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Baby Names: Dealing with Family Demands

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Double Trouble

What's in a Name

The Jewish custom of naming a child after a deceased relative is normally practiced by the Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern and Central Europe. Sephardic or Mediterranean Jews often name their children after living relatives. The Ashkenazic custom is based on a superstition from the Middle Ages that the Angel of Death may mistakenly take a child away if his or her namesake should die; Sephardic Jews believe that honoring a living relative gives the child a role model or guide.


Chances are there are a few purists in your clan who are dead set on a particular name and won't be happy until they get their way. Giving in to this kind of pressure may seem like the only way to get the situation under control, but remember: This name will follow your child for the rest of his or her life. If you feel it's too out-of-date or just plain bad, gently stick to your guns. You (and your child) will be thankful later.

Some creativity and a willingness to compromise can smooth some egos and ruffled feathers when it comes to upholding family traditions. But what do you do when you have more than one relative pressuring you to use different family names? Maybe your grandmother feels you should use her dearly departed brother's name, but your honey's aunt is equally as staunch about you dubbing the wee one after her husband.

Working toward a middle position or even striking a deal when you have multiple family members competing for a name on the family tree may seem like an impossible situation. However, there are ways to satisfy this predicament and meet the needs of enough people to make the majority of your relatives (and you) as pleased as possible about the name you end up selecting. Here are a few ways of going about it:

  • Use several family names, as either a combined first name or as first and second names. Given names, middle names, and surnames can all be possibilities, especially if the last names are ones that also work well as first names.
  • Take elements from several possible names and combine them. This is how actress Cybill Shepherd got her name—Cyrus was her grandfather's name, Bill was her father's name; hence, Cy- + -bill = Cybill.
  • Create an acronym from initials or letters taken from several names. A string of ancestral names, like Nathaniel Edward Dennis, could become simply Ned.
  • Try forming ananyms (reversing the letters) such as Nelle from Ellen. This is tough as most names don't lend themselves well to the process, but it can work. Reversing James, for example, results in Samej. Pronounced sam-EEG and used as a middle name, it may not be too bad.

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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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