Category: family namesakes
By Antonia Malchik
I was sitting at the lunch table in fifth grade when I decided that if I ever had a daughter I’d name her something normal.
I grew up mainly in two different towns in Montana. In the first, all my friends had names I coveted: Katie, Stacy, Tiffany, Angie. Their names were pretty, and, importantly for an early 1980s childhood, normal. My name was not. I was named “Antonia” for Willa Cather’s novel My Ántonia, “Louise” after my maternal grandmother, and “Evgenia” after my father’s cousin who still lived in the Soviet Union where my father had grown up. All of which got shortened to the decidedly unmusical and definitely not normal “Nia.”
Let’s say right up front that we don’t advise naming your daughter Davette to honor Grandpa Dave, or any of the other similarly awkward cross-gender namesake names.
So how do you, did you, can you best choose a name for your baby that honors a relative or friend or hero of the opposite gender?
Some parents simply use the name, as Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard did when they named their daughter Lincoln or several celebrities recently have in giving their daughters the middle name James. But this cross-gender appropriation happens most often when giving male names to girls, which may be inherently sexist — though even the most feminist parent may stop short of naming a son Mary or Patricia, even in the middle place.
So what do you do then, use the name Patrick? Or choose a name that’s more conventionally gender-identified that starts with the same first letter? Or maybe appropriate Grandma Mary‘s maiden name as a first?
There are all kinds of ways of approaches and beliefs on this subject, and we’d like to hear yours.
Weird Uncle Sebastian. Nice name, but not exactly the kind of guy we want our baby to emulate.
Grandma Hortense — sweet lady, yet that name….no.
It may be a name that’s important in your family but that you just can’t bear to foist on a newborn baby. Or maybe it’s a name you like of a relative you don’t. But some family names simply don’t make the list as baby names.
What name from your family are you NOT going to pass down to a child?
In 1963, there were 23,900 baby girls named Lori, the same year that there were 21,191 little Tammys and 11,000 Cindys, not to mention all the Mindys, Mandys, Marcys, and Marnies with the then modern-sounding nicknamey, quasi-unisex, names popular from the mid-fifties and into the next couple of decades.
So is it any wonder that so many of today’s parents have moms and sometimes grandmothers with these vintage nickname names?
But as much as we love those family members, and would like to make them namesakes, would we really want to name our own little girls Mindy or Cindy? Probably would be better to seek a related substitute that would still serve to honor them.
Here are a few random update ideas, some that relate fairly directly to the mother name, others that are a bit more of a stretch.
More obvious: Candace
More obvious: Caroline
Less obvious: Carys
More obvious: Lucinda
More obvious: Daria
Less obvious: Dorothy
More obvious: Jamison
More obvious: Josie
Less obvious: Josephine
More obvious: Jolie
Less obvious: Joanna
More obvious: Keira
Less obvious: Kerensa
Less obvious: Lorelei
More obvious: Amanda
Less obvious: Manon
More obvious: Marcella
Less obvious: Maribel
Less obvious: Marin
Guest blogger Hilary Zalon, founder of thecradle.com, explains the modern tradition of the Jewish naming ceremony for girls.
I have two wonderful daughters. And while I was never averse to having a little boy, I’m relieved that I was able to skip the Jewish ritual to welcome a son. In fact, the relatively new Jewish ceremony to welcome a daughter is much more up my alley.
If you’re not Jewish, or aren’t familiar with these traditions, here’s a quick 101: The male ceremony is a ‘brit milah’ – also known as a bris - the ceremony for circumcising an eight-day-old boy. The female ceremony goes by a number of names, including ‘simchat bat’ (rejoicing of the daughter), all to celebrate…get this…naming your daughter!
No sharp implements. No rush to get a party together in eight days while recovering from the actual delivery of the baby. And we get to celebrate one of the most enjoyable parts of welcoming a baby – choosing a name. In this instance, we’re celebrating the Hebrew name, so we get to pick even more names!
Many refer to a baby naming as a “modern” or “contemporary” tradition, and while there are signs that baby naming rituals happened hundreds of years ago, it really became a more recognized option for parents in the ‘70’s (likely coinciding with the rise of feminism and the increase in bat-mitzvahs). Since it is so new (forty years is nothing when you’re dealing with a history that’s over 5,000 years old), it is still up to personal interpretation and the ceremony can really represent your family’s personality and style.
We’re not a very religious family, but we do have a strong pride in our heritage and our Jewish community. For both of our daughters, we waited until they were 9-10 months old, which is probably a lot longer than most people wait. Some parents have a naming ceremony just eight days after the birth (echoing the male circumcision ritual). Others say a blessing for their daughter when they are called to the Torah – sometimes as early as the first Sabbath after the birth.
At our event, the rabbi led a very simple and beautiful ceremony at our home, which included a welcome prayer, description of the ceremony, an explanation of the names we chose, a blessing for our daughter, and a blessing for everyone. As with most of our Jewish traditions, there is wine and food. Those two are always a hit. (Although finding good bagels in L.A. is still a struggle.)
As for the names we chose:
Our older daughter’s given name is Sasha Leah (honoring my grandmother, Sylvia, and my husband’s grandmother, Leah). The Hebrew name is traditionally the Hebrew name of the person she is named for. Since my grandmother didn’t have a Hebrew name that was meaningful to her, we were able to choose a name that was actually a second-runner up to her given name. And her middle name was a no-brainer since her given middle name is already a Hebrew name. She received her Hebrew name, Sivan Leah, right after my dad joked, “Anyone want a slice of Sivan Leah cake?”
Our younger daughter is Esmé Juliette (for my grandmother, Eva, and my husband’s grandfather, Jack). Ever since I read JD Salinger’s Nine Stories in school, I was stuck on the name Esmé – but I hadn’t read or seen any of the Twilight books or movies, so when I learned about the character named Esmé, my heart sank a bit – only out of a little sadness that this ‘secret’ gem of a name (actually popular in South Africa and a few European companies) might become more well known! Her Hebrew name, Chava Yael, was another half-given: Chava is the Hebrew name for Eva/Eve. But since her middle name was for a male, we felt we could choose any name we liked that started with a Y (the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t use J’s). We were able to avoid my father’s imminent joke that her middle name should be ‘Piece-a’ so his granddaughters could be ‘Chava Piece-a Sivan Leah’ cake.
Hilary Zalon founded TheCradle.com, an award-winning online resource for expectant and new parents. Since the sale of the site to giggle, Hilary has been exploring a number of different ventures, her favorite being enjoying more time with her daughters and husband.