Sunday Summary 1.15.23I can’t find the original source for this quip: “Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people.”

But we should talk about it.

Because in this week’s #namehelp and in a recent Swistle post, questions related to family naming customs came up.

My take on family names comes down to this:

  • You are never under any obligation to continue a naming custom.
  • There can be some real advantages to using family names.
  • If you plan to use family names, you both have to agree and there has to be some serious conversation about parity. (Or, as Swistle says, WORK that deal!)
  • Should you realize that choosing family names will eventually cause problems – i.e., you’re happy to name a son for your father-in-law, mother-in-law, and mother, but you’re estranged from your father and it’s just painful and awkward, then you may want to avoid all family names and start fresh.
  • Because there are drawbacks to family names, too! And the potential for hurt feelings is real.
  • Reinventing family names and traditions is every bit as powerful, and there are lots of ways to build meaning into your children’s names.

That all sounds very logical, right?

And yet, I’m often approached by parents bedeviled by a specific tradition.

Or, I suppose, a situation where one parent prefers to carry on a custom. And the other is far more ambivalent.

Because here’s the thing: it’s much less challenging when one parent is opposed. Then the obvious answer, no matter how painful, is that the tradition ends with you.

But we have children, 99.9% of the time, with people we love. That means that we care about them and their families and kind of get why they want to name this baby Ernestine after their amazing grandma.

And. That. Is. Hard.

So tell us: did you ever consider family names? If so, how did you decide whether to use them or not? How did you balance all sides of the family?

And if you’re struggling to think through a family naming conundrum, my calendar is open for Quick Calls to talk through your decisions!


If I met a kid called Ivo or Fergus or Balthazar, I’d half expect his mother to be The Hon. Cecily Gwendolen Something-Hyphenated. Which is precisely why Emma’s list of the Poshest Names in Britain is fascinating!

I am here for a revival of Gertrude. Or maybe even just Trudy. Either way, I’m thrilled to see this deep dive at The Well-Informed Namer. And wait, is Gertrude now a Christmas name? Something to ponder …

The Pink Ladies are getting their very own origin series at Paramount+! Check out this character list: Dot, Jane, Peg, Nancy, Susan, Rosemary, along with Floyd, Gil, Buddy, Wally, Richie, and Orson for the boys. The original Grease called their Pink Ladies Martie, Frenchy, Jan, and Rizzo. Grease 2 gave us Sharon, Paulette, Rhonda, and Dolores. A quick glance at the 1955 popularity charts suggests that every set is at home in the 1950s, but somehow the style of the new series still feels a little fresher than the 1978/1982 movies.

How’s this for a sibset? Brothers Rocky and Bear; sisters Poppy and Birdie. Not sure how I stumbled on this reel, but OH how sweet.

This set of twins with a very unusual birthdate(s) proves that names can share the same style, but vary wildly in terms of popularity. Welcome to the world, Annie Jo and Effie Rose!

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That’s all for this week. As always, thank you for reading – and have a great week!


Boy Names 1.15.23 Girl Names 1.15.23 Peer Pressure quote

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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1 Comment

  1. We didn’t plan on using family names, it just sort of happened. We had so much trouble agreeing on a first name for our eldest that when we finally did, I just sort of declared we’d use my husband’s name in the middle to avoid having to find something else we both liked. Half an hour after we turned in the paperwork, he told me he wished we’d used his middle name instead of his first name. I had not realized that he shared a middle with his dad and granddad, and he hadn’t bothered to mention it before we finalized everything. So we agreed that if we ever had a second boy, he would get the traditional middle name. That would end up being kid number 4.

    In the meantime, when baby number 3 was born, I had a phone call with my grandma that went something like this: “Her name is Harriet, but we’re calling her Hattie”. “Oh, Hattie was your great grandmother’s name!” “I thought her name was Hedwig?” “It was, but she started going by Hattie as a schoolgirl and used it all her life – at school, with friends, at work. Only the family called her Hedwig.” So we kind of accidentally stumbled into that one – but our Hattie has enjoyed hearing stories from my Mom and grandparents about her great-great grandma Hattie (who I never knew.)

    And then my wonderful Mother-in-law passed away while I was pregnant with number 5, and we ended up giving them baby her name in the middle.

    So in spite of our initial “not really into honor names” idea, 4 of our 5 kids have one. The one who doesn’t has complained about being left out, but she actually has a really great story behind her name so I think that makes it fair. The balancing thing has not been great – mostly because we never really planned it out. We gave each kid the name that seemed right for them at the time and I didn’t really notice how off balance it was until after the youngest was born. If we were to have another, I would choose a name from my side to help balance it out better, but I think we’re probably done at this point. And I don’t really regret any of the names we chose.