Ask the Name Lady

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Am I a Name Thief?

When I was young my parents died and I moved in with my oldest brother who had kids of his own. We were never really close, but whenever my sister in law comes to town she tries to include me and treats me like family. She usually only comes to town once or twice a year, but most of her kids live with in 30 miles of me. Last year, my niece named her son Tyler, which is the only name my husband and I can agree on for a boy. Now we're expecting a boy, and my husband thinks we should still use the name. I think even though we don't see each other super often, the relationship is complicated enough that naming my son Tyler would just make things weird. Am I overreacting?

-Auntie Confused

I often hear from parents worried that their name choice might, hypothetically, step on somebody's toes. Arguments are presented on both sides, trying to break the situation down in logical terms. How close is the relationship with the other parent? Are they relatives? Friends? How often do you see them? How far away do they live?

These questions are generally misguided. This isn't an issue of reason, where weighing evidence will lead you to the right answer. This is an emotional, interpersonal issue. You can calculate all you like about mileage between your homes or the number of visits per year, but none of it will matter if your name choice ends up causing hurt feelings or a family rift. In other words, if this situation feels like trouble to you, then you're right to be concerned.

Don't bid farewell to your favorite name just yet, though. Putting aside the logical arguments doesn't mean giving up hope. You can address this emotional, interpersonal issue in an emotional, interpersonal way. Talk to your family.

So often, we tie ourselves in knots worrying about what someone might think, when we could ask them what they actually think. Why not just call your niece? Yes, it's a little awkward calling out of the blue to a relative you seldom see. But you have a good reason to call, and a thoughtful one. I'm sure many people who feel their baby names have been "stolen" would have appreciated getting a call like this in advance.

In fact, a considerate call can sometimes turn a touchy name situation completely around. Tell your niece how much you and your husband adore her son's name, and that you want to make sure it's ok with her before giving that name to your own baby. Most often, showing such thoughtful foresight will absolve you of any charges of name theft. In the best case, it might even become a positive, a special little bond you and your niece share.

In the worst case, if she asks you to keep your hands off her precious name, at least you'll know where you stand. Then you and your husband can stop arguing about hypotheticals, and go back to arguing about baby names.

P.S.: Next week we'll take a look at this issue from the other side.


Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

March 26, 2012 10:42 AM
By Kristin (not verified)

Great advice, Name Lady. I think that's the perfect answer to this question. There's no way to know how upsetting (or not) it would be to her niece without asking her.

March 26, 2012 1:03 PM
By deb (not verified)

I have a daughter named Madelyn. Two of my cousins have shown interest in using either that particular name or the name Madison, but were afraid I would be offended by them "stealing" my daughter's name. Now, I'm a very easy going person, so I was quick to tell them that I believe it is a beautiful name and they have every right to use it! I don't call my daughter just never fit her in my opinion, so the nickname is open too. Anyhow, they never would have known that if they hadn't talked to me. One of them even amended her favorite name to Adysen because she wasn't convinced I was serious. I think the name lady gives great advice here. You never know unless you ask!

March 26, 2012 3:34 PM
By kateliz (not verified)

If you think you might be a name thief, you are probably right. Don't do it.

March 26, 2012 4:11 PM
By RLJ (not verified)

Name Lady is right - the issues of geography, distance in familial relationships don't come into play.

When I was born, my parents gave me the name of their choice. They then found out that one of my dad's cousin and his wife had it on a short list for their girl (not yet born). My parents were cool with that - at the time we lived over 1000km away and the relationship would be that of 2nd cousin - not incredibly close. Despite the fact that my parents didn't care, the cousins decided to go with another name. Probably a good thing considering my 2nd cousin and I hung out a lot growing up, ended up at the same college for a year and I boarded with them for a few weeks one summer.

March 26, 2012 5:16 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I had good friends who checked with me that I didn't mind if they named their son the same name as my recent ex-fiance!
Very thoughtful of them, and I assured them that my association with the name shouldn't even factor in their decision - especially since the name has been used fairly consistently for almost 50 years.

March 26, 2012 9:51 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

although i do know believe that using the name would be "stealing" i still wouldn't do it. your kid should have his own identity and you can never know what the relationship with your niece will be in the future...especially if you have kids close in age there are many cases where kids become close with their distant cousins or whatever that relationship is, distance doesn't matter

give your child his own name and maybe use tyler as a middle name or use a name like it like Kyler

March 26, 2012 10:15 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

No one owns a name, so no one can be a "name thief". If you like a name than use it. Plenty of families have multiple relatives with the same name.

But if it would make you more comfortable to ask first, then go ahead.

March 27, 2012 2:26 AM
By Jane (not verified)

I think the Name Lady is right - ask first. I think most people would say they don't mind. But many people WOULD mind if they weren't asked first.
And remember that your niece might not actually mind at all if you use the name Tyler. I wouldn't mind if we had friends or relatives who used our son's name, particularly as it is fairly common.
You'll never know unless you ask. And won't it be so much better not to have to dread telling them your new baby's name? Get it out in the open NOW.

March 27, 2012 12:00 PM
By ValenzMom (not verified)

I agree that it's nice to ask the family. That said, the name is yours to use if you want to. My mother wanted to name me Melody and mentioned the name to her sister-in-law who was pregnant at the time also. The SIL had a girl and named her Melody about 2 wks before I was born. My mother was angry and instead named me after 2 great aunts. However, my parents divorced when I was 4 and we never saw the SIL or her kids again. In my case, my mom could have used Melody instead and there never would have been a problem in the family.

March 27, 2012 12:12 PM
By Brenna (not verified)

I concur that asking is the best policy. Like commenter RLJ, my godparents (my dad's first cousins) asked if they could use my name for their second daughter. They did end up using it, and now she and I think it's a cool connection, since our name is very unusual. At reunions and other events it has never caused major confusion. I am also several years older, so once I got married it made our names more unique again.

March 27, 2012 12:28 PM
By Anya (not verified)

I wouldn't use a name that someone in the family already used, even if I don't see them ever, even if I like the name. If, say, it was the name of a beloved grandma, that one of my cousins already used, I'd probably opt for a variant, like Mary-Maria-Moira-Marion.
In fact I had doubts naming my son Levon, because a cousin of mine is named Levan. What made up my mind was that I discovered those names were of completely different origin, and not variations of the same name.

As for Tyler... there are too many of them as it is.

March 27, 2012 1:13 PM
By Allison Margaret (not verified)

I agree with the Name Lady. Just ask your niece. Chances are she'll be fine with you naming your son Tyler, and if not, you'll be glad you asked. If she's okay with it, don't worry too much about second cousins with the same name. One may go by Ty sometimes anyway, and it could certainly be that way with family when you see each other.

In my family, we have second cousins (to me and to each other) named both Eli and Jacob and it isn't a problem. The Jacobs are about 30 years apart, but they share their uncommon last name too. The younger one's parents asked the older Jacob, who was fine with it. The older one is called Jacob and the younger one is Jake, so no problem there. With the Elis, context usually differentiates them, and if there's confusion we just use their last names too.

March 27, 2012 2:16 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I'd say talk to the family but do not leave it open for interpretation that if they aren't ok with it, that you won't use it. The minute your bundle of joy is born a new name may call to you - you may still want to use Tyler. No one knows. But talking it out may give you an option to be ok with naming him the same, or leave you room to switch, or make you use it and tell the family it is what it is.

The name is very common - it's not theivery of a name (IN MY OPINION) unless it's an uncommon name that someone found deep in a book of names or made-up.

March 27, 2012 10:54 PM
By Nickimom (not verified)

Even first cousins can have the same name. It is a compliment that you like the name they chose.
I agree a call to the family member would be considered a thoughtful idea though.

March 28, 2012 12:09 AM
By Mama2Clara (not verified)

I agree with the name lady. My aunt was a little upset with me that I gave my son the mn Alexander, when her 5 year old is named Alexandra. But it was his mn, not his first name, so I didn't think it mattered. And eventually she got over it.

March 28, 2012 12:21 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I say, pick another name...there are plenty. Give your son his own unique name, not shared by close family members. And honestly, while it's a nice name, it's become quite common...why not reach for something a bit fresher. And you could still use Tyler as a middle name if you wanted. Or, switch up Tyler and go with Tylo, Isler (pronounced like Tyler but without the T), Taylor, Ty, Tiger, Teller, Tiver, or Traveler.

March 28, 2012 8:54 AM
By Debbie (not verified)

My family's solution with cousin's was to call one "Big Sarah", who was older and the other "Sarah Jane." At least at family gatherings to differentiate them. So pick out a middle name you like that's not the same and add that on when you're with family.

March 28, 2012 9:46 AM
By CP (not verified)

I agree that asking is the thing to do, especially when your relationship is complicated. Maybe a variation on the name,using what you both like about it would be the ticket.

March 28, 2012 9:40 PM
By Deb (not verified)

Well with being a name thief I do not see it as a problem as long you ask that person wtih that name if it is OK. When i was pregnant with my twins, little boy and a little girl , my husband asked his sister if we could use her name to name our daughter. She was thrilled i think we did, not many Aurora's in this world, its unique and it gives my sil and daughter a special bond with each other..

March 29, 2012 12:19 PM
By Angela Dawn (not verified)

Smart advice from Name Lady. While no one can claim ownership of a name, asking the family is still the considerate thing to do.

Being someone who is possessive of names, I thought about how I would feel in this situation.

If someone approaches me first and tells me they love my daughter's name, I would tell them I was OK with it.

Would I really be OK with it? No. I would just tell them I was OK with it to avoid looking like a possessive jerk.

I view name "theft" in the same way I view wedding dress design "theft." It's one thing to wear the same dress my Mom or Grandmother wore, but quite another thing to pick the same design (not actual dress but identical dress) of a friend or relative who is a peer.

If a friend picked the same exact wedding dress as me, it would feel like a case of one-up-manship. Even if the friend asked me if it was OK upfront, I'm not sure I could be honest. What am I supposed to say? "No, I don't want you wearing the dress I wore because I don't want people contemplating who wore it better," even if those are my honest feelings?

With that said, I would genuinely prefer a heads up over a surprise announcement (at the birth or in my analogy on my friend's wedding day).

Either way I would get over it. There are more important things to worry about. And I admit I'm catty.

March 29, 2012 9:52 PM
By mk (not verified)

I think the idea of "name theft" is silly. Possible exceptions though would be a name that was completely made up by the other person or something very obscure. Certainly not a common name (Tyler) or a family name.

April 4, 2012 8:20 AM
By zoerhenne (not verified)

Angela Dawn-I agree with your comments and your analogy. Although, it wouldn't bother me as much if my best friend wore an identical wedding dress. In fact, my best friend's bodice was very similar to mine. I was flattered. However, a wedding dress is traditionally meant to be used once. A name is used every day for years. There is a big difference. If a family member or close friend wanted to name their child (close in age) the same name I would find it unsettling. After about a 15 yr time frame the effect is diminished and it wouldn't be that big a deal. For the record, I was against using a family name of someone that was alive at all for my children.

April 15, 2012 12:57 AM
By Rachel (not verified)

I have been trying to conceive for five years. My husbands pregnant sister was talking about baby names, and asked what ours are. We told her Micah, Mia, Max and Miriam. She said Micah was on her list and was it okay if she used it. I told her she could use it if she wanted, but it was still my first boys name. She said "what?!?" And I said, "well that's the names we agreed on and its not my fault it is taking years to get pregnant. But I don't own the name, you can use it". She seemed a bit disturbed, but I thought it was fair.

April 21, 2012 6:15 AM
By Jimmie Denny (not verified)

With that said, I would genuinely prefer a heads up over a surprise announcement (at the birth or in my analogy on my friend's wedding day).

April 25, 2012 2:00 AM
By LaraRoark (not verified)

These questions are generally misguided. This isn't an

April 25, 2012 6:00 AM
By RuthieNaquin (not verified)

to break the situation down in logical terms. How close is the relationship with the other parent? Are

May 12, 2012 8:48 PM
By Megan (not verified)

I agree that you should ask. Choosing baby names is such a personal thing, that women get upset so easily. I'm no exception to the rule! I'm not even pregnant yet, but I have a son and my husband and I are planning for our second child. I already have a girl's name and a boy's name picked out. I found out three months ago that my sister-in-law is pregnant and they've already picked out baby name options as well - and the girl option is beautiful, BUT they're using the middle name I had picked out. This was something that seriously upset me (but not the point where I would say anything to her, since we don't even know if they'll be using it yet. We find out the sex in two months.)

Personally, I want my kids to have their own names. I automatically rule out reusing any names that any relatives we actually speak with have used. I even rule out middle names simply because I don't want my children to grow up assuming they were named after someone in the family if that wasn't my intention.

The point of all this is that your niece MAY still object to you using the name Tyler. However, if you at least ask about it, then you've done the courteous thing. Even if my sister-in-law is having a girl and does use the middle name that I had picked out (and even though it really annoys me), I wouldn't say anything to her because I'm not pregnant and I didn't make up the name. Still, I'll silently stew about it. If she'd asked me how I felt before deciding on using it, I honestly think that I would have been so blown away by how considerate she was being that I'd have no problem with it in the end.

If you decide that you want something similar to Tyler, but don't use the name itself...I knew a guy in school who went by Ty. We all assumed his name was Tyler until he told us one day that his name was actually Timothy. He used the first and last letter of his name to make a nickname because he wasn't crazy about Tim. I always thought that was pretty cool!

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