family conflicts

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How Do I Say No to Grandma?

My grandmother, I'll call her "Elizabeth," has always wanted a girl named after her, but she only had boys. She now has three female grandchildren (including me; there are also five boys). One granddaughter has the middle name Elizabeth, but my grandmother constantly complains that "the middle name doesn't count." She's started trying to make us promise to name our future children Elizabeth! She's my grandma and I love her, but I'm not sure if I want to associate my hypothetical kids with her. I feel so guilty about even writing this. Is there anything that I can do?

–Not Elizabeth!

Wow: Grandma is really putting you and all her grandkids in a tough spot. The guilt trip is unfair, and as you're noticing, it isn't working at all. It's making you and your cousins feel less inclined to honor your grandmother with a namesake.

For now, it sounds like you're young enough for the easy out: "Grandma, I love you and your name, but I can hardly make a baby name pledge on behalf of a partner I haven't even met yet!" Keep reinforcing this message: You love her, but you may not be able to show it by using her name. Who knows: You might have only sons as well!

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Is This Boy's Name Right for My Girl?

I recently found out I am expecting a girl, and I love the name Evan for her. I have tried to consider other names, but they all fall flat. I know that boys' names on girls are hated by many and are trendy now. Still, I can't shake Evan for this little girl. My sister and I both have masculine names, so it's not really uncommon in my family. My husband's family will think this is a bigger deal. What do you think? Should we go with it or avoid the conflict?

–Lovin' Evan

While Evan is a traditional men's name, its style—light, trim, and modern—crosses genders pretty fluidly these days. And Evan itself has been given to American girls at the rate of about 100 a year for decades (since the 1980s). So for most audiences, it should go over just fine.

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How Can I Support My Wife's Baby Name Choice?

My wife is African-American and I'm white. My family had a hard time with our marriage and now that my wife is pregnant, they can't agree on anything. My wife wants to name our daughter after her late mother, Lillian, but my mother hates it and says it's too old. How should we handle this?

–Stuck in the Middle

You ask how to handle your mother's disapproval of your wife's preferred name. I can reassure you that your mother is far from the only grandparent I've encountered in this column to complain about the name of her grandchild. The vast majority of them (eventually) learn to keep their complaints to themselves.

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Is This Nickname Fine, or Far Removed?

We are trying to decide on a name for our fourth child, a girl. I love the name Philomena (family name on my side, plus my husband's name is Phillip), with the nickname Mena. My husband doesn't love Philomena and really isn't into Mena. He suggested Philippa with the nickname Pippa. I do not like Philippa, so I thought we might compromise: Philomena, with the nickname Pippa. Is that too much of a stretch?

–Give-and-Take

Yes, it's kind of a stretch. Philomena and Pippa have little to do with each other. But that doesn't much matter. There are plenty of nicknames out there that have taken a long journey from the original given name (like Polly for Mary or Peggy for Margaret). And regardless of tradition, you can use whatever nickname you like.

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Help! Great-Grandma Hates Our Baby Names!

I am 20 weeks pregnant with our first child. Like many women, I've dreamed of being a mother since I was little. I made the mistake of telling my husband's grandmother some of my ideas for names. She shot down every girl's name by saying "You can't use that name, because my ex cheated on me with someone of that name." My baby is not that person and my husband and I are not involved with her past. But my husband listens to everything his family says. So if they are offended by a name, he will be, too.

–Nameless Mom-to-Be

Every girl’s name? Wow, that must have been a very unpleasant (or illuminating?) conversation! I'm sorry that Grandpa's checkered history seems to have tanked some of your favorite names. That has to hurt, and you're right that your baby has nothing to do with these past scandals.

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How Do I Get Grandma to Agree?

Help! My mother-in-law loves the name Raquel. I want to name my daughter Mia, after my best friend who died in a car crash. My mother-in-law understands the sentimental value of Mia, but is stuck on Raquel as the best name for our baby. My husband goes along with what she says because he doesn't want to make her angry. What should I do?

–Dutiful Daughter-in-Law

Oh, dear: This is more of a relationship dilemma than a naming dilemma. At least in the U.S., choosing a baby’s name is considered a joint decision—but of the baby's parents, not the mother and grandmother. Asking for a grandparent's opinion is one thing. A grandparent who feels like she has the last word on the pick is quite another.

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Help Me Stop This Bad Baby Name!

My daughter-in-law wants to name their baby Levanie. This is really upsetting me, so how do I deal with this? I know how mean children can be. And I have a hard time remembering and pronouncing it correctly. When I mention it to anyone they say "What???" Help me.

–Worried Grandma

Grandma, you may not like what I'm going to say, because I'm going to side firmly with your daughter-in-law (and your son, right? Where's he in all this?). Here's why.

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How Do We Announce Our New Surname?

My fiancé and I are considering choosing a different last name than either of our current surnames. How would we announce this at our wedding? Or should we? Do you have any advice for breaking the news to his parents?

–Engaged to Change

The occasion of marriage is a perfect time to really think through what you both want your surnames to be. It sounds like you are doing just that. I'm all for it! As you've noted, though, it brings up at least two tricky situations.

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I Want My Mom to Like My Baby's Name!

I really like the name Abby for my unborn daughter. I am African-American, and my mother would prefer a more “ethnic” name like Monica, Toya, or Jasmine. What should I do? Her opinion really matters to me.

–First-Time Mother

There are a couple of ways to approach this. First, consider that a big part of the taste difference between you and your mother is actually a generational difference. The names Monica and Toya were popular for African-American girls a generation ago (when your mom was naming babies). Today, more of those girl babies are actually named Abby or Abigail!

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Is There a Polite Way to Dislike a Name?

My daughter is pregnant with her second son. She likes the name Noble, but I'm not a fan. I prefer something like Sebastian or Dominique—something unique. How do I tell her I don't like her name choice?

–Second-guessing Grandpa

Sebastian is actually a far more common name than Noble (top 50 vs. out of the top 1000), and there are also many more boys named Dominique than Noble. So if uniqueness is important, Noble may be a better choice! But putting aside opinions on your taste vs. your daughter's, you ask a good question. If you don't like a baby name that someone close to you is considering, can you tell her so? And how?

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