Category: names from the family tree

So you’re looking for family names for your baby. But you’re not willing to pass on some monstrosity just to please mom or be sure you make it into Aunt Elfreda’s will. Rather, you want a name that carries on the best spirit of your family but that’s also wonderful in its own right.

You’re not alone. More than 70 percent of parents surveyed by nameberry say they used family names for their babies. Sometimes they varied the name to suit their taste or used a family name in the middle, but the main aim was to choose a name that honored their family lineage.

How to find family names that are also right for your baby? Here, seven ways to search for the perfect choice.

1. Survey Your Family For Ideas – Having a baby can be the perfect time to ask your parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles to contribute all the family names and connections they can think of. You may be surprised at the far-flung relatives who emerge or the names that pop up that you never heard of before. When my husband and I asked our families for this information, for instance, we discovered long-lost relatives named Leopold, Owen, Jane, and Victor, all of which we liked as first names.

2. Look Beyond First Names To Surnames and Place Names – Past the usual Josephs and Elizabeths on our family trees were intriguing surnames such as Dillon and Early, along with a line of relatives from a town called Paisley, any of which could work as first names.

3. Climb Through Family Trees – Sites such as can help you climb into the further reaches of your family tree – or even someone else’s. Even if you don’t find any actual relatives there, you may be able to explore names used in families with the same surname as yours. So what if Clarissa or Clement may not be your bona fide second cousins 12 times removed? They could be, and maybe getting the era and the ethnicity right is close enough.

4. Consult Government Registries – More and more birth, marriage, and death records can be found online now, offering a wealth of information for the industrious baby namer. I was able to trace the Scottish side of my family back to the early 1800s with the help of Scotland’s online government resources where I discovered such delectable family names as Grey. And the new online Irish census records served up all the middle names and maiden names from my Irish grandmother’s family.

5. Search Other Historical Sources – Once you exhaust the available information on your own family, you can look through everything from old ship manifests such as those available on the Ellis Island site to the early Social Security popularity lists to old books available for free via kindle or google books for ideas of names and nicknames popular in the past.

6. Embrace the Nickname – One way to use a genuine family name but make it your own is to come up with a new nickname for Percival Charles III, calling your child Perry or Charley or maybe Mac instead of PC. Or you can go in another direction and call your child Maggie after grandma, for instance, but give her Magdalena rather than Margaret as a proper name.

7. Be Creative – You don’t need to be constrained by outmoded ideas or naming practices when spinning a family name to suit your child. Reviving great-grandma’s maiden name can be an excellent way to name a son after a female ancestor, for instance, and there’s no reason you can’t give your daughter your granddad’s first name in the middle. You can use a first letter as inspiration, or even look for a new name with the same meaning as an ancestral original.

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How Important Are Family Names?

Family names are a hot topic among baby-namers these days, with many parents looking through their family trees in search of names that carry family meaning.

For some people, the family itself is what’s most important, with the aim to choose the name of a family member they love and admire. If Great-Grandpa Floyd was a war hero or Grandma Enid a beloved and influential caregiver, then Floyd or Enid is the name they use for their child, fashion and even taste aside.

But there are other baby-namers who view the family name issue a bit more broadly. Sure, Great-Grandpa Floyd was an admirable guy, but Great-Uncle Isaiah did some pretty cool things too — and we like the name Isaiah a lot better than Floyd. Or we do want to name the baby after dear Grandma Enid, but we’re just going to use the initial and call her Eliza, or we’re going to use Enid as a middle name, or we’ll revive Grandma’s maiden name Morgan and put it in first place.

Then there are those parents who like the idea of using a name with family significance, but don’t particularly care which family member it was originally attached to. They’ll comb through the family tree in search of appealing choices that can be dusted off and restored to prominence, never mind that they never actually knew Great-Aunt Louisa or that Uncle Theo was a scoundrel. He was a scoundrel with a great name.

Of course, some parents don’t put much stock in using family names, or downright don’t want to use them — maybe because they were the one who got stuck being named after Grandma Enid.

What’s your feeling about family names? Vote in the first nameberry poll (yay! we finally figured out how to work it!) and let us know — and tell us more about how you used or didn’t use a family name for YOUR baby and what you think about the issue of family names in general.

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