Dibs on names? Sharing okay?

A reader mentioned to me the difficulty she and her husband have finding names for their children that haven’t already been given to one of their 20+ nieces and nephews, or are the names of their own siblings or siblings-in-law. Sharing already-used names isn’t something she cares to do — she wants her children to have his or her *own* name within the family.

Sound familiar?

I’ve read and heard other discussions about how to deal with this, and whether, as my reader asked me, it’s ever appropriate to give your child a name that’s already been used, and if so, how to do it without offending anyone. We had to deal with it ourselves: We wanted to give one of our boys a name that my brother could argue he had a prior claim to. The name was my grandfather’s name, but it’s also my brother’s middle name, and a distinctive one — so it would really feel like we were taking a name that was rightfully his. Though I’ve always appreciated the opinion that there are no dibs in baby naming, I do think sometimes there are. At least if you want to be a good sister/brother/aunt/uncle etc. So we asked my brother and sister-in-law (married but no children yet at the time) if it would be okay if we used the name, and we told them that if they preferred that we didn’t, we wouldn’t.

They were lovely about it, and assured us it was okay for us to use the name. Whew!

So that’s what I would recommend, if there was a particular name parents wanted to give to their child that was already used or potentially claimed by someone else: Just ask. But sometimes it’s not that easy, and I’ve liked the thoughtful ways in which the question was handled by some of the naming experts I admire:

Swistle: Naming Etiquette: Who Has Dibs on a Family Name?

Baby Name Wizard: page 8

Name Candy:

Particularly for big families, as Laura Wattenberg says, “In a really big family, something’s gotta give. Among your ten brothers and sisters and thirty nieces and nephews, you may have to accept an occasional duplicate name.” I would just heartily recommend that you go about the whole thing as respectfully as possible.

Have any of you had to deal with this? How did you handle it? What was the outcome?

8 thoughts on “Dibs on names? Sharing okay?

  1. I used to be one who felt strongly that everyone in the family certainly had to have their *own* name. I’ve since done a 180. I have a large, close-knit (and pretty complex) family. And guess what? There are a lot of great name-ers in the family… we share each others’ tastes! Also, when honoring someone, well, I really feel there are no dibs. In fact, a stepsibling was gracious enough to tell me that if I wanted to name a daughter after our grandmother (her biological grandmother who she also wants to honor – and who has a gorgeous name that has already been replicated once), I should. And recently, my twin sister not only gave me the blessing to use a name she and her husband love for our daughter, it also happens to pretty much be HER name *and* similar to her oldest daughter’s name. We spent a good amount of time laughing at how our poor parents would be tongue-tied at all the girls running around with the same name! I do think discussing it is best, though, before “stealing” a name.

    Lastly, my dh and I are considering that if we ever have another girl, giving her our first daughter’s middle name as a first name. That seems like the height of naming no-nos, however, Dh looooves DD’s middle name, and really has always dreamed of having a little girl by that name. We gave it to our first because we wanted to at least get to use it once should we never have another girl again, buuuut… if we DO have another girl… (that said, I am still not sure how I feel about it, haha.. but it’s on the table).

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  2. I’m hearing respectful from Sarah and SN…you girls are great!

    In my Family we have several uncles of the same name so we just say Uncle Whomever then a hyphen with maybe a last initial or last name. That works when speaking of them or in Family gatherings…other than that you just enjoy this name you love in your everyday Family life. It seems a great compliment to think so well of a name.

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  3. I commented about this on the Josephine post. I have a situation where my sister vocally claimed a name that had been one of my favorites for years. Since that time, neither of us has had a girl, but everyone in the family has been very vocal about saying the name is HERS, even though it really was on my list first—in fact, I remember the day I mentioned it to her, and she claimed it soon after that. Weirdly, it doesn’t go with her other children’s names, and does go with mine. So overall, pretty disappointing for me, but there are other names in the sea and I have a few other contenders should we have another girl.

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    • If it helps … I think you’re lovely and definitely the bigger person/sister to bow out of the Josephine running gracefully! You could just plow ahead and do it anyway, but family considerations are more important to you, and that is wonderful. I’m sure you’re storing up treasure in heaven with this difficult situation!

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