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Family Names: Yes, No, or It Depends?

January 17, 2017 Abby Sandel

He’s all about family names, but she’s not convinced. How do they move forward when he thinks their son is already named?

Amanda writes:

My husband’s father’s name is John.  To incorporate the name he wants to name our son Jonathan Wallace, after grandpa and great-grandpa.

The dilemma? I don’t care for the name Jonathan!

Any ideas?

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.

Where to begin? Identify exactly why Jonathan Wallace falls flat for you.

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.

Maybe you love the idea of family names and you’d love the chance to honor grandpa John. But Jonathan doesn’t sound like your son’s 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.

Jonathan also offers a few unexpected nicknames: Jono and Nate are my favorites.

John means “God is gracious.” Milan – and possibly Miles and Milo – share the meaning “gracious.”

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

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.

View all of Abby's articles

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