Naming boys after women should be standard practice.
After all, we’ve been naming our sons after their dads and grandfathers for generations. We name girls after the significant men in their lives, too. What else explains so many feminine forms of traditional masculine names? And, to a lesser extent, we meet women named after their grandmothers and beloved aunts and such, too.
But meeting boys named after the significant women in their lives seems far less common.
Late night talk show host Seth Meyers named both of his sons for his wife’s family: Ashe Olson and Axel Strahl.
And women’s maiden names have often been passed down to boys as middle names, too. So perhaps there’s plenty of interest in naming our boys after the women we love. We just need to consider – and embrace! – our options.
Here are six approaches to naming boys after women that work.
Naming Boys After Women: Family Surnames
An oldie, but a goodie! Passing down family surnames from the mother’s side is a time-honored tradition. I’d venture that it’s the only common way we’ve been naming boys after women, at least in the US, for the last few hundred years. In the American South, as well as New England, it seems especially common.
But that doesn’t deprive it of its power. It even works when the parents both keep their original surnames: she’s Ashley Walker, he’s Matthew Briggs, and their son is Walker Briggs.
Naming Boys After Women: Just Use Her Name
Murphy Brown’s son Avery was named for Murphy’s mom … Avery.
The rise of unisex names suggests that we might be able to hand down more names with ease. Names like Rowan, Remy, Taylor, and Parker might be handed down to future grandsons and granddaughters alike.
Naming Boys After Women: Use the Masculine Form
Just as Patrick’s daughter became Patricia, why not name Patricia’s grandson Patrick?
All of those masculine-feminine equivalent names work both ways. And there’s no need to stick with a strict interpretation. Sure, Joanna’s grandson could be John, since the two names are most closely related. But Jonah and Josiah work beautifully, too.
Donovan for Donna, Jude for Judith, Beau for Bonnie, and Ross for Rose all come to mind, too. A little bit of creativity can nearly always uncover a name that’s close enough to serve.
Naming Boys After Women: Translate the Name
Families sometimes lament that their surname is too cumbersome to serve as a given name. But here’s a possibility: translate it. Zimmerman means carpenter; Perez comes, ultimately, from Peter; and Kumar can mean prince – just like Brendan.
If the direct translation of her surname doesn’t yield any possibilities, how about names with shared meanings? Bertha and Clara mean bright; so does Robert.
Or even vague meanings. Irish surname Kelly brings to mind a bright green color. Other green color names, like Hunter or Forrest, might work.
Naming Boys After Women: Use a Part of the Name
When Kourtney Kardashian welcomed son Mason, she gave him the middle name Dash – part of her maiden name.
Nicole’s grandson might be Cole. Grandma Wyman might be honored by a Wyatt. Kaminski is Camden, Cameron, or even just Cam. Contracting a name works, too; Zajac becomes Zac – or Zachary, called Zac.
Naming Boys After Women: Use a Name from Her Family History
Of course, you might look farther back in your family history. What what her mother’s maiden name? Her hometown? The name of the street where she lived as a child?
Some families feel like a more obscure reference isn’t enough of an honor. But that’s really up to you. If it feels like you’re choosing the name because it brings to mind a significant woman in your life? Then it works.
Have you considered naming boys after women in your life? Share your stories!
Note: A number of readers have commented that they know men named for women, or named their sons for women. It’s a good reminder that this does happen, but sometimes it’s subtle. So while it’s easy to spot three generations of Bill, Billy, and Will, boys named for women might be more common – and just tougher to recognize.
In my mother’s culture, children receive (well, *received* . The custom’s dying out) 2 middle names: one after each godparent.
This means that all of my uncles have one middle name after a woman (either a masculine version or just as is).
This makes it pretty easy to name boys after women, as at least one of their middle names will have a masculine equivalent (and vice-versa for naming girls after men).
Thanks for highlighting these different ways of thinking about naming sons.
My mother’s name is Averil. Is Averton too much of an invention to work? Nickname Avi (which some people call my mum).
Other Grandma Linda could lead to Linden.
I also thought of Fielding as a reworking of my surname (similar to Bromfield).
I hope one day my kids choose Delany as a nod to me. It was my paternal grandmother’s maiden name but is too rhyming with our current surname.
I love this post! My youngest son is named for my grandmother and my mother (sort of). His first name, Carew, was my grandmother’s maiden name. His middle name, Wilder, comes from a movie my mother and I watched over and over again when I was little—“Wilder Napalm” with Arliss Howard and Dennis Quaid. I was maybe 5 years old and it was the first time I realized I had a thing for names. I remember asking my mother if Wilder was a real name and she told me that anything could be a real name if I liked it enough. I was sold. 🙂
Anyways, I digress. My other grandmother’s name was Frances, and she was named for HER mother. She had only boys, so she passed down her name to my uncle Francis.
I do hope to see more boys/men named for women!
Maybe it’s just because I’m from the US South, but I’m always confused when I read statements such as “girls don’t receive family names nearly as often as boys” or “boys are rarely named after women.” Where is the data to support these claims? Because both practices are commonplace in my neck of the woods.
maple, I think family names in general are more prevalent in the South. And, of course, family names are often in the middle spot, which makes it tougher to trace. (Maybe the son is William Jr., so it’s clear he’s named for dad; but the daughter’s middle name is Elizabeth for grandma, which might be harder to follow.) There’s a strong case made here, particularly as regards Southern culture, that family names are more common for boys. As the article suggests, the data also support this theory – i.e., one of the reasons boys’ names are less volatile is because they’re more likely to be handed down father-to-son. It’s not a satisfying, X% kind of answer, but it’s not completely a gut feeling either …
I’ve always wanted to name a child for my mom – Misti Lane – but I’m not sure how well it translates in any of these ways. Lane has been well used in my family – she gave it to my youngest sister as a middle and one of my first cousins has it as well. I’ve thought about maybe using a water related name? My mother was named for a painting done by her great uncle. The name of the painting was Misty Lane.
All my kids have a family middle. My daughter’s is a feminised variant of her dad’s name. One of my sons has my grandmother’s maiden name, this was the plan regardless of boy or girl.
In my area it is common to give girls a family middle name and I can think of quite a few examples. I think there are fewer Jnr and Snr examples because the fashion for girls changes so fast and is seen as more important.
If a child is given the mother’s maiden name is this seen as naming after a woman (mum) or man (grandfather)? I think this would have a bearing on the numbers.
I read this all the time–that girls aren’t named after people as often as boys are. You wrote: “And, to a lesser extent, we meet women named after their grandmothers and beloved aunts and such, too.” Swistle has said something similar as well. I am just curious about what data has been collected that leads to that conclusion? I have found that the girls in my circle are given family honor names equally as often as boys. There are always mini-cultures within larger cultures, however, and personal experience is hardly empirical. I just wondered if there was research available on the topic that I could read.
Andrea, this is one of the best recent round-ups, though it’s specific to the Southern US. The point they make about looking at name data across generations is interesting, though, and applies across the US in general.
The huge, glaring, problem with this is that they are tracking first names and especially focusing in on exact names. If you can’t tell if a person’s first name is his/her mom’s maiden name, then how can you track it? Middle names are left out completely. Also, women are generally given a wider variety of names than men, so it would be harder to track that. So really, I don’t find this convincing at all. I only have anecdotal evidence, but every person that I know who cares about giving honor names, gives honor names to both genders. The people I know (who are fewer in number than the people who give honor names) who pick names solely on personal preference, give both genders names based on personal preference. It is possibly true that the way honor names are given is different for genders, but, again, where is the evidence? This might just be a case of being able to track down juniors pretty easily, so that skews the study. It doesn’t appear to be provable one way or another, but my vote is that boys get more honor names than girls is just an urban myth.
You might be right. There’s a difference between “did you pass down the identical first name, father to son” and “did you choose a name that honors someone in your family, as a first or a middle, even if it’s not the exact same name.”
In my mom’s Italian family, most children received family names – boys and girls alike. And names repeated among cousins. Those jokes about all those boys named Tony come from a very specific tradition, and it was not exclusive to sons.
But it might also be regional. In my experience, boys DO receive family names in much bigger numbers – firsts and middles. Of course, I’ve spent most of my life in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where there isn’t a strong honor culture. But I can think of lots of families where the firstborn son shares a name with his father or grandfather. It doesn’t come up in conversation with daughters. OR – and this one fascinates me – the grandmothers’ names are seen as too out-of-favor to be considered. So the fact that women’s names are more subject to trends discourages us from seeing them as potential children’s names.
Let me think about how to get data on this, because you’re right – there’s only so much to glean from the actual names recorded.
I only [personally] know one case of a man named after a woman: my dad, Lucian0, was named after his mom, Luc!nha. I have thought about naming a boy after my mom, but her name situation is complicated even for girls (a G!sa variant, help?). I have Lucian/Lucien after my dad on my list, but it could honor grandma too (obviously). Glenn after my other grandma, Glend@ (but I love Gwen more). But if we are not talking about family names I like Jemison (Mae Jemison), Artemis (goddess and Artemisia Gentileschi) and Hepburn (Audrey Hepburn) for sons (+ names I don’t remember right now).
My older son is named after my husband (he’s Thomas IV) so we decided to name the younger son after me. He has my maiden name as a first and the same middle as me: Desmond Lee.