Repeating names

Yesterday’s post about the Campos-Duffy family prompted me to look more into what people think about repeating names among siblings. If you remember, they used Pilar (one of my fave Marian names!) as a middle name for three of their girls, and Margarita as a middle for one girl and a first name for another. I’m just noticing too that they used Jack as a middle and John-Paul as a first (it’s the John connection that I’m finding interesting between them).

I think the majority opinion is that names shouldn’t be repeated? Grace (Camp Patton) once said, “Simon came up with Xavier as the middle name and I wish we’d saved that for a first name because I love that name as well.” In the Name Lady’s Can I Recycle a Middle Name post she describes it as “not an ideal situation,” though she also acknowledges that it’s not “totally out of bounds,” and “In fact, quite a few parents give in and reuse older kids’ middle names. You never know it, because they carefully avoid mentioning their children’s middle names at all.” (I would find that so hard! I love each firstname-middlename combo my hubs and I came up with for our boys — I’d hate to feel like I had to “carefully avoid mentioning their … middle names at all”!)

I know a few people who gave multiple children the same middle name — one family gave all the girls the middle name Marie, and two other families I know gave two daughters the middle name Catherine (but not all the daughters). There does seem to be a difference between giving all your children, or all your children of the same gender, the same middle name vs. only giving some children the same name and not the others.

The mumsnet thread Would you reuse a middle name as a subsequent childs first name? brought up several potential issues with reusing names — both using one child’s first name as another’s middle, and even repeating first names:

  • “many people have said to me that in the future DD1 may resent the fact that DD2 “took” part of her name. Or DD2 may resent being “named after” DD1″
  • “I personally wouldn’t do it, although the middle name we’re about to use is gorgeous and I would love to use it as first name, but I don’t want to hold it in reserve in case I don’t end up having another child to use it on!”
  • “I know a guy who is named (first name, middle name, surname) after his older brother who died from SIDS! That’s V weird!” and “I do know a boy who has the same name as his brother, who was stillborn sad and I know somebody who is pg who already have a DD but they are expecting a DS, and they are going to give him the same middle name as their DD’s middle name!”

I was particularly intrigued by the second bulletpoint — I think a lot of people might load up all their fave names at the front end of their family because of not knowing how many they’ll have of one gender — or how many kids they’ll be blessed with overall — and not wanting to miss out on using a beloved name.

Regarding the third bulletpoint, in the old days reuse of names from older deceased child to younger sibling seems to have been somewhat common. Genealogy.com says that,

Up until this century, parents could usually count on one third of their children not surviving. If a child died, the name was often used again. If a baby died, the next child of the same sex would often be given the same name. When checking birth records, you should never stop when you find the name you are looking for. You should continue for a few more years, because the first child could have died and your ancestor could have been the second child in the family with that name. If an older child died, a younger one would often be named for him or her. If you see George in the 1850 census as a six year old and then in the 1860 census as an eight year old, it may mean the first one died shortly after the 1850 census was taken.”

And we’ve seen how at least one Catholic royal family reused names with abandon, and not necessarily because of infant/child death.

I’m not sure what I think about the first bulletpoint. Probably that kids (big and little, adult and not) get in a huff about a million things that parents don’t think they will, and don’t get upset about things parents were sure they would … if I’d chosen to do this with names, my approach would probably just be to be sure to always positively talk about the choice we’d made — make a big deal about how wonderfully meaningful it was meant to be and a choice given in love — so at least if the kids hated it later, they would know it wasn’t done to upset them. And then pray for the best!

I’m also thinking that sometimes, as with one of the families I know that used Catherine as a middle name for two of their daughters, the reasons for using it were different each time — which then sort of makes it like two different names being used: one daughter was named after St. Catherine of Siena, and the other was named after Grandma Catherine. I myself would have used the name once and been pleased with the double honor, but that’s just my personal preference — I can definitely see it seeming like two different names in this scenario, even though it looks and sounds the same. It kind of ties into what Abby wrote in one of my favorite of her posts, The Secret Meaning of Names:

Some of the best names have backstories that are unique to the family in question. Mallory doesn’t mean sorrowful if your parents met in Mallory, Indiana. Then it means “small town where my parents met.” And if your parents happened to meet there because it was a dark and stormy night, and your mom had a flat tire and the repair shop was closed and your dad just happened to be in town for a meeting and suddenly, there they were nursing coffee at the Mallory Diner just one seat apart … well, then your name means “serendipity, twist of fate.””

And it ties into what I wrote in my Nameberry post Good-Intention Baby Naming: “The intention behind the bestowing of the name can be as important—or more so—than the name’s actual origin or meaning or other specifics.”

In the case of the Campos-Duffys, their repeating of names is so exuberant — one of you used the word “confident,” which was so great — that it really strikes me as not that strange at all. And the gorgeousness and saintliness of the names they chose makes me think of that royal names post — each one is sort of decadent and fabulous, really beautiful choices.

What do you all think? Would you (have you?) use one child’s middle name for another’s first name? What about other types of repeating — using the same middle name for all the children, or all one gender, or the names of lost babies (miscarried/stillborn/died when they were older) being given to younger siblings?

70 thoughts on “Repeating names

  1. I would never ever use a child’s middle name for another child’s first name. Each child is their own person and, accordingly, should have their own names. However, I can understand a tradition of using the same middle name for all children (ex. the mother’s maiden name) or children of the same gender having the same middle name. I would never do that myself (there are too many awesome names out there) but that makes more sense to me.

    My brother and his wife are expecting their third child (second daughter) and their first daughter passed away shortly after she was born a year ago. My brother originally wanted to use some part of their first daughter’s name for their second daughter, but he and his wife eventually decided that they don’t want to do anything that could possibly give their daughter (or anyone else) the impression that they view her as a replacement or secondary to her sister. Their first daughter will most definitely be honored by me and my husband if we are ever blessed with a little girl, and they hope that when their children have children, they’ll remember their sister in heaven and they’ll use her name then as well. I think that’s the best way to approach the situation.

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  2. The obstetrician that delivered me had a very large, very Catholic family, and had six or seven daughters all named Mary. Of course, they weren’t JUST named Mary, they were Mary X, but one of them was Mary Mary!

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    • Bahahaha stop!! Are you kidding?? Mary Mary?? That’s so funny!! The Mary+ tradition is a long one, and I do love it — all my dad’s female first cousins ( six of them) are named Mary+[something] and they go by their middles. But this is the first time I’ve heard of Mary Mary!

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  3. My Katharine’s middle name is Rose and we’ve considered using Rosemary for a first name if we have another daughter but it does feel a bit off. She says she’s fine with it, but I would definitely seek her input again if the hypothetical baby became a real baby – she’s 7 now.

    I also think you are right that its very hard to predict kids reactions to these things. My first 3 kids have short names and then we picked Katharine. When seeking naming advice on boards for babies number 5 and 6, I was frequently admonished to pick another name to balance out Katharine’s long name (we went with James then Andrew). What’s funny is that now that she’s old enough to have an opinion she is insistent that her name must remain the longest. She loves having the longest name. Somehow I think it makes her feel “bigger” or “more important” than all those older siblings.

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    • I love this! Good for Katharine loving her long name!! 🙂

      Am I weird for thinking Rose and Rosemary are different enough that I don’t even really consider them same-name related? But nice idea to ask K first.

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      • Rose and Rosemary are super different to me too!! Obviously you could never use them both as first names, but I feel like I wouldn’t think twice if there was a sibset of ____ Rose and Rosemary ____.

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  4. Great post!

    I still remember the first time I came across this: I was in grade school and read about an oldtime family who had two sons named John, #1 and #16. I was horrified.

    I can see wanting to honor Mary or a particular saint more than once, but at the same time I judgmentally assume a lack of creativity.

    At the same time, I do think we would use Bennett and Clement as firsts, if we hadn’t used them as middles.

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    • Wow, that’s another layer altogether–two living sons with the same name? There are some names I won’t use as middles because I want to use them as firsts–I’d rather not use them at all than “lose” them to the middle spot! How much easier naming might be if I could let go of the no-repeats idea!

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  5. This post hits close to home! I shared my middle name (Marie) with two stepsisters (the two stepsisters are biological sisters, so the repeat there was intentional although sharing it with me was unintentional because our parents met and married after the fact). I always thought it was neat… a little thing to bond over. I know my stepsis’s were named after Mary (THE Mary) whereas I am named after my mother (who was also named after Mary).

    My mom (Mary)’s only sister’s name is.. Rosemary… so no qualms repeating from her parents. It honestly took me to adulthood to notice that the two sisters share a name, haha! They don’t seem to mind and are very close.

    My Dh’s cousin’s boys share a name… they had used a middle name on their second boy that they then wanted to use as a first name for their 3rd son (I don’t think they anticipated having 3 boys in a row!)

    Also, using a name again is on the table for us too. Naming our daughter was hard for us! We don’t agree on many girl names. Clare is a beloved name of Dh’s (and I love it too).. We gave her Clare as her middle name because we do not know if we will have another daughter, and we wanted to use the name (and of course, honored the Saint with the spelling). It is definitely on the table to use Clare as a first name for another girl because it means THAT MUCH to Dh. I wouldn’t try to hide their names, and we probably wouldn’t use it again as a middle name because it already plays that role :). And who knows, maybe we would spell it “Claire” as a first name or get bold and name her something like Clairvaux nicked “Claire” to create a difference. We’ll see. It might never be an option! As a name nerd, I would probably not typically repeat names just because there are so many great ones that I find hard to “retire,” but of course, naming is a couple’s exercise, typically. 🙂

    I think the shying away from duplicating names has more to do with our recent trend of wanting each child to have a name that is unique to them…. even just several decades ago, that wasn’t part of naming culture or a priority.

    As a twin who had to share a lot with my identical twin growing up, I’d say that’s the only time I like to focus more on uniqueness… I didn’t mind sharing a middle name with stepsisters. But with an identical twin, so much is already shared (including your faces, haha!) that I find it more important to differentiate with names It’s a different dynamic.

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  6. Wonderful post!! I wonder about this all the time. I’m not sure that I would ever repeat names. To me, there are just SO many wonderful wonderful names that are out there to use, so I would feel like I might be missing out if I repeated a name, even if I loved it a lot.

    I think it’s really interesting when all the middle names in a family repeat. One of my sets of girl cousins in the same nuclear family all have the middle name Marie. (When they were little they thought everyone had the middle name Marie, so now my dad (their uncle) gets called ____ Marie by that entire side of my family, lol).

    I feel like even if you wanted to honor the same person multiple times, there are many different ways of doing it. Like honoring Mary for example, there are so many options, it feels kind of odd to me to just use one.

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  7. I don’t have kids yet so I can’t be 100% sure, but I don’t think I’d repeat names, even if they were middles. (I would, though, use names with similar sounds/origin, like Vivienne for one daughter’s first name and Genevieve for another’s middle or something. Or Theodore for a boy and Dorothea for a girl’s middle, etc.)

    I have two cousins who are sisters, and one is named Danielle Marie and the other is Rosemarie Elizabeth. It’s always irked me a little bit that they used Marie for both names.

    An older woman I worked with told me about how she and her husband named their children. They had six – the three boys shared one middle name and the three girls shared another. (I agree with you that it’s different to have genders all share the same name then it is to just repeat some names, not others.)

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  8. One of my favorite families have super duper Catholic names with a lot of repeats. Of course Mary is important to them, and also Anne, as they have a history of infertility and many miscarriages:
    Mary Grace (?)
    Anne Marie Valentina
    Mary Catherine (Constanza?)
    Arianna Corabel
    John Mark Lorenzo
    John Luke Thomas
    Annalise Joy
    Lucianna Margaret
    Lillianna (Rose?)

    They ones with obvious double first names use both names together, so if they are shortened at all, they are to Grace and Catherine, not Mary. Although I think the boys ALWAYS go by their double names. I’ve never heard just Mark and Luke. I wish I could remember Mary Grace’s middle name! I should find my wedding program – the first four were my flower girls and it was fun to write out their full names!

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  9. I think reusing a middle name, especially if it’s a family name, is totally fine. My husband’s name is Polish and basically the coolest name ever (V0ytek–an americanized spelling because his parents are kind!), and for generations males in his family have been given that name, either as a first or a middle. We gave it to our son as a middle name and are planning to use it as a middle name for any subsequent sons.

    We decided to do it because it just didn’t seem fair that only one son in the family would get 1) a super crazy awesome middle name and 2) all the history that goes with it. I know a lot of people say all names should be different so each child feels special, but it seems like if one child got a middle name with a ton of family history and the others don’t…well it just seems like it would stink to be the later born kids! Plus, now all of our sons will be able to pass down the name to their sons, too. I anticipate people will think it’s weird when we finally do it, but I don’t care. 🙂

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  10. I don’t think our family could pull it off and it’s also a little late now, but I do think it’s neat when families have a host of Mary _______ names — Mary Grace, Mary Margaret, Mary Louise — and the girls all go by the second name.

    Baby #7 is the first time I’ve ever been tempted and like the previous poster, Laura, Rose did it!

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  11. Kaitlin, i think that’s a *great* solution!

    I know a family where all the kids have the same middle. It’s related to their mom’s maiden name. (Which is super clunky-cool, but all long and tough to spell, so I understand why they went with a spin on the name!) I love the way they’re all connected by that middle, especially since their family’s last name is short and very common.

    As for me, I doubt I would ever re-use a name. In fact, I doubt I’d use any name related to one of my children’s names, so Alexandra and Charles are out, since we’ve used Alexander and Caroline in our kids’ names.

    But, if we ever have a second daughter, I’d definitely consider giving her an avian-themed middle name. Our daughter has Wren as a bonus middle, to honor my sister’s nickname, Bird. If we had another daughter, Rosemary Linden Lark is my top choice.

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    • Not using names in the same name family as another child’s first or middle name is also something that crosses my mind. Objectively I totally agree, but as we add more children to the family it gets a bit trickier. One of my boys middle names is Joseph and lately Josephine has crept onto my girl’s list as a first name. It would be after a different saint so somehow it feels okay. Similarly, my youngest son’s middle name is Lawrence which is my dad’s name and my husband’s and his dad’s middle name. Does that make Laura (my name) unusable as a future daughter’s middle?

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    • Ohhhh I love your girl name!! And you bring up another good issue–whether or not to use the female variant of your already-named son’s name or vice versa? I don’t think I’d do it either, but unsure enough that it’s a maybe. There’s one girl name I loooove that’s the female variant of one of my son’s name…. I might be tempted!

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      • I think it depends on the situation. If the middle name is Joseph of one son, then I see Josephine as a first name as totally usable for a girl. But, Dh wanted a Natalia after having a “Nat” for a son, and I tried to no avail to explain why that just wouldn’t work. So yeah, I think it’s tough with first names only (although I could see Charles and Caroline being fairly easy to say together… but Josephine and Joseph, nope, too close!)

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  12. For me, I see first and middle names as quite different, the firsts are names we like and the second are honor names (both family and saints, although our first names are saints names too, just not necesarily ones I particularly felt close too, although now I do :). So it rarely feels like I need to repeat names, as each child is another chance to honor someone new and find a name we love. Although, I have to admit, there are a couple of names which are in both categories like Elizabeth for example. But already having another ‘E’ name, Elizabeth has been pushed back into the middle name group.

    But I don’t really do this to avoid issues with my kids, because I think they would probably be quite accepting of repeats if I wanted to repeat (middle to first).

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  13. I think I’m okay with the idea of repeating names when it’s a name you really, really love. But it would require not currently having another name that you love more. It’s definitely nerve-wracking when you have sub/infertility issues…especially if you love names! I don’t know if it was already mentioned (on a phone and can’t read alllll the comments) but a friend explained to me that it’s a tradition in the Philippines to name all of your daughters Mary and have them all go by their middles instead. Fun! Confusing, but fun.

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  14. Love that Irish tradition…each of our sweet baby girls have a “form” of Mary in their name! But I also love the first name Mary with a middle that is the name that is normally used! So interesting to see different thoughts about this particular topic!

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  15. I am suffering from a related quandary…my daughter’s name is Martha, and I love the idea of a double Mary name for a future child, yet the idea of naming sisters Martha and Mary (even with another name attached to Mary) seems a little cheesy! (What’s next, brothers named David and Jonathan?!) Maybe if I’m lucky enough to have several girls–I think I’d feel better about it if there were other siblings in between Martha and Mary (-Juniper, -Margaret, -Alice, -Grace, oh so many lovely double Mary names)!
    I do love the way the Campos-Duffy family repeated names–very confident, like I said on the previous post, very royal family-esque. Like the children’s names are a tapestry with repeating threads. 🙂

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    • Hahaha! Idk, I don’t mind the idea of sisters Martha & Mary(+)! Nor brothers David & Jonathan for that matter, but I don’t think that connection is as obvious as Mary & Martha. Doing a Mary+ dee makes it more do-able imo!

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    • Martha and Mary is tough. I agree that a sister in between would make it doable. I also feel like I can’t use Mary as a first name. We have a Mark and visually it’s just so close to Mary. I feel like maybe if I have a baby girl super late in life and Mark is out of the house maybe it will work.

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    • I don’t know if Mary and Martha are such a bad combo, especially with a double name for Mary? We have two sisters in our family named Marta and Maria (Spanish for Martha and Mary).

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  16. Sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind what I perceive as the sort of retro-cutesiness of a Martha and a Mary combo…so I think if I had a daughter who just really felt like she was a Mary (I really felt drawn to Martha for our first daughter, almost out of the blue!), I would go with it, though my preference would be to add a few more names into the mix first to weaken the association. Maria feels different enough to me that it seems much more doable! I was actually just remembering how much I like Maria today when I read the name in a Robert Louis Stevenson poem. 🙂 And Marta and Maria doesn’t give me pause at all–I think it’s just the familiarity of the names Martha and Mary together that throws me off. And that it would possibly draw attention to the whole “are you a Martha or a Mary?” thing…

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    • It doesn’t sound as familiar to me either because I am used to the English “Martha and Mary.” But the sisters I am referring to are from a Latino background and grew up speaking Spanish (I probably should have clarified that!). So to them, it likely has the same ring as “Martha and Mary” has to us! (Especially because they are Catholic too). I think Martha is adorable… I never see it on a child these days anymore. And Mary or Maria are beautiful too, of course. I would love to use Mary… love the classic and retro feel of it. But it’s my mother’s first name, and it feels like it belongs to her still (like it just would feel weird calling out “Mary” to my child? Even though I am sure she would be honored? :))

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  17. And I also wanted to say thanks for weighing in! It’s good to hear that this is not so much of an issue as my previous small sampling of opinions led me to believe. And yay, Mary!! (And Martha!) 😊

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  18. Oh, and Sarah: my Martha is actually in honor of my mom, Marta! I much preferred Martha and liked that it felt a little more separate…though I really love straight-up honor names too!! Could you do a nickname for Mary? There are some great ones–I really love the sassy Mamie. Or Molly, of course.

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  19. I’m revisiting this thread because I’m becoming more determined to use Mary upfront if this baby is a girl. Specifically either Rosemary or simply Mary.

    So that means either “reusing” Katharine’s middle name of Rose. (She is happy to have a “namesake”). Or using Mary which while unrelated etymologically to our son Mark’s name certainly looks the same.

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    • Ooh interesting!! I really like the Rosemary option — it moves it away from Mark’s name, which I’m sure he’d appreciate, and so sweet that Katharine’s happy to share her name with her sister! Aw! But I also agree that Mary is very doable. I can’t wait to see what you end up with!

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    • I went to an event called Catholic Underground in NYC about a month ago, and it was run by a group of Franciscan brother’s and the lead coordinator was Brother Mark-Mary and it totally worked! So I think if they can work in the same name, they can work for siblings 🙂

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  20. Our plan has been if we use Mary to go with Mary Grace! (Though my 12 year old daughter met a little Mary Louise and the two of us have both been crushing on that since.)

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we ended up back on Grace. Other names come and go from my list but Grace has had some serious staying power.

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  21. That is crazy! (The 80s were so great.) I keep telling my older kids that this baby is going to have an OLD mommy!

    While I have your ear, I’ve got a fun husband story. The middle name were considering for Rosemary is Frances and my husband is on board despite his reservations about using two “non-standard names”. I’ve been assuring him that neither Rosemary nor Frances is in anyway non-standard. No wonder I couldn’t convince him on Immaculee!

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