Name Help: SIL requestName 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!

Hannah writes:

This isn’t a name question exactly, but I’m hoping you have some advice for us.

My husband and I are expecting our first child. Since we are both almost forty, it is possible this could be our only child, but we’d love to have at least two kids.

My husband has a younger sister in her mid-thirties. She is not pregnant (or, as far as we know, in a relationship), but she’s often talked about wanting a family.

Here’s the question: we shared that we were expecting at my husband’s birthday dinner last weekend. The next morning, I woke up to a text from my sister-in-law with a list of names she has reserved for her future children.

I’m mostly fine with that. (Really!)

Except she has called The Family Name on their side. Let’s say it’s William. (It’s not, but it’s a very traditional, common name.) William is my father-in-law’s name and my husband’s middle name, and it’s the name we had decided to use. (While we know that we’re having a boy, we didn’t share that and don’t plan to announce it in advance.)

I’m the youngest of three, and my older siblings aren’t having any/more children, so no conflict there. Also, my siblings have used all the family names on my side that we’d ever consider.

We planned to use my last name as our son’s middle name. (And probably would do the same for any future children.)

Here are my questions:

  • I feel like this is weird, right?
  • Should we choose another name to keep the peace? We could. It would be okay.
  • But wait, it’s my husband’s middle name. Isn’t it already his, sort of?
  • My father-in-law’s health isn’t great. Giving him a grandson named for him now seems like it would mean a lot. I know there are never any guarantees and I don’t want to be grim about it. But why wait?

My husband feels like maybe we should just wait a few weeks and see if everyone calms down. But we waited until I was past twenty weeks to share the news, so we really don’t have a lot of time if we’re going to choose something different. Also, we had a list of maybe five or six girls’ names we both liked, but since we agreed pretty quickly on William, we don’t have a list of boys’ names to fall back on.

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

Abby replies:

Congratulations on your new son!

And OOF … this is a doozy.

It sounds like you know the answer already: you are free to name your son William.

There’s no good reason NOT to use the name. In fact, it sounds like you’ve already named him William, but just aren’t ready to share.

And there’s really no argument that your sister-in-law has a stronger claim to this family name. If she were also expecting around the same time and knew she was having a boy, then maaaaaybeeeeeee you’d have to flip a coin and agree that one of you would choose another name.

Or not. Cousins can have the same first name.

To answer your questions:

  • I feel like this is weird, right? Yes, it’s weird. But it happens all. the. time. Families are weird! Relationships are complicated. And one sibling having a child of their own can make the other sibling feel all sorts of things, from joy to jealousy to a general anxiety about falling behind, and probably most often, some complicated mix of emotions.
  • Should we choose another name to keep the peace? Nah. Yes, you could. And yes, it would be okay. But it seems pointless. After all, imagine that you choose a different name and your sister-in-law never has her William, either.
  • But wait, it’s my husband’s middle name. Isn’t it already his, sort of? I mean, I’m not keeping score. But if I were, this feels like it gives you a few more points.
  • My father-in-law’s health isn’t great … why wait? I think this is a fair point. We give family names for lots of reasons, but certainly seeing our loved ones rejoice when a name is handed down is part of the calculus.

So the question is how to handle the potential conflict, right?

I think, in this, your husband might be on to something. What if you just wait?

First, if there’s any possibility you’ll change your mind, then better to walk through that decision on your own, without family influence.

Assuming you’re set on naming this child William, remember that your happy news is fresh to your husband’s family. Our immediate reactions aren’t always the way we feel a few days or weeks later.

Presumably there’s a chance for your husband to talk with his sister one-on-one over the next few months. If they’re not close, possibly he can talk with his mother about the issue?

I think it’s important to frame it this way: We have decided we’re naming our son William, and I know that your/Sister’s feelings might be hurt by this decision.

You’re not asking for permission. But you’re acknowledging that your choice might cause discomfort for someone else you care about.

Beyond that, so much of this comes down to family dynamics. Go (a little) slow, be compassionate, and know that you’re doing something really lovely naming your son after his grandfather – and dad, too!

Readers, have you experienced anything similar? I feel like my answer could use some real world experience!

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. Have to say this- 
    Names are given, not taken. 

    You should give the name you love. We’re all free to choose our favorite. Your sil could also use the name William in the future if she really wants to.  There are no rules here-  name with love and you won’t go wrong 

  2. I thought I might be a little crazy sending my SIL a list of names to consider using, for fun with no actual expectations she’s use any!….  But sending a list of off limits names?… There may be a little more consideration for your SIL in this situation if she’s sent you the ONE name she’s always had her heart set on… but she sent a list.  You also mentioned that as far as you know she’s not in a serious relationship- so I’m guessing you guys aren’t so close/ talk every day kind of relationship anyways… point being ~ the priorities here are you, your husband, and your baby.  On top of that, honoring your father in law is a very loving thing to do.   I do hope your SIL understands down the road. 
    Congratulations on you baby boy!

  3. I agree that this is your husband’s responsibility.

    It’s a pretty low thing to text the expectant mother and start laying down the law when a breezy chat with her own brother could have handled the issue.

    My guess is that SIL didn’t WANT to have to talk to her brother because he would have said, “It’s my MIDDLE NAME. If we want to use it, we’re going to before Dad’s health gets any worse. Are you even pregnant?”

    Aaaaaaaand that would have been game over for her demands.

    I think the husband here is being gentle and cool about the situation, though.

    Absolutely use the name. Your son will bring you all such joy!

  4. In my family it is not unusual for cousins to share well-used, classic first names like William. My brother shared a first name with his cousin and now his own son shares a different, equally classic first name with his cousin. The cousin goes by a common nickname and no one seems to mind. The only thing my brother and his cousin minded was when other people came up with their own names to distinguish between the two.

  5. You like it and already chose it.
    I think the idea of waiting is best as sometimes at the last minute people change their minds on a selected name when they see the baby. #me, I did that!
    However I completely agree with everyone and especially Abby that you do need to be sensitive and tell your sister in law gently. I would add in the conversation that you genuinely hope she will still use that name as it’s so meaningful to everyone in the family.

  6. Real world experience: My uncle’s best friend passed away in a tragic accident when they were both in high school. My uncle had always said that if he had a boy, he would name him after his best friend. Then his sister had a baby and used the name, not because it held particular meaning to her, but just because she liked it. It was upsetting to my uncle and his wife, who live just a few minutes away in the same small town and were already pregnant. They found out that they were having a boy just a few months later.

    I completely understand the desire to reserve a name that is especially meaningful to you, and I think it is wise for others to respect something like that. I think it was unkind of my aunt to use the *one* name her brother had clearly always wanted to use. Stories like this make a case for “reserving” a name.

    But this situation is so different. It sounds like your baby was kind of already named [William] before she even gave you the list. And it’s a wonderful, meaningful name for him. You can’t change a real baby’s name to appease an imaginary future baby that may never come into existence. Wanting to use a highly meaningful name for your child is much different than reserving an entire list.

    I hope your sister-in-law can come around and see that. I hope that when she sees your little [William] she will love him and his name. It sounds like she has plenty of other names to choose from anyway 😉

  7. There are so many reasons why this baby should be named William! 
    1-You’ve been thinking of him that way for weeks/months.
    2-it’s your husband’s middle name. 
    3-Your SIL might never have any children.
    4-Your SIL might only have daughters.
    5-Your SIL’s baby’s Daddy might have a name that MUST be passed down, that’s not William.
    6-Your SIL’s baby’s Daddy might hate the name William for his child for some reason.
    7- If you both use the same name, they can both have different nns for family functions while still using William at school ; Will & Liam, Big William & Little William, Will-James & Will-Cal (depending on what their middles are & what THE name is). 
    8- There are other ways SIL could honour her father without using the same name. 
    & many more, I’m sure. 

    Whatever you decide, please make sure to talk to SIL before baby is born rather than surprise her with a baby named William. It might be an awkward convo, but I agree with you, Abby, it’s important. 

  8. I’m definitely Team William-Is-Your-Son. And treading lightly but firmly. I feel like calling dibs isn’t legally binding, but worth a conversation depending on the situation. And this one is so theoretical it’s moot. 

    What if she never has a son? Are there other boy names on her list? What if her partner has family names they want to use if they’re ever pregnant with a boy?