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Who's the Name Thief?

My husband and I named our son Daniel nine years ago. Apparently, my husband's sister had dreamed of a son with this name since she was a teenager, but didn’t bring it up until he was a few years old. My sister-in-law has unfortunately not been able to have children but is now trying IVF and has declared that her son will still be named Daniel. As she is single, the surname will also match my son’s. She seems unable to accept her dream has not turned out. Even if a son does not arrive for her, things have turned sour. Please help!

- Who’s the Thief?

Let's go back to the start of this tale. Almost a decade ago, you and your husband unknowingly chose the baby name that your sister-in-law had cherished since her youth. When she learned of your choice, she didn't object or make your happy moment be about her in any way. In fact, you never even know about her attachment to the name Daniel until much later. Now she’s undergoing fertility treatments and has told you that she’s never lost her love for the name.

No one sounds like a thief here. There was no sneaking around, or usurping, or one-upsmanship. Your husband and his sister simply both liked the same name and decided, a decade apart, to give it to their children.

It would certainly be conventional for your sister-in-law to now choose a different name. Preferable, even. But I think you're making a mistake if you allow this name choice to sour your family relationships.

A shared name won't make your Daniel any less special in the family. Your son has his place, his cousin will have his own. Given their age difference, they're not likely to be confused with each other. And with a classic name like Daniel that has been popular for generations, the expectations of unique name "ownership" are lessened. If anything, sharing this name should bring the cousins closer together across their 10-year age gulf.

Please try to put all thoughts of thievery out of your mind and instead show your sister-in-law the same generosity she showed you nine years ago: support her in her choices, even when they aren't what you'd prefer.

In vitro fertilization can be a grueling process, particularly without a partner to support the mother, and there's no guarantee that a baby, let alone a baby boy, will result. Your sister-in-law needs friends and family rallying around her with good will and help through the tough times. If you can make this moment sweet instead of sour, I think you'll find yourself able to greet the arrival of a new Daniel—or Danielle—with all the joy a long-awaited baby deserves.


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

July 8, 2013 2:17 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Um, ok, my comment was removed for some reason, probably the link :( Anyhow, what I said was that there are probably already hundreds of other kids with your son's same first and last name. You can Google for a site that will tell you approximately how many. Try to nudge your sister-in-law towards an unusual middle name.

July 8, 2013 8:37 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Name Lady. Your sister-in-law has enough going on in her life right now without having to worry about what you think about her name preference for a hypothetical baby.

If & when the time comes, she might naturally change her mind about the name. & if she doesn't, it isn't the end of the world. Your son might even be pleased to have a younger cousin wit his name.

July 9, 2013 5:39 AM
By Abby@AppMtn (not verified)

I understand your frustration. While I tend to be dismissive of name thievery, I think the real question is whether your feelings about the name matter in this case.

And I'd say that they do. Your SIL didn't give you a chance to avoid using her favorite name. Now it sounds like she's not interested in the idea that you might have feelings about repeating the name in the family.

That's really unfortunate. If this were a court, I'd vote that your SIL needs to choose another name, of which there are oodles.

But it isn't a court, and in the interest of keeping family peace, I think the NameLady's suggestion is probably right.

Which doesn't change the fact that your SIL really is wrong on this one.

July 9, 2013 10:02 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I've commented on it here before - but my cousin and I, born almost exactly a year apart (I'm older), both have the exact same first AND middle names. Now, "Elizabeth" allows for many nicknames so she ended up being "Liz" and I'm a "Beth", but even if we were both "Elizabeth"s I wouldn't have minded in the slightest. We felt a bond of "togetherness" that we wouldn't have otherwise had, especially considering we didn't see each other that often.

With the age difference we're talking about here (10+ years) I think it could be a nice way for these two cousins to have a connection right from the start. And I think this letter writer needs to make sure she's not taking it personally. The SIL isn't choosing the name to spite her. I think taking a deep breath and learning to let this one go is the right thing to do here.

July 9, 2013 12:14 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I want to add my 2 cents, as someone who struggled with infertility, pregnancy loss, and eventually went through 2 cycles of IVF. NameLady is right... infertility and IVF can be extremely difficult, and the combination of stress and extreme fluctuation in hormone levels over a short period of time is truly crazy-making.I had excellent support from my husband, but in all honesty I have to say we are lucky to still have any friends because we were both so crazy during that period (3+ years). You don't say much about your history with your SIL, but the fact that she was gracious 9 years ago suggests to me that the current behavior may be uncharacteristic of her. If that's the case, I would suggest just rolling with it right now, recognizing that she will return to the sane person that you know and love sometime around the 1/2 way point in her pregnancy (assuming that she is blessed with a baby). She is likely to have a change of heart at that time, as the idea of a baby who becomes an actual person becomes more real to her. Right now that baby is more hypothetical to her (it's hard to think of a "real" baby after you've been repeatedly disappointed/ devastated), and she's not really thinking through the consequences of her name choice yet. without knowing her, i'm willing to place a bet that she'll come around before a baby is born.

July 9, 2013 12:18 PM
By Faye (not verified)

As someone in a family that has MULTIPLE repeats of names (if you include cousins-in-law and people with two-part first names, there are 5 James; there's a Don and a Donna, there's two Amys, two Daniels etc) I can tell you there's literally nothing to worry about. No one feels a lack of uniqueness. Everyone has their own personality. If anything, people with big age gaps but the same name as each other often bond over it.

In fact, while I enjoy my unique name now, when I was little I was horrified that I was the only Faye everywhere I went, and I still am drawn to "family" names.

Don't cause a rift with your sister in law (and potentially, your husband's family) by declaring that she must change her son's name. Laugh about it. Let the kids think it's cool.

July 9, 2013 12:51 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have two cousins with the same first and last name as mine. One is three years older than I am, the other is 13 years older. Maybe it's just because I'm Greek and this situation is common among Greek extended families, but I really don't see what the big deal is. They'll be cousins, not brothers.

July 9, 2013 1:36 PM
By ValenzMom (not verified)

My family went through the same thing. My aunt was pregnant at the same time as my mom and delivered just before my mom. She named her daughter the name my mom wanted for me, so my mom chose another name. However, my parents divorced a few yrs later and my cousin and I have never even known each other. We could have had the same name and it wouldn't have made any difference. In your situation, I think your son would be honored to have the same name as his younger cousin. And your SIL probably will even choose a different middle name.

July 9, 2013 2:16 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

And should this single mother, for some reason, not be able to care for her child (or the twins or triplets resulting from assisted reproduction) perhaps you and your husband will end up caring for two boys with the same first and last name. That would certainly make a worst case scenario even worse.

July 9, 2013 3:24 PM
By Paula (not verified)

In 1981, my first cousin and his wife had their second son. He was named James after his grandfather and given his mother's maiden name as a middle name, and was called Jim. Two and a half years later, this cousin's younger brother, whose name is William James Jr. after his father (same grandfather Jim was named after) but goes by Bill, and his wife had their first child, a boy, and named him William James III. With all the possible nicknames available from a name like that (Will, Jay, Trey, etc.), they, too, decided to call their son Jim! Remember, the fathers of these two Jims are brothers, which meant the two Jims not only shared a first name but also a last name! The parents of the first Jim were not pleased at the choice the second Jim's parents made, but they didn't complain and simply enjoyed their new nephew. The two Jims grew up two states away from each other but were around each other at family gatherings, and I always got the impression that the older Jim loved having a younger cousin who shared his name! Both Jims are now adults, the older one married with two children of his own and well established in his profession, and the younger one not married but also well established professionally, and they have certainly never suffered by the fact that they share a name!

Also, famed author Laura Ingalls Wilder had a cousin who was also named Laura Ingalls. Anyone who remembers reading her "Little House" books and/or the TV show based on them might recall that, in her first book, "Little House In The Big Woods," there was a story about a family gathering and a cousin named Laura Ingalls.

I say this isn't a big deal, and the parents of the first Daniel don't need to make it one.

July 9, 2013 3:40 PM
By Sadie (not verified)

They're cousins with an almost 10 year age gap, while family reunions might get a bit confusing, a new baby Daniel will probably get a nickname to make it easier on the family (whether or not your SIL wants it).

You should appreciate that your SIL didn't make the birth of your son about her by raising a fuss or even really mentioning "But I've always dreamed of a son named Daniel!" and you should do the same for her. Nobody stole it, you just both happened to like the same name (honestly, I'm amazed 9 years later and with a nephew with the name that she'd still want to use it. I had names picked out for my hypothetical child years ago and upon actually becoming pregnant I went with a name that I'd entertained but never thought would be used (although in my case it won out because it's honoring both my father and grandfather). She's not even pregnant yet and she might very well change her mind by the time the baby gets here). They won't have any issues being confused in school and if you were worried about other kids having the same name as your son I think I would've steered clear of Daniel and gone with something a bit less common when you did have the chance to name him. I get being a little frustrated, I might be too at first... but you don't own exclusive rights to the name Daniel.

July 9, 2013 4:52 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I wonder if SIL is choosing now as the appropriate time to loudly and bitterly complain that now she cannot use her favorite name. In other words, I did not assume from the question that the sour feelings were on he part of Daniel's parents. In which case I would say that SIL has lost her marbles and her sense of perspective.

July 9, 2013 9:17 PM
By C. Andrews (not verified)

I've honestly never understood the whole "name thief" thing. It's not like one person can lay claim to a name. What's the big deal if two kids have the same name?

July 10, 2013 8:43 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

What a thoughtful response. I couldn't agree more.

July 10, 2013 9:22 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Honestly I would be livid if my sil decided that out of all the names in the world she has to choose the very name of my child. It would reek of competition and an unspoken need to one up.
Just because she is having a hard time conceiving doesn't mean she has the right to stomp all over everyone else. Common courtesy isn't negated just because someone is going through a difficult time.
I wonder if your sil even thought to ask your son how he felt about sharing his name with someone else so closely related?

July 10, 2013 11:42 AM
By kathryn (not verified)

I have two cousins barely 1 year apart in age with the same name first and last name. When together, we called them by their first and middle name, so they're my only cousins I know their full names. No one got bent out of shape about 'stealing' names.

Using the same names in families use to be very common. Traditional naming patterns naming the first son after the paternal grandfather, second son after the maternal grandfather and so on meant there were plenty of cousins with the same name, sometimes if both grandfathers were John, then two sons named the same thing. What's the big deal? Unless you invented the name, you don't own it and you can't 'steal' it.

July 10, 2013 2:52 PM
By Beth (not verified)

Weirdly, I too am an Elizabeth called Beth, who has a cousin Elizabeth -- born only a couple of weeks before me. We are both named after our maternal grandmother, who passed away very young. I was called Beth to distinguish me from my cousin (ironic, given that we did not know one another till adulthood). Why not a Dan and a Daniel? Or a Danny and a Daniel?

July 11, 2013 12:24 AM
By Anne (not verified)

I have every intention, should we ever have a boy (after 5 girls in a row!), of using the same name my brother- and sister-in-law named their son. Same last name, too. When I was pregnant with my first (actually, before we even got married...) we chose that name for our first boy. It's a family name. They used it a few years later, and we warned them that our first boy would still have that name. They got really mad, but I don't really care. They're cousins, not siblings, for heaven's sake. And we'd use different nicknames (well, he goes by his full name. We'd use a nickname.)

In fact, my step-sister used a name (with a planned nickname) that's on our list (with a different planned nickname.) I've already mentioned to her that I'd still like to use that name, and she's cool with that.

Because that's what reasonable people do. Not care about little things like that. ;)

July 11, 2013 11:36 AM
By Marina (not verified)

What I don't get about the "name thief" worry is what you think will happen. So, there are two boys named Daniel Jones in the same family... okay, large family events might be a bit confusing if you're the type of parents who like to say "Daniel Jones you get over here right now!" But, uh, large family events are confusing anyway, pretty unavoidably. What else... I guess as adults one could get legal/financial notices meant for the other one? But Daniel is a VERY common name, unless you have an extremely unusual last name your son probably already shares both first and last name with at least a dozen other people, probably more like a hundred.

I'm really not thinking of anything else negative that could possibly result from this scenario. Is that really worth spoiling your relationship with your SIL, and your son's relationship with his future cousin?

July 11, 2013 12:06 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Who's the name thief? No one, since no one owns the name.

Having two people in the same family with the same name is NOT a big deal. I have three cousins named Jennifer, two with the same last name. It was never an issue, nor was any of the other multiple names that show up in my family. And what about family traditions of passing down names, or two siblings who want to use their mother's/father's name? Happens all the time.

Please, do not make a big deal out of this.

July 11, 2013 2:20 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Maybe I'm passive-aggressive. But.

If it was me, I'd tell her I'd thought about it, and realized that it was a huge compliment to how wonderful she thinks your son is that she wants to name her son after him. Stick to that perspective. Your son is so great that she wants to name her child after him. (I have relatives that would I-am-not-kidding stab somebody to get that.) That alone may be enough to make her change her mind.

If she goes forward with it, what a great way to turn it into a positive for your son! I have an almost-9-year-old son, and he would think it was cool to have a baby named after him, especially if we explained what that means. He'd probably take it as a cue to take the baby under his wing and 'show him the ropes,' and I agree with some others, it could be an opportunity to have an extra-close relationship.

Whatever you do, remember you can't control HER actions. You can only determine if you respond positively or negatively.

July 12, 2013 12:29 PM
By Christi with an i (not verified)

I have two cousins who are also named Christi (one on each side) on my Dad's side Kristy is abour 6 weeks older than I am and is really a second cousin but I spent more time around them growing up then the other Christi. On my mom's side Christi is 9 or 10 years younger than I am. It never really bothered me except that all my dad's family calls me by both first and middle names (I hate my middle name). On mom's side everyone identified us by parent. I am therefor Opal's Christi and my cousin is Lonnie's Christi. I even have a cousin Mikey who has a step brother Mike. It really isn't all that unusual and unless you make a big deal of it, the two boys won't either.

August 26, 2013 6:30 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

When my 2nd child was around 2 yo, my brother and his wife had the opportunity to adopt a 2nd child. Their first is also adopted and is close in age to my 1st. We live near each other & see each other frequently, although they won't go to the same school. Their new child was 1 month older than my child and had a first name given by birth parents that is slightly different but sounds very similar to my child's name. Initially, I worried a little about whether the similar names would cause confusion, but after we met a few times, it really didn't cause any problems. My SIL was also worried about it, but I reassured her that it didn't bother me, and that I would never dream of asking them to change the name/identity of a child who was already going through so many changes in life. Like many others have said, the similarity has probably created more of a bond between the two kids, who are now near kindergarten age. We always say that we couldn't have come up with the similar names on purpose, and that it is one way we knew (their child) was meant to be a part of our family.

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