Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, one reader’s name questions will be discussed. We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!


Paige writes:

I’m not sure there’s a good answer to this question, but I hope you can help.

My sister and I are just 17 months apart, and we’ve always been close. She got married last year, and I’m getting married in October.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to name my daughter Eleanore, after our grandmother. (That’s how she spelled it.) My fiancé agrees.

My sister and her husband are trying for a baby, and a few weeks ago she told me that they’d agreed on Eleanor – that spelling – if it’s a girl.

I told her that it’s always been my girl’s name, and she can’t use it.

She seemed shocked that I would call the name, and insisted that she never knew I had any intention of naming a daughter after our grandmother. But she said that it’s just childish to think you can save names like this.

Maybe that’s true, but I’m pretty upset about it.

Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.

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Abby replies:

Congratulations on your marriage!

This is one of those questions that feels so frustrating. In an earlier generation, both girls would’ve been named Eleanor/e, your beloved grandmother doubly honored, and no one would have raised an eyebrow.

But the way we use names now? It feels like a tug-of-war.

There are two possible outcomes, neither of which you can completely control:

  1. It’s a race! One of you gets pregnant and delivers a girl first, and names her Eleanor/e. Fate decides who wins. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach.
  2. You agree that you could both have daughters named Eleanor/e, especially if one is, say, Ellie while the other answers to Nora. Again, this works perfectly fine – not so long ago, it would’ve been the norm for many families.

It sounds like your sister and her husband have a head start, but that doesn’t mean they’ll have a girl.

Okay, I’m done stating the obvious.

Let’s talk about what you can do.

Choose the relationship over the name.

Maybe there’s a lot going on here. Or maybe you really are just arguing about the name. Either way, my advice is (almost) always to choose the relationship. You (presumably) want your sister in your life – and her family, including any future nephews and nieces, even if they’re named Eleanor/e. That won’t make it any easier if she does use your favorite name, but if you start from the idea that fixing the relationship matters most? That’s a good beginning.

Think through your options if your sister does name her daughter Eleanor.

Obviously, there are lots of unknowns here. A dozen years from now, you might both be boy moms, with six sons between you. Or maybe Eleanor/e won’t be the right name for one family, for any number of reasons. But let’s assume worst case scenario: your sister uses the name. Would you still name your daughter Eleanore? You absolutely can. I’m guessing your girls might have different surnames. And maybe you don’t even live in the same city/area? You can’t control your sister’s choices, but you can decide if they will change your decisions – or not.

Consider other names you can love just as much as Eleanore.

Even if you do eventually have a daughter named Eleanore, it’s possible she’d someday have a sister, right? I worked with a couple who had The Perfect Name picked out – only they were having twin daughters, and ended up having to jettison The Perfect Name to find a pair of names they loved equally. It happens! Lots of things happen. So maybe you’d feel more confident if you had a second – or third or fourth – name in mind for possible future siblings.

Feel free to let your sister know that you might still name your daughter Eleanore.

I’d try some variation of this: “I know I can’t tell you what to name your children. But I think it’s possible we’ll both end up with a daughter named for our grandmother. I’ll love you and my nieces/nephews no matter what, and I hope if our girls do end up sharing grandma’s name that they’ll see it as a special tribute to an amazing woman.”

Or whatever is honest, accurate, and in your own words.

Work to accept the one thing you can’t have: a promise that your sister will consider your feelings when naming her children.

If your sister were writing, I would probably tell her that – while she’s under no obligation – it might be a kindness to choose a different name. But that’s not the case. So it’s time to make peace with that reality – though it might take some time and certainly some effort.

When someone uses the name we’d long planned for our own child it can feel like they’re taking something important from us – our whole idea of what motherhood and family is going to look like. And that’s painful! One consolation: know that your actual child will be so much more amazing than even your wildest dreams. Even if the way you imaged it isn’t quite the way it ends up working out.

Okay, I wish I had a better solution that would instantly make everyone happy, but life … isn’t really like that, right?

Readers, over to you! What advice would you give Paige for handling this potential conflict?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Congrats to you and it is lovely that your fiancee wants to honour your grandmother as well.
    Names are little real people in our hearts, so I understand the passion surrounding this.
    My brother named his first son Thomas, even though my husband and I had named our first son Thomas ten years before theirs was born. So there were two Tom’s in the family. With different surnames and a few hundred miles living away, it’s made no difference to either of us. You have the name of your hearts desire and don’t worry about anything else.

  2. I think that this situation is one in which modern namers have made things harder for themselves. I know there are a lot of Jens and Ashleys in the world who got tired of being one of so many, and I’m glad we’re using more names these days, but the taboos against using the same name as someone else who’s close to us can be counterproductive.

    The name in question here is #14 on the SSA popularity list. Any little girl named Eleanor/e will know others with her name. Its component sounds are also popular – a Nora will find herself sharing a name with classmates, and an Ellie will find she has even more name twins!

    Given that it’s also a family name, I don’t see any reason you both can’t name your daughters Eleanor/e if you should each have the opportunity. I think maybe a bit of backtracking from the claim that your sister can’t use the name herself would be a good move. It sounds like you were both surprised, but it generally isn’t effective to call a name like that. Let her know that if you have a daughter, you’ll be honoring your grandmother, and that if she gives a daughter the same name, everyone can find a way to work with that.

    Cousins sharing names is more unusual these days than it used to be, but it seems like this would be easy to explain to the children involved: Grandma Eleanore was very special and you both wanted to honor her. Maybe that’s even the time to tell some family stories about her to her great-grandchildren.

  3. Okay let’s try to reverse situations a bit to see if that helps….

    Imagine you never have a girl and your sister settled on a different name to preserve her relationship with you. Neither of you end up with an Eleanor(e) and grandma goes unhonored…. Does that feel better?

    Or what if in the near future your husband-to-be has a horrible person in his life name Eleanor and you can’t use it on your daughter once you conceive her? Same situation with your sister not using the name and it goes unused by anyone…. Better or worse?

    There was a name I ALWAYS loved. Hubby hated it for many (and some good) reasons. Now I have an employee with that name who is a nightmare. So so so thankful it isn’t my son’s name. My brother used a name I had loved for a child in my prior relationship. By the time I was expecting it didn’t work anymore.

    Point being, this is her moment choose. You’ll get yours when you are expecting and/or maybe adopting. You have shared your love for the name in case you decide to double up. But for now give her the space to choose her child’s name without having to worry about your feelings. Choose the relationship.

  4. I would be upset, too. My sister (and even my cousins!) are regularly warned about my favorite name, in order to avoid this kind of situation.
    But if you really like the name, having a niece named Eleanor won’t stop you from using the same name on your daughter.
    I would use it anyway (and tell my sister I intend to). If you and your sister love each other, having two Eleanors won’t be a problem. It might even be fun and cute, creating a special bond between cousins!

  5. I think the advice of choosing the relationship over the name is perfect. I can attest that a similar situation has definitely soured a family relationship ever since the naming discussion.

    But, I wanted to also say that I see you. What made a name really special to me was that it honours family lines. And my cousin wanted to use it just because her husband liked the name. I know no one can ‘own’ or ‘call’ a name, but honour names have special connection and I didn’t see in your message whether your sister really wants the name because of your grandmother or just because it happens to be a name that wears well today and her husband agrees. Not to minimize the rarity of both parents loving a name early on (for any reason), but.

    In my situation, my daughter was named and almost two when my cousin asked to use her name on the daughter she was pregnant with. A Swistle article really clarified the biggest reason I felt aghast – that once a child is named, that name becomes the child. And so, if your sister has her Eleanor, I’d actually advise you to leave that Eleanor with her name.

    That’s a lot of ifs ahead though, so I really hope that for your sake, you get your Eleanore.

  6. Don’t turn it into an issue. Matter of factly tell her that you love her, you’re excited about your new niece or nephew, but you’re still planning to use Eleanore if you ever have a girl. Tell her you’re letting her know so she can factor it into her decision making, not because you’re trying to change her mind about the name. Start thinking of nicknames you like to distinguish them: Ella, Ellie, Leni, Nell, Nella, Nellie, Nora, Nori, etc., or even E.J. If you pick a J middle name. You could also use Eleanore as a middle name. It’s not the end of the world. For one thing, they will have different last names. I knew two cousins, both named Christopher, who were within a few years in age and attended the same school. One was called Chris and one was called Kit.

    1. This is likely the safest route considering that the original author gets to honor their feelings and their sister’s. Plus, giving up a name that you love (at this point) isn’t what either of them have to do. I concur!

  7. This is so tough! I would definitely tell your sister that you had also always wanted a daughter named Eleanor(e) and then I would just leave it for a while. You have your upcoming marriage to be excited about and if your sister does become pregnant with a daughter and chooses that name, I think that when your niece arrives, you will be overjoyed and you can still think of your own daughter in the future and if it is important to you if/when that time comes, you can still consider Eleanor. I know Eleanor was the other “Aenor” in medieval French history – I just read an excellent book about Southwest France and its history…so there could be (possibly) two in your family too. However, I bet there are a few other names you and your husband might fall in love with too – I know it could be hard to give up Eleanor, but you don’t have to yet. I have a younger sister (20 mos apart) and she has 3 children & I am single, so I understand this sibling dynamic. I know your grandmother would be proud you are both thinking of her, but if a little niece Eleanor comes first, and you do conceive of a daughter, there will be an amazing name for her like Eleanor(e) that I am sure you and your husband will believe is “the one” if/when that moment comes.

  8. Great advice, Abby! Choose the relationship over the name! The OP’s sister may feel exactly the same way about Eleanor as OP does about Eleanore. It would perhaps be different if both were pregnant and OP had already announced they were using that name.
    If the desire is to honour Grandma Eleanor, is there a nickname she went by that could be used? My mother’s name is Eleanor, but she went by Ellie & I have an AN in part of my name, so the name we had wanted to use for a hypothetical daughter was Ellieanna (not spelled like that lol). Our other idea was to use both our children’s grandma’s names as a double barrel name -Eleanor Irene. That’s a mouthful, but my cousin’s daughter went by Anna Elizabeth, whole thing, for years, until she started school. It is doable! I’m sure if we’d done that, our daughter would have ended up with a nickname though. In the end, we only have sons, so it’s not an issue.
    I like Abby’s suggestion of using Eleanore even if you already have a niece named Eleanor, and giving her a different nickname. But, by the time either of you has a daughter, there may be another name on your radar that suits just as well.