Creative Family Names Honor Loved Ones
The latest Royal baby name highlights a major modern name trend — creative family names. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle named their daughter Lilibet Diana, honoring two of the most important women in Harry’s family. Lilibet pay homage to his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, whose childhood nickname was Lilibet (it was her way of pronouncing Elizabeth as a child). Diana is a clear reference to Harry’s mother, Princess Diana of Wales, who died in a car accident when Harry was a child.
The impetus to honor loved ones through names is strong, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Yet parents want to use names that are distinctive and allow their child to form a unique identity, separate from that of the honoree. And style, as always, is a top consideration.
How do you balance these factors and find a name to honor loved ones? We have ten strategies for choosing creative family names:
Use a Nickname
Take a page out of Harry and Meghan’s book and put a relative’s nickname on the birth certificate. If your beloved grandfather Frederick went by Fritz in his youth, go ahead and skip the full form for your son. If you can’t bear the thought of naming your daughter Mildred but affectionately referred to your great aunt as Millie, that might be the better choice for your baby anyway.
Jenna Bush Hager was especially creative in this way, naming her second daughter Poppy Louise after her own grandfather, George Herbert Walker, whom she called Poppy.
Use the Same Name, but a Different Nickname
This doesn’t work for all names, but if the honoree in question has a nickname-rich name, it’s a wonderful option. It tends to be easier with classic family names. All the women in your family could be named Margaret and each have a different nickname. Honoring Grandma Peggy? Use her full name on the birth certificate, then take your pick of nicknames: Maggie, Greta, Pearl… (the list goes on). Your father and your son can both be named William, but there won’t be any confusion if they’re called Grandpa Bill and Liam day-to-day.
Jenna Bush Hager exemplifies this strategy once again. Her son Hal is legally named Henry Harold — he shares his first name with his father.
Look Beyond the First Name…
…And go toward the middle! If your loved one has a meaningful, stylish, or otherwise covetable middle name, you can use that as your child’s first name. You may ever consider a full-blown flip-flop, as Emma Stone recently pulled off. She named her daughter Louise Jean in honor of her grandmother Jean Louise.
Feminizing or masculinizing family names is one of the most traditional ways to pay homage to loved ones. It’s been a common practice for centuries — Queen Victoria and Prince Albert honored themselves somewhere in each of their nine children’s names. Their sixth child, Princess Louise Caroline Alberta, was given her second middle name in honor of her father.
More recently, Candice King and Joe Accola named their younger daughter Josephine June, her first name the feminine variation of her father’s.
But the most modern way to do this is to use the honoree’s full name for a child of the opposite sex. Brenda Song and Macaulay Culkin named their son Dakota, a name he shares with Culkin’s late sister. Celebrity baker Christina Tosi recently gave birth to a daughter named Francis Ray, “Frankie.” Frankie’s name matches her grandfather’s, spelling and all — Frances would typically be the feminine version.
Use a Variation
Gender bends can fall into this category if you’re altering the honoree’s name, but there are more ways to use a family name spinoff.
International variations are a good place to start. If you’re looking to honor a Jane in a contemporary way, you may consider something like Gianna, Yana, or even Siobhan. Matthew can transform into Matteo or Makaio.
Certain names exist in multiple forms — although you might not know it! Isabel is a spinoff of Elizabeth, and Nancy shares a root with all the Ann- names. Anais, Anya, or Hannah would work as honorifics. Common boy names with connections include Jacob and James, as well as Jackson and John.
Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik named their daughter Khai, a variation of Gigi’s grandmother’s name, Khairiah.
Look for Names with the Same Meaning
For a subtle link to a significant family name, give your child a name with the same meaning. Pay homage to a Patrick (“noble”) with names such as Freya (“a noble woman”), Audrey (“noble strength”), or Grady (“noble”). An Eileen (“bright, shining one”) may be referenced with a light-related name such as Ayla (“moonlight”), Lucian (“light”), or Xavier (“bright”).
Pro tip: use our Advanced Search function to find names with the same meanings.
Find a Family Surname
Surname names are more fashionable than ever, and the best place to look is your family tree. If you happen to learn that your great-grandmother’s maiden name was Rhodes or discover a line of Lincolns or Lennoxes, go ahead and add those to your shortlist. But we also encourage the adoption of lesser-used family names, be it Estes or McCarthy or Springer.
Seth Meyers and Alexi Ashe’s oldest son is named Ashe Olsen — his mother and grandmother’s surnames. More recently, Billie Lourd used her late mother Carrie Fisher’s surname as the middle name for her son Kingston.
Repeat Sounds or Initials
Maybe the previous strategies don’t apply. If you want to honor someone with a rare, self-contained name, your options may be limited in terms of variations or names with related meanings. In that case, just keep it simple. Names that share sounds (or even just an initial) can still be a meaningful way to honor a loved one.
A name like Melody could pay homage to a Melissa through their Mel- prefixes, even though the names have different origins. You can get creative with syllable placement too, maybe calling your son Roman in honor of your father Jerome.
If you go the initial route, up the honor factor by repeating first and middle initials. Stanley Clarence might not suit your style, but Sullivan Crew may still remind you of your dear grandfather. The more similarities you add, the closer your baby name will feel to the original. Like a similar cadence: try something such as Nova Genevieve to honor a Norma Geraldine.
Play Off a Theme
This, of course, requires there’s a theme to begin with. If you’re lucky enough to find a pattern you want to continue, this is a great path to creative family names. Your grandmother and her sister are May and June? Hello, August! (Or for the braver among us, maybe November).
Iggy Azalea named her son Onyx, keeping up the gem theme of her own sibset (her birth name is Amethyst).
Search Significant Symbols
This strategy requires thinking outside of the box but can lead to some of the most meaningful and creative family names.
Consider your loved one and all the things that remind you of them, then look for names from there. If your sister loves the color yellow, Xanthe or Aurelia could be possibilities for your daughter. If your grandfather was a veteran, you may be inspired by names such as Navy, Major, or Poppy.
Significant places from your loved one’s life are other good places to find a name. It could be the name of the street that your grandmother grew up on, the college dining hall where your parents met, the town your ancestors immigrated from. Pretty much anything goes — so long as it feels personally meaningful to you and the honoree.
Actor Jonathan Tucker has twins named India Moss and Hayes Taj, honoring his wife Tara’s Indian heritage. Bindi Irwin recently named her daughter Grace Warrior as an homage to her late father Steve Irwin, who cofounded a conservationist foundation called the Wildlife Warriors.