Make no mistake, choosing a name from your family tree can be great. It simplifies the process of finding the right name, and it will doubtless please the honoree. There’s a built-in story for your child, too, one that connects her to earlier generations.
But it isn’t for everyone, and there are some excellent reasons to forgo the family name and start fresh.
It’s not always easy, though.
The pressure can be considerable, especially if the traditions are long-standing, or others in your generation have already embraced family names.
I love this quote from Swistle:… traditions end up being most pleasing and least burdensome when they’re FLEXIBLE.
And this list of ways to name a baby after someone without actually using that person’s name might be helpful.
But there are equally good reasons to avoid family names, and start fresh, with a name that you and your partner choose.
Here are eight signs that it might be time to forget the family names.
8. NOT EVERY NAME IS READY FOR REVIVAL
You adore your grandma Eunice.
Her name? Not so much.
Plenty of names fall into style limbo. Baby Boomer staples like Linda and Gary might belong to our beloved grandparents, but they don’t necessarily appeal for our children.
If you just can’t bring yourself to pass on a name that feels clunky or burdensome, don’t. Even if it means breaking with family tradition.
Some families are comfortable sliding that name into the middle spot. If that’s you, great. But if even that bothers you, pass on the names, and know that your loved one will love your child – no matter what.
7. THERE’S ONE FAMILY NAME YOU CAN SEE YOURSELF USING – BUT ONLY ONE
His dad is James, and so is your beloved grandfather. Why wouldn’t you name your firstborn son James?
Think ahead two or three children. Can you give your firstborn a family name without creating expectations that future offspring will honor other relatives? If the answer is yes, please proceed.
But if you’re not so sure … then take a minute and really think about how your family will react when they find out that you’re not honoring the other grandparents. If there will be dashed expectations, maybe James isn’t the right choice.
6. YOUR FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS AREN’T EXACTLY WARM AND FUZZY
Do you honor your family even if your relationships are flawed? Of course.
Younger couples don’t always adore their partner’s parents. But this changes over time, and grandchildren have a way of accelerating things. If you’ve had a few awkward holiday dinners, don’t discard family names.
But let’s face it – plenty of family relationships fall into a whole other category. If you and your partner have experienced pain and ugliness, you should never feel obligated to hand down names.
Things get more complicated when you’re happy to name children after his supportive, warm family – but cannot imagine using names from your distant, dysfunctional side.
Let’s just say this: honor names are supposed to honor loved ones. Only you can say who is included in that definition.
5. YOUR LOVED ONE DOESN’T LOVE HER NAME
This is always an interesting wrinkle. Your mom Katherine detests nicknames, and is always Katherine in full, thanksverymuch.
You’d love to name your daughter Katherine – but only if you can call her Kate, the nickname your mother so heartily dislikes.
Is it an honor if the honoree dislikes her name?
It depends on what’s more important. For some families, it’s about connecting their children to the past. In that case, the connection matters more than feelings about the name. But if you’re more focused on pleasing grandma, then handing down a name she won’t love might not be the way to go.
4. YOU DON’T WANT TO BE LOCKED INTO A PATTERN
This is an extension of #7.
Maybe you have lots of family names you can imagine choosing. That’s great!
But imagine this scenario: you name your son after his paternal grandfather. And then you have a daughter, named for her maternal grandmother. Now you’re expecting another daughter, and your all-time favorite name is from your side again.
Will you alienate the women in his family? Or are you willing to choose a name you love less to keep the peace?
3. THE NAME MIGHT BE A LOT TO LIVE UP TO
You love his grandfather, the distinguished judge. Passing down his name means that your son will also be James Smith, in a town where the local high school is James Smith High.
Or your mother is a famous designer, a style icon with a highly distinctive given name. You’d love to hand it down, but how will it feel to have this conversation. “Cool name. Are you named after Famous Designer?” “Yes.” “Are your parents fans?” “Um, actually she’s my grandmother.”
While such dramatic examples are probably few and far between, it’s worth considering whether passing on a name will feel like you’re passing on expectations as well.
2. IT JUST PLAIN TAKES THE JOY OUT OF CHOOSING
It is perfectly reasonable to feel that previous generations have named their children, and it is your turn to do the same.
Even if your husband is James Smith IV, and you’d be letting down everyone by naming your son Mason Smith instead … if that’s what feels right to you, name your son Mason. Or Elliot. Or Prometheus.
Family names should be freely given – no matter how much others might hope you’ll consider them.
1. IT JUST DOESN’T FIT
This is the hardest hesitation to articulate. Sometimes you like the idea of family names. And the names available are fine – in fact, you’d always thought you might name your daughter Elizabeth after your grandma.
But now you’re actually expecting a daughter – and no matter how you twist it around in your brain, her name just isn’t Elizabeth.
In this case, starting fresh can be the best approach – even if you ultimately settle on Caroline or Margaret, something with the same vibe as the classic Elizabeth.
The bottom line?
Your child, your choice.
Even if the name you select is unpopular with your extended family, this one is your call – along with bedtime routines, when to start solids, and dozens of other decisions.
Family names can be great, but if they’re not great for you, that’s a perfectly valid option. And it creates an opportunity to choose another great name that – who knows? – might become a future family name in another generation or three.
Did you embrace or avoid family names for your children?
First published on October 17, 2014, this post was revised and updated on July 9, 2020.