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To Honor, Love & Name the Baby

To Honor, Love & Name the Baby

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I don’t know if you’ve answered this before and I’m sorry if you have, I’ve been reading your blog for the past 7 months since I got pregnant and stumbled upon it.

My older brother died 3 years ago and all of my siblings and I decided we would name the first child one of us had after him. He has a gender neutral name that I’ve heard used for both sexes several times so naturally when my husband and I got pregnant I told him I would like to name our child that, also she’s due on my brother’s birthday which just makes me want to name her that even more. He agreed for a boy but told me it sounded weird for a girl and didn’t like it. He’s very passive so he never really fought me on it before we knew the sex so I didn’t know how much he disliked it. We found out we are having a girl, so he started calling her by her middle name, I knew he didn’t really like the name but he never really said how much.

My entire family and his entire family LOVE the name and have already started getting stuff with her name on it. Until about a week ago that is, when my mom changed her mind and came out that she thinks it’s wrong for me to name my daughter after my brother and I need to save the name for a boy. This made my husband jump at the opportunity to try to get me to change my mind because apparently he REALLY hates the name. He said it’s too much of a boy name.

I don’t want my husband to hate our daughter’s name or upset my mom, but if I changed my mind a few people would flip because we made that deal and they have already bought stuff. I loved my brother and he was my best friend and really would love having a girl named after him plus I don’t know if I’ll ever have a boy.

Should I change it for my husband or just tell him to suck it up and he can name the next kid?

Yours truly,
Confused

So there’s a lot going on here. A veritable tug-of-war of pre-existing plans, expectations, emotions running high, differing opinions on the proper way to honor a prematurely lost loved one, topped off with a growing stash of personalized gifts and thus MONEY.

(Which: Not always the best idea in general, given that 1) parents can always change their minds, 2) parents should always have the freedom to change their minds without fretting over the $75 wall bunting Aunt Betsy bought them on Etsy, and 3) ultrasounds can be wrong, yo. Save the personalized onesie orders until the baby is here and the birth certificate is filled out, just to be on the safe side.)

I completely understand why this name means so much to you and why it would feel downright painful to let it go, either for your hypothetical next child or to a hypothetical nephew. I’m sure it’s a lovely name.

But.

It’d be one thing if the person or people objecting to the name were like, a sibling who just really hoped to one day use the name too (despite a pre-existing agreement among you all), or someone other extended family member or in-law thinking it was weird or morbid or whatever. The fact that it’s your HUSBAND and your MOTHER who are explicitly asking/begging you to not use the name…well. I feel like those opinions carry a bit more weight.

Personally, I can’t imagine telling my husband “too bad, suck it up” and forcing him to go with a name that he hated. Sure, it sucks to hear that he literally hates a name you love more than anything (many of us have been there, during baby naming discussions with our partners). And he absolutely should have been more direct from the get-go that he was not onboard with this name if you had a girl, but I guess I can see where he’s coming from — no need to make a big deal over it until the ultrasound, because if it’s a boy, cool, no problem. And despite it slowly dawning on you that he didn’t really like it (i.e. using the middle name), perhaps a real, direct conversation was in order rather than an announcement to the rest of the family that yep, here’s the name, let’s all get shoppy!

That didn’t happen, though, alas. Now your mother has stepped up and asked you not to use her deceased son’s name for your daughter. Yikes. That’s ANOTHER one I’d personally have a tough time saying, “Sorry Mom, suck it up.”

Do you really think people will flip out at you for acquiescing to your mom’s (and husband’s) wishes? Is the pile of personalized gifts really that enormously huge at this point? Or is that really more of an excuse because you have your heart beyond set on this name?

Which is fine if you do! The whole due date/brother’s birthday thing is very touching (though due dates are rarely that exact, of course), and I’m sure it feels terribly unfair to feel expected to compromise on a name you’ve been set on since before you even got pregnant.

But someone here is going to have to compromise. I don’t like the idea of your mom and husband ganging up on you, but I guess I do get why your husband seized on the opportunity to go, “SEE?” once she voiced her disapproval. He really, really hates the name. Your mother has changed her mind about how she’d like to see her son’s memory honored.

Your choices basically boil down to 1) go against their wishes, 2) keep talking about it hope they change their minds again, or 3) find some kind of compromise. Is there a less gender neutral version of the name? Would you be okay swapping it to the middle name? (Which certainly doesn’t preclude you using the name again for a possible boy. We have a few family names that have been used repeatedly across the grandkids as both first and middle names.) What was your brother’s middle name and is there a girl-version possibility there?

I’m sorry my response isn’t really providing any sort of sure-fire specific solution or HERE’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD DO. I’m genuinely sympathetic to all sides here. But one last bit of advice I think you should all keep in mind: The original name agreement was not JUST about a name. It was intended to honor your brother’s memory. Allowing the name and agreement to become a bit, fraught point of family contention is probably not the best way to honor that memory.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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 amyadvice@gmail.com.

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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Comments

  • Angie

    No advice here, just empathy and chiming in to say, “You are not alone.” I am pregnant with my first. He is due on the anniversary of my husband’s brother’s death. His brother died when he was 15. We were going to name our son after his brother, and then my husband decided it was just too painful to imagine hearing the exact same name every day. We are going with a slight variation, removing one letter, ie from Brian to Ryan. It is so, so hard.
    Becoming a parent is bringing up old grief for my husband, even though we are delighted to be pregnant and bringing joy to the extended family in this way. If the baby comes on the actual anniversary/ due date…. We shall see. It is all so fraught, no matter what. Just sending you warm thoughts through your pregnancy, understanding of the situation you’re in, and best wishes for a good birth for you all.

  • Rachel

    Amy has great suggestions. Personally, I would use it as the middle name OR use your brother’s middle name as inspiration for a first name. I think it’s confusing when family members have the same first name (which john are you talking about?). And she’ll be your husband’s child too, he should have a say to veto a name he’s against. Your mom’s opinion should carry some weight since it’s her dead child’s name…what if hearing his name all the name is like a punch in a gut to her?

  • Kerry

    I really like the idea of switching the name to the middle. It could even be a plus, because it opens up the possibility of one of your siblings also getting to use the name and giving two cousins a special connection to each other. 

    Also, it can really bother some parents if one sister’s name is unisex and the other sister’s name is girly, since it increases the chances that people will assume one is a boy. If you think that might be you, letting your husband name the next one might not be a great option since he seems to prefer more feminine names for girls. 

    • Marissa

      > Also, it can really bother some parents if one sister’s name is unisex and the other sister’s name is girly, since it increases the chances that people will assume one is a boy.

      Wait, why . . . does this matter in any way to any reasonable person? It takes two seconds to clear up a misconception of this nature, and no harm done.

      As a parallel, my mother kept her birth name upon getting married; my sister and I were given our father’s last name as our primary surname. People were forever bringing up the specter of, “But people will THINK yours is a divorced family!” And, y’know, some people did assume that, and by the age of 5ish, I was able to explain, oh, no, Mom just never changed her name.

      Of all the reason for the OP to think about backing down off her name plan, this just isn’t one of them.

  • Brooke

    Just wanted to chime in to express some caution on the compromise – – would mom and other siblings be upset if a version of the name or use of the name as a middle name would “use up” the name, and therefore preclude the full use of the name by someone else who has a boy down the road? Also, I tend to think that the only person who has veto rights on a name is your spouse. If your spouse says veto, I kinda think you need to honor it in the same way that I would say that you get to veto rights to a name he suggests. You both have to be on board with the name. Right now the child is a figment in your imagination, but once born, this baby will be her own self and YOUR DAUGHTER more than a reminder of your brother. You both should be on board with the name. #2cents

  • Kate

    Is it possible to honor your brother’s memory by choosing a name you associate with him in some other way? Perhaps a character from his favorite book, or even the name of a living person who reminds you of him. My husband wanted to name our son for my brother (who is still living), but I felt like that name belonged to him to pass to his own future kids. So we choose the name of a literary figure who has always reminded me of the best of my brother. My son has his own name, but it bears a unique story and connection to his uncle.

    Of course, as Southerners, we tend to trade in the same five family names over and over again for generations, so I think it is perfectly OK to use your brother’s name as a middle name and still leave it for other family members to use in their own way.

    • Kat

      Ha! “as Southerners….” This is so true. It’s all a variation of about the same 5 or 6 names in my family too. I like Kate’s suggestion. I have another one that might solve the “but people already bought things” > Why not have those folks save those things for a different baby with that name? If you and your siblings “agreed” to do this, it would stand to reason that someone else could easily use this first name as their own first name (I’m with a few other people – just pick a different name and use the name in question as a middle or some variation of that solution). So, have them save the gear for the next baby that may actually have that name. But don’t let someone else’s purchased item be a factor – that baby gear only lasts for a few months but your child’s name is forever. And forever can be a looooong time if your husband isn’t into it anymore and neither is your mum.

  • Karen

    Am I the only one who can’t go on with the rest of her day without finding out this name???

  • SarahB

    Oy.  First of all, it is so out of bounds that you and your siblings made that agreement in the first place.  You and your siblings don’t get to name your children; each of you and your spouses do, as a couple.  Your husband’s opinion counts more than any member of your family’s in this case.

    And your husband hates the name for a daughter.  Does it get any more simple than that?  How can you ask your DH to name your DD a name that he hates?  He has veto power here, even over something so emotional.  For that reason alone, the name is out for a first name.  

    You and DH need to hole up and come up with a compromise–between the two of you.  No one else gets a say, just you and DH.  Perhaps you use the name as a middle name, maybe you save it for a son, maybe there’s a feminized version you could use…but that is for you and DH to figure out together.

    Along with everything else about raising this child, for that matter.

  • CeeBee

    First, I think you should have a private conversation with your mom to find out why she’s changed her mind. If she can’t bear to constantly hear the name, then I think the name should be off the table and that should stand firm for all future grandbabies. As far as your husband goes, that’s tough but honestly I’ve never met a couple that didn’t duel it out over every single name and when you found out it was a girl he should have brought it up ASAP and before you told people.  So in his case, I sort of feel like it’s too bad. I know that sounds harsh. And him calling her by her middle name is sort of weird. I get why he’s doing it but he made his own bed here and now he’s unhappy and unloading on you.

  • Liss

    I also strongly encourage you to think about how this will affect your mother.  It’s her son’s name.  My husband had a former wife pass away and his brother used her name for their daughter, without asking him first.  It was to honor the late wife, sure, but for a few years, it really pained him to hear EVERYONE in the family repeating his late wife’s name constantly (in reference to the baby).  It was just jarring and painful.  Remember, people over things.  People over things bought, too.

  • Amy

    Have you thought about using a name with the same/similar meaning as your brother’s name? That’s what we did. Avoids name confusion and still allows you to name you daughter after your brother.

  • Mo

    I second SarahB here. I have three sisters and am having the first kid among us all. After we made the announcement, my sisters, in an effort to be supportive began flooding us with baby name suggestions. I thought this was great but my husband, not so much. He broke it down for me real simple – me and my sisters are not naming the baby. He and I were. Case closed. Did I get mad and uppity?? Yea. But was he right? Absolutely. Having a child together changes things in ways you would not have expected when you made that agreement with your sibs. It’s likely your sibs would have arrived at that conclusion as well, had they been the first to have kids.

  • Suzy Q

    Did you and your siblings involve your mother in your mututal decision to use your brother’s name for your progeny? Seems not. He was her son, and her feelings are apparently being dismissed as not important. As are your husband’s.

    I agree with whoever above said that hearing a deceased relative’s name over and over can be painful, even (or especially) when attached to a new loved one. Give your child her own identity, free of painful reminders. There are so many other ways you can honor your brother.

  • Lindsay

    In naming situations, I typically say that the only people who get veto power are you and your husband. In the case of naming a child after someone who is deceased, I’d add that person’s parents to the list of people with veto power.

    Yes, it sounds like they handled it badly. And I’m sorry and I can’t imagine how emotional this whole thing must be for you. But regardless, your husband ABSOLUTELY has veto power here, as do your parents in this particular case. And you have two vetoes! And that’s VETOES, not votes, by the way. The name is just a no go. Hugs to you though, I know it’s hard!!

  • C

    I’ve been in your husband’s shoes and hooooo boy! If my husband had been able to name my son what he wanted (after a dearly beloved, deceased relative too), I cannot tell you the kind of hate I would have felt. To make me call my child a name I so despised would have been tantamount to betrayal. So, sorry, totally supporting your husband here. Don’t do it. Talk to your husband. Maybe compromise on middle name (which is what we did, to honor the relative, but it’s so rarely used I don’t feel up in arms every single minute over it), but please please please do not use it if your husband does not agree!

  • Megan

    When I was pregnant with my son, my husband and I had a name picked out. About a month before I was due, my husband decided he didn’t like it anymore, didn’t feel “right”.
    After referring to the baby by that name for 8 months, I was pretty attached to it. We did end up compromising on something else and now, I couldn’t imagine calling my son anything other than the name we gave him. We did use the original choice as his middle name.

  • Nikki

    I think a lot of you are being too hard on this mom to be. From what I read in her letter, she and her siblings didn’t decide to name the baby, they simply agreed that they all wanted to honor their brother and agreed no one really had “dibs” on the name. Also, she said her mom loved the idea of the name but then decided it should be a boy’s name not a girl’s.

    I can see why she’s upset that her husband waited so long to actually come out and say no (I, too, have a passive aggressive husband. Ugh.). Naming a new little person is hard. I agree with sitting down and really talking it out. Your husband seems to love the middle name, so swap them and see how that feels.

    Know that if you don’t use the name that your brother will still be remembered and honored in other ways.

  • Jenny

    I guess I’ll disagree with most on here.

    First, I’d forget about what the grandmother or the siblings think and I’d focus on what you and your husband think.

    And while I think that the husband’s opinion matters a lot, I do think that there should be a pretty big discussion on the issue.  I’m not sure that I would be real happy with a husband who had agreed to a name (with a lot of meaning) and then decided he hated it for a girl.  So I feel like he probably owes you quite a bit of discussion on it and the name needs to be back on the table.

    Because while there is a chance that the husband will hold a grudge of they use the name he doesn’t like, the wife also will be hurt by not using the name that has a lot of meaning for her.

  • Cheryl S.

    I agree with Amy. Your mother, who lost HER son, is asking you not to use the name.  Add to that your husband hates it.  I would either use it as a middle name, or name your baby something maybe using in the first letter of your brother’s name.  Say his name was Ryan.  She could be Rebecca, Rachel, Rose, A whole host of things.

    We kept a tradition in my husband’s family that way. his mother was Josephine, his sister is Janet, and our daughter is Jessica.  

  • Kim too

    Middle name, middle name, middle name.  Choose a name that both you and your husband can agree on and love, with him getting a slight advantage because your brother’s name is going in that middle slot.  That way, you’ve honored that memory- an you can call that girl by her full name as much as you want, it’s not just when she gets in trouble – and your husband’s wishes get honored, too. 
    Seriously, I love my little’s full name, and I use it all the time.  She’s tis not someone I ever see using the full version of her name on a regular basis (I love Kimberley, but I am firmly a Kim) but I like the way it sounds and it reminds me of my grandfather, and it makes me happy. (But use her full name, because your husband’s current practice is way too passive aggressive.)
    And the personalized stuff – well, presumably they are your family, who will accept your mother’s feelings as well. You’re not the first person to jump the gun on a baby name, and you are well within your rights to change your mind.

  • Maggie

    Middle name vote here, too. Based solely on the fact your husband doesn’t love it for his daughter, use a different first name. Even if he changed his mind mid-delivery, if he doesn’t love it he doesn’t, and trying to force him to change his mind isn’t going to work out well. We went through literally thousands of names to find one we both liked (totally different styles) but it was worth it.

  • Hillary

    Just wanted to make one point I don’t see here. It sounds like you have several siblings who may potentially bear children soon – if you don’t use this name now, it sounds like someone else will and the promise you made to honor your brother will not be forsaken.

  • MR

    ((hugs)) I’m so sorry for your loss! Another in the, “your siblings just need to suck it up” camp. Yeah, your husband should have said earlier that he didn’t like the name, but I can see that he probably thought you were grieving, and it wasn’t a good time, and “deal with it when it becomes a reality” type thing. But, you and your husband absolutely need to both like the name. Here is where your mom’s request that you NOT use it comes into play. You tell your siblings that your mom has asked that you not use it, and that you are going to honor her request. Then you and your husband pick out a name that works for both of you. If your siblings flip out over you honoring your mom’s request, that’s THEIR problem, not yours. But, here is the other part, because it sounds to you like it is really important to YOU to name your daughter after your brother. You can still do this. Since your husband detests the name that much, I’d not even use your brother’s name as a middle name, but instead, use the suggestion from a pp and pick a name that reminds you of him. But, ultimately, above all else, this is your child with your husband, and you are going to do a big disservice to your marriage if you don’t put it first. You can honor the memory of your brother without naming your child after him. You can’t honor your marriage while naming your child something you know your husband doesn’t like. I’m sorry, but you need to pick something else.

  • kimm

    My husband loved the name Christine, his favorite Grandmother. I really hated it. He hated Richard cause it was a jerk from his work’s name. But it was my beloved grandfather’s name too. We talked it out a lot and each compromised for both our kids names. Think this is what marriage is all about. Not insisting but working it out.

  • Bryce

    In many cultures they use initials to name a baby after someone. Is that something you would consider? For example if the deceased was Morton Henry, the baby’s first name would start with M (e.g. Mason) and middle name would start with H (e.g. Harry). Also, for what it’s worth, I have a traditional boy’s name as my first name and while it always causes confusion at first, it’s really not an issue and I usually get a lot of compliments on it.

  • Caroline

    I feel your pain. The name I loved and loved and loved for a boy – and I have THREE, count them – is a name my husband loathes. It was my dad’s middle name, I adored him and the name hasn’t been much used in our family though his first name has…
    but my husband is the father of the child. Where your husband has gone wrong is in not speaking up IMMEDIATELY. That was very unfair and actually a little cruel, considering the emotional backdrop. To my mind, more than the name, you and he need to have a very serious conversation about this passive-aggressive thing that’s going on. You are being ganged-up on, and of course it’s not just your baby blah blah, but surely a heads-up before now might have been nice? So I am with you in feeling really taken aback and upset. However. It is his child too. There are ways around this, using different versions, switching first and middle names, whatever. Don’t let what people have bought you influence you. My mum swore up and down I was being named Alexandra… and has birth congratulations cards and even initialled clothing to ”little Alexandra”. Hint, my name is not Alexandra. They looked at me and said … no…. nice name… but no…. hey! Caroline is nice!! Let’s call her Caroline. So it’s always best to stay loose and ideally *not tell anyone what you are considering because they will weigh in, make demands in the most incredible ways, they really will*.

  • Erica

    Just want to reassure you that you can use one name for multiple cousins or siblings if needed.  My nephew has my grandfather’s name as his middle name and I gleefully used it for my older son. Fair warning, though, at first my five year old nephew was put out that I “stole” his name.  Kids.  They’re adorable.  My sister, however, totally understood and talked him down, and I apologized, and that gave us a great opportunity to tell again the story of our grandfather who was so wonderful and is so missed that we wanted to honor both boys with this wonderful legacy.  Now the two cousins think it’s super cool that they share a name, so much so that when we got pregnant with a second boy, my other nephew seriously lobbied for us naming him with his middle name, also my Dad’s name.  they now share a middle name.  Names are weird.  You’ll work it out.

  • Jennifer

    Hey There, currently pregnant with our daughter who was also supposed to be named after not only my sister that passed away, but my 2 living brothers as well who have gender neutral names. Everyone was so excited for months, including me, but then my husband suddenly asked how i’d feel if he wanted to change the name. I had to humble myself and take my husbands dislike into concideration. Marraige is about compromising, so what we did instead was suggest names to each other (it took weeks to find a name we both loved) and eventually we found a beautiful name that is really special, even more special since we both decided on it. As far as family members being disappointed or not approving of our sudden change, I decided to be very vague with them about what we decided on, just letting them know we were thinking about changing it. When the baby gets here, they’ll just have to deal with our decision that we made as husband and wife. The baby is our child anyways, so like our situation, you and your husband should decide on naming your child together, something you can agree on and be equally enthusiastic about. Everyone elses feeling about it should be after thoughts.

  • traci

    I agree that it was unfair of your husband to not speak up sooner. My guess is that he really didn’t want to hurt you and so thought he could deal, but realized over time he couldn’t. Give him a break. It sounds like he was coming from a place of love. As for your siblings, I wouldn’t bother mentioning that your husband doesn’t like it (don’t chance creating animosity), just tell them mom decided she’s not comfortable with it and since he was her child we need to respect her wishes. There are a lot of great ideas for honoring him in the other comments, share them with your husband and see what he thinks. And please, if you do anything to honor your brother run it past your mother. It might be too painful for her. We named our baby after my husband’s brother who passed away, but before we finalized that decision we asked his mom if that would be ok. The last thing I wanted was to make her only grandchild trigger the trauma of losing her son. We also call him by a different name. BIL was todd to us but went by andrew (that’s a complicated story). We named our baby andrew and call him anders. Our thinking was that andrew is who todd wanted to be, it represented his potential and dreams.

  • kim

    Double commenting, because I’m a naming nerd.  There are sites that will tell you an honor name would be close to the name itself.  I don’t agree.  My first has the initial G after my stepfather, and her middle is a mashup of my two grandmother’s names.  I know the significance, so does my daughter.  I chose Robin instead of Roberta to honor my grandfather, which bothered a least one family member.  Too bad.  I know the significance,so does she.  
    So riff off an initial, riff off his nickname, riff off your surname if you didn’t keep it – it all honors your brother.

  • Ashlee

    My dad passed away after a short illness, a couple of days after our pregnancy test came back positive on Christmas Eve! I wanted to honor him through naming our son after him in some way too. We decided to choose a first name that we both loved, and use my father’s first name as our son’s middle name. My brother’s middle name is the same as my dad’s middle name, which my husband preferred, but my brother will name his son that. It is nice to pass on the name, but on the days that the grief is difficult, it is nice not to be reminedd by the first name!

  • Kari Weber

    When my father died 2 and a half years ago, I thought I was pregnant shortly after. My father had always wanted a granddaughter (I have two boys) and I was going to name her after him if I ever had one. Since my father’s name was Warren (not the most feminine of names) I chose Wren, since it started with the same letter, and had the same end sound. I ended up not being pregnant, but I always thought if I ended up having a girl, that would have been the name.

  • Rheanna

    I think some of you got the wrong idea about my mom, she has no pain in hearing the name. She’s a school teacher and hears it ALL the time. She also likes the idea of having a baby named after my brother just wanted it to be a boy. Also I found out she wants us to name the baby after her so I think that partially has something to do with it. 

    • Sydney

      Now I’m super curious. What is this awesome baby name? 😉

  • Linda

    I think the fact that you knew your husband didn’t like the name in the first place but tried to force it is wrong. He will be your daughter’s father. Why would you want him to dislike calling his daughter’s name? Are you banking on the fact that he will love it? That’s a huge risk to take and may cause some resentment in your family. I am sensitive to the fact that you lost your brother, but you can honor him in your heart. I think you need to focus on the most important person in this situation – your husband. Maybe he wasn’t as vocal about disliking the name because he didn’t want to hurt you and knew how much it meant to you … that’s not a reason to hold it against him and make him agree to something he doesn’t like.