why i never say save the name for a sonShould you save the name for a son?

It comes up from time to time in #namehelp posts, and in all sorts of baby naming forums, too:

We love the name Raymond, after my dad, but we’re having a girl. 

I’d like to use my mother’s maiden name for my first child, but does Macallister work for a daughter?

Often well meaning comments suggest that the family save the name for a son, and choose a different name for their daughter. When I first started out, I think it’s possible that I said that sometimes, too. (And I’m sure I thought it more than once.)

It can seem like a logical suggestion, and I believe the comments are well-meaning. But the longer I write about names, the more those comments make me feel uneasy.

So I thought I’d share why I no longer suggest parents the save name for a son.

Girls deserve family names, too.

I know a few families where the boys are named after fathers and grandfathers, and the girls’ names? They’re just pretty.

The pressure to hand down a family name can be intense. If you’ve fulfilled your obligation with your first child’s name, it’s perfectly understandable that you might want to start with a blank slate for future children.

Factor in that men’s names tend to be slightly less trend-sensitive, and it’s easy to see how you end up with William James III and Everly Grace. One enduring classic to honor generations past, and one on-trend, stylish choice that is all yours.

But I think there’s something very egalitarian about the idea that the firstborn gets the family name, even if William ends up with a granddaughter Willa, or you pass on the family surname Hunter regardless of gender.

With creativity, almost any honor name works.

Should you name your baby girl Raymond? No. I don’t think you should.

But Rachel, Rae, Raya, and many other names that share the sound are all possibilities.

If you’ve decided that you’d like to honor a loved one, there will always be some way to make that name work.

The impulse to honor a loved one might be specific to this pregnancy.

Maybe your grandfather passed away shortly before you learned you were expecting. Or maybe this is your first child, and your dad’s memory has been much on your mind.

Sometimes it just feels like the right moment to choose an honor name.

Maybe the family plans on just one child.

I know plenty of families who are only planning on one child. They married late in life. There are health concerns. Or financial constraints. Or … well, reasons. If the family has made the decision – or had the decision made for them – then saving a name for a future child isn’t an option.

Sure, I know families who planned on just one child, and later had more. But if there’s a good chance this baby is going to be a singleton, then why forgo using a meaningful name?

What if there’s never a son?

Let’s say that you’ve had The Perfect Boy Name for over a decade. It’s a name that means so much to you and your partner. And in that decade, you’ve welcomed three wonderful daughters. Now you’re 41, and expecting baby #4.

And baby #4 is another girl. Should you really just give up the name? Or should you find a way to incorporate it into her name – as a middle, by finding a feminine form, or just using it for a girl as-is?

Some families let the name go, while others end up with a Ryanne or a Riley Marie.

Here’s what strikes me about this one – if it’s okay to finally use Riley after three other daughters, doesn’t that meant that you could have used it in the first place?

The main reason I never say “save the name for a son” is …

The word I say more often than any on this site is congratulations, and that’s such a privilege and a joy.

But I hear other kinds of stories, too. Heartbreaking tales of miscarriage. Multiple rounds of IVF. Failed adoptions. Building a family isn’t easy, and sometimes the history behind a new addition – if the parents really cared to take us into their confidence – is complicated and intense.

And so even when the parents say, “We’d love to have four more children,” I tend to think that we should use our favorite names now, when the circumstances feel right – even if it isn’t exactly what others might expect.

Of course, you shouldn’t necessarily save names for daughters, either!

When we were first married, I assumed we’d have at least three children, maybe more. (I once suggested seven …) But that wasn’t in the cards. We named our first son after his side of the family, and agreed that our first daughter would be named after my mom, Clare. And our second child was a daughter, so everything worked out.

But if baby #2 had been a son? I think that using Clare as a middle would have been better than not using the name at all.

While using conventionally feminine names for boys is less mainstream than using conventionally masculine ones for girls, that’s changing. And honoring loved ones is as good a reason to break with tradition.

Did you “save the name for a son” – or a daughter?

First published on August 8, 2015, this post was updated and re-published on January 26, 2023.

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. As a female, I was named after both of my grandfathers but also in a way after my grandmother, and I have always liked that connection. 🙂

    My grandmother was named Paulette as firstborn to a Paul, so the male-to-female switch was set there. Then her daughter – my mother – had the middle name Rae after Raymond, her father/my grandfather (her older sister had a middle name that was based on my grandmother’s middle name, so she was honoured first). My middle name is Raine, which was after Raymond and Wayne (with an “i” in the middle instead of the expected “y” from that combo, apparently to place my first initial in the middle to show that I was the focus :D). I definitely plan on passing on a version of Raine/Rayne/Rain to future children, and lately I have been thinking that I would like for it to be included as a middle for any and all children. 🙂 I am eager to shed my maiden name – didn’t exactly have things smooth due to my father – but I do want to preserve my family heritage through “Raine” because to me it shows a lot of love, which is what I want to pass on to boys and girls equally.

  2. I like the mention of William, I’m planning on using Winnie for a daughter to honor my grandfather, William. Fortunately in my family we just do first initial honor, though Winnie is not super similar to William, I could never use Willa.

  3. My daughter is Josephine Frances after her grandfather, Joseph Francis. He goes by Joe and she’s Josie, so it works out fine!

  4. I disagree with just about everything here. I don’t like gender swapping names. I think each gender has unique attributes that contribute to society and families in incredible ways–and in ways that the other gender just can’t. All seven of my children have honor name middles but they are named after relatives of the same gender. I want my daughters to emulate the beautiful, gracious, charitable, motherly, and powerful characteristics of female relatives so they realize the power and grace in the female gender. I want my boys to emulate the beautiful, funny, hard-working and powerful characteristics of male relatives. I’m not just honoring relatives–I’m teaching my children about how I want them to turn out as people and as people I want them to maximize the best characteristics of the gender they are and not think either gender is better than the other or interchangeable.

    I recognize that with people who have much smaller families than mine that they don’t have as many opportunities to use names that are very, very dear. I can understand the desire to pass those names on and I guess I can even see adjusting them to fit the gender. I’m not saying it would be wrong to do that–naming is so personal, after all, and there aren’t any rules–but I wouldn’t do it.

  5. I was named for my mother’s mother who died before I was born and my father’s grandmother who also died before I was born. I loved hearing stories about these two strong women from my mom and dad. My daughter is named for my grandmother who died before she was born, and my husband’s grandmother who is also dead. We had another honor name picked out for if she’d been a boy and if I get pregnant I wouldn’t hesitate to use another family name. I just choose to honor different people depending on my child’s sex. If we have a boy, he’ll be named for my grandfather and my husband’s grandfather. If we have a girl, she’ll be named for my favorite great aunt and my husband’s other grandmother. There’s a whole lot of people in need of namesakes in my family tree for me to consider giving a purely fashionable name.

  6. point in case – i recently met an intern from south carolina named Counsel. a name i had not heard of. she very proudly told me her father had wanted a 3rd child and already had 2 daughters. her mothers reply was “but you only want a son to call him by your family name Counsel” and his response was “well irrespective of sex they’ll be Counsel.” great girl with a memorable name!