What do you do when there aren't any good family namesakes?

What do you do when you love the idea of family namesakes, but your family isn't so great? There are some really great names in my extended family, but it seems like the more research I do, the less savory their characters are. It makes me sad that I seem to come from a long line (on both my mom and dad's side) of criminals, alcoholics, philanderers, and abusers, and I worry that going back further in time, where getting information is harder to obtain, I may accidentally honor someone whose bad reputation has been lost. The choice I've decided to make is simply to choose names not in my family tree, but I do mourn the loss of great names and the idea of family tradition.

My questions to you all are, what names have been ruined for you by a bad person? And how bad is bad enough to take a name that sounds wonderful completely off the table forever?


By Guest (not verified)
May 3, 2012 10:48 PM

I feel you!

My family was full of dear people with unusable names (Mildred??) and unknown people with cool names but no history.

Our older son's mn was for my late stepfather.

Our younger son's mn ended up being the runner-up for the fn. Felt like a cop out, but it does sound nice!

You could not do a middle name, do a middle name for its meaning, do a middle name for its sound-maybe one you wouldn't be quite brave enough to use as the fn- do a mn of a famous author or important place...don't forget the idea of using a surname in the mn spot-perhaps your last name or your mother's.

Or, ask your mother in law. As someone who has been married a long time, it's never a bad idea to please the in laws!

By mk
May 3, 2012 11:22 PM

Perhaps these names are also shared by someone you do admire, a friend, famous person? The way I look at it is that if I am not using the name because I want to honor that specific person, then it's not a namesake. It's just liking a name that a relative also had.

If it's someone with a bad reputation that is known by the entire family and/or it is someone I knew personally, then I would avoid the name.  A distant relative I never knew and know nothing about? If I like the name I'll use it.

Alternatively, think of those you do admire. If you don't want to use their name, maybe you like another version, or their middle name? Or something about their personality that you can turn into a name?


By hyz
May 3, 2012 11:39 PM

Personally, I think the main reason to use family names is to honor a beloved family member, or possibly to keep a valued tradition alive.  It doesn't sound like you have either situation happening here, so I'd look for something else that would lend meaning to a name for you.  Something you and your partner value, something with personal significance.  I agree with the previous comments, too--if a name you love happens to belong to some distant family member that nobody in your life really remembers anymore, who happened to have been a jerk, I would not let that person stop me from using the name.  But if it is a person in your family who currently is the source of contention or the object of bad feelings, I would not use the name.   

May 4, 2012 1:30 AM

I can only echo the other comments.

A name can be used to honour someone in many different ways.  It doesn't have to be their actual name. A middle name, a nickname, a personal trait, birth stone, favourite hobby etc etc can be used. I think it also matters why you picked the name and what you tell the child about why they were named. 

For example, you can give a child a middle name of John which might have been his granfathers name but unless you make a point of saying to the child (and I guess anyone else that asks) that he was named after his grandfather, it's not really naming in the grandfathers honour. Maybe you just liked the name John? 2 people can share a name and not be named for the other.

So, you can definitely pick a name from back in the family tree and just say you were inspired by it, not that you are naming after that person.

I agre that if a name is closely associated with someone of bad character it might be best to avoid it. But, you could just point out the child was named because you liked the name. If the person is not too closely related (i.e parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt) then I wouldn't think it an issue. People will come to associate the name with the baby.

I guess my point is that a name is just a name unless you connect the history to the name. Other people might do it for you if it's quite obvious so I guess you have to weigh that up but it wouldn't be an issue most of the time.

May 4, 2012 2:27 AM

I'd like to clarify my initial question.

In regard to family namesakes, I was really using my situation as an example as opposed to seeking help on finding a specific name. I agree with all of the advice on finding a meaningful name. I was really more lamenting the fact that around these parts of the internet, you see a lot of "My son was named after my grandfather, whom I loved very much and is dearly missed", and that familial relationship is something that I can't relate to. For instance, my grandfather Paul, who has a name I adore, was an all-around horrible man, thus making the name completely unusable.

What I'm really interested in are stories from you all that are similar to this. I know there's a poster here who gave her son the same name as bad ex-boyfriend, but chose to overlook it because she and her husband liked the name more than the dislike she had for the association.

Again, this isn't looking for naming advice for me, but asking for stories from you.

May 4, 2012 9:48 AM

I guess I have a sort of relevant story.  I was born just a few months after my mother's father died.  Because of the deeply entrenched naming customs of Ashkenazic Jews, my mother felt obliged to name me after him.  My mother and her sisters and my grandmother all resented him (my grandmother in fact threw him out which was "not done" in those days) because of his neglect of family obligations in favor of religious study.  I had reason to think that some of the resentment and bitterness my mother felt toward her father was transferred to me along with his name.

May 4, 2012 2:43 AM

If there's a negative history attached to a name, and it's still fresh in the memory of the family and/or well-documented, then I would forgo said name.

"Geez, Mom - you named me after a convict!?"

But if there's another reason for the name - say it's the name of a friend - and there just happens to be a long-forgotten ancestor with the same name and with possibly questionable credentials, then it wouldn't bother me. But I'd make it clear the name was for the friend and not for the family namesake.


May 4, 2012 11:17 AM

My first son has 2 family names & one of those is a family name on both sides.  When son #2 came around, we kind of felt obligated to give him a family name too but there weren't many peole left that we wanted to honor-and nobody we would even consider had a name we wanted to use (apologies to the Claudes and Earls in the family).  In the end, we decided that a name we loved was more important than using an honor name we didn't like-especially when we weren't super excited about honoring those particular people.  So we decided not to give son #2  any family names.  It seemed like a big deal at the time, but now I think it was really something we were overthinking.  Once the decision was made we never looked back and son #2 has a good story to go with how his name was picked-and his name has meaning to us even though it wasn't a family name.  



By hyz
May 4, 2012 1:05 PM

Well, to reiterate my response to address your clarified question, I don't think a family member has to be very bad at all in order to have their name taken off the table.  In fact, I'd turn it around and say that a family member has to be deeply loved and generally uncontroversial in order to get their name ON the table.  I love the idea of a strong family tradition reflecting heritage and all that, but the fact is that we don't have such a tradition in my family, and I didn't feel in a position to start one.  In my family, the "deeply loved and uncontroversial" rule eliminates nearly everyone, since my parents did not get along well with each other or their in-laws, or in some cases their own siblings.  So, as much as I may think my paternal grandfather had a great name, I'm not going to bestow it on my child if it's going to cause conflict with my mother (moreover, I didn't really know my paternal grandfather and by most accounts he wasn't the sweetest guy, so I don't have a real desire to name after him, it's just that he happened to have a nice name).  I could move up the tree and get some more lovely names, but then we're talking about people I never met and don't really know much about, so I would consider it naming more for style than true family naming (e.g. I have g-gmas Ada and Rosaline, which are both awesome names, but if I chose them I would be doing it because of the name, not the person--if their names were Mildred and Nancy I wouldn't even consider using them).  I would name after my mom's parents, and strongly considered doing so, but in the end we had to use one name largely chosen by DH's family, leaving me with only one name to bestow (I ultimately decided against using 2 middles), and it felt more meaningful to me for DH and I to pick a name we loved for that spot than to choose from a very limited (but nice) set of family names on my side.  I think the best thing you can do if, as you put it, "your family isn't so great," is to look forward rather than back, and work to create a family for your kids that they will love deeply and feel great about, and hey, maybe one day they might feel moved to honor their beloved family with a namesake.   

May 6, 2012 10:38 AM

not very many people in my family have been namesakes. my mother R!ssa, hapens to be one, but among her age group, her sibling and cousins were primarily named because their parents liked an actresses name, such as Rhond@ Fleming for my aunt Rhond@ and my aunt Karen was named after someone on tv, but not sure  who. I was named because my mom liked how the name Dana looked in lights on the Dana Andrews show. i think no one felt the obligation to name people 'after' someone in my family, and i like that feeling of freedom, personally. if there ever has been an obligatory feel, i am sure, at least on my part, it is due to my own self-imposed sense of expectation, that i ended up naming my firstborn daughter in part, after both grandmothers, but use a variation of her name and call her mainly that -Clairissa= Clair.  i wouldn't name somene after a member of ill-repute unless i had positive associations otherwise, with newer people unrelated to me. my(bio) father, whom i haven't met, has a bad association, but such a common name Charles, that i have considered using it for a boy, because i actually have a very dear friend of 20+ years with that name. When my brother was born, (i was a teenager) my mom named him Jo3l, but many family members disliked that idea, according to her, (i don't even remember this) because of someone unsavory with that name, but guess what, once he was born, there was nothing negative said. i have no idea who the 'bad' joel, was! she really just liked the name and went with it. bottom line, i think namesakes are nice, but only if they are after nice people and give the parents a good feeling when they speak and hear the name. in agreement with another poster, it isn't good to name someone after someone resented just out of tradition, because i do believe the resentment can be imposed on the child, especially if they look like the individual, too. i know someone who has the name of his father, whose parents have stayed together, god knows why, and his mother shrieks his name, but talks to the other children more lovingly, it is so obvious, to me, that is partly why, the resented name!

May 11, 2012 5:16 PM

I had always said I would not name my child after a family member because of the identity confusion. Plus, I did not really like any of the names. So my son got his own individual name and it works. Nothing was ill-stated about his name ever. My daughter is partly named after my great grandma whom I did not know well, but mostly because I liked the name. There is nothing wrong with that. If I were naming after family, the name Leslie shows up as a man in my family tree who left his family and remarried a number of times (3 maybe more). I did not know this man but I do like the name for a girl. It wasn't on my short list because there are other names I like more, but if I had to do a family name I might consider it.

May 27, 2012 6:48 PM

If I were you, I'd stop researching your family history and choose names that you love, regardless of whether they're in your family tree or not. Take some time away from the naming game and see if you can comfortably forget what you've learned about your family's past. Then come back to names with fresh eyes. 

If you love the name Walter and there was an unsavory Walter in your family tree, you don't have to name the baby "after" your relative. Most (if not all) people in your life won't think to dig back into the family records and identify the misdeeds of a person in your family with the same name. There are plenty of Walters in the world and you aren't necessarily naming your child after the Walter who was a relative of yours. People still name their children Jeffrey and Charles, even though these were the names of serial killers and cult leaders. An adulterer in your past is not even going to reigster on anyone's radar.

Now, it's a different story if the relative in question is one who lives in very recent memory in your family. A friend of our family was really upset because her son decided to name his child after his father (our friend's ex-husband, who had been abusive to her for their entire marriage). In THAT case, it might be potentially damaging to choose that name. But if the only way that anyone in the family knows about a particular family member's misdeeds is that they heard it through family lore but nobody has any actual personal recollection of the person, then I think it's safe to say that names are multi-use entitites and you can name your kid whatever you want.

May 27, 2012 10:44 PM

I'm kinda in the same boat. The name Everett shows up on both my boyfriend's and my family tree. However, the Everett on my side of the family was a giant turd. I don't think I could use the name because of how he affected my grandmother. It stinks because I really like the name, and it would be great to use a shared family name, but he went and ruined it.

Maybe the real problem is getting people to stop being giant turds?