Same names

I recently watched a terrible documentary on netflix about Alan Berliner, narcissist.  It was actually supposed to be about the science of naming.  (Related to work, though it turned out to be useless.)  Probably about 80% of the movie was Alan Berliner complaining that there were other people in the world also named Alan Berliner.  Or just him saying his name over and over again.  (The other 20% was mildly interesting, but not as in-depth as it could have been.)

I have three cousins with the same first name.  Two of them were named after the same great-aunt.  The other is a step-cousin, so it’s just coincidence (as much as fashions and trends can be coincidental).  In my family this is not a big deal.  We have a strong tradition of reusing family names, until very recently we’ve had sizable families, and we tend to live a long time.  It’s just natural that there’s going to be some overlap.  Since we’re spread out all over the country, even when there’s the same first and last name, it doesn’t generally cause much confusion.

My husband’s family feels quite differently on the subject.

I can’t remember if it was just before or just after she married into DH’s family, but my (then childless) sister-in-law gave me a lecture about how she hated it when her friends gave their babies names that she had already laid claim to.  She was genuinely angry about it, even though she no longer even lived in the same town as said high school friends.  She not so subtly told me two names that I must avoid.  I noted with silent irony that these two names just happened to be the top most popular baby names of that year, and if she wanted her future children to have unique names, maybe not the best way to go about it.

And time went on.  We had a child.  Both prospective boy’s names and girl’s names were family names, as in our tradition (on my side).  Presumably we chose ok because we didn’t get any hate-mail.

BIL and SIL had a child.  Oddly, they chose the non-traditional family name of my aunt/uncle (on my side, not DH’s!) that we were going to use if we had a second child of the same gender.  I have no idea where they got the idea, but because of my SIL’s warning, we had to jettison said name and ability to honor said relative from our potential name-box.

Then BIL and SIL had a second child.  Rather than using one of the names SIL had warned me against… they used the name that our DC would have been had ze been the opposite gender.  By that point, it seemed like everyone we knew who had had a baby in the past couple years had used the same name (it jumped way up in the naming charts the year DC was born), so we’d moved on (plus my MIL says she always hated that relative)… but how bizarre.  It’s not like we kept our potential names a secret or anything.

On my side of the family, these things wouldn’t be a big deal because nobody feels like they have property rights to any specific name.  You can name your child the same thing as a cousin, no problem.  But, in deference to family peace and tranquility we won’t be “stealing” any names from the in-laws and came up with a new set.

Update:  If you want to check out name popularity by year:  baby name voyager is fun.

Do you get upset when a friend or relative “steals” a name you’ve chosen?  What are your family naming traditions?

35 Responses to “Same names”

  1. eemusings Says:

    Not that close to my family and they all have Chinese names (though some also have English names), very few of which I know. Tradition is you have two first names, and most of the boys on Dad’s side have the same first first name, with some of them spelled slightly different (the second first name is different).

    T’s sister, oddly, named her latest kid after one of her/their brothers. I have no idea why.

  2. feMOMhist Says:

    hmm sciDAD only ones of our siblings planning to reproduce so we got free reign with naming. That said v. common for people in both of our families to decide they don’t like their names and change them as adults. To forestall that each of our kids have FOUR names as we figured they’d be more likely to find some combination that they liked that way. (fMhson is getting ahead of the curve and switched to one of his names last year in school at least, not at home). Both kids are named after my family members, mostly because it mattered to me most. I have never understood the “Ive got dibs on a name” approach. As you note, in certain families or part of the country naming kids after family members is so common that there were often multiple members of a generation with same names. Heck that is why some names have so many nicknames (I recall meeting a person from New England once called Margaret who went by Meg since that was the only nickname not already taken by another of the Margarets in her family)

  3. bogart Says:

    Count me among those who don’t get the whole name-claiming convention. Definitely not the norm in my or DH’s family. DS is named for a grandpa (deceased, as it happens, and perhaps I wouldn’t have chosen the name — it was I who suggested it — had that not been true, but who knows?). I will note that neither of my stepkids has “family” names (i.e. I can’t think of anyone in any generation who shares their names), but otherwise, we tend toward re-use. I’m staunchly opposed to anything leaning toward innovation in (official, legal, given) names (to novel spellings, novelty period, really), but have no problem with retrieving “old” names, using names from other languages or cultures (particularly if there *is* a family connection), or repurposing last names as first names.

    I was once on a mom board where a mom was unhappy because a neighbor had “taken” the name she wanted for her kid (i.e. the neighbor had named her baby that name). I was — and remain — utterly mystified.

  4. mom2boy Says:

    I always have to repeat and spell my name and invariably I will still be remembered as Amanda or Angela (neither my actual name).
    Family names are usually reused as middle names so no claiming exclusivity.
    I just wanted Tate to have a simple name but a little more unusual than John (my dad and grandfather’s name). It appears that I’ve passed on the repeat and spell burden to him.

  5. First Gen American Says:

    My mom thinks names have a certain amount of luck or fortune tied to them and if two people of the same family have the same name, that the luck is split between those two family members. She was always bitter that she was named Josephine and her brother was Joseph. She claimed they both had bad lives as a result of splitting that luck between two living family members. Joseph ended up in a slave labor camp during WW2. I think if you’re already dead, the name luck renews and it’s fair game again.

    So, we named our kids names that no one in the family ever had (except the middle names) to make my mom pleased. And that’s also why I have a name like Sandra (which is popular in Hispanic countries, but almost unheard of in Eastern Europe). Coincidentally, my goddaughter is also Sandra, so my cousins don’t believe in the whole luck in a name thing..I think it’s just a superstition that my mom fabricated somewhere along the hard long journey of trying to justify why she had so much suffering in her life while others did not.

    I do associate names with people I know though and would never name a child a name of a person who I knew that I didn’t like or respect. People were giving me cool names and I kept making associations to bullies in school and jerk ex boyfriends.

    • MutantSupermodel Says:

      “I do associate names with people I know though and would never name a child a name of a person who I knew that I didn’t like or respect. People were giving me cool names and I kept making associations to bullies in school and jerk ex boyfriends.”
      DITTO!

  6. graduateliving Says:

    My sister and I are the only kids on my mother’s side of the family, and we’re not particularly close to our cousins on my father’s side, so the fact that I share a name with one of my cousins is no big deal. However, the BF is very close with all of his cousins, and his intended name (first and middle) was swiped by his eldest male cousin’s parents (he’s younger by about six months). It’s funny to think about him with a different name now, but I know it did NOT go over well with the BF’s parents when they found out, as they had made their intentions about the name (which are both family names) very vocal.

  7. Practical Parsimony Says:

    My mother was vehemently against using a name of any of my father’s family. They did do odd things. Gordon was Peewee; James was Jimbob. Yuck. Another James was Jabbo. One uncle met a tragic death as a child, so there were several nephews named after him. One of those ended up in prison for murder, and they just kept reviving this name, hoping someone would make, I suppose.

    My mother’s family is rife with repetition of male famility names. Female names never repeat. Odd!

    There were six “Lindas” in my first grade, so I was determined not to repeat that. I named the 44-yr-old son “Jeff.” Missed!. Named the 42-yr-old daughter “Lisa.” Missed! The 37 yr-old daughter was going to be Ashley…clever, huh? But, I finally nailed it by naming her Alana Ashley. There were no “Alanas” that any of us knew of for years. And, we called her Lana–laynuh. There are a million Ashley as first name.

    It seems my immediate family inadvertantly named girls names starting with L–Lois, Linda, Lisa, Laura, :Lana. Boys got the J–Jeff, Jack, Jason, Jordan. That made my mother crazy when she had a herd of grandchildren, trying to talk to one of them. .We did not do it on purpose!

    Weirdly, or not so weirdly, my mother named us all after movie stars–Linda, Gary, Shirley, Rita…as in Darnell, Cooper, Temple, Hayworth.

    Actually, there is a naming pattern, especially in the South, that still exists. It is something like first son always named after Father, second son named after paternal grandfather, second son names after maternal grandfathere. That is not the pattern or all of it, but in this case, several cousins can actually exist with same names. The same pattern exists for female names.

    I hate “cute” spellings. I especially hate any name that starts with Jay-whatever. And, I never told anyone what I was going to name my child because someone would name the child that first and accuse me of copying.

    Generally, naming in a non-issue in my family, just weird in my father’s family.

  8. Perpetua Says:

    We used family names. I wanted old fashioned names, the kind that wear well. I’m not a particular fan of what I call made up names – like Hollywood-style names, especially since most of the kids that I know with that kind of name are girls, whereas boys are more likely to be Michael or Jacob, which then makes those trendy names seem like the name equivalent of a bright pink sparkle pony T shirt, only they last forever. I am also squicked out by Anyone Junior.

    I can see name-picking getting touchy if there’s a contest to name a child after one particular relative. Let’s say that both kids wanted to name their baby after their dad (baby’s grandfather); I could see a kind of baby name arms race. But I also think that’s stupid.

    The bigger name issue in our family is the last name – both Christopher Robin and Pooh have my last name, which is still super uncommon, even among academic circles (circles where the female partner is more likely to keep her own name, as I have obviously done). I think it makes my in laws a little sad that the kids are “Lions” and not “Xs”. We’re the Lion Family. But nobody said anything to me, though I know my own parents thought it was deeply weird/wrong, even my aunt who still makes checks out to Perpetua X, instead of Perpetua Lion. My own aunt! But we can’t win. We picked names for the kids drawn from my in law’s family, because of the whole controversial Lion thing, and then my FIL was all grumpy anyway, like “I don’t believe in naming kids after people!” Okay, then. We shall name them Blanket and Princess Perpetua Jr.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Partner has a cousin who named their kid after a vegetable. We’re still scratching our heads over that.

      • mom2boy Says:

        I love the name Cotton for a boy and Fern for a girl. I have been told that I am not allowed to actually use those names unless I want to become a fiction writer…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Fern was somewhat popular (top 200 names) at the turn of the last century… Cotton maybe if it’s the mom’s maiden name, but even then…

      • mom2boy Says:

        Cotton Weary was a character name from the Scream movies and Fern was the little girl in Charlotte’s Web. No idea why those two names have stuck with me. Both botanical?

  9. bogart Says:

    Oh, in the “oof” category, I have a friend whose dad divorced, remarried, and then had a son with his new wife, said son being given the same name as my friend. That? Not OK. Also, I have a once-close friend (not defriended, just time and distance) whose son’s middle name is the male version of my first name, yay, and ditto an exBF’s son, which, boo.

  10. rented life Says:

    I haven’t told anyone my naming choices, mainly because my cousins are all having kids and I don’t want them to take one of them names…but so far both of them have been very big on taking family names. As I’ve not liked the names they’ve chosen, no harm there. (I like the people they borrowed from though.) I was one of 5 with the same name in high school. Even now, many of my students have the same name as me. I’ve always hated that so I would make an effort to avoid too common of a name, if possible. For example, I always liked Lily, but it seems there’s a whole slew of Lily’s out there.

    There’s also the fact that I just don’t agree with naming the kid before it’s born, though that seems to be very popular right now, I don’t know anyone in the last few years who didn’t have a name already settled. What if the kid is born and you go ‘well crap…you aren’t a ___’ ? Or is that just me?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Given that the difference in baby personality between day birth-1 and birth is much smaller than the personality difference between birth and say, age 20, chances are you’re just as likely to get the “right” name if you pick before the baby is born as you are the day the baby is born.

      Heck, some babies are even born with dark hair that completely falls out and is replaced by blond. Most blue eyes darken. Energetic babies become teenage slugs, chunky newborns become skinny athletes.

      But names not fitting is a good reason to offer choice with a middle name.

      Lily is one of the most popular baby names… it was in the top 5 a few years back.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My mom changed the order of my names the day I was born because I was a blonde and she felt my middle name fit better with that image. I am no longer a blonde and have not been since I was 4.

      • rented life Says:

        I was blond too…I kept trying to keep that with highlights, but recently my hairdress did a lovely darker brown and suddenly I realized I didn’t need to be blond. The brown is more fitting (and now I’m the only cousin that isn’t blond…short of my brother who is bald by choice.)

        re: names, I think it’s just me being supersitious. I associate names with people and worry about assigning undue personality to someone not yet born. For me it’s like people claiming that their daughter is their little princess when she’ll end up being a rough tomboy. I did realize after I posted though that one name I really like is a “family” name, in that it is a relative’s nickname. Also realized I have no idea how he got that nickname as it’s nothing like his real name. And 10 years ago? I didn’t know anyone named Lily. Now that kids are up for consideration, everyone seems to be named Lily.

      • Perpetua Says:

        @rented life – I see what you mean about not wanting to name them pre-birth. We did name them, for the exact reason you don’t want to (“assigning undue personality to someone not yet born”). Well, I don’t know about personality, but definitely personhood. (Don’t tell the anti-choicers!) Imagining the fetus as a real person with a name heightened the joy of the anticipation for me. When you’re pregnant, the whole thing can be so surreal. I don’t think of names as communicating personality. We follow more the Catholic idea of giving them patron saints, or names that are associated with people/qualities we love/admire, rather than our idea of who are kids are before they are born.

  11. undinenotofgeneralinterest Says:

    You were very nice to jettison a name on that kind of crazy s-i-l prohibition. We named our kids family names and didn’t consult anyone about it, because it wasn’t any of their business. No one “owns” a name, since everyone who bears that name will be different anyway.
    A cousin named her child the same name as my second one; my mother had a fit and I didn’t care. It’s a name. They’re different people, so who cares?

  12. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    I have a daughter “Lydia.” When she was a baby, someone in my family told me that my cousin’s wife was convinced that I had stolen their daughter’s name, “Olivia.” I wasn’t sure what to think about that!

    I hope you are doing well with your new baby!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Olivia, one of the top 10 names for a few years. Why is it that people who get upset about names also are the folks who pick generally trendy names? It’s one thing if you name your kid “Apple”.. but “Olivia”? (Which is not the same as the less-popular Lydia.)

  13. MutantSupermodel Says:

    My three kids have three totally different styles of names. My family being old school Cuban has a TON of Jorge’s. Both his grandfathers are Jorge so naming him Jorge would’ve made things easy but I am sick of the Jorge name. I still wanted something traditional, i.e. respect the grandfathers, so I named him after the middle names of both grandfathers– Mario Gabriel.
    My daughter, well I wanted something different and fun. I was the only Madeline in school growing up and loved that. I wanted my daughter to enjoy that same uniqueness but I also wanted a connection with her. I was listening to some music and looking at a baby names book and boom there it was. The next day I got a pair of shoes for the baby girl in the mail from a friend and the shoe’s style name was the name I really liked for my daughter. I took it as a sign I picked right and so it was she became Sadie Marie (my middle name too).
    My youngest son, ex wanted to name. I loved the name Jude but he wasn’t thrilled with it. I decided that fine he could pick the first name BUT the middle name HAD to be my grandfather’s who was still alive but very old and who loved my children very much and I knew would be thrilled to be acknowledged that way. My ex likes the popular things so he gravitated towards the popular names and that’s how we ended up with Ethan Cesar.
    I’ve never had to worry about people I know stealing baby names because I was always the only person prego in my family and among my friends.

  14. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    “Claiming” names before you actually have a child and attempting to enforce the claim through familial opprobrium sounds like f*cked-uppe intrusive controlling behavior to me. I have a very popular ordinary name, and I am very pleased with it.

    I find this whole obsession with finding “special” or “unique” baby names incomprehensible, but then again, I have no kiddes, so whatte the f*cke do I know? Maybe if I was gonna have a baby, I’d be all like, “If itte’s a girl, Lilac Hackensack PhysioProffe! And if itte’s a boy, Bronco Weaver PhysioProffe! Yeah, thatte’s the f*cken ticket!”

  15. Leahh Says:

    I’m not a fan of family naming. It’s okay, but not my cup of tea. My husband’s family does it, and I have let him know I don’t want to (even though my favorite boy’s name is a common family name). I also don’t like it when someone names a kid intending to call the kid by the middle name.

    My other pet peeve is all the same letter naming. My SIL has two kids with A names, so they’re giving their last kid an A name. I suppose I could still give a kid an A name, but I don’t want grandchild alliteration. So I’ll just go with something else.

    My intention is to mull over potentials but wait until I meet any future kids before naming.

    Also, I don’t understand the pre-claiming of baby names. There’s a lot of names out there. Move on with life.

  16. Shawanda @ You Have More Than You Think Says:

    The only time I’d care if a friend “stole” my future baby’s name is if we were close friends. Who cares what some distant high school friend you only speak to three times a year names their kid?

  17. rented life Says:

    I thought of this much too late…what about people who pick a name and then a nickname for their child? My SIL picked all her kids names based off what she wanted their nicknames to be. None of these kids are called by their given names unless they are in trouble.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We call DC1 by a nickname. That’s also traditional.

      • rented life Says:

        I call most of my nieces by their nicknames (though “Red” for the one niece seems silly when all the kids have red hair) but our other SIL is very upset that the kids aren’t called by their given name. One niece’s nickname is too much like a boys name and this is apparently the root of most of the upset. Maybe it is traditional in husband’s family–his mother insists on calling him by the babyish nickname she gave him when he was little, which drives me batty. I remember talking with other parents who wanted the nickname of their daughter to be Katie, but then just decided to name her Katie instead of Katherine, because they didn’t want her to be called Kat or any other variation. It’s all interesting to me. (And that link? Addicting. I’ve been typing in all kinds of names)

      • mom2boy Says:

        And using the nickname as a given name seemed to be the thing to do for a bit (Jack instead of John, Charlie instead of Charles, Liam instead of William).

  18. Revanche Says:

    Erm, it’s only ever been mostly a joke that PiC has had kid names picked out for ages but the girl’s name has been “stolen” four times over by now and anyway, I can’t remember what the boy name was anymore so he had to pick new ones. I can’t really remember the new ones either, so at some point if we actually decide to have kids we might write these things down. Except we never agreed he picked Good Names,

    I don’t think I could take it if this was a serious angst.

    We’ve had cousins named after cousins. I think my middle name was actually the same as another older cousin, and a younger cousin was named after my sibling. It was a nod. No big deal.

    One uncle named all his kids (12!) with names that started with the same letter. That seemed like a bit of effort but honestly I think the effort of having and maintaining the kids was more momentous than the naming.

  19. mareserinitatis Says:

    Naming is tough. I love unusual names, and my older boy has a very unusual one. Younger son has one of the most common names right now but was named after a relative. Husband really not all that keen on unusual names, which bums me out.


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