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I Don't Want To Be a Name Thief!

My husband comes from a large (LARGE) family and has about 30 first cousins. Needless to say, it's starting to get difficult not to overlap names with that many people. One of his cousins has a little boy named after her father. It just so happens that it's also my father's name, and I've always loved it. I know that there are always people posting on here about name stealers. Would I be one? (And if we end up having a girl, I know that she'll have the same middle name as the same cousin's daughter -- it's my own, my sister's, mother's, and grandmother's.)
- Hopefully Not a Thief

Like many emotional "crimes," name thievery is a highly subjective business. Some people are flattered when friends and family choose their name, while others are outraged. Even my most standard advice -- when in doubt, just ask -- isn't foolproof. The most name-sensitive among us can be offended by the mere question.

Yet even on this slippery ground, there are some rules of thumb:

1. A special personal connection to a name carries extra weight. When a name honors a parent or someone else close to your heart, it's irreplaceable. Explaining the namesake relationship should help absolve you of theft.

2. Middle names stake weaker claims. It's fine for two cousins to share the middle name Keith after their shared grandpa, for instance. (But a really unusual middle name chosen purely for style shouldn't be copied without permission.)

3. In a "large (LARGE) family," something's gotta give. If you have 50 siblings and first cousins, and they each have a spouse and 2 kids, that's 200 names -- 400 if you toss in middle names. Then consider that each of the spouses has his or her own family and friends with names that have to be crossed off their lists. And consider, too, that relatives tend to have a lot in common when it comes to background and taste. If everybody's looking for traditional Irish names, you have to accept that some overlap is inevitable.

In your family, all three rules of thumb seem to be in play. I think you should be able to use the family names that mean so much to you. Do let the other parents know in advance, though, to make sure they understand why you’re choosing the name and that you’re not just ignoring their family’s feelings.


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October 21, 2013 9:10 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

No one can "steal" a name. If the names have meaning to you then use them.

I really think some people make this out to be a bigger deal than it is. Lots of families have multiple people with the same name.

October 22, 2013 9:39 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The names have meaning to you & why should your family connections & middle name tradition carry less weight than what is happening in your husband's family?

For the boy name, I'd simply comment ASAP (even if you aren't pregnant) that it's your dad's name and you've always loved it and can't wait until you have a little one with that name of your own. Any raised eyebrows or negative comments & stick to your guns. They will get over it.

For the girl name, I'm not even sure an advance comment is needed. It's only a middle name! As long as the first names aren't similar, you should be fine to announce it when you normally would. If anyone comments, just reply that "yes, I know. It's also MY middle name and my mother's middle name, etc. I'm so lucky to have had a girl so that I can carry on MY family's naming tradition." If anybody has anything negative to say after that, they really are quite rude & really not worth your time.

I'll also comment that you are talking about overlapping names for 2nd or 3rd cousins. Seriously NOT a big deal. 1st cousins, maybe a problem, but not at this level of relationship. I'd guess that there is probably also some pretty significant age differences among some of these people, and I think that will help reduce any potential problems or confusion.

October 22, 2013 10:05 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Don't worry about the girl. Having the same middle name could be very special for the girls as long as their mommies help them see that from the beginning.

As for the boy, overlap probably isn't a big deal for 2nd cousins, as long as they won't have the same last name. Two Timothys in one family is no problem, but two Timothy O'Donnells isn't a great idea. No matter how much you like the name, remember that names are a huge part of identity, and you don't want your son's identity mistaken for his cousin.

October 22, 2013 12:05 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I just wanted to agree that you should use the boy's name BUT you should let the parents know in advance. Write them a nice email or call to explain that it's your father's name, as well, and meaningful to you. I doubt they'd have a problem with it, especially if it's a fairly common or traditional name.

October 22, 2013 12:44 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Approximately 1/2 of my cousins have the same middle name as me, as it's a family name. And it is VERY uncommon. We always thought that tied us together. I wouldn't see any issue there. And, I agree, warn them of the first name, but I would still go ahead. I said the same thing to my sister-in-law, even though she doesn't have a son yet. My son is named after his paternal grandfather, which is the same name as my sister-in-law's brother. I have told her I would understand if she wanted to use it, as well. (She doesn't.)

October 22, 2013 1:01 PM
By Brenna (not verified)

When I read this, I immediately wondered if HNAT is married to one of my thirty first cousins! In our family, there are few repeats, but with the in-laws we have three Theresas, two Johns, two Mollys, and two Joes. (I even have a second cousin named Brenna, like me.) Five of my cousins (and my sister) have the middle name Jane, after our grandmother, and I'm sure there are other duplications or similarities I'm forgetting. As my generation has been having kids, we just touch base with the others at our "level" and verify that a duplicate name is okay. I am not aware of anyone who is upset at the reuse of a name.

October 22, 2013 1:38 PM
By sharims (not verified)

My very large family has done fairly well in the non-duplicate names (although there are a couple one person has the first name while another has it as a middle name) including only one set of duplicate spouse names (which no longer exists due to a divorce and remarriage to someone with a different name).

We do have a set of 2nd cousin girls (5 weeks apart) who both have names that start with Ev--- who have ended up with the nickname of Evie (one is Eh-vee and the other is Ee-vee) which can get a bit confusing, but when said in context of their siblings, no one is confused.

In the OP's case, I would just let the other family know in both cases *why* OP wants to use the name.

Hopefully it will go well. There are certain family members who totally wouldn't care if we both had kids named the same, and there are others who would be highly offended.

October 22, 2013 1:47 PM
By JR (not verified)

Even if it's not a family name, names are not anyone's personal property. They are in the "public domain." If people have a problem with you choosing a particular name, they need to deal with it. Seriously.

My one concern about naming is that so many people choose the same names and can't think of something original/not in general use. Why aren't there more girls named Flora or Tamsin or Bettina? Or boys named Seth or Angus or Corin?

October 22, 2013 7:05 PM
By Allison (not verified)

My husband's cousin named her son Marshall just months after we did the same - their grandfather was Marshall (it is also my husband's name).

Then a few years later, they named a 2nd son James - we we did the same a few months later. It's the cousin's father, but my husband and I both have grandfathers named James as well.

So two cousins with two boys of similar ages with the same names. And it's no big deal. Especially since we live in the South and they live in New England. And there are different nicknames.

Don't sweat it!

October 24, 2013 9:50 AM
By Divine (not verified)

I think since the names are sentimental that it is okay to use them. BUT I do feel that I would only duplicate a name in the family if it was sentimental or if I just really loved the name. Chances are slim with me duplicating names because I like names that are very different!

October 30, 2013 10:11 AM
By Christi with an I (not verified)

I have two cousins that share my first name and another with the same middle name. My brother's middle name is our dad's first name, our grandfather's middle name and our great grandmother's madien name. I know dad has a cousin with the same first name and two uncles (one sibling for either parent) who had his middle name as a first name. My dad's family tells the Christi's apart by adding our middle names (so a double barrelled identity for me and I hate my middle name) and mom's side identifies the Christi's by our parent (So and So's Christi) There are so many kids (I have about 30 first cousins and growing up socialized with lots of second cousins) that there were bound to be overlaps and nobody thinks anything about it. Now if it is your favoirte person and you will be spending a bunch of time with them, you might want to figure out different nick names or how you will tell them apart but other than that, I wouldn't worry.

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