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Baby Name Drama Questions Answered

Two Baby Names, One Baby

By Amalah

To put it simply: I am American, married to a Brazilian, living in Brazil. We followed the American tradition of giving a first and a middle name to our daughter (Rebecca Grace). We were uncertain of a name but under pressure from family (and the hospital!) we chose her name right after birth.

Ten months later, my husband and I both call her by her middle name, Grace. Rebecca just doesn’t suit my little one!

The confusion is this: My American parents also call her by her middle name. My husband’s family calls her by her first name. I considered calling her by a double-name, Rebecca Grace… but for such a small baby it just doesn’t fit.

Will she be very confused? My husband doesn’t seem to worry, but I certainly do.

I hope to make a decision by the time she is one year old! Help!

(I should add that my American family dislikes the name Rebecca, and my husband’s Brazilian family thinks that Grace is a strange name…)

Yeah, I think coming to a cross-family baby name consensus is a good idea here. Plenty of people end up going by their middles names or nicknames, so there’s nothing inherently confusing about that, but it does seem like it would be a touch confusing to a young toddler/child to have different sides of your family calling you different names. ESPECIALLY if the reason behind it boiled down to both sides “not liking” one of your names!

And her names are both equally LOVELY, by the way. Your families’ “opinions” about either bear zero weight in this discussion or decision, frankly. Your baby, your choice.

But if you and your husband have decided she should go by Grace, then your husband’s family just need to be informed of that and formally asked (and expected) to call her by the name you’ve ultimately chosen to go with. Grace might not be a common name in Brazil, but it’s far from super unusual, plus it’s easy to pronounce and well-represented in books, TV, etc. You’re not asking them to downshift from Rebecca to like, Supercalifragilisticurtainrod or something.

“Guys, here’s the thing. We’ve made the choice to use Grace as her primary name, instead of Rebecca. That’s what she’ll go by to us, family, friends, teachers, etc. We know you’ve gotten used to Rebecca and this change might take some time to get used to, but in order to avoid any confusion for her, we need you to respect the change and call her Grace as well.”

You’ll probably need to correct them A LOT at first — 10 months of calling her Rebecca will take some serious brain rewiring for some folks — so don’t bristle and take it too personally if they slip up accidentally.

And really, it won’t be the end of the world if someone remains solidly stuck on calling her Rebecca. (Annoying, yes, especially if they’re doing it to deliberately undermine your decision, but that’s a whole other column.) There are plenty of multi-cultural kids who grow up with multiple names due to language, different naming traditions, the “Americanizing” difficult-to-pronounce names, etc. Kids do figure this stuff out pretty quickly.

Rebecca IS her name after all, and at some point she’ll learn that. My youngest’s name is Isaac but we’ve called him Ike since before he was even born, but by three or four years old he was aware that Ike was a nickname, and he has the option to use Isaac instead. His pediatrician and school all have Ike down as his “preferred name” in their files, but I swear it gets ignored about 75% of the time by new nurses, teachers, folks in the school office, etc. So it’s important that he knows to respond to Isaac, then we just cheerfully follow-up with “he actually goes by Ike, thanks!” You’ll end up doing that too, but again, not the end of the world or super ridiculously confusing.

And Grace may very well disagree with you someday and decide she’s happier as Rebecca, Becca, Becky, Gracie, Rebecca-Grace, etc. Or she might use her full name for things like drivers’ licences and resumes, and then follow-up with, “Hi, I actually go by Grace, thanks!” when introduced to people. But for now, it’s still solidly a choice made by you guys, and you have every right in the world to ask that your family use the name you’ve chosen, even belatedly.

Photo source: Photodune/seenaad


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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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  • Alpha Mom (TM)

    Wow! A question where I have personal experience!

    By way of background, I am a Portuguese immigrant in the United States. First, I think Rebecca and Grace are both beautiful names. Also, I’m curious why your husband’s Brazilian family finds Grace to be a “strange” name. It’s easily translated into Portuguese as Graça.

    Secondly, I was named “Isabel Marta” with the intention of always being called Marta. And was only called that name until the day my parents were enrolling me in school here in the US and they were filling out paperwork. It was then that they informed me that my official and legal name was Isabel but I could have the choice right then of picking one or the other for school. Since I hadn’t ever heard “Isabel,” that’s the one I picked. Kind of a high stakes decision for a 5 year old to make, in hindsight, but luckily I’m happy with my decision. However, my immediate family continues to call me Marta.

    Never was confused by it and it’s been kind of fun to have two names that I feel ownership of. Hope that helps.

    /Isabel Marta

    • Lisa R

      Cool!This is way more pertinent than my story!

      I was about to say that I didn’t think the two names thing would be too confusing for a little kid. It might be sad if people start telling her they don’t like her other name, but I’ve always had a full name/nickname thing going which I don’t remember being confusing, and I *do* remember being kind of fun for me.

  • Guest

    I know a ton of people who call their kids by their middle names, or a nickname of some variety. My niece’s mom (my SIL) calls her Marie, which is one of her middle names, but everyone else calls her by her first name. My grandparents both have always gone by their middle names because their first names are SO common among people of their generation. I know a couple people, also, who get VERY upset when people attempt to shorten their kid’s name and will yell at you for doing so! (“It’s Maddelyn, NOT Maddy!”) In the end, it’s all totally up to the kid themselves what they want to go by as they get older. Both her first and last name are beautiful 🙂

  • Karen

    I’d just get it legally changed. If you don’t like the name Rebecca then switch them or drop Rebecca. Your in-laws already think the whole thing is odd, so not much to lose there.

    But I also agree with Isabel, being called Rebecca by one family and grace the rest of the time won’t be odd at all. I know several people who continue to be called their childhood nicknames by family and close friends long after they started going by their “official” name decades ago.

  • Selena Luna

    This is something with which I also have personal experience, sort of. My aunt is called by her middle name by the family-my sister and I, my parents, my grandmother when she was alive, and just everyone called her by her middle name, and so did her friends until she was about 13. When she was 13, she decided to go by her first name with her friends, but the family still calls her by her middle name. She’s never been confused by this. She was never confused that her parents called her by her middle name either. Any time she got in trouble, she, like most, was yelled at with both her first and her middle names.

  • LMo

    My absolute favorite story about my husband’s childhood is his first day of kindergarten. His given name is Andrew, but his family calls him Andy. On the first day, during role call, the teacher asked for Andrew. No one piped up, and she finally deduced that she was calling my husband. When she pressed him for his name, he insisted it was Andy, *not* Andrew. I can just imagine his little face, set and determined to be called Andy and nothing else.
    All to say, even if you give your kid the most normal name on earth, they can get a bit confused. But I’m 100% with Amalah, this is your choice, and you’re perfectly reasonable to ask your in-laws to use your preferred name. No big deal (unless they make it one!).

  • Nikki

    A lot hinges on whether you want to keep Rebecca at all, or whether you want to change her name altogether. If you still like the name Rebecca, just not for daily use and you prefer she go by her middle name, I think it’s not a big deal to continue calling her Grace, and if your in-laws can’t or won’t get on board, explain to her later that she has 2 beautiful names and you call her by one and her grandparents call her by the other. If, though, you have baby name regret or want to get rid of Rebecca entirely and re-name your daughter Grace NewMiddleName, then I think you need consensus and you and your husband need to have a sit-down talk with the grandparents like Amy suggests. Like Amy and the commenters mention, ultimately she’ll make her own decision about what she wants to called.

  • Ally

    My husband’s family is Greek and lives in Montreal and Greece. I’m American. Our kids all have Greek middle names and that is what his family calls them (mostly because they don’t understand the American names). It has never been weird or confusing for the kids. Both names are their names.

  • Lucia

    Much like Isabel, I moved to the US as a 5yo but have always gone by my middle name. My grandmother and mom both have the same name (Maria) and neither went by it either. It was never confusing because I knew what my full name was but it got old and a giant PITA in college and beyond, I just didn’t go by that name at all and isn’t me. I legally dropped it after getting married and changing my last name. Though I should add, i also had the added fun of having both my mom’s maiden name and dad’s last name so it just needed to be shorten for my own sanity.

  • Amy Renee

    Kids are pretty resilient. I have a cousin who’s parents gave her a first name and middle name that were moderately uncommon, but trending and rising in popularity. They always called her by her first name, until she was 3 or 4. Then they moved across the country to a place where her first name was WAY more popular, and it was a unisex name, so it was shared with something like 5 other kids in her preschool, and some of them even shared the same last initial. So to differentiate, they spent a couple of months calling her by both her first and middle name, and then transitioned to just her middle name by the time she went to the next preschool class. She knows her “whole long big girl name” is First Middle Last-Last” but she also is fine being called just “Middle”. For those of us that don’t see her very often, we tend to slip and say “First, oops, I mean Middle” for a little while, but we’re getting used to thinking of her as “Middle”.

    I also wonder if the Brazilian family has trouble pronouncing Grace (or just finds it strange sounding to their ears) if they would be willing to go with Graca as others have pointed out. Would you be ok with that?

  • Jeanne

    In my family we say that a much loved child has many names. Most of us have names that our parents call us and names that our extended family call us. No confusion at all except for in laws who don’t really get the name switching thing. 🙂

  • Aimilia

    When my little sister was born, we couldn’t come to a consensus as to whether we should call her by her first or middle name, so we each used the one we liked best. When she was old enough to express a clear preference, we all switched to that one (her middle name).

  • hp

    My oldest has an easily nickname-able first name which we named him with the intention of always calling him by the nickname. It worked until he was two when his daycare teacher told him his real name was really cool and then we got stuck with it as he wouldn’t answer to the nickname anymore. At four, he switches back and forth as his mood allows (first name when he is “working” and nickname when he is “playing”). We did something similar with the second (named him a longer first name with an easy nickname). I planned to use the nickname and my husband planned to use the full name because we could not agree. Fast forward a few weeks, and I was calling him the full name, my husband was using the nickname, and our oldest broke the tie. The littlest is now called by his full name. I think your daughter will be okay either way–and once she hits two, she will inform people of her preference.

  • CJ

    The name on my birth certificate is Christina Joy, and my mom decided right away that I was going to be called Tina. I remember being about 5 years old and HATING it. When I went to summer camp at 11 years old, I decided that since I didn’t know anyone, I was going to become…. CJ. All my new camp friends called me CJ. When I got home, I told all my home friends to call me CJ. I told my family; my mom’s side was fine with it (my grandma even told me years later that they had always disliked the name Tina too – apologies to anyone reading this with that name!), my dad’s family STILL calls me Tina, even after years of asking. They all know that’s not the name I prefer – CJ is written on my business cards, listed on my outgoing voicemail message, our family Christmas cards, address labels…. My husband adjusted to my family calling me a different name pretty quickly, and only sometimes teases me about my family being nuts. Still to be determined what my toddler is going to think about “Why Grandpa calls you Tina and Daddy and Gramy call you CJ”.

    • Guest

      My husband’s aunt has the same thing: her name is Ursula Nicole, but she’s always been called Nikki by her family. Professionally she goes by Ursula, which is what her husband and his family call her. My husband and his siblings grew up calling her Aunt Kiki. Thankfully she responds to all three names! I call her Nikki, but when I mail them Christmas cards and such I address them to Ursula.

  • Jay

    If you would prefer that your in-laws call her Grace, you should just tell them that. But if it’s just so she won’t be confused, I wouldn’t worry about it. Lots of people are called nicknames but only by certain people. My mom’s immediate family always called her by her middle name but the rest of the world called her by her first name – I don’t think she minded or was ever confused. I’ve called my daughter a nickname almost since birth, and I don’t often use her real first name. My husband and son are the opposite – nickname seldom and usually first name. She responds equally to both.

  • Ann

    My gran and her sister have both gone by three names since they were little girls. Both have one very ethnic name that’s on their passports, and one more conventional version of the same name which they used in school and at work. But when I grew up, I was shocked to find out that the names everyone in the family calls them are their childhood nicknames! Imagine that, those nicknames really stuck!

    And like Jeanne, I’ve heard the saying that a much loved child will have many names!

  • Melissa

    Heads up, even if your in-laws agree to call her Grace, it may end up sounding like Gracie. My mother is Brazilian and my father is American and since Brazilians don’t typically end names in a hard sound, they tend to add an -ey to the ends of names. So my father, Vic, becomes Vicky and my cousin Nick, becomes Nicky. And my poor husband, Keith becomes “Keech” or “Key….” as my grandparents valiantly try to wrap their heads around the th sound.

    But you know, they try, which is all that matters.

    One thing I find interesting is that they are so resistant to using her middle name. I have many aunts/cousins who go by their nicknames – as if they are legal names. Like Maria Helena is Helena and Tio Quinca (literally called Quinca by everyone including his army credentials) is actually Joaquim. Facts I only found out when having to address wedding invitations.

  • Catarina

    I’m late to this discussion, but being Brazilian myself I can say this: any Brazilian who doesn’t speak English will pronouce Grace very differently from the American version, either calling her “Greice” or “Graça”, both with a completly different “r” sound, that I don’t think exists in English. And even an English speaker will think it’s weird to include “Grace” in the middle of a sentence in Portuguese – it just doesn’t sound right. So I sort of understand why your husband’s family might prefer Rebecca, which takes fewer adjustments.
    That said, Grace is a beautiful name and you do get to choose how your husband’s family should address your daughter, so I think it’s on them to adapt if that’s the case!