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Stealing Baby Names

This is a question I wanted to pose to E-Hell readers. It’s happened twice in my circle, in differing time periods. I’ve been told by each side that their side was right in what they did, and the other side was wrong. I was appealed to for sympathy from both sides, but I bean dipped each time. As it happened, although I knew all the parties involved in both cases, they didn’t know each other, so no one could “learn a lesson” from the first instance. What do the E-hellions think, please?

The basic story in both cases is, a young man dies. He’s a well-loved only son in both cases. It’s tragic, and friends and family are torn with grief.

About a year or so after each of these deaths, a close, lifelong friend of the deceased and his family becomes a new father. By coincidence, in both cases, the deceased had a sister who is pregnant with her first child when her deceased brother’s friend and his wife becomes new parents. Each time, the friend of the deceased has a boy and gives the baby the name of the deceased. In both cases, the pregnant sisters of the deceased are hurt and angry and they basically stop talking to said friend, because the sisters in both cases had planned to name their soon to be born babies after their late brothers. In each case, then, the friend and his wife become hurt and angry, because they felt they had the right to use the name of a lifelong dear friend who had died suddenly. A break occurs between the families and the friends, and is never healed.

It was extremely uncomfortable, the tension over this, the first time this happened to people I knew. When it occurred again to others, a few years later, I couldn’t believe it had happened again, just the same.

Is it wrong to appropriate a name of someone who died when the deceased’s family might want it and have an occasion to use it soon? Should they have asked before using it? Or is it wrong to expect a lifelong friend to forego naming his child a name he truly wanted because the family planned to use it? Does the family have the etiquette right to say no one can use it, and expect to be obeyed?   0408-15

What a ridiculous thing to fight about.   It’s obvious that the last names of the infants are different than the sisters’ family names so no one is allowed to use the same first and middle names?   For example, friend’s baby is named Robert Micheal Smith and sister’s baby is named Robert Micheal Jones…what is the problem here?   One child can be called Robbie, the other Bob.

One would think the family whose son died would be honored that others valued their deceased son/brother so highly that they would want to remember him in a very personal manner which will last a lifetime.  It’s a way to keep the memory alive, to honor a person whose name carries with it a significant degree of respect and love.   It’s a way of communicating to the child that he is named after a role model his parents esteemed very much.   What a lovely tribute.

Do the sisters have a right to be offended at the use of their brothers’ names by close friends?   My thought on that is that if I were the parent who lost the son, I would be counseling my daughter that she does not have a right to the name of her brother, as if she owned it.   I named my son and it was his name to do with as he wished.  I “owned” it first, gave it to him and he did with it as he wished.  If he lived his life in such a way that people respected, admired and loved him enough to name their children after him, that honor is a credit to his name, character and memory.    The sisters cannot claim theft of a name that never belonged to them in the first place.    It is dishonoring to the memory of the deceased to fight over his name as if anyone other than the deceased had a right to it.


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  • another Laura April 15, 2015, 3:34 am

    I have two nieces (step-sisters to one another) with the same first name. I married their uncle, when they were teens (they’re a few years apart in age) so I don’t know if it was confusing for them or others growing up in the same house. The older one was given the prefix “big” and the younger “little” which confused me more because the younger was actually bigger in size than the older.

    • just4kicks April 17, 2015, 2:03 am

      @I don’t remember where I heard this, tv or movie maybe, but there was a family who passed the name Richard down.
      The dad was called “Dick”, and the son was called “Little Dick”, and he kept imploring his grandma to PLEASE stop referring to him as “Little Dick”. 🙂

      • NostalgicGal April 19, 2015, 9:36 pm

        Better than a catholic priest that was near my grandparent’s town… Fr. Peter Dick. (circa 1970’s)

        • Marozia April 20, 2015, 3:37 pm

          Oh…..that’s good….!!

  • Christine April 15, 2015, 6:08 am

    The whole “claiming names” thing is dumb. I have a little girl who we named after a family member, and while I might not be thrilled if someone in our immediate family also used the name on their kid after, it wouldn’t sour my relationship with them.

    I have a name picked out and ready to go if we have a boy next. I’ve had three friends become pregnant with boys this year and ask my opinion on names. I’ve had no problem telling them my favorite boy name, but have always said “Go ahead and use it. But we warned there will be two little ‘John’s’ running around someday!

  • Mary April 15, 2015, 6:56 am

    This is why I refused to discuss any baby names I had picked out until after my children were born and named.

  • Ripple April 15, 2015, 7:19 am

    In my family, there were several juniors (my father, my maternal uncle, and my maternal aunt’s husband, who had the same first name as my maternal uncle, were all juniors) and near-juniors (my maternal grandmother was Jessie Mary, my mother was Jessie Martha, her sister, who was named after her maternal grandfather, named her daughter Martha, etc.). My parents made the decisions to not name their children after anyone in either family. Thank goodness.
    I have a friend who wanted to name her first son after her deceased grandfather, and made it clear to all in the family. Her sister-in-law (husband’s sister) named a daughter the female version of the name, and my friend was pissed, felt the name had been poached, etc. Then when she did have a son, she named him a different version of the name which turned out to be a very popular boy’s name at the time. All are happy.

  • PM April 15, 2015, 8:10 am

    As someone whose family watched the mourning process for a beloved uncle get hijacked by pushy friends, who seemed determined to “out-mourn” the relatives, I sort of get it. This was a loving gesture that the sisters wanted to make in memory of their brother, and they can’t help but be upset that someone else, not related to the deceased, did it first. Yes, the friends may have felt as close to the deceased (or closer) than family, but the family feels like they should come first in the mourning process. They lost a brother, not a friend.

    But, this shouldn’t keep the sisters from naming their babies after their late brothers. If they want to honor their brother in this way, they should go ahead and do it.

    • KA April 15, 2015, 11:14 am

      I feel this. There were a lot of pushy people around when my brother died, including a particularly overbearing co-worker who wanted everyone to know how bro he was with my brother, and making some pretty creepy moves in the name of “watching out for” my brother’s wife. The funny thing is that my brother thought very little of this guy and frequently stated he was immature and ill suited for a job in police work.

      • PM April 16, 2015, 7:03 am

        It’s funny you say that, because I don’t think the friendship between my late uncle “J” and B was nearly as close as B liked to think it was. It was a good neighbor, weekend golf-buddy type relationship. But uncle J had a LOT of friends, he was a very outgoing, lovable guy. B didn’t have that many, because of his abrasive nature, so I think he attached a lot of meaning to their time together.

        After J’s death, B was extremely overbearing and over involved, behaving as if he had the same stake in the mourning process and funeral planning as J’s mother, brothers, wife, etc. He would insist things be done a certain way because he “knew how J would want it done” and then get upset when the family did things the way J’s wife wanted them done. And any feelings of friendship we felt toward B cooled considerably.

  • Shannan April 15, 2015, 8:36 am

    I agree with Admin: this is a rediculouis thing to fight about!!! How sad for everyone to not only be grieving about the loss of a beloved brother/ son/ friend and then watch this wonderful bond between everyone be torn about over a baby’s name!! So sad!!

  • Library Diva April 15, 2015, 10:16 am

    How stupid. Just be happy that there’s a beautiful healthy baby to celebrate and that people thought so highly of your late relative that there are many of his namesakes running around.

  • PJ April 15, 2015, 10:18 am

    I can only guess what my reactions would be if my brother had died. I almost certainly would have named one of my sons after him. If my brother’s closest friend had also named his son the same, I think I’d be very happy to know that someone else looked at my brother with the same fondness that they’d want to remember him that way, too.

    The closest situation I have is my daughter’s middle name, which came from my great aunt. It makes her the 7th girl among family to carry that middle name. Of course it doesn’t cause such confusion as having a first name in common, but what a nice tribute to a very lovable and well-loved auntie!

  • AnaMaria April 15, 2015, 10:41 am

    So ridiculous, but unfortunately very real.

    A few years ago a good friend of mine, K, was pregnant with her first child and, after finding out it was a boy, told her older sister (who was not pregnant and had no intentions of having kids any time soon) that she and her husband had picked a Bible name from the Old Testament, but with a slightly different spelling. Sister suddenly snapped, “Wait, does this name start with a ‘C’??”

    K was completely taken aback- out of all the boys’s names in the old testament, how did her sister guess the right one…and why was she so upset? Friend affirmed that yes, they had planned to name the baby Caleb, and Sister hung up on her. Over the next 24 hours, Friend received a series of flaming text messages from Sister saying “*#%^)* YOU!!! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WOULD DO THIS TO ME! DON’T EVER TALK TO ME AGAIN! I DON’T WANT YOU TO BE A PART OF MY LIFE ANYMORE!”

    Years later, Sister claims she can’t even handle having kids because K completely robbed her of the joy of naming her first son. What do you even do with that level of immaturity?

    • Asharah April 15, 2015, 1:15 pm

      I’ve told oldest niece that if she had been a boy, she would have been Joshua. Name was never used because when Sis did have a boy, both his older sisters wanted to name him after their Dad.

    • Michelle C Young April 16, 2015, 12:00 am

      Well, on the plus side, Sis didn’t have any children to abuse. She sounds like she would have been a horrible parent.

      She reminds me of the child-hater who went on a Disney cruise.

    • Marozia April 20, 2015, 3:52 am

      I was showing this post to mum just recently and she reminded me of some a friend of hers and how she wanted to name her daughter either Marilyn or Sharon (after actors Marilyn Monroe and Sharon Tate) quite popular names back in 1960’s/70’s.
      Mum’s friend had 2 sisters who decided to ‘poach’ the names. One sister had Marilyn and the other, Sharon for their daughters. Friend was a little downhearted. Mum said, ‘Never mind, why don’t you call your girl Sharolyn, you know, a mixture of the names, but a little unusual.’ So she did.
      Apparently the sisters preferred Sharolyn as a name, and both blamed each other for the ‘poaching’ of the original names. I thought that rather amusing!

  • Dessa April 15, 2015, 11:07 am

    My sister and I had this argument when I was pregnant with my first child. I was not to use any version of our maternal grandfather’s name. Her reasoning was that since she was the first-born grandchild, she and she alone had rights to use that name for her sons. It was years later that I had a son, and the name that fit him was totally different, so the was for naught.

  • alex April 15, 2015, 11:26 am

    Wow, I don’t understand why this wouldn’t be a wow, so many people loved him that he has TWO babies named after him. The probability of the babies being around each other all the time, was probably low and no one owns a name. I understand the sisters wanted to honor their brother but so did the friends and I see nothing wrong with that. It is sad that they are not talking and their are riffs over the honoring of a dear brother and friend. I don’t think any one was trying to one-up anyone else but truly wanted to honor him. I see nothing wrong with either of those people giving names. I don’t think people should be offended.

  • Nicole April 15, 2015, 11:56 am

    There are 7 Jacob’s in my nephew’s school. Lots of kids have the same name, there is nothing to get upset about here. One the other hand, I was not happy when a cousin liked my new nephew’s name so much that he used it – for his new puppy. Sorry but naming the dog the same as the new kid in the family is wrong!

  • Kat April 15, 2015, 12:45 pm

    Yeah, this is silly. My friend who is pregnant recently asked me how I would feel about her giving her baby a name very similar to mine (the baby wouldn’t be named in my honor or anything, but just because my friend likes a very similar name). She made it clear that while she was considering my feelings, she wasn’t giving me veto power. I told her of course she should name her child whatever she wants to. Lots of people have similar names. You can’t own a name.

    With that said, I can see how people grieving a recent death might be more sensitive and less rational about this.

  • Asharah April 15, 2015, 1:42 pm

    Does anybody remember the “Dick Van Dyke Show” when Rob & Laura have to explain to Richie why his middle name was “Rosebud.” (Kid snooped and found his birth certificate.) Apparently since he was the first grandchild, all the grandparents wanted to name him. Laura’s mom wanted Oscar, Laura’s dad wanted Edward (he kept spelling it to somehow make his point E-D-W-A-R-D!), Rob’s mom wanted Benjamin, Rob’s dad wanted Sam (Richie, “Isn’t that his name?” Rob, “Umm, yeah.”) Rob’s grandpa (who blows a whistle when he wants everyone’s attention) wanted Ulysses David, after his favorite president (?!) and his own father who was a drummer boy in the civil war. And Laura like Robert Jr. So they tell Richie his full name was Richard Robert Oscar Sam Edward Benjamin Ulysses David Petrie. And the initials of his seven middle names spell Rosebud.

  • Bobbiejoe April 15, 2015, 1:45 pm

    Correct, this is so silly. So many people get riled up about names, my goodness! I myself am named after my mom and dad – Roberta Joe. Also in my family, we have a lot of kids named after relatives of the same name –nobody cares. We call each of them something different (sometimes by their middle names, sometimes by initials “MJ”, sometimes by something wildly made up, sometimes the III’s are called Tres, or Trey, or Tripp…etc.) Not only am I named after my dad, but my dad now also has 5 grandsons & great grandsons named after him — my dad was named after an uncle, and both he and my dad are still alive, so there are ALOT of people in my family with my dad’s name! 🙂

  • MPW1971 April 15, 2015, 3:07 pm

    My first name is “Michael” – through elementary school there were at least 2, if not 3 of us, sharing that same first name, in a class. When the teacher took attendance the first day, they would frequently ask students what they want to be called. This is because the register uses full legal names, and this is where “Madeline” would tell the teacher that she was “Mady”, or that “Krisandra” was just “Sandra”, and “Alexander” was just “Al”. My surname starts with a “W”, so when the teacher got to me, some other boy had already claimed “Mike”. It wasn’t uncommon to have a “Robert” and a “Bob”.
    In university, the neighboring residence of 48 girls had no fewer than 6 girls named Jennifer. Considering that they were all within 3 years (more or less) in age, it was a very popular name while they were born. It was very confusing to distinguish them all.
    Nobody owns a name like that – it may be awkward between two siblings (or even step-siblings in a blended family) to share a name – but that’s about it.
    That said, our family has had a taboo for naming people in their own generation with the same name, but there were “familial” names which skipped a generation or two. I am named after my maternal grandfather. My father is named after his paternal grandfather. His younger brother is named after his own father. Nobody “owned” those names…even 70 years ago when my father was born….

    • just4kicks April 21, 2015, 5:48 am

      @MPW 1971: When I was in first grade, on the first month or so of class, the teacher had all of our name printed on large index cards all around the top of the blackboard, so we would all get to know each other’s names.
      One of the boys names was “Sean”, which of course, now I know is the Gaelic spelling for “Shawn”.
      Back then, being only six or seven years old, I couldn’t figure out who the heck “Seen” was!!!

      • Anne September 19, 2018, 9:35 am

        Actually, it should have an accent on the a. ‘Seán’ is the correct spelling. ‘Sean’ means ‘old’ in Gaelic/Irish, and is pronounced ‘shan’ (rhymes with ham). Grinds my gears to see it without the fada…

  • Wild Irish Rose April 15, 2015, 3:07 pm

    My grandfather’s name was “Joseph.” My aunt made no secret of her intention to name her first son “Edgar Joseph.” My mother had a son before my aunt did, and named him “Victor Joseph.” Didn’t even slow my aunt down. She went ahead and named her son “Edgar Joseph” and everyone is cool with it. I don’t recall her ever berating my mother or complaining that her chosen name had been “stolen.”

    Names aren’t something you can claim and no one else can use them. If the deceased’s sisters AND his friends want to honor him by naming their sons after him, who cares? These sisters need to get over themselves and remember that they don’t have a patent or a copyright or anything on their brothers’ names. People will get into snits over the stupidest things.

  • Wild Irish Rose April 15, 2015, 3:20 pm

    Unusual spellings kind of work my nerves, especially if they make a name difficult to pronounce. I went to school with a girl named Cymanthia, and I wondered why her parents didn’t just name her Samantha.

    I also knew a girl who was named after her mother’s friend’s dog. The name (Sugri, pronounced Soo-GREE) wasn’t bad, but how would it feel going through life knowing you were named for a poodle?

    • neversummer April 15, 2015, 5:08 pm

      That doesn’t seem too wrong, we have a tendency in our family to name children after our horses 😉

      • The Elf April 16, 2015, 8:04 am

        Sallah: The dog? You are named after the dog?!
        Indiana: I have a lot of fond memories of that dog.

    • oregonbird May 14, 2015, 11:40 pm

      Let’s ask Bindi Irwin!

  • Livvy17 April 15, 2015, 3:52 pm

    Based on the comments I’m seeing here, I wonder if people’s feelings about it stem from their own family dynamics. People who grew up in families where the same names keep popping up seem completely unabashed by shared names, where others, used to everyone having a different name, see it as more of an issue.
    On a personal level, I can see both sides of the unique / not-as-unique name. When I was growing up, I was the only person I knew with my name. I used to complain I could never find “personalized” stuff in the store when I was a kid. Then, about 10 years ago, my name became VERY popular. The problem I now have is that I’m having a hard time getting used to people calling out “MY” name, when they aren’t talking to me. Sigh. At least I can be honored that so many named their girls after me. 😉

  • Gabriele April 15, 2015, 5:13 pm

    In the US the only names that can be ‘owned’ are those given to dogs registered with the AKC and horses with the Jockey Club (for thoroughbreds) and AQHA (for quarter horses).
    So the only way someone could ‘own’ a name would infer they had an animal, not a human child…and one could infer what to call the mother of a ‘puppy’ and those behind the name of a foal might well be the behinds of a horse….

    My middle name is my paternal grandmother’s first name…no one else in the family (my father and three sisters) have any other family names. My brother was named with my father’s first name (Almon) and a second name of Lewis.
    Somewhere along the line the family name was changed from father’s last name to mother’s maiden name…couldn’t get a direct answer when they were still alive to ask…so my brother, not liking being ‘little Al) when he went to school and the teacher asked his name, he said ‘Bob’. (I don’t think the family knew any Bobs). So the teacher wrote down ‘Robert’. No one seemed to pay attention to the report cards (hand written, this is the 50s) and sometime my brother’s middle name was changed (by him, I think) from Lewis to Monroe (my father’s middle name). The birth certificate still showed A…L….Lastname. All school records showed R…M….Mother’s last name…
    so when he went in the service and had to get a passport….whew!
    I went to school under Mother’s last name and lived with it until I got married. (didn’t like the husband’s last name that much either but didn’t want to keep the ‘maiden’ name. I had used the name on my birth certificate on the wedding license so when we divorced I asked to have my maiden name back. It was granted.
    I am now the only member of my family (two sisters married multiple times and used different spellings of first name (or reversal of second name for first) so I feel closer to my father’s side of the family because of my middle name (a woman of character who set a very good example) and my last name (ditto, and my two aunts as well).

    I had always liked Michael as a boy’s name but I married one which was close enough (no children).

    Speaking of sharing names, anyone remember the movie “Heathers”? Sharing a name is only toxic when the people are already toxic…

  • flora April 15, 2015, 6:29 pm

    Count me in as seeing this as a non issue. Growing up every classroom had at least three Jennifers, three Michaels and two scotts. We just laughed about it and used a last inital. Now, I can see it being a small issue if you come from a family that’s very close and lives close enough to see each other daily… maybe? But otherwise? Non issue. Both use the name and move on.
    What I really don’t understand is when there’s a small generational difference between the namelings, five to fifteen years apart. Honestly, if someone in my extended family named a child with my name, not to honor me personally but because they liked the name well enough to use it, I’d still be flattered and feel a small kinship with the child.

    • Marozia April 16, 2015, 4:24 am

      Well said! I was flattered when my 1/2 sister told me her first girl would be named for me.

  • EasilyAmused April 15, 2015, 7:44 pm

    I can’t help but think it’s a cinch that the ones who get so fussed over this sort of thing aren’t from cultures where it’s no big deal to share a first or middle name with a few cousins. (sort of like My Big Fat Wedding where so much of the family is named Nick or Nicki).

    My (Irish-American) extended family has quite a few shared names. I for one share a middle name with two other female cousins. My youngest shares a first name with a second cousin and his middle name is that of one of my first cousins and my husband. Also, his name is often a nickname for his brother’s middle name. My middle child shares a first name with my first cousin and his middle name is a combination of my brother’s first and middle names. Heck with 7 children in the generation prior to mine you would have siblings sharing middle names or the middle name of one was the first of a younger sibling.

    I didn’t even intend it this way but my youngest’s first name is known as a nickname for the eldest’s middle name.

    • EasilyAmused April 15, 2015, 7:45 pm

      oops, just realized I repeated myself, there.

  • Marozia April 16, 2015, 4:22 am

    On my father’s side, it’s normal to name a baby after a relative (living or deceased) and it’s regarded as an honour. My father’s name is Demetrius so there are a lot of James, Jims, Jamies, etc in my family.
    I’m named after my father’s aunt and I have 2 nieces and 3 great-nieces named for me.
    I never realised that baby names and copyrights and patents…*sarcasm*.

  • Cat April 16, 2015, 9:07 am

    What should be avoided at all costs is any name that causes others to point and laugh. There was an insurance salesman whose last name was Dock. His parents named him Hickory Dickory. And wasn’t that a governor of Texas whose surname was Hogg and his twin daughters were Ima and Ura? I worked with a man whose last name was Legg. His maternal grandmother was named Margaret, called Peg for short. She married in the knowledge that she would go through life as Peg Legg.

  • just4kicks April 16, 2015, 10:41 am

    I posted this yesterday, apologies if it pops up later.
    My daughter goes to school with a girl named “Bubble Gum.”
    She carries around a copy of her birth certificate and social security card, because no one ever believes her!!!

  • Rod April 16, 2015, 11:21 am

    I am sure you can always go to the copyright office to preserve the uniqueness of your progeny’s name… Other than that, who cares?

    I wasn’t raised in an anglo country. My name is not terribly common except for a period of time for my contemporaries (who knows, maybe a soap opera, singer, or someone like that). I was always the only one in my classroom but when you expanded a bit you get lots. Once we were 4-of-the-same-name in my car. And no one had a middle name.

    On unfortunate names, I had a classmate whose first and middle names essentially could be interpreted as “blowjob”. Most unfortunate :S.

  • Hallie April 18, 2015, 8:18 am

    My mother had several sisters. My young mother once told one of her sisters the name she wanted to use if she ever had a baby girl. Wouldn’t you know it, the sister had a baby girl first and used the name. When my mom had a girl a few years later, she decided she had the name first and just changed the spelling. So both my first cousin and I had the same name with a one letter difference. Our name has NO nicknames attached. It’s the whole thing or nothing. Instead of being angry about it, it was something the family joked about over the years. It’s really all about the attitude you have with the situation and I always looked up to my older cousin with the same name.

  • A April 18, 2015, 6:01 pm

    My cousin had a baby and used a name of my best friend from elementary school that he met on a few occasions and I must have talked a lot about (in the past). He did not know any other people with such name. I really felt sad but I never told anybody I wanted to name my kid that. 🙁
    Yes the last names might be different but still using the same first name still counts. However I keep this a secret from other people and have not gotten publicly mad at my cousin because it is after all just a name, albeit a name of my best friend, but just a name I say to myself.

    • KenderJ April 20, 2015, 5:54 pm

      But if you like the name, and have a girl, why don’t you just use the name anyway?

  • Hanna April 18, 2015, 10:31 pm

    I really don’t see what the big deal is at all. If you want to name your kid something, name your kid that. Your brother’s friend’s kid having the same name should not be a deal breaker if that’s a name you REALLY want to use!! My brother and I both named our sons after our father, and though they have the same names, they just got by different first names and nobody cares. I know another set of cousins who have the exact same first name (named after their dad/grandad), and while they have different last names, they have the same first names and are very close. It’s seriously not a big deal.

  • Sketchee April 29, 2015, 11:51 pm

    It’s your kid, name him as you like. Pushy and controlling get no say in the matter. Their feelings in this case are theirs to deal with. It’s on your job to make them happy =)

  • Rondo December 24, 2015, 2:28 am

    I had a co-worker that announced before she was ever married that “My first child is going to be a girl and her name is going to be Kaitlyn, When growing up, all my dolls had the name and my daughter will have that name.” Co-worker’s sister gets pregnant. Then co-worker gets pregnant. Guess what? Her sister delivered first and named her daughter Kaitlyn, which TOTALLY pissed off co-worker. Co-worker then named her daughter Katie. However, co-worker AND her mother still bring up the fact that Sister “stole the name.”

    Hogwash! Unless you come up with something totally out of bounds like MOON UNIT or APPLE, you don’t own a name! Even with Moon Unit and Apple, they don’t own them. Any other kid can be named the same. DEAL