UPDATE: They named him Beckett William, keeping the family name, but updating the tradition … just a little.
I love my husband’s family, but I hate this wacky tradition they have when it comes to naming their sons.
They name all of their sons William. None of them are called William in real life.
That’s right. My husband is named William Craig legally, but I only knew him as Craig for months. Months! No one knows he is William, except for insurance forms and tax documents. His brother, dad, and two uncles? All named William, but known by their middles instead.
The story goes that his dad was named for one grandfather named William; his younger brother was named for the other grandfather – who also happened to be named William. When the third brother came along, they decided to stick with the pattern.
There’s also a cousin William, who is actually Will, and doesn’t have kids of his own yet.
I strongly prefer that we use William as a middle name, or not at all. My husband likes the idea of keeping the tradition, at least with this son. (Even he agrees that naming two boys William in the same family is too much.)
I like Beckett, Hudson, Jackson – but maybe too popular?!, Holden, and maybe Blake. (But Blake with our last name sounds too short.)
We also have a daughter named Everly Aerin – no family connection, just a named we loved!
What do we do?
Our last name sounds like House with an R.
Please read on for my suggestions, and leave your own helpful thoughts in the comments.
Dear Karin –
Wow! Family traditions can complicate baby naming, but this one is a doozy.
If I understand it correctly, naming your son William and calling him William is off the table. That leaves:
- Name your son William Middle, but call him exclusively by Middle.
- Name your son First William, and call him exclusively by First.
Option #1 preserves family tradition, but feels unreasonable to you. Option #2 maintains the family name, but alters the pattern carried over two – or is it three? – generations.
I use my middle name in everyday life. It occasionally complicates things. In addition, our daughter answers to a nickname very different from her given name. Again, it makes things weird every once in a while. But overall? I’m guessing your husband finds it a small inconvenience, and maybe a fun story to tell. Or at least that’s my take.
But let’s revisit the question. If you asked, “Is it okay to continue this tradition?” then I would say yes. Especially since your husband agrees that this is a one-son-and-done case.
Your question makes it clear that you’re not wild about the tradition. I love family names, and can argue in favor of using them.
But good reasons abound to avoid family names, too. The fact that one partner dislikes the family name – or even the idea of family names – serves as a very good reason to avoid the practice entirely.
And yet, you’re arguing in favor of adapting the tradition. That raises an important note. My fellow name blogger, Swistle, once wrote:
… traditions end up being most pleasing and least burdensome when they’re FLEXIBLE.
I wonder if it is all about presentation. It’s one thing to say, “It is ridiculous to name our son William, but call him Middle instead.” It’s another thing to explain, “I love your family, and respect your tradition, but I prefer to adapt this tradition by using William as a middle name.”
And then you can move on to the far more interesting task of choosing the name you’ll actually call your son!
Because here’s the thing: compromise is the key to naming children. (And so much in relationships, right?) Compromising by naming your son First William seems like the only reasonable approach to this situation.
Readers, am I wrong? Are there other approaches I’ve overlooked? Have you ever dealt with conflict over a family naming tradition?
Chelsea Rathke | Love of Names says
Interesting. My sister married into a family that does the same tradition, except that they all are John K-name. So each middle name starts with a K and they go by their middle name. My sister thinks it’s limiting because she doesn’t like any boy K-names and she doesn’t want to use John either.
I love family naming traditions, so my first reaction is “Go for it! William for everybody!” BUT both parents need to be on board, and you’re not. I think William as a middle name for the eldest boy is a good compromise.
I think naming him William and calling him William would be the best compromise, if you could bring yourself to do it. It kind of breaks with tradition, but keeps things in their traditional order. And it’s not like it’s a terrible name that breaks your naming style. If anything it keeps the style a bit more open … Everly, William and Hudson etc still fit and sound good together. Or you could veer towards, say, Everly, William and Sarah and it still works.
And it’s not like everyone in the family is called Gargoyle or something hideous. William is a great name, if a little popular now, and sounds great with Everly.
If anything future sons might wonder why they’ve missed out on the family name … perhaps William as a middle could be used next time … or maybe that’s taking things too far 😉
Amanda L. says
If your husband feels strongly about using William middle for this son, but agrees to give future sons a completely new name, I think you already have your compromise.
Lots people go by their middle name, so I don’t see any practical difference between William middle called middle or First William called first. In either case, you get to pick the name will actually be using. By following the traditional order, you can please your husband – and the extended family, too, as a bonus. And that may help smooth things over when you put your foot down next time.
My husband has a lot of Williams-his MN, his dad’s name, his nephew. I was always on board with the name in theory but felt strongly that I wanted to contribute something new-a piece of ME in the William thing. I don’t know if that’s partly why you have reservations. If it is, I say hold fast for YOUR EXCLUSIVE(ish) pick for the middle, which will be your son’s name. Bonus points if it’s a traditional/meaningful name from your side if only to bring dual traditions which is super helpful when explaining to your in-laws. They’re not the ones who get to call all the shots 🙂
Amanda Grayson says
Now that the comment section is working… First, my spouse goes by her middle name. It doesn’t seem to really bother her. It might be worth following the tradition– keep peace in the family. I do like the idea of choosing a variation of William. If you planning to have more kids, you could also save this idea for the next one.
Missy Hines says
My husband and FIL are both William and go by Bill. I wouldn’t have picked that name but wanted to name my son after his dad. He didn’t agree to it until the day he was born! I just wanted a middle name but dh liked the flow better as his first. It took us 2 more days to commit. So his name is William Hunter and he goes by Hunter. He is 17 and I have never regretted it even though it wouldn’t have been a name choice for me. Even though I’m a name lover, I have also never felt cheated out of getting to pick 2 favorite names.
You could also choose a variation. Liam, for example.
C in DC says
I know tons of men who go by their middle names. If it’s important to your spouse, I’d use William MN and call him by the middle.
I know a family that has straight six-generations of firstborn Williams, who also have the same middle name. Everyone goes by something different. The baby goes by Liam, so their family has managed to stick to tradition and observe the trends!
Maybe finding an interesting nickname for William would be a good compromise for this family?
I would push for the middle name William to follow the tradition of using the name. I like Hudson William with Everly Aerin. Good luck!