On Baby Names

Baby Names

Would (or did) you name your baby after someone? I love the idea of naming a child after a relative, but my friend Mary’s family takes it to a whole new level…

Mary’s full first name is Mary Keith (like Mary Anne or Mary Lou), although she has gone by just “Mary” since a moment of sixth grade reinvention. Her mother is also Mary Keith. Her grandmother is yet another Mary Keith. The name traces back ten generations of first-born daughters, starting in England before her family immigrated to the United States pre-Revolutionary War.

I chatted with Mary Keiths #8, #9 and #10 over the weekend, and both mother and grandmother said they never thought about breaking the tradition. Grandma Mary Keith believes “it takes a lot of the heat off everything.”

Mary has joked about breaking the name chain. “Ten generations is a good place to stop — a nice round number,” she has said. Or, “Hopefully I’ll just have a boy.” But seeing Mary talk to her grandmother about it, I don’t think she’ll break the cycle — and neither do the generations before her. “Eventually you just give way,” says her grandmother. “It was written, and that’s just how it is.”

My middle name is my mother’s name. Lexi’s middle name is the same as her mother’s ob-gyn, Ruby, who was a trailblazing doctor and one of the only women at her medical school. Toby is in part named after the author Tobias Wolff.

Baby names

Mary Keiths #6, #7 and #8

What are your favorite baby names? Will (or did) you name your child after someone? Do you have any family or cultural rituals?

P.S. The blind date test for baby names, and would you hyphenate your baby’s last name?

(Top photo by Rose & Crown)

  1. Kelly says...

    We’re naming our first child and daughter Lilith Jane. Lilith after the first women and her great story and Jane after my paternal grandmother who raised 4 boys on her own while my grandfather was away working for 9 months each year for the government. I don’t recall when he was able to stay home all year.

  2. Julie says...

    My paternal grandparents Paul and Edyth had a sailboat they called the PEP, which was an acronym made up of the first letters of their first names and last name. My husband and I don’t have any kids yet, but I would love to use the name Pepper in honor of my father’s parents.

    I am a bit apprehensive to use it as a first name (though I can definitely see myself going for it), but I think it would be great as a middle name following something a bit more classic.

  3. My sister is named after my mom, and my daughter is named after my mom, but the names are individualized, as my mom is Eleanor, my sister Elaine and my daughter Ella.

  4. I’m Nigerian so names are kinda a big deal. It’s traditional for family members to give names to a baby to use as a middle name (some of my cousins have 10+ middle names from various family members!). All names have meaning, so you could almost see it as giving the child a blessing, or a little reminder of what you hope for them.

    My parents chose my first name, one of my middle names, the one I use legally, was my grandmother’s English name, and my other two middle names were given to me by my aunt and uncle.

  5. Our first boy’s middle name is his grandmother’s maiden name (Graham). Our second boy’s middle name is both our father’s middle name and also my sister’s middle name (Michael). It was important to us to have the middle name be a tribute but the first names were just what we liked (Spencer after Spencer Wells and Duncan because it means “dark warrior.”).

  6. Eva says...

    I named my daughter after my grandmother on my fathers side. She has long passed and had a unique name that I wanted to keep in my family. My brother had already given his daughter our mom´s name. And my dad was so incredibly happy that I chose this name for my daughter. It warms my heart thinking about the moment he heard her name.

  7. Katie says...

    My husband and I felt strongly about using a family name for our son, but we sort of hate all of our parents names (and my maiden name). So, we went with my Father-in-law’s nickname, Deacon. It’s unique, but has family roots and we love it. And no one was more shocked and touched to hear our son’s name than his Grandpa Deacon.

  8. When we were dating, my husband and I discovered that not only did we both have grandmas named Ruth, but they shared the same birthday (one year apart)! Even though we don’t have kids yet, we hope one of our future kids will be a girl with the middle name “Ruth” after two of her great-grandmas.

  9. My middle name is my dads name ‘Ramzan’ it always sounded odd to my friends growing up as I grew up in the UK but it’s a normal thing in the indian subcontinent where my parents are from. Now a lot of second generation don’t do it. But I wanted my daughter to have her fathers name as her middle name just like I did. (He has a beautiful name ‘tariq’ meaning ‘morning star’ )

  10. Cassy says...

    my husband really wanted to honor his grandfather who has passed with his name, Patrick Oliver. We ended up having two little ladies & stuck with it.. So we have Polly Oliver & Lucy James (after my grandfather who’s passed) I love that they both have strong femine & strong masculine parts.

  11. Natalie says...

    My great grandmother’s name was Maria, my grandmother’s name is Ann and my mother’s name is Maryanne. I was slated to have the middle name Joanna, and then I was born on my great-grandmother’s birthday, so I have Joanna Maria as my middle name. I would have liked to carry on this tradition in some way with a daughter, but I only have two sons!

    In my husband’s Filipino family, it’s very common to name your children after the parents, and sometimes the children’s names are very interesting combinations of the parent’s names! My husband’s name is Carl Eduardson, from parents Carmelita and Eduardo. He’s called Carlson for short by older relatives, so we named our first born Carson. Each of our boys also carries on my maiden name as their middle name, which is another family tradition.

  12. mary craig says...

    I love hearing that! I’m the 6th generation of eldest daughters named Mary Craig (and the 8th or 9th Mary)! It’s way less common for girls to have names passed down like this, it seems, so I love that there’s more of us out there!

    • mary craig says...

      Oops hit send before I meant to! But each of us has gone by different things so I still feel like I have my own name–I go by Mary Craig, my mom is Mary, my grandmother is Mamie, her mother was Mamie Craig and then there was another Mary Craig and Mamie before her…it’s fun to be connected to all of these women while still having our own nicknames!

  13. Heidrun says...

    In our family boys are named Johannes or a variation of Johannes for 8 generations in a row. Sometimes it is just the middle name, sometimes the first name – Jan, Johan, Johannes – always slightly different. That makes it easier to follow the tradition

  14. Danyelle says...

    My daughter arrived at 29 weeks and 1 day with no warning other than contractions I thought were Braxton Hicks. Immediately, her dad and I expected the worst, but she came into the world kicking and screaming and breathing all on her own. She’s still in the NICU (6 weeks old today), but she’s been such a fighter. It seemed only right to name her Rebel.

  15. Mindy says...

    I’m Arminda, Sr. and I named my daughter Arminda, Jr. and call her AJ. There are two other Armindas in my family (aunts). I totally understand wanting to keep a name in the family, even if it can get kind of complicated during the holidays.

  16. In India, an astrologer picks a letter auspicious with the date/time of birth. However all my cousins have the first letter ‘S’ because me and the 2nd born in the family got and ‘S’ and they just decided to stick it through for all the 14 grandkids.


  17. Lanie says...

    The Jewish tradition is to name your children after relatives who have died. My daughter, Maisie Harper, was named after my husband’s grandmother Marie and my grandfather Harold. I picked the name Maisie before deciding on the relative, but knew her middle name would begin with an H.

    I wanted to name my son after my grandpa Dennis because he was due on my grandpa’s birthday but couldn’t find a d name that I liked. We chose to name him Zach and chose Dor to be his Hebrew name. It begins with a D and means generation. His middle name is Tallinn after the city my husband and I traveled in on our first real “date” together. The T is for my cousin Tobias, and they share the Hebrew name of Tuvia.

  18. My family has a strong Scottish lineage. There has been either a Gavin or a John (they trade off generations) dating back all the way to 1666 when brothers Gavin and John Hamilton were executed by the English government for practicing their faith. My brother Gavin is an accomplished bagpiper who will compete in the world bagpiping competition in Edinburgh this August. :)

    What I love about your story is that it’s a long line of women who pass down a name! That is much less common, but I love that they created a legacy of women to look up to!

  19. Liz says...

    My son Emory’s middle name is my mom’s maiden name, Locke—we were up in the air about it what it should be but then my maternal grandmother passed away when I was seven months pregnant so it seemed right. My nephew is Holland, named for our grandfather John Holland (also Locke). I love the idea of names honoring loved ones, it feels like you can carry them with you in a small way :)

  20. Megan says...

    My family doesn’t have any strict traditions, but middle names are usually a family name. My son’s middle name is aged his grandfather, his uncle & great great uncle. My daughter’s middle name is after her great grandmother. Their first names are just ones I liked, with no real significance.

  21. Calvine says...

    I am the fourth “Calvine” and we just had a daughter and decided to break the tradition. I found that these days, having the same name as your mother is logistically a nightmare – our credit cards are mixed up, I constantly get emails from her friends, we even got seated in the same seat on a plane once! So I wanted my daughter to have her own sense of identity. Her middle name is the maiden name of the original Calvine, though, so we felt we still honored a family tradition, and it certainly made it easier with my grandmother. Love hearing how others are dealing with this!

  22. For both our boys, we decided we would chose a first name that wasn’t family related – the criteria were just that we both had to like it and that it sounded pretty much the same in German and English – and a middle name that was meaningful. On my side of the family we also have the tradition that the first born son gets the grandfather’s – i.e. my dad’s – name as a middle name. Luckily I didn’t have to argue my husband on that point, as both our fathers have the same name so we could honour both grandfathers in one swoop! That also meant that for son no.2 we had free range, so we chose the English version of my German maiden name – Fuchs – as a middle name. So their full names are Oskar Thomas and Alfred Fox.

  23. Alexis says...

    I wanted to name our first daughter Eva but my husband thought it was too short and wanted it to be a nickname instead. We spent months thinking of a good given name that Eva could be the nickname for and finally settled on Evelyn. Three full weeks later he realized that Evelyn is the given name of his grandmother who he had been extremely close with growing up. He had always known her as ‘Bams’ (A shortening of the toddlerization ‘bamma’.