Baby Name Advice Column: Ask the Name Lady Baby Name Blog

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Are There Rules for Double-Barreled Names?

I'm seriously considering a double-barrel first name for a daughter. I have been poring over the internet for the best way to write it: hyphen, just a space, no space but two capital letters? I have read that French names use a hyphen, but Southern U.S. names do not. But I live in Pennsylvania! Is there a rule I can follow so I know I am doing it properly?
- Double-Barreled Mom

Dear Mom,

I'm happy to tell you that propriety isn’t an issue. When it comes to punctuating double-barrel names, the U.S. is an anything goes kind of place. Every approach to doubling is used and approved, so you can’t get it wrong. This is great news for creativity and flexibility, but bad news for decision making.  Never fear, though. With attention to the practical over the proper, you can work out some rough guidelines.

 First, let’s talk about why hyphens are so handy.

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I'm Not a Name Thief! (Right?)

A few months ago my beloved brother told me he had fallen in love with a particular baby name. As it happens, this name is one that my husband and I had considered for our first baby, and now that I'm pregnant again we'd like to use for this baby. It's not like we would be "stealing" my brother's favorite name. After all, there's no guarantee he'll have kids at all, nevermind kids of a particular gender, and this may never be a name that works out for him and his theoretical future partner. It seems like a lot to ask for us to give up the name for this hypothetical future nephew. Is first come, first served a good family naming policy?

-Big Sis

It's all too common for family members to want the same baby name.  Shared cultural backgrounds and personal reference points lead us to the same choices. In fact, it's a wonder that more Big Sisses and Little Bros aren't at each other's throats over "stolen" names.

Assuming nobody has a unique connection to the name, the Name Lady's rule of thumb is generally what you suggest: first come, first served. As you rightly point out, just because your brother likes the same baby name as you, doesn't mean he'll ever actually have the chance to use it. 

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After the Loss of a Child, Can I Still Have a Junior?

I had a son who died at birth whom we named after my husband, with a "Jr." added to the end. My question is whether it's legal for us to name a future son the same exact name, including the Jr.? Would this cause problems, since my first son has a birth certificate in his name?
- Dreaming of Junior

My sympathies to you and your husband. A name that's associated with the loss of a child can be a painful reminder of hopes and futures unfulfilled. When the departed child is a namesake there can be an added sting, as the name symbolizes the family traditions that the child won't be able to carry on. It sounds like you and your husband are very attached to the idea of having a Junior. It must seem cruel to have to give up that dream. Is giving a new baby the exact same name as a brother who died legal? Yes. Is it common? No -- at least, not in modern America.

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One Surname or Two?

For combined last names, what do you think about hyphenating the two names versus making them into one word? For example, Smith-Jones or Smithjones?
- Smith & Jones

Huzzah for thinking creatively about the fundamental last name problem. How can a family come up with a name meaningful for all members that slights the genealogies of none of them? I’m in favor of any name-composing strategy that expands parents' choices, so I’m pleased to consider both hyphenating and, shall we say, “uniwording.” Rather than annointing a right approach, I take it on a case by case basis.

A last name serves dual, sometimes dueling, purposes: the emotional and the practical. You want your name to be meaningful to you and your family, and to help fuse separate individuals together into a family. A surname choice can be poignant, romantic, and symbolic. But at the end of day, the darn thing also needs to be useful.

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Grandma Can't Remember My Baby's Name!

Dear Name Lady,

My husband and I named our daughter Giselle. We do, occasionally run into some people that say it wrong and we correct them with no problems. The problem is his mother. She keeps saying and spelling it Gazelle no matter how many times we tell her the correct pronunciation and spelling. How do we get her to understand that her one and only grandchild's name is Giselle not Gazelle?After 22 months, we are starting to get a little annoyed. Thank you for your help.
Jessica
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Dear Name Lady,
I can never remember the name of my nephew's son. I know it's terrible but it is simply impossible for me to remember. The name is Virgil (I had to go look it up in my book!) Do you have any advice for me?
Jeannette

Jeannette, Jessica, we are discussing two sides of the same coin, are we not? Perhaps seeing each other's letters can give you a view from the other side. Jessica, you are annoyed that your mother-in-law can't get your daughter's name right. Jeanette, you are embarrassed that you just can't remember your grand-nephew's name.

Why does this happen? Why are certain names so hard to remember?

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Which One's the Nickname?

My husband and I have a baby girl due in December, and we are ALMOST in agreement about what we want to name her! We are just wavering between Beatrice or Bea. I am leaning towards Beatrice, feeling it would give her the option to go by Bea or Beatrice. He thinks it would be just as easy to lengthen a name as to shorten it. Is he right? - MS in Oregon

Okay, MS, this is an easy one. You are right and your husband is wrong. Yup, that's what I said: you are right and your husband is wrong. Go ahead, take your victory lap, then meet me back here and I'll explain.

Ready?

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I Don't Like His Family Tradition!

My partner's family has a name tradition for first-born sons that means a lot to him. I've made it clear that I am not a fan of the tradition (because I don't much like the name and because I don't like being told what I'll name my child!). Both of us feel strongly about this. How can we resolve this? - Ms. M

Ms. M, welcome to the no-compromise zone. This is the territory where all of our normal baby name decision-making techniques -- brainstorming, list making, discussion, compromise -- go out the window. In here, it's all or nothing.

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Can We Ditch The Middle Name?

We're going to name our daughter Britania, and my husband and I can't find a middle name that matches, or that we can decide on. Our number one choice right now is Britania Charlotte Nova, but we don't want to give her a super-long name that it confusing for a little girl. Is it okay to NOT give her a middle name? - Stuck Momma

First of all, congratulations! You've tackled the major challenge of baby naming. You and your husband agree that Britania is the perfect name for your little girl.

You probably feel like you should be home free now, but choosing a middle name often proves even trickier. The problem is that you've narrowed the playing field. While your choices for a first name were wide open, the middle name has to "go with" the other name you've chosen, in sound an in style.

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Hands Off My Husband's Surname!

Alright, you might need charts and graphs for this question. My husband's ex-wife had a child with another man after their divorce. Since she still had his last name, as did their daughter, and since the father of her newborn son was not in the picture, she gave the child my husband's last name. This has caused much confusion regarding child support, daycare bills, and our relationship to this child at school. Is it wrong for me to feel resentful about this situation? His ex-wife has since remarried and divorced and has a different last name altogether. Is it wrong to suggest she changes her son's name to something more appropriate and honest? P.S. I love both of her children, and host sleepovers and outings with her son frequently. - Stepmom-once-removed

Yep, that's a doozy. It took me a little time to sort through all the ins and outs of your complex modern family. But in the end, my answer is a question back to you. You asked whether you can suggest that your husband's ex-wife change her son's name to "something more appropriate and honest." What would that name be?

I've run through all the possible scenarios and come up with only one "appropriate and honest" surname for the boy in question.

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I'm In Mourning For a Name

I have just had my fourth child -- another boy. Although I already have a girl. there was another girl's name we were looking forward to using. I am disappointed and quite sad that we won't be able to use this name. I imagine this must happen when people have all the same gender as well. Have you come across this before? Do you have any ways to cope with it? - Name-Mourning Mom

Dear Mom, my heart goes out to you -- and I've been there too. In fact, most parents who throw themselves eagerly into baby naming ultimately find themselves mourning names loved and lost. 

As you suggest, the most common "lost" name scenario is having to leave the opposite-sex name behind. Parents can also feel a sense of loss when a longtime favorite name is taken off the board. (Perhaps your spouse vetoed it, or a friend or relative got to it first.) And the longer the name stayed in your dreams, the harder it is to part with.

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