Naming after women

I spent a few minutes in the Baby Name Wizard discussion forums this morning as I ate my breakfast, and saw a comment containing a sentiment that I see with some regularity over there and that kind of irks me every time I see it:

I think it’s totally lovely to honor a mother with a name for a change (I know lots of men who name their sons after themselves, either as juniors outright or using variant forms or middle names, but very few women who do so).”

I don’t even disagree with the comment! I know it’s more common for a dad to have a son named after himself than for a mom to have a daughter named after herself. And the commenter herself is one I highly respect, as her thoughts are *always* well balanced and fair. But I feel testy and defensive when I see things like “honor a mother with a name for a change” and “lots of men who name their sons after themselves” — probably because I feel like it’s a tentacle of a whole “down with the patriarchy!” thought process that usually includes the “old men in white hats in Rome.” Blah.

Anyway, my contrarian Rome-loving self immediately thought of lots of examples, old and new, of people (babies and olders) being named after women. My mom, for one example, was half named for her mom (I saw “half” because her mom’s name was Anne, and my grandfather wanted to name my mom Anne — imagine that! A man! Wanting to name his baby girl after his beloved wife! But my grandmother wanted to name her one of the names-of-the-day: Susan. So they compromised with Susanne). My sister has my mom’s name as one of her middle names. My paternal grandfather was given his mom’s maiden name as a first name. Before I had so many boys, I’d always planned to work one or more elements of my name into one or more of my daughters’ names.

Moving farther afield from moms naming daughters after themselves, my youngest son’s first name is for my mother-in-law and his middle name for my mom. Julianamama shared that she knows a dad with a great devotion to St. Margaret who named his son Garrett after her! (I died when I read that! Brilliant!)

I’ve done two posts (On my bookshelf: A Dictionary of English Surnames and Girl names turned surnames) highlighting how various surnames are originally metronymics (identifying a person by his or her mother), or diminutives of female first names that became surnames, or perhaps arising from religious devotion to a female saint — like Marriot (from Mary), Ebbetts (from Isabel), Scollas (from Scholastica, specifically for St. Scholastica, according to Reaney & Wilson), and Emmett (from Emma). All of these would be fine and interesting for a child to be named, and they’re all feminine in origin (even if the parents don’t realize it or it wasn’t their intent). And I did a couple posts on current men religious who took their Mother Mary’s name as part of their new religious names: Eleven new Dominican priests and Men Who Love Mary: MFVA (a whole Order of men who take Mary as part of their new name! And one had Therese as well!), never mind all the male saints with Mary in their names: St. Clement Mary/Maria Hofbauer (depending on what you’re reading), St. Maximilian Mary/Maria Kolbe, St. Anthony Mary Claret, St. Jean Marie Vianney, St. Josemaria Escriva … who else?

I’d love to know what stories you all have of moms naming their daughters or sons after themselves or similar family stories, and whether you know any Brothers or Priests with female saints’ names, or boys who have taken a female saint’s name for a Confirmation name. It’s not all oppression, people. (I’m done ranting now. 🙂 )

 

 

83 thoughts on “Naming after women

  1. I think in general, the issue does not lie in girls being named after women. I think it’s actually very common for girls to be named after women in general (My middle name is after a woman in my family, so are my sister’s middle names). I think the issue most people see is that girls seem to be named after their mothers less than boys are named after their fathers.

    However. I think this is more a perception of how things are than actually reporting how things are. I can think of at least 5 girls who have a middle name after their mother. Girls, however, are very much less likely to be straight up juniors.

    I also think the general trend of juniors is fading. I probably only know 2 or 3 guys my age who are juniors. I also don’t hear of it very often with new borns. If a guy is going to have a legacy name, it feels like he’ll be IV or up (I go to school with an VIII!).

    I think the trend now is, when naming after anybody not just the parent, to use the name as a middle name or a variant, or even a variant as a middle name. There’s a push towards uniqueness of first names.

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    • I totally agree, Grace!

      I only know of one woman who is a straight-up junior of her mother, it’s my MIL!

      My own eldest daughter has my first name as her middle name.

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      • I also agree, a desire for uniqueness is definitely a factor. My paternal aunt was named for her mother, but that was in the fifties. What seems to be more traditional in my experience (and among those I’ve asked about their names, which is a good few, lol) is for a daughter to be named for a grandmother, rather than her mother. That’s still a female honouree though! The tradition seems to have moved to the middle spot, but is still common.

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      • Yes, I agree — I’ve seen girls honored more for their grandmothers than mothers, at least in the first name spot. And I agree too that’s that’s an amazing thing! (I love that you ask people about their names!!)

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  2. i know a couple of dads who named their daughters after themselves, in a country like italy were juniors are not really a thing. i thought that was a bit much tbh. i know is south america is much more common to name both after dad AND mom? i knew a family from venezuela were the first boy had dad’s name and the first girl had mom’s. that seems fair (if not a bit confusing).

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    • I didn’t know Juniors aren’t a thing in Italy! A lot of people think the Jr. thing is a bit much; for others it’s really important and meaningful to them. Interesting about South America too!

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  3. I agree with Grace above about it mostly being sons named for fathers and much fewer daughters named for mothers. I have tried to convince my husband to use his name on a son, and he is always opposed. So I wonder how much of it is female driven? I’d guess that in most families, the mother is more involved with baby naming, my husband rarely actually suggests a name. And if he did suggest we use my name, I would think it was sweet but probably tuck it into the middle. My grandmother was the 6th and last baby born to her parents, both of whom were well into their 40s. Apparently my great grandpa insisted they name the baby after his wife. So they were both Esthers. I always think that’s a sweet story. I also go to church with a family whose kids are all adults (30s- 40s) and the youngest daughter is Kathryn after her mother Catherine. (And, as an aside, I agree with your ranty feelings on this topic, and extend them also to conversations on name blogs/forums about taking the father’s last name. Some people feel that’s very oppressive, and it always makes me eye-rolly :))

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    • Yes! The convos against taking the father’s last name!

      I’m fascinated by this thought of yours about it being mostly driven by the mom — based on my experience, I think you’re on to something! My mom really wanted to name a boy after my dad but he was adamant that he didn’t want a Junior. If they’d had more boys, he agreed to put his name in the middle, but not the first. (My mom really wanted to though!) I’m definitely going to think about this more! I know there are some men for whom it’s really important to do a Junior, but I do think the mom drives the baby naming a good amount of the time.

      I love your Esther and Kathryn story!

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    • I don’t think having the father’s surname has any reason to be ubiquitous. It seems a very Anglo/American custom that has somehow become conflated with the ONLY traditional way to be named. My children have their father’s surname, and I am a huge Anglophile and very traditional person, and still this seems to me to be something that doesn’t have to be so set in stone.

      It’s like white wedding dresses or diamond engagement rings. The concept for these have only been around since the 19th century, but somehow they have been so ingrained in the public consciousness that it seems impossible to do it otherwise.

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      • And if the surname connotes possession in some context, as Catholics we should consider it a little bit because our faith, unlike some of our Protestant brethren, has never advocated the “property” concept of a wife/child. We have always been forward thinking like that. 😂

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      • THE most liberal feminist I know (a university professor with a PhD, who teaches feminist studies) changed her surname when she got married! So I don’t know who they think is oppressed!

        (I still don’t think it needs to be ubiquitous though. They urge us to say that in my marriage prep courses, and it makes me feel uncomfortable, because it’s a name, not a value judgment.)

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      • I’m so surprised at your professor friend! Wow!

        I’m so interested that you’re encouraged to say it in your marriage courses! I can’t imagine it’s an *official* opinion of the Church, since the customs are so different around the world

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  4. Both my sister (Andrea) and I (Sara) were named after our mom (Carolyn).

    “Say what?” I hear you say….

    Carolyn is a feminine form of Carl, deriving from Old High German karl ‘man’, Old English c(e)arl, ceorl ‘(free)man’. Andrea is a feminine form of Andrew, from Greek ἀνήρ, ἀνδρός ‘man’. So that’s that one.

    Sara comes from Hebrew שָׂרָה ‘princess’. You know the fairy tale the Princess and the Pea? It’s a running joke in our family that my mom is that kind of princess. So, that’s the other one.

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  5. My oldest daughter is named after me. We share the same first initial and her middle is Anne, from my name, Suzanne. The opposite of your example! I do sometimes wish I had named her Anneliese, after my first and middle, Suzanne Elyse. I didnt think of it in time though! My second daughter has the same first initial as my husband, and her middle is after him: Camillo -> Camille.

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  6. I definitely think more boys are named after their fathers than girls after their mothers, but I think it is because the moms have a different woman that they would rather honor. I’m in the middle of this discussion with my husband right now. Our son’s middle name is his fathers first name. We are 33 weeks pregnant and hotly debating names. My husband is adamant that a daughter carry my first name as her middle name. I’m pushing to use my mothers name because I want to honor her and I like the flow of her name better with our first name choice. In my husbands eyes, it isn’t really up for discussion and he ends every conversation with “I don’t care how it sounds together, I can’t think of any woman I’d want to honor or recognize more than you!”. It is very sweet and would be a neat story to tell our daugher (if it is a girl).
    In the meantime, I’m pushing hard to re-use his first name as a middle name if we have another boy. He isn’t keen on two sons with the same middle name. 🙂

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    • This is a great point too! Though I’ve always planned on incorporating my name into my daughters’ names, it was always daughters No. 2 and 3 — No. 1 would have names for my mom and my grandmother, just like you said — because I want to honor them first. I LOVE what your husband says too! Even if it makes the conversations frustrating, how nice for you to know that he feels that way! ❤

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      • Thank you. I’m pretty convinced this is a boy and it will be a moot point for now, but if it is a girl, I can’t imagine going against my husband on it. He isn’t typically a sentimental kind of guy so it does mean a lot that he wants to name a daughter after me. My mom had a rough time after my delivery and I was named by my father (completely deviating from what they had discussed). I LOVE that story, it means so much that he picked my name and I know our daughter would feel the same.

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  7. I just gave my newborn daughter my middle name, Annemarie, as her middle name! My parents chose it as my middle name because my mom’s middle name is Anne and my grandmother’s middle name is Marie. So even though she has her own first name, through her middle name she’s named after her mom, her grandmother, her great grandmother, her spiritual mother Mary, and also St. Anne!

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  8. I have never known a ‘junior’ or ‘IV’ or the like; whatever that tradition is, it isn’t as prominent as it once was. I’ve never even heard of girls being named in that type of tradition (apart from royalty), but much more passed on in middle names or variations of the mother/grandmother’s name. I think it’s just different. If anything, it seems to indicate more ‘you’re rich and have to prove your heritage with your name’ type of thing. Or at least in my limited experience, that what it seems to indicate more.

    If we ever have another boy, I am hoping my mother’s maiden name will be his first name; I love my mom’s family and their heritage and would love to pass it on to a son with his name (Munro). I really like the idea of using (some) last names as firsts to honour heritage.

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    • I love the idea of using a last name from the mom’s side for a boy! So great!

      I’m shocked that you don’t know a Junior though! Wow! My nephew’s a Junior, and I have cousins who are Juniors and Thirds, and I have other family members and friends who reversed Dad’s first and middle name to get the son’s name. In all cases it’s just a matter of family pride and doesn’t have anything to do with money.

      One of my girl cousins has the same name as her mom, but goes by her middle (as does one of my male Junior cousins); otherwise I don’t know any girls personally who have the same first name as their moms.

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      • I also know a ton of juniors, thirds, fourths, fifths, even a sixth! Some of these are children younger than mine! (For reference, my children are ages 3-14.) (Also for reference, we live in the western US where there’s less establishment to old families, places, etc. So it’s not just a wealthy family status thing.) (Also, I’m not defending the practice as I actually think it’s kind of a waste of names. I mean, you never know how many children you’all get to name…rehashing an old one seems like a missed opportunity! Lol!)

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      • Ha! Such a namer’s perspective: “rehashing an old one seems like a missed opportunity!”

        Also — wow!! So many namesakes!! I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable using Trey/Quint/etc. as nicknames unless they were for a III/V, etc., and for that reason I’d love to continue the practice!

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      • Yes! Some of these boys go by Trey, and we know one Quint who’s a V, but most go by either the same as their dad or grandpa, or by their middle name, or a different nickname.

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      • Wow, I’m impressed. I truly, truly have never met one, so in my mind it’s more an archaic way of doing things (not that it’s bad, but as I said, I’ve never experienced it). I live in Canada, though, so perhaps that’s a difference between nations? I don’t know. But never-ever.

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      • I wondered too if it was because you’re not American! (I could tell by your spelling of honor — honour 🙂 ) I’d be interested to know if it’s as unfamiliar to others from other countries?

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  9. I think one reason that women are less likely to name their daughters after themselves has to do with how quickly female names go in and out of style. Now that the Ashleys and Jessicas of my generation are old enough to have children, their names feel dated and they’re less likely to pass them on to daughters. The Michaels and Matthews don’t have that problem; their names still feel current. This is all changing with the new generation of babies. Boys’ names are becoming just as varied and subject to trends as girls’ names, but traditionally it hasn’t been that way.

    And claims that boys are rarely named after women have always baffled me. I’m from the South, and I know oodles of boys who’ve been given their mother’s or grandmother’s surname as a first name.

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    • This is SUCH a great point!! About female names going in and out of style!! Just today I read that parents tend to be more creative with girls’ names than with boys’ names, so that might interfere with naming after Mom too — there’s so much more scope for the imagination, as Anne would say! (And Grace above, who would hate to rehash the same name generation after generation! 😀 )

      The Southern thing is a great example too!

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  10. My little sister was given my mom’s middle name, after I (the first) hadn’t been named after her (or anyone specific) at all, and I was kind of sore about it on principle for quite some time. So, when my husband and I began to talk about baby names, I insisted that if I was ever going to name a daughter after myself, it had to be the first one. We went with Isabel, the Spanish for Elizabeth, for our daughter’s middle name, so that she is subtly but definitely named after me! Our boy name, still in our pockets, includes my hubby’s middle as the baby’s middle.

    On another note, my husband took the female St Germaine Cousin as his patron/name for confirmation.

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    • Isabel as a nod to you is just beautiful! I do like the idea of “the same but with a twist” — like Isabel for an Elizabeth — I also think girls might appreciate that kind of thing (creativity in naming) more than boys? Do you all agree?

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  11. I feel like the real topic at the beginning of the post is straight up naming a daughter her mother’s name and not so much honoring her or another woman with a middle name or a name variant. Like didn’t Frank and Nancy Sinatra name their kids Frank and Nancy? I feel like doing that would be confusing (or maybe just for me who yells kids’ names all the live long day).

    My grandma was named Elizabeth after her mother but grandma went by Bess and her mother went by Eliza. That same grandmother named her first son a junior and said she always regretted it. I’m not sure if it was her idea or grandpa’s but that uncle never went by his given name. He’s in his 70s and still goes by Skip!

    My husband’s grandmother also named her daughter Katherine, which was her given name. But grandma went by her middle name, Eileen, so I don’t think it felt like Kathy was a “junior.”

    I feel like it’s generational, maybe, plus people wanting all the yoonieke baby names? Who knows? Interesting topic!

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    • Yes yes and yes! Great points, all! (I too yell my kids’ names all the live long day … if we had duplicate names we’d def need distinguishing nicknames! Which, incidentally, is how alllllll the nicknames for Elizabeth, for example, came to be — maybe not so much renaming within families, but so many girls in one village named Elizabeth, that kind of thing.)

      I do think the commenter on the BNW forums was inspired by straight-up first-name namesakes, but even she said, regarding men, “either as juniors outright or using variant forms or middle names.” We’ve definitely shown here that at least middle names for Mom are alive and well!

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  12. It used to be extremely common for both genders to pass on their first name for several generations. My grandmother was from a long line of Anna Catherine’s and my MIL doesn’t have any female ancestors who don’t share her name.(I can think of lots more examples, but it would get long). It seems like the whole junior thing is pretty confusing though, and most people have solved that issue by passing on middle names or using the parents’ first name as a middle name.

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  13. The combo male name + Marie is quite common in France, I have quite a few uncles called Jean-Marie in my family – Jean being John in French, I realise that for English-speakers Jean -Marie looks very feminine! Maybe Pierre-Marie which is also common would have been a less confusing example! – (funnily enough, if you go Marie+ male name, it becomes a girl’s name, like Marie-Pierre, my kindergarten teacher 😄)

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  14. The oldest two girls in my husband’s family have family names (the first for both her grandmothers, the second I think her middle name is from a great grandmother? Oh, and I think the 4th may be named for a great aunt but not positive).

    I also know a woman, Jamie, who’s second son is Jameson!

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  15. My mother was named for her mother, Margaret, and called Peggy. I was named for my father but took Eluzabeth as my confirmation name because it is my mom’s middle name. It never sat right with me that my mom hadn’t been included in my name somehow. I know more girls named for fathers or grandfathers than girls or boys named for women.

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    • I agree, I know more girls named for fathers and grandfathers — and I do love that too! But I think it’s so great you took your mom’s name as your Confirmation name! My mom (who was named for her mom) wasn’t given a middle name, so she took her grandmother’s name as her Confirmation name, I love that too! I think women in general always find ways to honor their beloved ladies — whether moms or grandmothers or whoever.

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  16. My family is pretty much a matriarch… particularly in our naming. My grandmother (Lucila Antonia Avila) was named after her mother (Luz) and my aunt has the middle name Lucille, as do I, and my siblings oldest daughters are both named after her- one with the first name Lucila and one with middle name Lucille. My male family members cousins/nephews also have Anthony as a middle name and Lucas. My husband and I have talked about giving all our daughters (if we are blessed to have them!) the middle name Lucille. I’m also pushing for Avila… so 5 generations of being named after women in our family.

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  17. This is a fascinating thread to read. Mostly because naming a child after someone else in Chinese culture is in poor taste. Also I wouldn’t like to share my given name. I’m selfish like that :p

    Funny story though: my baptism name was given to me by my mother in honour of a friend that lived in the United States. It was only after I was baptized that she realized my baptism name (Eileen) was the Irish form of my maternal grandmother’s baptism name (Helena). She still doesn’t know what to say when people ask her if I was named after her mother.

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    • That’s a good point too — not everyone would like to share their name! I didn’t know that about Chinese culture either, so interesting! I’d often wondered, for example, if Chinese Catholic girls are ever named after Our Lady — probably not then? Or do you just mean family members?

      I’m so surprised that anyone really knows that Eileen is related to Helena! I feel like that’s one of those bits of info not a lot of people know, and I don’t even think I would think a little Eileen was named after a Helena. So interesting! I love learning about naming practices in other cultures!

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      • Ooh this nuance can be rather hard to explain. Idk about the Chinese Catholic diaspora in other countries, so I’ll just explain how naming usually works amongst Chinese Catholics in Singapore? (I’m probably not helping much.)

        Some Chinese in Singapore have a Chinese name and an English name (used for baptism). Depending on how traditional a family is, each baby will share a generation name (行辈 hangbei), or to put it simply they share one character as most Chinese forenames are two characters long (kinda like siblings and cousins sharing the same initials). Sharing the same Chinese forename (名字 mingzi) is a big no-no, and homonyms are usually avoided as well –> good idea cos tonal language = big miscommunication imo. This doesn’t apply as strictly to English names, because we don’t have generational English names, but some cultural taboos are hard to overcome.

        BUT! Catholic parents here give us Catholic children names of saints that they aspire us to become, or to be our patrons as we stumble through life (I know a kid named Gerard because his mother had a difficult pregnancy with him and Gerard Majella was her intercessor in heaven). Idk if it’s really considered honouring, since we’re not passing a name… But we’re very practical people, I guess.

        TLDR: Chinese culture states giving a kid the same name or same sounding name as an ancestor, distinguished men and elders is disrespectful. Catholic kids have saints names because we wanna be saints too and they help us toe the line.

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  18. Oh, my goodness! It’s so bizarre to have followed a link from a Sunday summary to end up at a long blog addressing my throw-away comment on a name forum!

    If I had known it would have been subject to such scrutiny, I might have worded it a little more diplomatically … but the fact remains that in my experience know very few women who name their children after themselves, relative to the numbers of men (especially in previous generations). I find that usually when a woman shares a middle name with her daughter it’s couched in explanations like “well, my middle name was actually after my grandmother, so I’m really honoring *her* by passing that name on”. I don’t mean to be all “down with the patriarchy” but I think it’s worth examining why passing on one’s own names is so much rarer for women. Some of it is, I think, the fact that female names go through more wild fashion oscillations, so we more frequently name after great-grandmothers whose names are back in style again… and male names tend to be much less changable so there are many classics that are still sounding usably fresh a generation later. However, I feel like the cause-and-effect relationship might be not so straightforward here – perhaps male names are less changable *because* they are so often namesaking the previous generation.

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    • Now it’s my turn to say oh, my goodness! Can I just be starry eyed for a minute that you are commenting on my blog?! 😍😍😍😍😍 I was 100% truthful when I said I highly respect your thoughts and I’ve always appreciated how fair and balanced you are! A voice of reason in the midst of some emotional discussions, often! I also love your taste in names, great job!

      This is a fascinating topic, and I hope to distill my thoughts and what you and the other commenters have said into a post or article soon … stay tuned! 🙂 And thanks again for visiting, and for your input!

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  19. And I appreciate your “it’s not all oppression” perspective, here. I really do treasure the counterexamples to “let’s name our children after fathers”… and my original point was that I find them particularly refreshing, and I’m sorry that this didn’t come across because I was careless in phrasing my thoughts.

    (And Maria was a second middle name for all of my uncles, too.)

    One counterexample that is particularly prominent is the daughter of Donald and Ivana Trump, named Ivanka.

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    • Ooh yes, Ivanka’s a great example! I was also thinking about Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith (with sister Willa, I assume they were each named after the other-gender parent.)

      I love that your uncles all had Maria as a second middle! That’s a tradition I would love to see come back.

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  20. I’m late on this one, but I’m Ann Kathryn after my mom (middle name Ann) and her mom (middle name Kathryn)! And this from my mom who thinks it’s “weird” when dads name their sons after themselves (which all 4 of her brothers did 😉 )

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  21. I missed this discussion last week, but I thought I’d chime in that I love the idea of naming children after BOTH the mother and father. My in-laws did this. Their first daughter has the exact name of her mother…Patricia Ann M (mom’s maiden name) Lastname, but she goes by “Pam” for her initials instead of “Patti” like her mom. Their oldest son is a junior. Pretty much all of our kids have family names; our oldest son is a Junior and the other is named after both grandfathers. Our 1st daughter is Mary Clare (Clare as similar to Blair, since it’s not a saint name) and our 2nd daughter is Elizabeth, which is my middle name and confirmation name. We’re running low on family names as first names that fit, but I think we’ve found one for our son to be born soon!

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  22. My daughter is the fifth consecutive generation and sixth individual with a name in the Julia/Julianna family. The string is unusual in its length, but not at all in its nature: doing genealogy, I encounter daughters named after their mothers in pretty much every family that *had* any daughters. It is by no means a “dead” tradition, either: both my husband and I have multiple cousins with the same name as their mothers (just like me). The observation that started this post — that fathers have namesakes more often than mothers — is simply not true of my family or community.

    What is true is that female namesakes were always less obvious: married names provided all the disambiguation needed in public life, so unless you knew the family, you couldn’t tell whether a woman was a “Junior” or not. This part of the equation is more complicated nowadays, with “married name” no longer being the well-defined and obvious construct that it used to be. (Not saying that this is a bad thing, it’s just a more complicated thing.)

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    • Gah! I’m so excited to have you commenting as well — another of my faves at the BNW! I was thinking quite a lot about you and your family’s naming tradition while writing the post, I’m so delighted you weighed in!

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  23. I know in my case there are hundreds of names I like better than mine which is why I wouldn’t choose to name a daughter after me and I wonder if that’s sometimes how other women feel? Whereas maybe men tend more toward the sentiment of having a son take his name instead of having lists of names they simply like?
    That aside, my mom’s mom is Elizabeth Ann and my mom is Ann Elizabeth, which I think is neat. One of my sisters is named for my dad’s mom, and I have a niece who’s name is comprised of the middle name’s of both of her grandmothers. Also, one of my friends used her sister’s first name as the middle name for her daughter- I think that’s such a sweet way to honor your sister. Oh, and I remember in Cheaper By the Dozen how the dad insisted on naming one of the daughters Lillian after the mom. I always thought that was cute. 🙂

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  24. I realise this is an old post but I would like to say that in my country, Portugal; and in other countries like Spain it is very common for boys to have Maria as their middle name!

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