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FAMILY NAMES: 5 Rules for Successful Name Negotiations

It is Thanksgiving. You and your sister-in-law, both newly pregnant, are sitting with the rest of the family around the table. The conversation turns to names.

“If we have a boy, of course he will be Charles the Third,” says your sister-in-law, smiling sweetly at your father. Your brother, Charles Jr., beams.

You, on the other hand, choke on your cranberry sauce. Ever since you were a little girl, you’ve wanted to name your first son Charles. Besides being your father’s name, it’s also your husband’s father’s name, your brother’s name, and your favorite name for a boy in all the world.

“We were planning on Charles, too,” you manage to sputter.

“You can’t have it,” booms your brother. “Clearly, it’s our name.”

“There’s room for two Charleses in the family,” you reason. “We’ll just use different nicknames.”

“Fine,” your brother says. “But we’re not getting stuck with Chuck.”

“Now, now,” soothes your mother. “What if you both have girls?”

Amanda,” you and your brother say in unison.

If you anticipate some name-wrestling within your own family, keep the following tips in mind:

Announce your baby name choices early on

If you have an absolute favorite name you’re sure you will use, don’t make a secret of it. Planting it in everyone’s mind as “your” name can help avoid problems later.

No name-napping

We’re not talking about naming your baby Letitia, unaware that, on the same day, in another state, your sister is naming her baby Letitia. We’re talking about naming your baby Letitia when your sister has been saying since she was fifteen that her fondest wish in life was to have a little girl named Letitia. And your sister is pregnant. And knows she’s having a girl.

Avoid carbon copy names

Two little Caroline Townsend Smiths in a close-knit family is one too many. If you want to use the same first and middle names that a sibling uses, can you live with a different nickname – Carrie, for instance? Or can you vary the middle name, so that, at least within the family, one cousin is called Caroline Townsend and the other, say, Caroline Louise? The only case in which two cousins named Caroline Townsend and called Caroline can work is if they have different last names.

Honor family traditions

If the oldest child of the oldest child in your family is always named Taylor, don’t break rank, unless your oldest sibling is a nun, priest or resolutely childless person who has formally renounced rights to the name.

Take unintended, unimportant duplications in stride

We know two sisters-in-law, living across the country from each other, who were pregnant at the same time: Jane due in January, and Anne in April. During their annual Christmas Eve phone conversation, Jane said she was sure she’d have a boy, and that they were planning to name him Edward. “That’s our name,” gasped Anne. “Too bad,” Jane said blithely.

After a few minutes of intense anxiety, Anne decided Jane was right. Neither had officially “claimed” Edward, nor was it a name with family significance. It would be as ridiculous to insist that Jane change her choice at the eleventh hour as it would be to deny her own son the name just so it wouldn’t duplicate that of a cousin he’d see, at best, once a year. Besides, Jane favored the nickname Eddie, while Anne preferred Ted.

PS: Due to mitigating circumstances, neither baby was named Edward. They ended up with Juliet and Josephine.

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