Honoring a Loved One Whose Name You Don’t Love

posted by: Callmecalliope View all posts by this author

By Jackie aka callmecalliope at namesplash

When my sister was born, our relatives insisted she be named to honor a beloved, recently deceased family member.  My mother hated the traditionally male name and refused to use it, igniting a bitter conflict that lasted years (until another child entered the family and was given the moniker).  While I don’t think parents should give in to pressure from relatives when it comes to naming, there are certainly many parents who DO want to use the name of an adored family member or friend.

With older, “vintage-style” names now back into style, it might be easy to look back into your family tree and find a loveable name. But some parents prefer more modern styles, and others just can’t fall in love with their favorite aunt’s appellation. One option is to tuck the name away in the middle spot, but if this feels wrong, there are certainly other ways to make it work. Here are a few ways to transform some hard-to-love names.

1. Use a diminutive. Former ‘nicknames’ are now making frequent appearances on birth certificates.

2. Use a variation. Many names have several variants in other languages, some of which may be more attractive, and are almost certainly more interesting and modern to English-speakers’ ears.

3. Use a name with a similar meaning. This more cryptic approach is the most creative and interesting, but may take some convincing to get family members on board.

4. Use a similar sounding name.  Find a stylish name that suits your tastes and still honors the namesake.

5. Swap genders.  Many overused, dated names have an opposite-gender alternative that can sound delightfully fresh.

Here’s how I would update some names that may never again seem stylish:

BerniceVeronica is actually a variant of Bernice in several countries. Nika is another possibility, as it is a diminutive of Veronica. For a similar sound, consider Necia.

Clarence It’s easy to swap genders on this one and go with the elegant Claire or Clara.  Similar-sounding Clancy is a more unique unisex option.

Carol Carol is derived from Charles, as are many other lovely names. Alternatives include Caroline, Carla, Carly, Carlotta, Charlotte, or diminutive Carrie, for girls, and Carlo, Karl, Chad, and Chaz for boys.

Edgar Diminutives Eddie and Teddy, as well as the similar Edward, Edison, Edwin, and Edmund, are all viable options,

Eunice Eunice means “victorious.” One might use Victoria or Victor to honor a bearer of this dated, unappealing-to-most name.

MauriceAmaury is an interesting and potentially wearable variant.  Maura is a lovely feminine form (this form has a separate lineage from the Irish Maura).  Seymour is distantly related, and since Maurice means “dark-skinned,” names with similar meanings, like Blake, Kieran, Carey and Melanie could be used as well.

Gertrude Wearable diminutives include Trudy/Trudi and Gerri/Gerry/Gerrie.  These names easily fit in with other stylish, old-fashioned nicknames like Charlie and Georgie.

What names grace your family tree that you just can’t seem to love as much as the original bearer? Would you consider modifying them?

Jackie (aka callmecalliope) works in biomedical research by day and explores the world of baby names in her minimal spare time.  Her fascination with names drove her to begin blogging at



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About the author


Jackie is a lifelong name nerd and a busy student working to earn a doctorate in biomedical science. In her minimal spare time, she loves to cuddle with her pets, cook, and name things. Check out Jackie’s blog, Namesplash.
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24 Responses to “Honoring a Loved One Whose Name You Don’t Love”

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inkonherfingers Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 1:47 am

My grandmother is named Wilma, and I would love to honour her, but I can’t stand her name. However, I would consider naming a child Willa or William instead.

AS Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 2:55 am

My mother’s name is Patricia. I like Patrick but don’t know how a boy would feel to be named after his grandmother and Patricia is just not appealing to me as a girl’s name.

CountryLizB Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 10:42 am

My sister just had a baby girl. They named her Lynette Carrie. They named her Carrie after our great-grandpa, who died earlier this year. His middle name was Carey. If it was a boy they were going to call it Clayton after him.

jame1881 Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 12:39 pm

I’ve got this issue with an Evelyn and a Janet. I mostly don’t like these names because I’ve only known one person with it – my dear relative who I want to honor! However, I do love Eva, and I’ve lately been on board with Evelina and Eve. For Janet, I like Jane, Sinead, and – ironically my relative likes this one too – Zaneta, the Russian form.
For me, I have to like the name first before I consider naming my child after someone. I’ve always hated the idea myself of “not having my own name.” So at least one of my future child’s names will be a name of their own.

KristinJay Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 1:54 pm

My mother was Leigh Ann (no middle name) which feels very dated – and she never loved it, anyway. Her maiden name is a German one that is impossible as a given name. I’d love to honor her with a daughter’s name, but Leigh on it’s own isn’t my style, and neither are a lot of the Ann-derivatives. I might do something with a “-ly” ending, or just starting with L. I also like the idea of doing something to reference her birth month (October) like Marigold or Opal… perhaps as middle names? Still something I’m mulling over, but I do think you can go a bit further afield with honor names than just handing down the actual name, although that can be lovely, too, if the name itself is one you love.

katybug Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 2:25 pm

I had this issue when naming our son–my dad’s name was Charles, and while I like that name, my dad hated it, so that made me resist using it. We went with another C name which doesn’t have a direct tie to Charles so it doesn’t really feel like an honor name to me. I love the name we chose but wish I’d tried harder to find a way to honor him more directly, especially now that I know this will be our only son.

CsprsSassyHrly Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 3:49 pm

@KristinJay – For Leigh, you could try Leah. Leanora, Leona is popular right now, but whether or not that’s a deterrent, I don’t know. Leighton Meester has made Leighton a little more popular, though I believe she pronounces it LAY-ton, not LEE-ton. Or you could use it at the end of a name, though most names that end in -ley, -leigh, -lee, -lie (Ashley, Kayleigh, Bailie, Marlee) tend to be pretty trendy and wouldn’t be my style. Leslie/Lesley is a name that ends with a -leigh sound but I don’t hear too much. I don’t know your naming style so I don’t want to comment on Ann names. Just some hopefully helpful insights.

I think that, despite how many names I actually love, I really think this is the only way I can name any children I may one day have. I’ve landed on Georgianne Mireya or Reyes George, after my mother, Georgina, and my grandfather, Reyes. I’m even looking for names to honor my younger brother, Emilio, and my favorite cousin, who’s more like a twin sister, Jermina. Right now, I’m thinking Milo Jeremiah or Emilia Geramyn… I hope my future baby daddy likes them cause the only way they are getting changed is to add a name from someone he wants to honor.

tori101 Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 4:09 pm

My late Grandmother’s name is Barbara and I’d love to have a combination which honours her that I can feel completely comfortable with. At the moment I have the combination Aurora Grace Barbara even though I love Aurora and Grace I’m not a 100 percent sure on Barbara just because as name itself I dislike it. She had no middles names therefore this is the name I can use in way of honouring her but I just dislike it!!

jame1881 Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 4:18 pm

@tori101: Have you considered Varvara or Varya? They’re both Russian forms of Barbara (me and my Russian forms 🙂 )

Saracita00 Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Really helpful article! My husband is adamant about using the same name for his family, but I take a more roundabout route for mine. We’re planning to use “Daisy” in honor of my mom, since daisies are her favorite flower (and she hates her own given name!).

dragonflynv Says:

January 1st, 2014 at 10:20 pm

I got forced into using Arlene as our DD’s middle name and I still hate it. I feel I was bullied into using it. I have thought about legally changing it. Any ideas?

baileyann1105 Says:

January 2nd, 2014 at 12:22 am

In my family, we use former maiden names as middle names. For example, mine middle name is “O’Hara”, which was my paternal great-grandmother’s maiden name; my brother’s middle name is “Larkin”, which is also from our father’s side (can’t remember from who, though); and my cousin has “Logan” as his middle name, which was his mother’s maiden name.

Other options that we’ve used include:

chi1127 Says:

January 2nd, 2014 at 2:05 am

I really want honor my grandmother Doris. So, I’ll probably be using Isadora or Theodoric as a middle name for our next/last child.

nat108 Says:

January 2nd, 2014 at 7:27 am

@tori101 – My mom is Barbara so my list has:
Wallis (G)/ Wallace (B)
Barbary (mn only)
Elodia (means foreign)

jaycn Says:

January 2nd, 2014 at 1:34 pm

My father was Donald Theodore. We wanted to name our son after him but, we did not especially like the name Donald. We chose to scramble the letters of his first name up and keep the middle name. We ended up using the same letters as in Donald in a name we liked much more. Our son ended up being named Landon Theodore Lennox. It suites him perfectly and honors his grandfather.

jxmann Says:

January 2nd, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Consider Aria, Aralyn, Carlene, or Lena. For a less obvious (but more fun) alternative, read about the multiple origins of the name Arlene and find a related name. For example, some sources say Arlene is a feminine form of Arlen, meaning “oath.” Thus, any variant of Elizabeth, meaning “God’s oath” could be an option.

Best of luck!

oboeplayer1 Says:

January 2nd, 2014 at 11:18 pm

I’d love to honor my late grandmother. Her name was Susan Jane. I love her first name anyway and I think Susan would make a wonderful middle.

emilybk Says:

January 3rd, 2014 at 1:42 pm

My husband’s grandmother had a very old-fashioned, clunky first name which neither of us loved, but we adored her maiden name, Cates (which is also my husband’s middle name – no more men on that side of the family to pass it on). We ended up naming our daughter Cates to honor her and that entire side of the family. We live in the South, and it’s not uncommon here to give surnames as first names as a way to honor relatives.

laurelaura Says:

January 5th, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Yes! Our firstborn, Calvin, just happened to be the first great-grandchild born after the death of my husband’s grandfather, Malvin. While we loved the name for itself and hadn’t intended it to be in honor of Mal, it worked out quite well to be able to just politely say “yes” when people asked if we had intentionally chosen it. :o)

SunKissedChild Says:

February 12th, 2014 at 9:44 am

My Nan’s name is Evelyn, but she went by Eve because she always HATED her name. She was born in a time when boys were still being called Evelyn too, and she hated the teasing and mispronunciation (where she was from in England, the boys pronounced Evelyn as Ev-er-lyn, girls pronounced it as Eev-lynn).
So when my husband and I were talking about names and decided we wanted to incorporate my Nan’s name, instead of using Evelyn, or even just Eve as a middle name, we’ve decided to go with Evangeline! We love the name so much, and it still has Eve in it 🙂

moraea Says:

October 9th, 2014 at 12:57 am

We named our first two children after relatives & would like to continue this with any future kids. We discussed in case my son was a girl using my great grandmother’s name. Verlene (meaning faith) didn’t appeal to us but alternatives using the same meaning or initials did. We chose Vrai (meaning truth) as a middle for a girl. I also like the idea of using a relatives middle or last ie: my cousins middle is Lyrae for my grandma’s middle Lorraine

ebwhite Says:

May 2nd, 2015 at 11:03 pm

Consider combining the letters of names you don’t truly love to create one you do. My beloved Grandmother’s name was Sarah, which is an okay name but not one I would choose for my daughter. We called my grandmother “Nona” so if we have a girl we are combining Nona and Sarah, and using the name Norah.

SpanglishMami Says:

June 16th, 2016 at 8:19 am

I’m not a fan of my grandmother’s name Lavinia (which is ironic considering it seems to be a HUGE hit with most berries) but I adore Livia and would use it as an honor name for my grandmother in a heartbeat!

Ms.Teal Says:

April 15th, 2018 at 2:39 pm

@KristinJay I’m super worried now, because Leigh Ann- with the same spellings, to boot- was a perfect honor name in our family! Leigh is the more feminine version of the name meaning “meadow”, a perfect reference to the “meadow” named gentleman in the family (and which you see in the Ashley, Hailey, Bradley, etc names), and Ann means “grace”, something I’m hoping the real Grace appreciated.
I happen to love it, but maybe working backwards would help you? Another meadow name, or Grace or Hannah instead of Ann? I also knew a Leanna growing up, perhaps changing the spelling would make it more pleasant for you! Good luck, and know that we over here are big Leigh supporters. =3

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