How to Reinvent Family Names for Baby

10 smart strategies

By Abby Sandel

This week brought us two celebrity baby names inspired by loved ones. But they’re not just simple honor names.

Lacey Chabert revealed that her new daughter, Julia Mimi Bella, is named for Lacey’s mom, Julie. Julia is the first child for Lacey and husband Dave Nehdar.

Actor Rob Schneider also welcomed a daughter – his third. Daughter Elle King, from a previous relationship, is now a successful singer. Now he and wife Patricia are parents to Miranda Scarlett and newest addition, Madeline Robbie. Robbie seems like a sweet nod to dad.

Would you name your baby after yourself? How about your mom or dad, or another loved one?

Both the Schneiders and Chabert-Nehdars made some subtle changes to the names before handing them out down to the next generation. If you like the idea of choosing family names, but aren’t sure about the names themselves, there’s no shortage of ways to reinvent them for your children.

Here are nine ways to honor a loved one with names for the newest members of your family.

Use the same initials – The upside of sharing initials is that it is easy to do. Your dad is Hubert Eugene, and your son is Henry Elliot. Or Hudson Everest, or Hugo Eldon. The downside is that shared initials might not seem like much of a connection – though in some naming traditions, that’s the norm.

Choose a name that reminds you of your loved one June might commemorate your parent’s wedding anniversary. Violet can bring to mind a beloved grandmother’s favorite flowers. I’ve heard of children’s names borrowed from towns or even streets where their families lived or vacationed. All the meaning of a family name, but with the freedom to choose something that appeals to your style.

Look for surnames – Plenty of children receive their mother’s surname as a middle. But how about family names from farther back on your tree? With surname names gone mainstream, many choices might wear well, beyond the obvious CarterHarperHunter. Even a part of a surname can work beautifully, like Kourtney Kardashian’s eldest, Mason Dash. Seth Meyers and wife Alexi Ashe recently welcomed son Ashe Olsen, named for his mother and maternal grandmother.

Find a name with the same meaning Love grandma Blanche, but lukewarm on her name? How about others that share similar meanings – like white, bright, or light? That could lead to possibilities like Clara or Claire, Lucy or Lucia, Fiona or Wynne. Arnold means eagle, but so do Ari and Adler.

Go longer – or shorter Lacey’s mom Julie inspired daughter Julia. Ann might be honored with an Annabelle or Annika. Shortening names is an option, too. Your beloved brother is Charles, but maybe his nephew is Charlie – just Charlie. If you’re not wild about a formal name, but love one of its nicknames, there’s no rule saying you can’t just use the diminutive. Rob Schneider’s Madeline Robbie is a good example of the potential of this approach.

Switch genders – The Schneiders bring to mind another possibility – naming daughters after dads, sons after moms. With some creative thinking, this works even for names that don’t have obvious male/female equivalents. Jennifer could name her son Jensen; a grandma Donna might have a grandson Donovan.

Borrow a foreign language form of the name – Think Matteo instead of Matthew, Anya instead of Anna. This might be especially powerful if you’re using the original form of a name that your grandparents or great-grandparents might have left behind when they immigrated to the US. But even if that’s not the case, it’s a good approach for finding names that honor your loved ones, and your heritage, too.

Pass down the name in full, but use a nickname Plenty of traditional names can easily be made new for another generation, just by changing the nickname. Elizabeth called Betty might have a granddaughter Elizabeth called Libby or Eliza or Elle. Theresa might be honored with a Tessa; William, with a Liam.

Tuck it in the middle Tori Spelling’s son is Liam Aaron. Countless families tuck a loved one’s name in the middle spot. The downside? The name isn’t used very often. And yet, if you feel like the name is tough to wear or just not your style, it might make a good compromise.

Just use the name – Maybe it’s not creative. Maybe it can create confusion if two – or more! – family members share the exact same name. And yet, passing down a name as-is remains a valid option. It’s one of the reasons so many great names survive, generation after generation. So if you love the name as much as you love the person? There’s no reason not to use it, free of alteration, exactly as it is.

Would you use a family name for your child? Did you try any of these creative techniques to hand down the name?

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17 Responses to “How to Reinvent Family Names for Baby”

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lesliemarion Says:

September 18th, 2016 at 11:06 pm

Good suggestions. I was not interested in family names when I was younger but now that I am older I am really into them (alas, past childbearing).

I would feel weird naming a daughter after myself but if I had a daughter now I would name her after my mother and our unborn children have my husband’s name (Michael) as a middle and my late grandmother’s name (Marjorie) as a second middle.

MGK Says:

September 19th, 2016 at 7:17 am

I guess it makes me sound stern, but I would not consider a name that didn’t give a nod to family on some level.
I was the fifth of six children and my common first name, Mary, wasn’t for an aunt or grandmother but because my dear, exhausted mother(!) decided to place her fifth child in the hands of God – by way of naming her for Mary, the mother of Jesus. I suppose it sounds silly to some, but I felt my whole life that I was connected to another ‘person’ on a very deep level simply by bearing their name. It was a gift I wanted for my children as well and began a trend in our family. My son, Christian Thomas(38) and my daughter, Caitlin Marjorie(31) honored my dad Thomas and my grandmother Marjorie. I couldn’t be more thrilled that my son carried this on by naming Avery Caroline(11) after his beloved Nana, Carolann. (Interestingly, my grandparents created the mash-up Carolann from their mothers names Caroline and Anna in 1929! Very forward thinking for their era.) For their second child my daughter-in-law wanted a combination that sounded like Daddy’s name, but not exactly – so we welcomed Grayson Thomas(2). When the third surprise baby came 12 mos and 8 days later they were in a stupor! They stuck with Jackson which had been on the short list for a boy for years, but chose Reese as his middle name to honor my DIL’s sweet mom Therese who generously provides the loving daycare for the boys. She was stunned and so proud!
When I am asked for name advice I ALWAYS suggest a climb up the family tree before venturing into baby books. There are treasures to be found, tweaked and loved all over again!

Haids1987 Says:

September 19th, 2016 at 9:42 am

I love this post! I think honoring a loved one is such a wonderful tradition, and it’s awesome to see so many suggestions that go beyond the norm.

Not sure I would name a daughter after myself–my name is Hailey, and while it wasn’t as popular in 1987, it’s top 30 now, and I just couldn’t do it to my baby girl. And there is no obvious way that I can see to shorten it into an obvious nickname–Hay? Hail? Naw, I’ll stick with honoring amazing people in my life like my parents, grandparents, and maybe my best friend Becki (Rebekah). 🙂

Amber W Says:

September 19th, 2016 at 9:53 am

Or current frontrunner for our new little one’s middle is Ellen, which is my mother’s middle, as well a nod to the middle my husband shares with his father: Allen.

LoveBugsMama Says:

September 19th, 2016 at 11:57 am

I have a few on my list.
Beatrice- to honor my maternal great-grandmother who was a Bertha that HATED her name and went by Bea. I also plan to use the nickname Bea.

Willa- to honor my paternal grandfather, William. I also would like to use William as a middle name. I guess it’s whatever gender baby comes first.

Laurel- to honor my mom, Laurene.

Macie/Maisie- to honor my sister, Lacey.

Olivia- after my sister, Olivia

Dexter “Dex”- to honor my dad, Rex

luli Says:

September 19th, 2016 at 12:21 pm

I would love to pursue a family name, but I think I’d have to go a bit higher up the family tree. Most of the direct ancestor names in my husband’s and my family trees are very dated, and we’d probably have better success with last names. But it’s an idea I’ve at least considered.

Cpwallawalla Says:

September 19th, 2016 at 12:23 pm

In Ashkenazi cultures, it is very bad luck to name a child after a living relative. The practice is reserved for deceased relatives. I’m not religious, so I don’t know the reason why. I wonder if altering the name would pass muster, though. If I have more children I would love to tuck in a reference to my mother without offending anyone. Any thoughts?

peach Says:

September 19th, 2016 at 4:43 pm

@cpwallawalla — I Googled your question about Ashkenazi naming traditions because I was curious: after reading several sources, I found that is not so much bad luck to name a baby after a living relative, as it is a great honor and a passing down/up the good mitzvahs of the deceased relative to the child and vice versa.

This article suggestate honoring family, living or not, by slightly altering names, much the same as suggestions in this nameberry blog: http://www.kveller.com/article/jewish-naming-practices/

peach Says:

September 19th, 2016 at 4:55 pm

I have become more interested in possibly using some family inspired names as I have aged. My favorite ideas are using the same initials and using a different version (a longer one like Rosamund for Rose) of the name. Also, I like combining grandparents’ names together for an original middle: for example I like names like Aveline or Evelina, which combine elements/sounds/origins of Evelyn, Eileen and Lila in one fresh name. I prefer the family connections to be more subtle than obvious.

starophie Says:

September 19th, 2016 at 7:32 pm

to follow @cpwallawalla and @peach, being jewish makes it difficult to choose honor names based on living relatives. unfortunately, most of my deceased family members passed before i was born, so i feel a bit awkward about using them as namesakes when i really didn’t have a relationship with them. my mother’s surname is bess, which is my preferred middle option for a daughter (my favorite first name, josephine, is also an honor for mom — she and her sister were named amy and beth after the march sisters, and jo was always my favorite). my favored middle for a boy is arthur, which is my dad’s first name — but he goes by his middle, jeffrey/jeff. my mother’s mother also went by her middle name of audrey, which is also an option. i highly recommend playing around on sites like ancestry.com because i found that a lot of names i already loved — violet, rosemary, edward, henry — already existed in my family! there are also ways to play around with names…my grandmother’s aunt is marguerite, nn maggie, and i like magnolia, nn maggie (we’re also from the south, so that’s a bonus connection). there are always going to be duds in the bunch (one of my grandmother’s uncles was named hyman…) but don’t let that discourage you 🙂

jenni_lynn91 Says:

September 20th, 2016 at 5:50 am

If we have a boy next, he will be named Zenon Joseph after my husband’s grandfather and my grandfather. If we have a girl, I still want to honor my grandfather, so I want to use Josefina or Josephine as either a first name or middle name. I also like Daisy as a middle name for my grandma Margaret.

Krandre1 Says:

September 20th, 2016 at 7:12 am

When we adopted three sisters in 2013, we chose to add to their names because naming our children had always been something we had done with a good deal of thought and intention.

The similarities between my maternal grandmother and our oldest daughter were prominent and poignant. My grandmother was orphaned at age 5 with her two younger sisters, both of whom she had taken care of… our daughter was adopted at age 5, also the older of two little sisters of whom she had been primary caregivers. They both had suffered the loss of parents to addiction and other horrors that no child she know. My grandmother, despite everything against her, graduated valedictorian of her class (in a time when women didn’t go to college), went to college, taught ESL, had and raised 8 wonderful children of her despite never having been parented, married the love of her life even though she had never seen a healthy marriage and became a resilient strong woman of faith.

We wanted to connect our eldest to that legacy of overcoming. But my grandmother’s name? CLYDELLA. Yep, her mom wanted her to be a boy and she planned to name him Clyde so when she was disappointed with the birth of her daughter, she just adjusted the name. I couldn’t find an alternative to Clydella, so we looked to her middle name, Margaret. None of the alters fit well with our daughters existing first name so I looked up the meaning… It means “pearl” and so we gave our daughter that middle name. Not only do I love how it sounds, but also the legacy and family connection and the idea of how a pearl takes grit that shouldn’t be inside it, and makes a precious treasure from it!

Citryne Says:

September 20th, 2016 at 8:53 pm

We named our son Carl after his great-grandfather who officiated our wedding. My husband’s maternal grandfather was the second and his son (who went on to have two daughters) was the third of the same name. So our son is the “fourth” just with a different last name. We loved that the name wasn’t common and Pa (husband’s grandfather) is one of the best people I have ever met so naming a child after him was special.

Shia Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 6:03 pm

My family is hugh and I also have a “step-family” too. I would love to honor everyone but my Husband and I decided to be little creative with our family names. So far our future first daughter could be “Sidney Elizabeth” after our Moms. It will be a nice surprise. As for our first son “Ellis Alexander” we both love the name “Ellis” and “Alexander” is my maiden name. Our second son “Nigel Alexander” and our second daughter “Lillian Yvan”. My grandmother’s name is “Lillie” and my Husbands birth name is “Ivan” (Ee Von). We both have a few names we would love to use but we both disagreed on… “Zoe, Naomi, Austin, Larkin and/or John”.

amac25 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 9:05 pm

I was named after my mother, who was named after her aunt, who was named after her grandmother. My great-great grandmother Anne was an amazing woman, a pioneering female doctor who was a missionary in China. While my name might be plain, I’ve always loved having that deep sort of connection to my ancestor. Not sure I would name a daughter after myself, but quite possibly in the middle name. I’d also love to name a son after my amazing dad or my grandfather. Robert and Houston aren’t exactly the coolest names, but we’ll see. I wouldn’t mind a sweet, little nerdy Houston running around especially when I get to tell him stories about the man he shares his name with.

Essa Says:

September 22nd, 2016 at 2:29 am

I’d like to name my daughter after my grandma ‘Elizabeth Maud’, she goes by Maud so that makes it easy for me to choose one of the many nicknames for Elizabeth, at the minute my favourite it Betsy.

I’ve considered Elizabeth Maud Jane as well, as my MIL is called Jane Elizabeth. To be a little more creative I’ve been thinking about Elizabeth Maud June as my husbands grandmas are Jean and Joan (throw in his mum Jane) so June would be a good way to honor them all.

I have also considered Matilda Isabelle or Isabella Maud because Matilda is a variation of Maud and Isabelle/a is a variation of Elizabeth.

Boys names in my family are a little harder to work with. James is guaranteed a middle spot as it’s my husbands middle and my mum’s maiden name. I’ve also thought about Jonah which has the same meaning as my brothers name.

Family Names: Yes, No, or It Depends? – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

January 17th, 2017 at 11:46 pm

[…] The farther you stray from John, the less it might feel like an honor name – and the more reluctant your husband may be. But if it means finding a name you both love, it might be worth it. You can find more strategies for reinventing family names here. […]

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