Choosing a name from your family tree can be great – it simples up 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 maybe it’s time to forget the 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, whether they’re antiques like Wilfred and Beulah, or Boomer names like Donald and Barbara.
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 with using it as a middle name. If that’s you, great. But if even that bothers you, pass on Eunice and Wilfred and company, 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, and your favorite brother. (Who is never having a family of his own, as he’s a Catholic priest.) 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 for baby #1.
6. Your family relationships aren’t exactly the stuff of Norman Rockwell.
Do you honor your family even if your relationships are flawed? Maybe.
Younger married couples don’t always adore their in-laws. But this changes over time, and grandchildren have a way of accelerating things. If you’ve had a few awkward holiday dinners or find their politics baffling, don’t discard family names.
But let’s face it – plenty of family relationships fall into a whole other category of real pain. Sometimes ugliness. In this case, obviously you shouldn’t feel obligated to hand down names – whether you’re still in touch with those family members or not.
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 trumps 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’re planning a large family, and don’t want to be locked into a pattern.
You’ve named your son after his paternal grandfather, and your daughter after your maternal grandmother. Now you’re expecting boy/girl twins, and while the boy’s name is a family favorite from your side, the girl’s name is … just something you’ve always loved.
Will all those other women in your family be insulted?
It depends on the family. I’ve wrestled with this one. Our son has names from both sides of his family tree. Our daughter is named after my side only. If we had a second daughter, would we honor his family? My favorite girl’s name is another from my family tree … but I can imagine that might cause some hurt feelings.
With two kids, we’ve sidestepped that particular problem. But if you’re hoping to fill a mini-van, it might be worth considering how many family names you can use before the well runs dry.
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 feel like a fit.
This is the hardest 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 an opportunity to choose another great name that, who knows?, might become a future family name in another generation or three.
Did you consider family names for your children?