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Baby Names: Dealing with Family Demands

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The Art of Compromise

What's in a Name

In Spanish or Latino families, where names are usually taken from the calendar of saints, girls are sometimes all given the first name Maria in honor of the Virgin Mary; each sister is then given a different middle name.

One of the reasons why a baby is so exciting for the families involved is that this new little life is part of a collective heritage and ancestry. Families naturally want names chosen that reflect this very important element of a child's being.

You, too, may want to choose a name that reflects your family's heritage and traditions, but by no means does this mean choosing a staid old ancestral name that was out of fashion decades ago. You may have some beautiful names in your heritage, but if your lineage tends to run to such names as Bertha or Beatrice, it's perfectly understandable, and probably advisable, to look for some suitable names that are a little more contemporary.

You may encounter other family traditions, such as your religious heritage or naming first-born sons after their fathers. You don't necessarily have to follow these traditions, but if you do, there's nothing that says you have to honor them by the letter. Why not consider bending them a little? Doing so may not only solve your immediate problem, it may also set a precedent for which future generations will thank you! What follows are a few ideas for incorporating family names into your child's future tag.

  • Sandwich it.

    If you find yourself in a position where you feel you absolutely have to use a family name that you're not terribly fond of, consider using it as a middle name. Or go ahead and make it your baby's given name, but select a name you really like for the middle name and call your child by that name.

  • Initial it.

    Many families honor deceased relatives by naming their children after them. A variation on this theme—especially if you're not fond of the decedent's name—is to choose a name that starts with the same first letter. Not only does this practice allow more flexibility in selecting a pleasing name, it also can work quite nicely as a naming fashion to be followed for subsequent children, should they appear. And talk about a great diplomatic tactic! Instead of honoring your deceased ancestor with just one child, you may be starting a family trend that pays tribute to him or her with other little ones as well. Another way to do this is to use just the initial of the name as a first or middle name. I have a friend who goes by H. Christopher Clark. The H comes from his father, who was named Harry.

  • Relate it.

    Another way of honoring a family member who has passed away is by choosing or even creating a name that is relatively close to his or her name. I carry a name that was created in this fashion; my grandfather on my father's side (who died many years before I was born) was named Albert, and I, as the first-born grandchild, was expected to have a name that honored him.

    My parents were stumped for a feminine version of Albert, so they concocted Alyn (pronounced a-lynn, with the emphasis on the second syllable) for my middle name, merely by adding a feminine-sounding suffix to the first letter of his name. It's an unusual name, but a good solution to what might have been a sticky situation, and in my opinion, a far better name than any of the feminine variations of Albert would have been. (Albertine? Alberta? I don't think so!) I'm sure my grandmother would have loved her first grandchild to bear her dear departed husband's name, but hey, I ended up being a girl. But by coming up with a name that was evocative of my grand-father's name, my parents showed their desire to honor him as well as their wish to make sure that his memory would be cherished.

  • Translate it.

    Use the meaning of the name to select an entirely different name with the same meaning. For example, let's say your favorite great aunt's name was Ethel, which means “noble” in German. Instead of using Ethel, which is pretty out-of-date for either a first or middle name, look for names with similar meaning, either from the same language as the original name or in different ones. Elsa, another German name that means “noble woman,” isn't too bad; there's also Damita, Spanish for “little noble lady”; Audrey (another German name); or even Adelaide, still another German name meaning “noble” (the Germans are clearly big on virtue names!). Along the same lines of using the same meaning, think about the virtues or qualities of a favorite relative and choose a name that reflects these traits.

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More on: Choosing a Name

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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