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Reinventing Grandma Names

September 17, 2018 Abby Sandel

Grandma is over the rainbow about her new little namesake. Except how, exactly, do you honor a Glenda in 2018?

Tess writes:

My partner and I are expecting our first, a little girl, and are overjoyed! We are debating on first names right now, but know that we want the middle name to honor my partner’s mother, Glenda (who is arguably more excited than the both of us, haha). Neither of us are huge fans of her name as is, and we are drawing blanks for potential alternatives we like that sound similar – we’ve ruled out Glynnis.

Grandma Glenda, however, is a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz, and so we were considering Dorothy as a middle name if we could find no other alternatives. I realize Glinda is both a Wizard of Oz name and fits the theme, but we aren’t fans. We are also not completely opposed to Glenda as a middle name, but we would need to be convinced one way or the other.

For first names, our top choices would probably be Alice, Rose, Quinn, or Fiona due to a combination of them being either family names and ones that we’ve always liked. Our last name is two syllables, and starts with a W, so most names should flow pretty well with it.

Thank you for your help!

The Name Sage replies:

It sounds like you’ve already discovered the secret to choosing great honor names: be open to re-invention. I have a tough time imagining a baby Glenda born today (though I’m sure I could be convinced), but that doesn’t mean you have to sidestep the name entirely.

Your favorite first name options represent a range of styles. There’s traditional Alice and Rose, modern Quinn, and lively Fiona. Let’s see if we can’t find some alternatives that would match well with each of those!

Now: Dorothy. If grandma Glenda loves the spunky, big-hearted heroine of L. Frank Baum’s enduring fairy tales, then that’s an honor name. In fact, I was about to suggest Rose Dorothy – which happens to be the name of Scarlett Johansson’s daughter. That might just prove how well it works!

On to more ideas:

Glen/Glenn – Drop the second syllable of Glenda, and it’s a sleek, modern option in the key of Quinn. Glenn Close gives it some leading lady stature. The name peaked in the 1950s for boys, shortly after Glenn Miller and just before John Glenn made headlines. It feels fresh and unexpected today. I’m especially in love with Fiona Glen.

Glenna – Here’s another option: Glenna, usually listed as the feminine form of Glenn. It’s one letter shy of Glenda, but somehow it feels more modern in our age of Stella, Gemma, and Sienna. I think Rose Glenna and Quinn Glenna are my favorites.

Vale – A glen is a valley, and vale is a poetic word for the same. Is it a stretch? Yes! But it’s also an appealing sound that works beautifully with some of your favorites. Alice Vale and Fiona Vale are tough to beat.

Gale – Speaking of Vale, Dorothy’s surname is Gale. That’s no accident, either – after all, a gale is a strong wind, like the one that lifted her farmhouse to Oz. If Dorothy doesn’t quite work with your favorite first, Gale seems like a good back-up. I like Alice Gale and Fiona Gale nearly as much as Vale.

Ruby – Not only does Dorothy wear the famous ruby slippers in the movie, but there’s another message there, too. Remember when she taps them three times and says, “There’s no place like home.” Of course, right? While Ruby might feel the tiniest bit removed from the character’s name, the sentiment of finding your way home might be especially meaningful when using a family name. Emerald, for the Emerald City, is another option, but maybe even more of a stretch.

Bonnie – One of my favorite ways to update a name is to search for a shared meaning. Glenda’s second syllable – ‘da’ – comes from the Welsh word for good. In Scotland, Bonnie is another word for pretty, but it comes from the French bonne – good.

If staying close to grandma’s given name matters most, then Glen/n and Glenna feel like the safest bets. But if you’re inclined to be adventurous, knowing that your Glenda will be delighted no matter what? Then we’ve just scratched the surface. A favorite fictional character is one option, but so are her favorite flowers, song titles, a place that’s significant to her, and so on.

Fair warning: some people may raise an eyebrow at calling Dorothy – or Vale or even Glenna – an honor name, since it’s not exact. But the important part is having a story to tell about your new baby’s family, and how the name connects across the generations.

Let’s have a poll, because I think that might help you narrow it down!

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.

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