy.

        What I am saddened about is that you are judging the OP for her thoughts, not her actions. If we start shaming people’s thoughts, especially when they are asking for help, then she and others may be scared to ask us for help in the future. Let’s not do that, okay? (If anyone wants to contact me about this, please do so privately via email at isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com)

  • Annie

    September 7, 2014 at 11:40 am

    Take your dream name, John, off the table. I think it would risk creating a painful situation for a close family member. There are lots of fantastic names out there, and many ways to honor the memory of your husband’s friend. My husband and I gave up our dream name when my SIL chose it for her kid, and wegot over it. It’s the perfect name for our niece. I agree with Amy that the list of names we had for our first pregnancy were completely different than our second pregnancy. I don’t think it’s fair to call dibs on names for a hypothetical future child. Talking about your top names during your pregnancy makes sense. I would wait until then to settle on name choices.

  • Michelle

    September 7, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    I wonder if OP is having some bad baby blues right now. I remember thinking everything was a big deal at 5 weeks out. Like most of the commentators I believe that she should not use the name. But I wonder if she is getting enough support and help that she needs emotionally right now. Especially as her sister is likely (hopefully) getting a lot of support at the moment. She could be feeling overwhelmed and placing a lot of that on the name thing.

    • Amber_S

      September 7, 2014 at 7:27 pm

      Yes yes yes. Thank you. Has this name issue become a scapegoat for other feelings?  OP, be open with yourself and with someone you trust about your feelings and frustrations. It’s possible it might be time to seek more help. I’m still in treatment for my PPD/A and I know for the first 2 or 3 months I took it out on my mom. Know that it’s ok to share with someone you trust, and whatever you’re feeling is ok. There are options to feel better (and less angry towards our mothers and/or sister-in-laws, as the case may be).

  • Allie

    September 7, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    Don’t ask her and don’t use it. If you didn’t use it, it isn’t really your dream name. Sure, you decided on a junior in case the opportunity didn’t present itself again, but the very definition of it being a ‘dream name’ is that it’s your number one choice no matter what. If you let the junior decision sway you, it was only ever just a runner up name.

    Also, it seems that part of your justification in using it in the future is that you think you may have mentioned the name to her as one of your choices. If the name – even if unusual – is that of a close friend of her brother who had passed away, it’s not as if it didn’t have the potential to be on her radar without your mentioning it. In fact, if it was a childhood friend that she grew up around, I’d almost wager that she felt as though she had more of a right to it than you.

    I’m not trying to make you feel terrible about it; I know how it feels to get attached to a name or to feel like someone swiped it from you. But I also think that the reason you even asked for advice about it is because deep down you know it’d be a kind of shitty thing to do. So go snuggle that baby of yours and decide to officially let this inner name debate go. 

  • Mary

    September 8, 2014 at 6:14 am

    Maybe it’s some postpartum hormones going on…but this issue isn’t even happening. I really would relax and enjoy your little one and let life play out. You’ll know the right thing to do when it is time.

  • Bridget

    September 8, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    As Amy said, it’s a long ways down the road.  My first nephew died at birth, and my sister (his mother) used his first name as her second son’s middle name (and now he’s grown and both him and his brother have used the name as a middle name for both of their first-borns)  There hasn’t been any issues there, I think they appreciate it.
    My brother wanted to use the deceased boy’s middle name as his son’s first name (8 years later) and I’m pretty sure he did discuss it with my sister and she didn’t have an issue with it.  But, she had since had 3 healthy boys after losing her first and a lot of time had passed.

  • kim too

    September 8, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I think it’s fine in the middle position, but I would a. let your sister know beforehand, and b. tell her it is an honor name for both the friend and the nephew.  Is it possible that she was close to your brother’s friend as well?  That she used it as an honor name herself?

    But Amy;s right -not now, not until you know you have another boy to name.  I’m prepared to cut you some slack – 8weeks pp with your first means you’re still waist-deep in hormones and new motherhood-blindness to everything but your precious baby.  But please understand that your darling little boy is going to be a reminder of her loss for the rest of his life.  He just is.  Won’t stop her from loving him, but there will be pangs at the big milestones, no matter how many other children she has. Don’t make it harder for her, please.