Baby Name Etiquette: Choosing the Right Name While Making Peace In the Family

baby names on sticky notes

You and your partner are overjoyed to learn that you are expecting a baby, and given that your little one will be the first boy in the family, you are excited to be able to name him after your beloved Grandpa Max. But before you even have a chance to make the announcement, your brother-in-law shows up at the next family gathering with his new dog… Max.

OK, so maybe that didn’t exactly happen. But countless variations on family naming conflicts happen all the time. You tell your cousin that you’ve always dreamed of having a little girl named Ashley, and next thing you know, she names her daughter Ashley. Or you tell Grandma Rose that you want to name a little girl after her, only to have her tell you that she’d prefer to be the only Rose in the family.

Picking out names is tricky enough, but when family politics complicate the issue, it can be downright impossible. The following guidelines might be helpful as you navigate this minefield:

pregnant mom looking at baby names on a list

Defer to the First

If someone else in your family uses a baby name that you had wanted to use, try not to be mad at them; after all, you both have the same good taste. You might consider using the name as a middle name instead. Alternatively, you could look for a creative variation: Elsa instead of Elizabeth, Weston instead of William, Anya instead of Anna, etc. If you decide to use the name anyway, be prepared for some confusion and/or resentment.

Check with the Source

If you want to name the baby after someone, make sure you check with that person to make sure that it is OK. Some people would be honored; others wouldn’t. In some religious traditions, it is considered bad luck to name a baby after someone who is still alive.

Be Sensitive to Feelings

If you’ve always adored the name Anthony, but there is an Anthony on your husband’s side who is the black sheep of the family, don’t push for it. You want to give your child the best start possible, without reminding the entire family of a name they’d like to forget.

newborn wearing ankle bracelet name tag

Don’t Let Others Name the Baby for You

If your husband is John Michael Smith IV, just about everyone will be looking to you to produce John Michael Smith V. But if you and your husband decide that you don’t want to carry on the name, you should be confident in your mutual decision (it’s your baby, after all) while continuing to show respect for his family and their other traditions.

Remember That No One “Owns” a Name

Even if you’ve always dreamed of naming a little girl Mia, and you’ve openly stated this fact to your friends and relatives, it’s unrealistic to expect that you can place a “hold” on this name until you have a girl. For parents-to-be, any name is fair game.

Above all, don’t forget that there are literally millions of names out there. If someone takes your “ideal” name, there could be another name out there that is just as good a fit or better for your child. For ideas and inspiration, check out Just Mommies’ baby name section. On the flip side, if you’re worried that you and your cousin both named your babies Jacob, they won’t be alone; there are literally tens of thousands of other Jacobs born each year. To evaluate a name’s popularity, check out the Social Security Administration’s list of popular baby names (updated annually). So go ahead and choose a name that’s right for you and your family. And remember that no matter what name you choose, your baby will be completely unique.