Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ms. B Weighs In On A Baby Name Debate

Dear Ms. B,

My husband's brother and his wife are due with the second grandchild (our daughter being the first) a week before we are due with our little boy (our rainbow baby). My husband's brother called on Sunday to tell my husband that his wife wants to use our daughter's name as the middle name for her daughter, and asked if that was ok with us. My husband's brother told us his wife "liked" the name.

A little background--I am not close to his wife, nor has she ever said a word to me about our baby, in nearly a year now of grieving her. She has not provided any support, us. My husband asked me and it pissed me off, frankly. I told him absolutely not, to tell his brother no. I am angry and upset about it.

Another detail--her baby shower is this weekend. And I have already been chewing my nails over going, simply because it's a baby shower, for a girl. When this happened, I decided not to go. I felt intruded upon, offended, etc...The way I feel about it is, I know we don't "own" her name, but it is our daughter's name, it's very unique, we came up with it from my husband's favorite piece of literature, and we should be the ones to decide if someday another little girl of ours perhaps bears her name for a middle name.

I emailed my mother-in-law, who is throwing the baby shower for my sister-in-law. I told her I probably wouldn't be able to go, and explained what had happened. She wrote me back, essentially telling me I was wrong to think that, that parents should be able to choose whatever name they want, and that the name was "up for grabs" because it's a "family name." She also told me to quit "creating" things to be sad about.  I was so incensed from her email I could hardly see straight. I wrote a snarky response, but then deleted it (amazing how age can help wisdom on those things). I haven't told my husband about her email, and may not.

I'm not sure why I'm writing this to you, other than that I think you'll understand where I'm coming from on this. I am just appalled and perplexed. I just assumed people would "get" me on this. I guess not.


Name Withheld

Dear Name Withheld,

Ms. B sympathizes tremendously with your predicament.  It is indeed a sticky situation.  Here is Ms. B's take on the issue:

Of course we don't "own" our children's names.  But it is only appropriate for friends and family to use those names if the name usage would have happened regardless of whether the child is alive or dead.  Or, in some cases, if the choice is being made specifically in honor of your child.  

This is such an important distinction, and it's really all in the way the situation is handled by the parents who are considering re-using the name you had already chosen.  It would certainly put Ms. B (and many other bereaved parents, one presumes) over the edge if it seemed that a child's death meant her name got "cancelled" and was back up for grabs.  Hopefully this is NOT the way your SIL sees the situation, but she needs to do a better job of communicating with you.

Because the name is a family name, if your SIL wanted to use it for her child's middle name, either to honor the memory of the baby you lost, and/or to carry on a family tradition (as she would have done, even if your baby were here), Ms. B thinks that is acceptable.  Once again, it might seem like an issue of semantics, but it's really about compassion, empathy, and tact.  ms. B is certain the entire situation would feel different if your SIL (or MIL) had an ounce of any one of those qualities.

Anyway, the way Ms. B sees it, you can cause a stink and see if your SIL changes her mind (which, given your MIL's response to you, seems unlikely).

Or, you can kill them with kindness (even if it's through gritted teeth).  Ms. B suggests that you e-mail your SIL and your MIL and say that although you were surprised by the idea at first, you've thought it over and now you realize that this is a beautiful way for them to honor your daughter.  (Keep the focus of the e-mail on your baby).

You might mention that keeping your daughter's memory alive is so important to you and your husband, and now you see that your niece's middle name will be a lovely, though poignant, reminder of her cousin, which gives the family name even more of a special meaning.

If you want, you could even say that if you are ever lucky enough to have another baby girl, you will also use that same name as her middle name, for precisely those reasons--because it's a family name that is also in memory of your first child.  It could actually be a lovely way to link three little girl cousins!

Ms. B assumes that if your SIL wants to use the name "because she likes it" and, in doing so, pretend that your daughter didn't exist, this approach would demonstrate (in a non-objectionable way) that's not going to happen.  And if she feels uncomfortable about honoring your daughter and her memory as she names her own baby, then she will likely reconsider and choose a different name.

But no way would Ms. B bother to attend that baby shower.  Send a nice gift and treat yourself to a shopping trip or a matinee instead.

Readers?  Anyone ever found themselves in this predicament?  Was it peacefully resolved?  Ms. B and Name Withheld would love to hear your points of view.

Wishing you the very best,
Ms. B


  1. Oooooh, I am seething over this. I would have had a fit at the first mention of using the name from someone wanting to use it bc they "liked" it vs in memory of your daughter. And then I would have lost it completely at the insensitivity of the MIL. I am not as forgiving as I would usually be, and I do not know how I would be able to get past that MIL and her terrible reaction. I think she is worse than the SIL at this point. Buuuuuuut, I'm sure you can be the bigger person as Mrs. B [rightfully] suggested. I think that is a good idea... To approach them using the name in memory of your daughter, as you will likely do one day, as well. As insensitive as them seem to be, that will probably turn them off from using the name. And no way would go to that shower, but I wouldn't have considered it in the first place either (I just cannot do baby showers at this point). Good luck! And good advice, Mrs. B!!

  2. sigh, i can't believe how cold and thoughtless people can be.

    i've never been in this situation myself, but i would also be upset if someone wanted to use Julius name because they "liked it" or because they thought that it was now up for grabs because he is gone.

    and the shower situation is a hard one only because of the family link. but i would find some way to get out of it.

  3. Where is the "like" button for blog posts?? This was an excellent answer.

    I haven't been in this predicament, thankfully, though when I was finally pregnant with my first (when my older sister was already on #4), I made sure to tell her our chosen girl's name and that it was "off limits"; the first name was one I didn't expect she'd have an interest in, but the middle name was the name of our great-grandmother, a truly awesome woman. When she asked me a month or two before her daughter was born if it was OK if they also used it as a middle name, I was at first a bit put out (I'd told her I had dibs on it!) but then the fact that she'd actually asked, because I'd had dibs on it, made me more willing to say "OK". After all, Grandma Rose was her great-grandma too, and I do like the idea of the cousins having this link.

  4. I agree with Molly that wow, this makes me angry. MIL is so way out of line and I am sorry that some people can be so incredibly insensitive.
    I like Ms. B's response and think it is appropriate (a tad passive aggressive, but warranted). It is more likely to allow Name Withheld to feel good about herself and the name situation while also smoothing things over more than a big fight would.
    I did not go to my SIL's baby shower and I have no regrets about this decision!

  5. I don't understand why the SIL asked if it was Ok to use the name if she didn't really want permission, I wish people would own their decisions and not pretend to be sensitive when really they aren't.

  6. Your advice on this is perfect!

    We used Olivia's name as Luke's middle name (Lucas Oliver) before anyone else could. I don't know that we will use her name again with another baby, although I'd have to think more about it (like if we ever have another girl, I might give her little sister the same middle name, etc., but I'd have to think more about it.

  7. I love this reply, too. I hate that we even have to consider these situations, but I know I was very cOncerned that my inlaws know our babies' names before they went to my sil's gender reveal party for the exact reason. We knew they weren't likely to use our daughter's first or middle names, but since our son's middle name IS a family name (my hubby's and his dad's), I made it nicely clear to my sil that "Paul" had been taken and was off limits. (our situation was complicated inthat I didn't trust my hubby's family to remember the names so I created birth/name announcement cards, but it was painful and took a long time, so they weren't received until just before the party, nearly 3 monhs after our loss.) Passive aggressive or not, I think Ms. B's suggestion is totally warrantes in this case.

  8. Awesome advice. I couldn't agree more.

  9. My sister used Hope's name as a middle name for her first baby Lucy, born 18 or so months after Hope. We were flattered. I also threw my sister a very, VERY small baby shower (that was about as non-baby as they come) and she was in full support of it all, as was I with her using the name.
    That said though, I can fully appreciate the situation Name Withheld finds herself in. It depends on the relationships you have with people, and I'm lucky my relationship with my sister is very good.
    Love your response.

  10. This has me fuming. I agree that a name can be used in a way that honours your child, but this is so obviously not the case here. This whole scenario is so dismissive and insensitive. This is not a name that you thought of using and then didn't - this is a name that belonged to someone - a real person. Therefore that does not mean the name is "up for grabs."

    I hesitate to disagree with everyone else, but I actually disagree with falsely telling her that you're happy that she wants to honour your child. You're not happy, and I don't think she'll necessarily back away from the name. She may very well take that as an opportunity to use the name AND to come across looking like a sweetheart who is doing a lovely gesture. If she uses it you'll always be angry about it, and rightfully so. Since she asked for your permission I would tell her, calmly and even sincerely, that no, you would appreciate if she did not use it. I would say that it has very special meaning to you, and since it's simply a case of "liking" the name, perhaps she could choose another name she likes and that you plan on using it as a middle name for your future daughter.

    Sorry for the long response, but I've been in a hurtful naming scenario before and years later, I'm still upset about it. I found out about the chosen name in the middle of the baby shower, which I was already having a difficult time enduring. I still think about that moment from time to time, and well up just thinking about it.

    Love your blog, and love all the advice you give. I've had many good cries here, relating to so much that you've shared. De-lurking to share my point of view on this one, as it's something that still stings.

  11. Hmmmm, I'm kind of agreeing with Jillian after hearing her point. Wouldn't that just be something if she chose to use the name and then came off looking good for it, even tho we all know that's not why she wants to use it? Good idea about telling her that it bothers you. Although I do not think she will get it.

  12. Recently a friend of mine asked me what I'd think if someone wanted to name their child Cale. she is pregnant and I knew was getting at the fact that she likes the name, but she wouldn't say to me that was her reason for asking (although she later told my husband that it was on her list of boy names). Anyway, I told her that I wouldn't want our family and friends to use it. That I understand I don't own the name and I will come across people who have a child named Cale, but it's one thing if it's a coincidence, it's another if someone does it now, knowing us, and not doing it in honor of our son, but rather because they liked the name.

    I think Name Withheld needs to just be frank and honest. In the end she will feel best if she is upfront of her feelings, if she withholds anything she will regret it - especially if they do use the name.

  13. I'm way late on this, dammit.

    If anyone I knew chose to use Andrew's name "because they liked it" and not to honor him, I'd have WORDS. Especially family. They better be naming that child to honor that child-- otherwise it's not acceptable.

    And that baby shower? Hah.

  14. Oh, I am so with everyone on this. It's one thing if she came to you & specifically said, "We'd like to name her in honour of her cousin." I don't get the feeling at all that that's the intention here.

    I remember a situtation where one of our clients' SILs arrived at a family gathering flaunting a brand new tattoo -- with the name of the client's stillborn baby on it. The mom was furious that the SIL hadn't asked first. "If anyone gets a tattoo with my baby's name, it should be ME," she said. She felt it was more of an attention-getting thing than a true tribute to her baby.

  15. I agree with Molly that wow, this makes me angry. MIL is so way out of line and I am sorry that some people can be so incredibly insensitive.