Family Names: Yes, No, or It Depends?
He’s all about family names, but she’s not convinced. How do they move forward when he thinks their son is already named?
The dilemma? I don’t care for the name Jonathan!
The Name Sage replies:
It’s frustrating when one parent has The Name in mind – but it just doesn’t feel right. Whether you’re the one suggesting or the one saying no, it’s tough to go back to the drawing board.
But that is exactly where you should be headed. While it isn’t necessary for both parents to be head-over-heels in love with their child’s name, it’s important that you both agree.
If that feels challenging, no worries. We’ll look at the most common objections, as well as some solutions. And readers, I’d love to hear from you if you’ve managed to gracefully opt out of using a beloved family name.
You just plain don’t want to use a family name.
Some families are all about passing down heirlooms from earlier generations. But plenty of parents prefer to start fresh, too – and there’s no right or wrong here.
If you feel like your child deserves a name that belongs only to him, that’s a perfectly legitimate position. The way forward is clear – take the family names off the table, and have a discussion about the kind of choices that you think would best suit your son.
It’s less about the names, more about the people.
It sounds like John and Wallace both come from your husband’s side. While Jonathan Wallace is a handsome name, it does leave your family unmentioned. Would you feel differently about the name if it was, say, William Jonathan or Jonathan William after your grandfather? (Note: I’m just guessing names from Amanda’s side!)
Or maybe – and this can be a really sensitive topic – you and your father-in-law aren’t on the best of terms. If that’s the case, honoring him with your child’s name could understandably feel awkward.
It’s worth brainstorming other loved ones whose names might please you and your husband equally. You might also consider family surnames, or, if you’re lucky enough to know some family history, the names of your great-grandparents. They’re very much family names, but softened by the passing of time.
You don’t want to use a family first, but you’d consider a middle.
It’s a common compromise: the middle name honors a loved one, but the first name is all yours to choose.
A bonus? Dozens and dozens of names work well with Jonathan: Kai Jonathan, Arlo Jonathan, River Jonathan, Rory Jonathan. Or maybe just John or Wallace would work better with some names: Elliot John, Malcolm John, Leonidas John, Aiden Wallace, Luke Wallace, Dylan Wallace.
It isn’t the idea of the name, just the actual name.
The good news is that John gives you a world of options. Jack, Jackson, Jax, Evan, Ivan, and Jensen come to mind – all surname, modern, or international forms of the traditional name. There’s also Jonah, a separate name but one that starts with the letters Jon.
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.
Regardless of why you’re not on board with your husband’s suggestion, it’s time to start the conversation about finding an alternative.
Readers, what’s your take on family names? And how have you handled deciding to use – or not use – choices from your family trees?
About the author
View all of 's articles
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
on January 18th, 2017 at 1:28 am
I feel completely qualified to answer this since I am in a super similar situation! SO’s name is Jonathon, John is a middle name in his family spanning generations, as it is in mine. It’s my brother’s middle name and my grandfather’s first name. I love SO’s name, but I really want to eliminate the confusion so we’re really considering John, alternately SO’s other grandfather is Joseph which would be fine if we both didn’t have J first names (one J child is all I will agree to!) Anyway, we’re contemplating John and Jonah/Jonas (sort of a mix of John, Jonathon and Joseph.) Get creative, maybe there’s a way to honour John by using a mix of a few names, which could eliminate some of the Jonathan issue. Also keep in mind that Anna is the female equivalent, so you could always use Ariana, Annabeth, Anneliese etc. for a girl to honour him! 🙂
on January 18th, 2017 at 7:32 am
My two adult children have family middle names (Thomas and Marjorie) – and both grew up loving the connection. My son has three children now and has carried on this tradition with a bit of a tweak. His oldest daughter is Avery Caroline named to honor his beloved Nana, Carol Ann. His oldest son Grayson Thomas, shares his middle name, with both dad and Great Grandpa. His third, Jackson Reese’s middle name honors his mother-in-law, Theresa – an idea I got while perusing Nameberry one day.
Perhaps Jonathan could move to the middle with some contemporary twist on your husband’s name (or someone from YOUR side of the family) in the front spot. Wallace could wait for a middle spot on a future son (or even Wallis for a future daughter).
PS: I should mention that although her name “Carol Ann” was not repeated exactly, Nana was beside herself that she had been the inspiration for the final name choice of her first great grandchild. And Theresa was equally thrilled with her nod as well.
on January 18th, 2017 at 7:38 am
My son is named after his father’s maternal uncle (first and middle name) who passed away shortly before we were married. But this was somewhat of a happy accident as his uncle’s first name was one of my favorites and his middle was my grandfather’s name, my brother’s name, and my Dad’s middle name so I had long wanted to use it as a middle name.
I think in these circumstances I would use both family names in the middle and pick a name both parents loved as the first name. For example, Owen John Wallace, Arlo John Wallace, Everett John Wallace,
However, if this was critically important to my husband, I would concede though go with John not Jonathan and use a nickname of my choice… maybe Jono, jack, or even Jay. I would also expect that I get more say in naming the next child.
on January 18th, 2017 at 7:46 am
A friend of mine had this issue with trying to use John as an honor name. The good news is that there are truly so many international variations, from Ewan to Sean to Jovan and Johannes. I’d say just get creative… and it doesn’t have to be the first name.
on January 18th, 2017 at 8:25 am
The only thing I would say about giving in to a family name is that you may like, but not love, your child’s name. Admittedly, there are way worse problems in the world, but still, it may rankle. This is what happened with my second daughter. My husband wanted to name a future daughter after his deceased mother. I had a name I really loved and wanted to use if we ever had a girl, so I agreed that if we had a second daughter we could use his mother’s name. That’s what happened and although I like the name, it’s too popular (even more so today) and I wouldn’t have picked it if I had a free choice.
on January 18th, 2017 at 8:41 am
I love family names but I feel that it is a tad in sensitive to use two honor names that honor the husband’s side while the child will always have the father’s last name since it is a boy. So, the name does not honor the mother’s family or her taste. My dad’s name is John, my husbands name is Jonathan, and my husband was named after both of his grandfathers one being a John and the other being named Johnnie. In honor of all of them our son’s first name is John but he goes by his middle name. Plus, I felt that the flow of John with the middle name that he goes by sounded better than the other way around.
on January 18th, 2017 at 9:40 am
With our first child, I was the one who wanted to choose an honor name and my SO didn’t love it. I wanted to name our daughter Helen or Nell after my grandmother. My SO didn’t say “no” but I could tell he didn’t love the name, and I knew that if I insisted, he would give in and go along without complaint–but that wasn’t how I wanted us to name a child. I thought we should both love the name, so I tabled the family name, we chose a first name we both loved and a middle that honored both sides of the family.
I thinking Abby is absolutely right in advising you to figure out what about Jonathan you don’t like and if it’s just that the name is not right for you, it might just need to be tabled for this child. I don’t know your SO, but I imagine he wants you to be happy with your child’s name and I can say 3 years on that I do not regret giving up the family name, especially we both worked together to create the perfect name for our daughter that made us both happy.
Good luck! I know it’s sensitive territory.
on January 18th, 2017 at 9:59 am
I think if it’s not the right name for your baby than you don’t use it. We have used family names in the middle, but only because we liked the names to begin with and both my husband and I were on board.
on January 18th, 2017 at 10:15 am
Hans and Ian are two other John derivatives that weeent mentioned that may be worth a look! I feel like once you get away from a name starting with J, it will feel less of a direct honor but still maintain that nod. Good luck!
on January 18th, 2017 at 10:28 am
at the very least, it’s unfair if he has chosen both the first and middle names from his side of the family. If he’s set on John move if to the middle, or let him choose John or Wallace for the middle. But he needs to accept that you are not on board with it.
on January 18th, 2017 at 10:55 am
Another suggestion: What are John and Wallace’s middle names? Are they more usable? That can be helpful for giving the child a distinct personality. My middle name is the same as my Aunt Marie’s middle name, but since both of us have different first names, one never really considers it. I didn’t feel required to emulate her or live up to her in any way; it was just sort of cool that we shared a name. I’m actually considering using my own middle name as my future daughter’s middle name.
To sum up, even as a namenerd, I don’t go around thinking about my own middle name or those of others. Imagine how little your child and relatives will think of it!
on January 18th, 2017 at 11:06 am
I think if family names are important, then both sides of the family should be considered, not just his. My husband wants to honour his late father, Robert, by using the name as a middle name. While I am completely on board with this, I also want my side of the family honoured and recognized in our child’s name (especially since the last name is also his!). So, we are going with two middle names – one after his father, and one after mine. As for the first name, we are choosing something we both love, and that isn’t a family name. When it works, I think it’s nice for a child to get a name all their own too.
on January 18th, 2017 at 12:31 pm
I like variants of family names, like you’ve done with John/Jonathan. Other international variants you might consider: Jack, Evan, Ivan, Sean, Ian, Eoin (Pronounced like Owen, though you could probably use Owen), Shane, Jonas. Because all are international forms of John, you’d still be using a family name, it’d just be a bit less obvious.
As a side note, if Wallace is a family name on his side, I don’t think he’s being entirely fair. This is your baby too, and he shouldn’t have exclusive rights to naming the baby after his side of the family. If you liked Jonathan Wallace, I’d say go for it, but because you’re lukewarm, I think he should consider a compromise.
Beau Jean Said
on January 18th, 2017 at 3:01 pm
Wow! I think everyone has really given great advice! Children generally like having a story of how their name was picked for them. If both grandpa and great-grandpa are alive and likely to be a positive influence on your child as he grows then you can’t go wrong with honoring them. Showing respect and honoring our family ties is a good thing. If on the other hand you do not like one of them (or both) you should not give their name to your child. Children pick up on things. Your son would wonder why if it was after someone you didn’t like or didn’t respect.
on January 18th, 2017 at 3:30 pm
I agree that one name should come from each side of the family if honor names are being used for both first & middle names & if only one middle name is being used. If the father-to-be is insistent on using both Jonathan & Wallace, then they could be used as middle names & the mom-to-be picks the first name. Or perhaps they could compromise on using John, Jonathan, or Wallace as one middle name, a second middle name from the mom’s side, & a first name that’s not a family name at all.
Naming can be fraught for sure…I was supposed to be Elizabeth Anne & my dad insisted on making my first name be an honor name to a cousin of his. Half a century later my mom is still bitter about it.
on January 18th, 2017 at 5:25 pm
We used family names in the middle spot of all four kids. I only LOVE one of the four, but it was more important to honor family than to love the name, in my opinion; it’s easier to do that in the middle for sure! I’d love to have had a legacy name like Jonathan to pass down; if it’s that important to your husband, I’d give it to him. Maybe compromise on a middle name from your family, or ask if you can have have the next child’s name. If it means anything, I think the name Jonathan is rather refreshing and extremely handsome. Good luck!
on January 18th, 2017 at 7:41 pm
I love family names – to a point.
Since my son shares my husband’s last name (and therefore already has a family name from his father’s side), my son’s middle name is my maiden name (which is fortunately a very usable given name). His first name was a style choice.
If we’d had a second son, he would have shared my husband’s middle name (which is my mother-in-law’s maiden name) and his first name would have been a style choice.
But our second (and last) child is a girl. Her first name is a style choice (but it also happens to be a portmanteau of 2 of her greatgrandmothers’ names – one from each side).
Her middle name was up for a lot of discussion. We considered a couple of close family friends’ names as well as an homage to our middle names (which rhyme with one another). In the end we went with my favourite girl’s name, which is also an acronym of the first initials of all of her parents and grandparents and has a similar meaning as my mother-in-law’s first name (it was this perfection which got it over the line with my husband).
So my kids have family names, but they are a little more complex than naming them after all the men on my husband’s side.
on January 18th, 2017 at 9:37 pm
I too dislike the name Jonathan. I actually prefer family names as middles anyway.
You should not under any circumstances have to name your son a name you dislike, particularly since the actual person your husband seeks to honor has another name.
All this hullabaloo about sons being named after male relatives rubs me the wrong way. I see it way more often than women insisting on naming their daughters their mother and grandmothers’ names.
I do like John and Wallace as names, but I think you and your husband should seek a name you both LOVE.
on January 19th, 2017 at 12:04 am
I like my children to have their own names and a family name in the middle.
My in-laws were keen for us to name our first born son after my mil’s father…John. I didn’t like it especially as the name had already been bestowed upon my brother in law! Inlaws said we could make it more modern by dropping the ‘h’ so Jon…haha. It became a joke between my husband and I, “I like Rupert…without the “h”.
My daughter has my Dh’s grandma’s name in the middle and for a short while after she was born my mil referred to her by her middle name until she was corrected…DD has her own name. Mil sounds terrible but we love her 🙂
on January 19th, 2017 at 2:30 am
I think Nathan could also be after a Johnathan. And I think Johnny is cute.
leave a reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.