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Does My Brother Have Dibs on My Favorite Name?

I am having my third child and plan to name the child (if it is a boy) after my father. My older brother has two daughters, and is recently remarried. He has talked about having more children. My father is the only boy in his generation, as is my brother. Am I allowed to name my child Michael or am I supposed to save it for my brother in case he ever has a boy? - Mom to be

I suspect that many of my readers will find your question flat-out baffling. Of course a daughter is allowed to honor her father with a namesake grandson, why not? But a few of you are thinking, “Whoa girl, not cool! You’d better get your brother’s OK first or you’re begging for a family feud.”

That’s because this question takes us beyond the realm of baby naming rules, into the twisty world of family traditions.

There is no standard etiquette that gives eldest sons first dibs on namesakes for their fathers. If your brother has tried to claim the name out of left field, you can tell him that I said so. But the fact that you even asked the question suggests that somebody in your family believes that your dad’s name “belongs” to your brother, making you a name poacher.

A small number of families do have such a custom. In most cases, it’s connected to a hereditary name passed down through the generations. Are names in your family handed down like aristocratic titles? Does your brother have Jr. or III after his name? The more the family history is wrapped up in the name choice, the harder it is to buck tradition. In those cases, you risk ruffling feathers of relatives up and down the family tree.

For what it’s worth, though, I think it’s best for all children to have equal rights to their parents’ names. A first-come first-served policy is not only the most fair, it’s also the best way to ensure that beloved relatives are honored. The fact is, your brother may never have a son. You could put the name Michael up on a shelf, waiting for the day your brother gets to take it down and play with it, only to find that day never comes and your father’s name passes with him.

Only you know what kinds of waves you’d be making by naming your son Michael. Only you know your brother’s feelings about the name -- and your own. But to answer your literal question: yes, you are allowed to name your son Michael. I hope your brother can come to see it that way, too.


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December 13, 2010 10:21 PM
By Elisabeth (not verified)

Perhaps this is just a matter of personal taste, but it seems to me that a name like Michael could be used now, for her third child, by the author of this letter, and also down the road by her brother, should he happen to end up with a son. Michael is a pretty standard name. Cousins called Michael doesn't seem as weird to me as cousins called, say, Horatio.

December 13, 2010 10:30 PM
By Elisabeth (not verified)

And to be clear, I have nothing against the name Horatio. It's just that it seems somehow more OK for two first cousins to have the same name if it's a relatively ordinary name. If it's a more quirky or unusual name, it looks like there's been a bit of name theft going on.

December 13, 2010 10:48 PM
By Allison (not verified)

Use the name - you can call one Mike & the other Mitch/Ike/Michael.

Otherwise, use it in the middle so that Dad is honored and brother can still use it as well.

December 14, 2010 12:22 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have a friend who did go through this situation only in reverse. My friend is the first born and has no children yet but his brother had a son and gave the baby his father's name, which also happened to be Michael. My friend has no foreseeable children coming but he felt hurt that his brother didn't even ask him, since he is the firstborn and might have wanted to use that name someday. Was it wrong of his brother to use it? Certainly not, but it might have been considerate to at least ask.

In my opinion, while I like the name, Michael is much too common for my tastes. My vote is to use it as a middle name or not at all.

December 14, 2010 3:31 AM
By hwar (not verified)

I agree with the answer: first come, first served. That being said, if you want to neatly sidestep the whole thing, use Michael as a middle name. That leaves the option open for your brother to use it as a first name, while still honoring your father.

December 14, 2010 12:59 PM
By Michelle (not verified)

These cousins probably won't go to the same school, they won't be the same age, and most importantly they won't have the same last name.

In this situation, I would tell your brother of your plans to name your son after your father, I would not ask for his permission. I would also encourage him that your choice of names should not preclude him from choosing the same name in the future for his own son, if in fact you are okay with that.

My experience on this is limited, but I can tell you that my sister and my first cousin both are named Stephanie LeAnne. One went by Big Stephanie, the other went by Little Stephanie, no big deal.

December 14, 2010 1:04 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think it's fine for two cousins to be named Michael. I would talk it over with your brother first.
The idea of using Michael as a middle name is good, too.
If it were me, I would used Michael as a middle name because Michael has been so popular for many years. It is a very handsome name, but so overused.

December 14, 2010 1:58 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

There are so many possible nicknames for Michael, including initial names like MG,this shouldn't be an issue. As stated on a previous thread, my Spanish sister-in-law's father comes from a family with 10 sons and all but her father have a son named after their father, and many of the next generation have a son of that name as well. It get's confusing at reunions, especially since, as far as I've heard NONE of them goes by a nickname or middle name, but... it seems to work out okay for them.

December 14, 2010 2:09 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have a brother named Michael and a cousin named Michael? What's the big deal?

On a side note, two (non-cousins)boys in our school had(well, still have) the EXACT SAME NAME (first-middle-last). That was a little confusing...

December 14, 2010 3:03 PM
By 4boymomma (not verified)

My (living) brother is named Michael (known as Mike) and he was named after our mother's (deceased) older brother. Wanting to honour this 'family' name whilst not confusing everyone, we chose Mitchell as it is the same root as Michael, it is an 'Americanization' of the name (we live in the US, family live in England) and it's also currently less popular too.

December 14, 2010 3:33 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

If your brother is a Junior then he has rights to the name, otherwise go for it. But to save family relations talk to your brother first.

December 14, 2010 6:14 PM
By The Foxymoron (not verified)

I was in the same situation as you. I thought it would be a weird if my brother and I had children by the same name, so I told my brother that I really wanted to use the name, but if he really wanted to use it one day, then I would understand and not use it. That was hard for me, but I realised that my brother's child would actually bear the same surname as our father, making it even more of a carrying-on of the name, which I think my father would like. My brother said that he didn't want to use the name, except maybe as a middle name. It was good to have that out in the open. I would highly recommend an honest conversation with your brother. And if he wants to use the name, then maybe he'd be ok with you using it too, or with you using it as a middle name. Good luck!

December 14, 2010 8:15 PM
By Jaime (not verified)

I would just use it in the middle name spot to play it safe. That way he can still use it if he wishes but your dad still gets at least one namesake no matter what.

Another idea would be to use his middle name instead of Michael as your baby's first or middle name. Or, even your father's surname (presumably your maiden name) in the middle name spot...this could work for a boy or a girl.

December 14, 2010 9:03 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I'm wondering if Michael is your brother's first or middle name. If so, then I do think he has a right to give his son the name Michael. We had a similar situation in our family. My second son has my husband's name David as his middle name. Before any of his several siblings started having children he made it known that he hoped to have a son named David someday. His siblings respected that, and when one was considering David as a middle name, she asked if that would be okay with him. He was fine with that. Eventually he married and named his firstborn David. Everyone was very happy that he finally had his David!

If Michael is part of your brother's name, then I would suggest that you only use Michael as a middle name. Another option would be choosing a first name similar to Michael (Mitchell?) or that begins with an M.

December 14, 2010 10:23 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Unless the kids would be in the same school, name your son
Michael! I have a great-grandfather, a grandfather, an uncle, and three cousins with the same (family) name, and while it occasionally needs clarification, they use different nicknames and have few mutual friends. It's no big deal.

December 15, 2010 3:38 PM
By Wordgirl (not verified)

Maybe your brother doesn't even want to use the name Michael. In my family, my name, my husband's name and my FIL's name all start with an S. I didn't even want to pick an S name (even though I love Simon) because I didn't want to have a bunch of family members with the same initials. He might want to steer clear of that kind of situation as well. Have a chat with him to find out. You never know, this could be a total non-issue!

December 15, 2010 6:03 PM
By Guest (not verified)

I love you name lady but it's kind of getting repetitive with all the my sibling/friend has stolen/claimed the name I want

there has got to be some other questions that aren't this same issue.

December 15, 2010 10:45 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Use the name if you love it. There is no such thing as dibs on a name that exists!
It is best not to humor selfish people.

December 16, 2010 11:39 AM
By mariadeacero (not verified)

My grandmother and her brother both named their only sons Charles after their father (my great-grandfather). There wasn't an issue with this as the 2 cousins had different last names. I agree with the other posters who suggest just asking your brother if he wants to use the name! It might not even turn out to be an issue.

December 16, 2010 10:16 PM
By Tabitha Katherine (not verified)

I would ask. I've wanted to use the name Katherine for my future daughter for years... and suddenly, one of my younger brothers does too.

I think it's dibs based on age and name, but as others have said, you should ask, because he may not want to use it.

And anyway, anyone read the Little House books? Laura's cousin was ALSO Laura Ingalls, despite similar ages. It can work, if it needs to.

December 20, 2010 6:32 PM
By MM (not verified)

It is not a big deal for cousins/family members to have the same name. I've got three cousins named Jennifer and every generation in my family has at least one James.

I also don't believe in "dibs" on a name. If every kid wants to name their child after a parent, then every kid can.

January 3, 2011 5:34 PM
By Cecily's Mom (not verified)

I have a brother who is 11 years younger than I am who's middle name, William, is after our Grandfather (in fact, one of my cousins is also named after my grandpa but goes by his middle name). My brother really likes his middle name of William and has talked off and on through the years about naming a son William. I named my 3rd child (2nd son) William (Will).
I don't feel to terrible about it because as has been mentioned you just can't call names, who knows when and if my brother will have a boy and if his future wife (he was 17 when my son was born) will even like the name or if he still will. My brother understood all of this and was a little disappointed but flattered at the same time.

Like they say, great minds think a like.

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