Creative honor names blend the best of two impulses.
Family names are deeply meaningful. Limiting your list to names already worn by relatives creates an instant short list. The reasons go on and on.
Except sometimes? A loved one’s first name isn’t terribly appealing.
You adore your only great aunt, and would love to name your daughter in her honor. Except you cannot imagine a baby named Beulah.
Or your father is Herbert, and while you like the antique vibe, your dad hates his name, has always answered to Hank, and has forbidden you from saddling another generation with a name he considers burdensome.
Then again, you might have classic names on your family tree. But Elizabeth and John feel a little too flat and ordinary to your ear. Plus, maybe there are already three other Elizabeths and two Johns.
Some will insist that the only way to name a child after a loved one is to use the actual name. Fair enough. And family names aren’t for everyone. But if you like the idea of honoring a loved one, and you’re open to some creative name-storming, there are lots of ways to name your baby after someone – without using actually using their name.
Read on for a dozen great ways to find creative honor names for your children.
12. USE ANOTHER FORM OF THE HONOREE’S NAME
Consider shorter forms and elaborations, international variations, and traditional nicknames. Try looking up the name’s family tree on Behind the Name. (Enter the name. Most pages include a section for related names, and a link to the name’s family tree, before you reach the popularity statistics. Not every name has a tree, but many do.) You might be surprised by some of the possibilities.
Carol or Carl could become Caroline or Charlie. Elizabeth becomes the Italian Elisabetta or the trim, vintage Bess. William is reinvented as Willem. Margaret might become Greta, Maggie, or Margot.
This might be especially powerful if you can find a heritage choice. If you have Cornish heritage and a grandpa named George, Jory is a thoroughly modern possibility that incorporates both.
Of course, the opposite is true, too. MacArthur might feel a little forced if you’re not Scottish, no matter how many loved ones are named Arthur.
11. USE ANOTHER PART OF YOUR LOVED ONE’S NAME
So Great Aunt Beulah’s name doesn’t have any variant forms. But how ’bout Beulah’s middle name, maiden name, or last name? Was her maiden name Sloane? Maybe she chose Rose for her baptismal name. There could be plenty of promising options besides Beulah.
Let’s pause for a minute here and talk about something slightly controversial. If you’re naming a daughter, there’s no reason to avoid family surnames. Girls are just as deserving as boys of carrying on family names.
Some might argue that naming a girl Parker or Jameson is stealing from the boys. That’s a decision their families can make … but it doesn’t mean you have to feel limited. A growing number of children – boys and girls – answer to names that don’t clearly announce their gender.
10. USE A NICKNAME
There’s more than one way to think about nicknames.
- You might honor your grandma Elizabeth with a daughter named Eliza, Libby, or Beth – a nickname for her given name, even if it’s one she never used personally.
- Herbert prefers Hank, so why not name your baby Hank? It might be a nickname, but it was his name. You might even use Henry – the formal name traditionally associated with Hank.
- Maybe Beulah’s sisters called her Birdie, which could open up a long list of avian-inspired names. Or Elizabeth was known as Sunny, which suggests Summer or even a bold sun-related name like Soleil.
Jenna Bush Hager, the daughter and granddaughter of former presidents, is a master of creative honor names. Her second child, daughter Poppy Louise, took her name from Jenna’s grandfather, George Herbert Bush. He was called “Poppy” as a child and by his extended family. (His son, Jenna’s dad, is George Herbert Walker Bush, so family names are clearly a well-established tradition. Jenna was named for her maternal grandmother.)
9. USE A NAME FROM THE SAME CATEGORY
In 2023, Paris Hilton announced that she’d named her son Phoenix – another prominent city name. Only a few weeks earlier, Ireland Baldwin proclaimed that her new daughter would be Holland.
Whether you love place names or not, it illustrates another possible path to finding creative honor names: choose another name from the same category.
Honor your grandmother Opal by naming your daughter Ruby or Pearl, or another gem-inspired choice.
8. USE A NAME THAT SHARES SOUNDS or LETTERS
Plenty of unrelated names share sounds. This works really well when it’s the first syllable, like Willow Smith, named for dad Will.
But it’s not limited to first syllables. Imagine a Lawrence with a granddaughter called Wren. Or a Lauren with a niece by the same name. Ronald might become Ronan.
Another spin on sharing sounds? If you’re honoring someone known by his or her initials, you might be able to simply repeat the initials in the next generation. Backstreet Boys member A.J. MacLean was born Alexander James. His daughter is Ava Jaymes – a name that clearly nods to dad, both with the middle and the shared initials.
And, of course, some families believe that using the same first initial is the most appropriate way to link names. Ashton Kutcher explained that Wyatt Isabelle’s middle was a nod to Mila’s grandfather, Yitzhak – Isaac.
Or maybe an anagram of a name would work. Reader Christina pointed out that Lisa’s granddaughter might be Isla. Your honor names might not be so easily rearranged, but it’s worth a try!
7. EXTEND A NAME
Making your own name longer might be another option. When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle welcomed their first son, the pair named him Archie Harrison – the middle literally meaning “son of Harry.”
A grandmother called Jo could easily be honored with a granddaughter named Josephine. And even names like Grace can become Graciela or Gracelyn.
6. BLEND TOGETHER TWO NAMES
Mash-up names can be challenging … or charming!
Grandparents named Dave and Serena might be honored with a granddaughter Davina. Or a best friend named Emily Katherine might lead to a baby Emmeline.
5. USE A NAME THAT SHARES MEANING
Some of the most interesting possibilities come from names with a shared meaning.
Arnold means eagle, and there’s a long list of possible names that share that meaning, but have a more contemporary sound.
Margaret could have a great-niece called Daisy or Pearl.
In Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, Clara’s daughter is Blanca, and Blanca’s daughter is Alba. All three names relate light or white.
4. USE A HERO NAME
Is your loved one a lifelong fan of a sports team? A singer?
The Joe Lewis Arena is where the Red Wings played for decades, and so Detroit superfans could name a child Joseph as a very subtle nod.
Maybe Aldous Huxley was your dad’s favorite author, or maybe Nathaniel brings to mind Nat King Cole, a grandparent’s favorite singer. Lennon might nod to the way your mom sang “Imagine” as a lullaby, or Audrey could recall the old Hollywood movies you used to watch with your grandmother.
Hero names are everywhere.
3. USE A NAME RELATED TO THEIR BIRTH MONTH
Your mom Geraldine was born in May? May or even Mae might be a subtle honor name.
Every month has associated gemstones and flowers, many of which make great names, especially for girls – though not exclusively.
Astrological signs can suggest name possibilities, too. If your early August-born grandmother was also the picture of a fierce Leo, naming your son Leo or Leopold or Leonidas could be a powerful way to connect their names.
It’s not just months or seasons, either. If your loved one was born on a holiday or a day with historic significance, that might also provide inspiration.
2. USE A NAME RELATED TO THEIR PLACE OF BIRTH OR RESIDENCE
Place names from your family’s past could be a great source of inspiration. What was the street name of their family home? The village where they came from in Europe? The town your mom lived in her whole life?
For Catholic families – or those with Catholic heritage – might also consider the patron saints associated with some of those places. Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris. Josephine Bakhita is the patron saint of Sudan, Sebastian is the patron saint of Rio de Janeiro.
1. USE A FAVORITE COLOR, FLOWER, SONG, OR ANYTHING THAT BRINGS THEM TO MIND
A classic cars enthusiast might be delighted with a grandson called Ford. Maybe Beulah’s favorite color was purple and she loved violets. Violet might not have anything to do with Beulah’s name, but it can evoke her memory just as powerfully.
Have you considered creative honor names?
First published on June 19, 2015, this post was revised on August 15, 2022 and again on February 24, 2023.
I’d like to suggest another option for an honour name: a name that a family member might have used for their own child, but for whatever reason didn’t get to.
For example: our first daughter’s middle name is the name my parents-in-law would have used if they’d had a daughter (my husband only has a brother, no sisters). It just so happened to be a name that I loved anyway, so it was a great choice that my father-in-law was particularly delighted about. I would’ve liked to use it as her first name, but my husband said no, as it was ingrained in his mind as the name his hypothetical sister would have had.
I’d love it if any of my kids used a name that they knew I loved for one of their kids. Probably more so than if they used any form of my name, actually!
Purple People Eater says
If you want to present the name as an honor name, I do feel like the connection has to make sense to the honoree. If I were Grandma Margaret, I would totally get – and be thrilled about – the connection if my granddaughter were named Margo; if I were Grandma Beryl, I don’t know that I’d have the same feeling if my granddaughter were named Ruby.
That’s a good point – if you’re hoping your mom will feel good about the name you choose, then it’s worth considering. But I’ve heard all sorts of stories about parents being thrilled at the names of their grandchildren because of a tenuous connection. (Or should I say, a connection that can be seen as tenuous to outsiders?) And I do think sometimes a name just isn’t super-usable, so updating it is the only option. (My husband’s Uncle Zbigniew is an amazing guy, but if we’d tried to name a child after him, creativity would have been required!)
My middle name is Kathleen after my mom Kathy! If this baby is a girl we’re naming her Genevieve after my grandmother Jenny (short for Virginia) and one of where middle names will be Leighton after my husband’s mom whose middle name is Leigh.
Both my first Arika and my middle name Winifred are honor names. My mom choose the spelling Arika to honor her grandfather Alexander. Personally I would have preferred she just named me Alexandra, but oh well. My middle name was my paternal grandmother’s middle name as well as the name of the daughter that she had and lost before the birth of my father. I have a niece named Stephanie Linda to honor her grandmother, my and her father’s mother who was named Linda Sue. My mother’s family are Ashkenazi Jews and it is our tradition to name for those who have passed on. My family considers using the initial a close enough honor, I know some do not. After my grandfather passed I wanted to honor him by naming a son Isaac, his given name was Irving which in many recently emigrated Jewish families was used in place of Isaac at around the time he was born. They considered Isaac too ethnic and thought Irvin/Irving fit better in America. Sadly was not blessed enough to have any children.
I do like how subtle the initial tradition is … though yes, I can see that sometimes it feels like not quite enough. But it also opens the door to choose names that the parents like AND that are appropriate for that generation. So Isaac becomes Irving and eventually is honored with an Isaac … kind of a lovely circle.
We used Donovan as a nod to my husband’s grandfather Don. We also used Boone for my grandfather as his nickname was Booney. It wasn’t something I had ever considered before.
It’s a Jewish tradition to name your child after the last deseaced member of the family of their gender, and although my dad isn’t religious, it was very important to my grandma that I (as her first grankid) be named after her mother Mary.
That name wasn’t a good choice though, so my parents called me Mara from the NPR newscaster Mara Liason, oy to later learn that it actually is a Hebrew name (and one that I adore now.)
My little cousin also has the middle name Jasmine to honor our great-grandfather Jack, and my brother was almost named Carson for a my moms grandpa.
We wanted our son to have a short Gaelic name to go with his LONG Irish last name (9 letters), so we named him Liam (which was #103 on the list of boys names at his birth–now popular). He has both his grandfathers’ names as middle names. It also helped that his name was the Gaelic of one of my husband’s favorite uncles (who died a few months after he was born). Lots of memories.
My middle name is a mashup of my parents’ maternal grandmothers: Maria + Mary =Marie. Which is in the top 3 middle names for my generation, but I have the story to go with it. My eldest daughter is a mashup of my grandmothers- Estelle and Betty became Elsbeth. Betty is not a fan, but I still love it, and the name still reminds me of her and connects my daughter to her, and in the long run, that was what was important to me.
What I do think is cool, although I didn’t realize it at the time, is that both of our girls’ names also have meaning to my husband, whose family was highly dysfunctional, and who ended up taking a lot of his moral values from superheroes. We gave my youngest the middle name of Robin to honor my grandfather, but come on – it’s Robin. We named my oldest Gwen to honor my late stepfather George,and now there is a Spider-Gwencomic. I love that his “family” got some play in the names, too.
We honored my dad with our firstborn’s middle name by using my dad’s dad’s first name, which was HIS mother’s maiden name. A little convoluted to an outsider, but my grandfather’s name is highly unusual and very distinctive, so it’s very special to my dad. And we gave my dad his choice of how to honor him and he chose his dad’s name.
Since we have only boys, we considered honoring our moms through using their maiden names or dads’ names, but we ended up giving our youngest a masculine version of my mil’s name as his first name, and a surname from my mom’s family tree that has special significance to my mom and I as his middle name, and he goes by a nickname for his middle. It’s been a really meaningful choice, and it perfectly fits my son.
Love these suggestions! We plan to use Jane if we ever have a girl. To me, it honors my husband’s mother and my mother. His mother is Joanne and mi e is Lorraine. Jane and Joanne are both forms of John and Jane and Lorraine rhyme/have the same ending sound.
I’ve also thought about Annika to honor our moms (whose middle name is Ann) and my sister Jessica.
Another name I love is Fiona, to honor my Irish grandma named Florence.
Mash-ups! How could I leave mash-ups off the list? Love Jane and Annika, and what a great way to honor two loved ones with one name.
And another Lorraine-Joan/Joanne/Jane connection. Lorraine is the region in France where St. Joan of Arc was from (Maiden of Lorraine). So for Catholics, naming girls Lorraine was seen as an alternative name for recalling St. Joan (of Lorraine).
Christina Fonseca says
Anagrams! Rearrange letters and see if there’s another name you can use. You can honor Edna with Dane; Teresa has the same letters as Easter, Lisa’s grandchild can be Isla or Ilsa. If there’s too many Ethans in the family, use Thane instead. Grandpa Karl can be honored with Lark, and Neal’s grandkids can be Lane or Lena. Other anagrams include: Amy (May, Mya), Maria (Amira), Rona (Arno, Nora, Roan), Tate (Etta) and York (Kory).
C in DC says
Yes! My grandmother was Edna, which is a very flexible name. Dane, Dena, Edan/Eden, Neda, Dean, Enda, Ande, Enad/Enid, etc. The possibilities multiple if you add in middle names, too.
Another trick could be to find a name that was popular around the same time. Herbert could be honored with Arthur, for example. My grandfather was Melvin. My grandmother called him “Mal”, so I considered Malcolm. I also considered Frank or Franklin. Subtle, and not for everyone, but I would have been reminded of my grandfather everytime I said Franklin.