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How to Name a Large Family

March 22, 2015 Linda Rosenkrantz

By Kate at Sancta Nomina (Katherine Morna Towne)

Whether you’re planning on it (Duggar) or it takes you by surprise (Gosselin), having a big family means choosing a lot of names. Naming with care can help with everything from reducing the possibility of you having name regret, to staving off your children’s dissatisfaction with their given names, to minimizing the craziness others will inevitably tag you with. (Maybe.)

Be forward thinking

You have a plan for your parenthood, and it doesn’t include having a big family. Maybe you’re going to have two children, and their names are both going to start with K, or they’re going to be named after your two favorite Olympic speed skaters. Then life happens—you marry a guy who really wants ten children and two just doesn’t seem like the right compromise, or you find yourself unexpectedly expecting triplets.

You used both your favorite K names and hate all the others, or after naming your first two after speed skaters you decide you’ve really grown out of that phase and you no longer want to be tied to that naming theme. We’re namers—themes, styles, patterns are important to us, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be … just, when you’re making your lists of your favorite names by theme, maybe shelve the themes that can’t be carried through a lot of kids. Just in case.

Be flexible

You love the idea of your daughters all having flower names, but the only ones you like are Violet, Rose, and Daisy, which you happily bestow upon your first three girls. Then daughter #4 makes her appearance—what do you do?

I think it’s so important to be flexible with naming, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your taste or your theme. Instead, consider ways of redefining them: Your love of Biblical names can expand to include Biblical places (Bethany) or ideas (Faith). Your Irishy Irish theme (Aoife) can expand to include others from the list of top twenty names commonly used by real Irish people in Ireland today (Anna, Kate). You’re committed to S- names, but you’ve used all your favorites—perhaps a hyphenated name would sufficiently jazz up an otherwise non-favorite S- option (SaraKate). Maybe Violet, Rose, and Daisy’s little sister could be Elizabeth with the nickname Lily.

It’s also important to remember that you’re not a bad parent if you—gasp!—choose a name you love that doesn’t fit with your already set theme, and your kids won’t be seen as one part of a sib set forever.

Be fair                  

You’re remembering to stay flexible, you’re being totally laid back about this whole naming thing. You have your John, Samuel, Matthew, and David, but by golly, you’re just going to go ahead and name your next son Maverick.

I would just really recommend against choosing names that set your children up for feeling that someone’s the favorite or most loved. Would Maverick admire your maverick-ness or wonder why his brothers got such normal names and he was stuck with the weird one? Or would the older brothers think you must have loved the baby the most, since you gave him the most exciting name?

Of course you can’t predict all the issues your kids might have with your naming (or parenting, fashion style, career choice, you name it), but trying to be fair is a thoughtfulness you can stand behind. Maybe the next brother could be James Maverick and he could go by his middle name, or you could name him Michael Oliver Richard and pat yourself on the back for teasing out the nickname M+a+ve+rick from the boy’s given names. But even then, being able to tell your child that you gave him or her a name that you loved, just like with his or her siblings, might be all the fairness that’s required.

Be family friendly

My parents have nine grandchildren … and they’re all boys. So far, there haven’t been any duplicate names, but there will likely be a lot more grandchildren (I’m the oldest of six). My siblings and I have naming tastes that aren’t wildly different from each other, plus we have all the same beloved relatives whose names we might like to use, so the possibility of same-named first cousins is very real. Would it be the end of the world? It absolutely should not be. I’m sure we all have our own stories—or have heard others’ stories—about favorite names being “stolen,” and there are differing opinions on whether naming “dibs” are okay, but when there are a lot of people in a family it’s just common sense, never mind kinder, to name and let name.

That said, it’s always a good idea to be considerate of names that might legitimately “belong” to another—like, if your current favorite is your brother’s actual name. Respectful conversations are the best approach, and even the willingness to give up a favorite name for the sake of the relationship.

As one of my favorite philosophers said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live”—don’t let names, wonderful and important as they are, get in the way of peace.

What guidelines or strategies would you offer for big-family naming?

Kate is a writer, lifelong lover of names, wife to a really good man, and mama to their six boys ages 1 to 10. She shares her thoughts on Catholic baby naming at Sancta Nomina

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