Honoring A Grandmother By Reinventing Her Name

A return engagement by one of our all-time favorite bloggers, Abby Sandel of appellationmountain.net.

Call it the Great Naming Compromise of 2001.

Other couples sign pre-nups. My husband and I negotiated our children’s names before we cut our wedding cake. The agreement was simple. Our firstborn son would receive his father’s name; our firstborn daughter would be named after my mother. Given that he likes Emily while I prefer Calixto, this was no small compromise.

Our son Alexander arrived in 2004. Alexander‘s grandfather was over the moon to have a namesake. And while our son wears at least four nicknames, sometimes in the same sentence, we’ve been happy with our choice.

Four years later, the ultrasound tech announced that baby #2 was a girl. We had a name, right?

Not exactly.

My mother’s name is Clarina. She’s named after her grandmother. Trouble is, Mom heartily dislikes her flowing, feminine name–and forbid me to pass it down. Back in 2001, we’d settled on Claire Caroline as a wearable, grandmother-approved interpretation.

As my due date approached, I worried that we’d inevitably need a way to distinguish the two Claires. My husband agreed that pre-emptive nicknaming is not a bad thing in a family with members known as Bird, Boat, Ritz, Ketch, Rohn, Stir and the Vees.

Only how do you wrest a nickname from Claire?

Our first thought was Callie. But would Callie be confused with Kaylie, Hallie and Kelly? Plus, our son often answers to Aly. Rhyming sib names? Not for us, thanks.

I pushed hard for Coco, but my husband got more of a “gorilla” than “high fashion” vibe.

After hours staring at Claire Caroline, the nickname emerged–Clio. My husband immediately agreed. Best of all, it matches with yet another family memory. My (late) father used to call me Cleopatra.

With just weeks to go, I decided that Clio needed one more syllable to make her name complete. A friend had mentioned avian names months earlier. As I looked over her list, I noticed Wren–the perfect way to honor my sister, known in the family as Bird.

Claire Caroline Wren arrived on October 2, and Clio suits her quite well. While I’m sometimes regretful that we limited our list, we learned that it is possible to marry creativity and tradition.

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21 Responses to “Honoring A Grandmother By Reinventing Her Name”

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LyndsayJenness Says:

March 19th, 2009 at 8:25 am

Good blog, Abby! I had forgotten about your interesting naming story. You did such a great job compromising, and Clio has a fantastic name!

Lola Says:

March 19th, 2009 at 8:38 am

I said it before and I’ll say it again, Clio has an awesome name and a fabulous story on how it came to be! I hope more are inspired by your creative thinking. More kids need to be as well named as your two. 😀

Kayt Says:

March 19th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

I’ve always been totally in awe and slightly jealous of your ability to compromise on names with your husband. I’m glad you shared your story with a larger audience.

Abby Says:

March 19th, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Thank you! And Pam and Linda, I can’t wait to show my mother that “Clarina” has a listing on Nameberry. She’s always argued that Clarina’s absence from baby name books is more proof that it is NOT a good name.

A few weeks ago, I said to my husband, “Okay, Arthur if we had octuplets, I think we would name them …”

He turned pale and said, “Let me stop you there. We are NOT having octuplets. For many reasons, but we cannot POSSIBLY agree on EIGHT MORE NAMES.”

Though I know he reads my posts and often surprises me by reporting that he likes something someone has suggested. 🙂

peach Says:

March 19th, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Thank you for sharing your naming story. I too am hoping to remake some family names for my future children: Elsa for Elizabeth and Maryse/Marice for Maurice. What I haven’t figured out is what to do with Jane! It’s such a common middle name (it’s on both mine and my husband’s sides) and so far I cannot figure out how to improve or reinvent it.

marilyn Says:

March 19th, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Does anyone have any ideas for “re-inventing” Judith/Judy? My mom doesn’t love her name either, but I think Judy is pretty cute, but I like it better as a nickname than a full name. Or are there alternate nicknames that would be nice?

Abby Says:

March 20th, 2009 at 12:51 am

Peach, I love Elsa! I have Maurice on my family tree, too – that’s a really interesting idea, to reinvent it for a daughter.

Jane is tricky! Someone mentioned Joan to me the other day, and I find myself liking her quite a bit. And I know a 4 y.o. Johannah, too.

linda Says:

March 20th, 2009 at 1:12 am

Abby, wondering why you think Jane is tricky. I love Jane!

Emmy Jo Says:

March 20th, 2009 at 2:43 am

Abby — I love your kids’ names (and nicknames)!

Peach — Jane has tons of variant forms. I love it on its own, actually (it’s so Victorian) — but variants Jean and Joan are less expected middle names for this generation. I know Jean can sound dated, but it’s actually rather sweet with a sophisticated first name — something like Eleanor Jean, for example.

The German Johanna or the biblical Joanna make fashionable first or middle names. There’s also Italian Gianna or Giovanna; Gianna’s in the top 100 at the moment. The French versions (Jeannette and Jeannine) aren’t very stylish right now, but they’re pretty, and they’d make rhythmically-pleasing middle names.

If you’re more daring, you might even venture into the realm of Jovana (Serbian), Yana (Hungarian), Ivana or Iva (Czech). The Irish Siobhan (shi-VAWN) and Sinead (shi-NAYD) have never appealed to me personally, but I know lots of people who like them.

Marilyn — Another name blogger (Lydia May of Onomastic Shamastics) suggests getting to Judy by using the first name June and a middle name that starts with D. Something like June Demetria or June Diana could nickname to Judy.

See her musings on Judy here:

Abby Says:

March 20th, 2009 at 8:46 am

I see Jane’s straightforward appeal, too. But nothing as interesting a twist as Elsa/Marice came to mind.

This is apparently because only half of my brain was functioning. Emmy Jo, you are exactly right! Gianna, Giovanna, Jovana, Ivana, Siobhan and so on are great options. I love Jovana.

And that also makes me think of Sian, the Welsh form of Jane, which might work well with Elsa and Marice, too.

As for Judy, I kind of love Judith’s style. In Polish, it becomes Judyta, but the “j” sounds like a “y” and the emphasis is on the middle syllable – so I’m not sure that works in the US. Apparently the Danish version is Jytte, but I’m not sure how to pronounce it.

The other possibility might be to use Jude/Judah for a boy – which would also honor mom. Or maybe go with Julia, Juno, Julissa … anything that starts with the same two letters. One of the names I’ve always considered using is Iris, after my grandmother Irene. They’re not related, but they *sound* close.

Elisabeth@YCCII Says:

March 20th, 2009 at 9:30 am

Does anybody think Beverly is usable? Is it pretty? It ocurred to me that I might want to name this bean after my grandmother if it’s a girl.

Irene– another one I love as is in addition to Jane.

For Maurice I’d hope to honor a girl with Maura or Mary. For Judith, I’d wish for a boy, and name him Judah or Jude.

Just wanted to pop in and thank you for sharing your naming adventure with the world. Such a different experience from mine. I make endless lists, and it seems everything goes down in a veto. We have more luck agreeing on boys’ names that girls’.

Abby Says:

March 20th, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Elisabeth, my sister agrees with you – she’d consider Irene as is and doesn’t get Iris. And Maura for Maurice – of course!

Beverly … I don’t know. I love three syllable, ends-in-y names, from Romilly to Dorothy.

But the nickname Bev feels dated. What would you use for a nickname? Or would you use Beverly exclusively, without a short form?

Kate H Says:

March 22nd, 2009 at 2:25 am

What about Janice for Jane?

Maybe Bebe as a nickname for Beverly. Or Ever. Eve? Vera?

Maureen might work for the Maurice situation.

Elisabeth@YCCII Says:

March 23rd, 2009 at 8:48 am

Ooh, I do like Vera for Beverly! I don’t think we’ll wind up with one, but it would be nice to honor family. Hmm. Ever could be very modern of us. 😉 I was kind of thinking of that lovely 3-syllable-ends-in-y (or -ie) formula. I don’t know. This time around seems more daunting.

Don’t love Janice– Jane feels much more chic and eternal.

Abby, I get Iris, and I like it. But there are many around here. Does your sister know a bunch of them? Irena is also a very pretty version to me.

peach Says:

March 23rd, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Thank you for all the suggestions for variants of Jane! Sian and Janine peaked my interest. We’ve already considered and vetoed Janette, Janice. I like Johanna but I want it to go with Elsa as the first name so I don’t like the repeating “a” endings. Elsa Janine would be pretty though; I’ll ask hubby if he likes it 🙂

Eezair Says:

September 25th, 2009 at 12:41 pm

My husband and I picked out baby names after a month of dating: My only non-negotiable name is Eleanor, which was my grandmother’s name. We disagreed more on boys names–he doesn’t like Kai or Jasper as first names, both of which I love. Compromise-middle names.

Sparkle Says:

February 21st, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Elisabeth@YCCII What about Everly?

Destry Says:

April 5th, 2012 at 12:46 am

To be honest I find Claire nn Clio extremely odd. Doesn’t make sense at all.

theresazoe Says:

July 20th, 2012 at 9:45 am

We are having our first baby this September, found out she’s a girl and came up with Ruby Mae Anastasia for her. My mom passed on a few years ago, her name was Jeannette, and our other top choice for a girl was Chiara Lucy Jeannette which I was sad to let go of because of how it honored my mom. However, then my husband and I realized that Ruby is my mom’s birthstone (mine, too!) so she is honored in that way. Also, a meaning of Mae is “flower” and my mother-in-law and I are both named for St. Theresa the Little Flower, so that it a throw to the two of us, as well. Instead of just coming up with a different form of the name, a neat way to honor someone could be through name meanings or birthstones, etc. Worked for us!

Our boy’s name was Peter Leon Gerard. Leon is my father-in-law’s middle name and Gerard is my dad’s name. Not as creative a way to honor people but we like it. Also, I have two middle names: Irene is my dad’s mom’s name and Anne is my mom and her mom’s middle name. So Peter Leon Gerard followed that pattern, as well.

jessiemay Says:

July 21st, 2012 at 8:19 am

Great post! I am really keen to honour both my grandmothers and my mother in my first daughter’s name, and even though that’s probably a long way off I’ve already chosen the three names (though haven’t decided on an order yet): Carolina (from my grandmother Caroline), Honey (the meaning of my mother’s name) and Wren (for my other grandmother Jennie, whose nickname is Jennie Wren). I think honouring loved ones in a child’s is such a beautiful and special thing! I love the names you chose 🙂

Star-Fata Says:

January 7th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Peach, there’s always Jayne, like in the Ice and Fire series. It’s also one of the most common names to have variants- in my family tree we’ve got Joan and Jean. On one website, it states that Jane has 93 variants, in varying forms and languages. Wikipedia’s got a pretty long list of variants too, as does Nameberry.
Elizabeth@YCCII, Eirena/Eirene are variants- as is Ayame. Because Iris is a flower, it has a lot of other language variants.
We’ve got a distant ancestor on my maternal grandmother’s side named Alexany- and my maternal grandfather was Alexander. If I ever have a daughter, this is the name I’m set on. I used to think it had to be a C-name, for heirloom related reasons- but there’s always middle names.

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