This blog has moved! Please join us over at!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: Using the Namesake Name of Someone Who Hated Her Name

Beth writes:
My friend Jenny suggested we email you guys because we are having serious naming problems.

The parameters:

*Our last name starts with M and is too short to support an M name.

*We don't know the gender

*We are small people and while we are great runners and in good shape I'm pretty sure this kid is going to be a bit of a nerd, and small and if it's like me at all, lack all hand-eye coordination. So if it is a boy we'd like to avoid names that rhyme with jerk or can be made into horrible rhymes.

*We either want the middle name Rae or Ray for my paternal grandmother or something after my mom but here's the thing - my mom, who died a few years ago, was named Bernice. But she hated her name. She once tried to change it at camp and wandered off when everyone was screaming JUNE! because she forgot she had changed her name.

*For boy names we like names that end in -en or -an and we love old fashioned names that have awesome nicknames (Sebastian, with Baz as the nickname, is a contender)

*We like old fashioned girl names too, and we have a few. Boy names are way harder for some reason

*But here's the biggest problem. Because of what I do, I can't actually come "out" to a lot of people - I'm not like in the military or anything. So it is really just me, my husband and my pregnant insomnia working overtime.

Thanks! And in the interim thank you for having the site which is perfect for reading over 3 am peanut butter.

The mother-namesake dilemma has seized my attention, so let's start with that. I know from previous posts on this subject that we as a group have mixed feelings about using a honor name when the person-to-be-honored hated the name. My own opinion is that there's a difference between hating one's own name and not wanting it used for a namesake---but that this is why we have to apply such things on a case-by-case basis. There are people who would be indignant and upset if you used their hated name on a baby, and there are people who would be even more deeply honored that you loved them enough to use the name they think would be a challenge to use. (It's one thing to name a baby after your Grandma Grace when the name Grace is fully in style, and another thing entirely to name a baby after your Grandma Earline when the name Earline is not.) There are people who would say grouchily "I don't know why you'd want to give a name like mine to a baby!" and continue saying it every time they saw you, and there are people who would find they loved their own name more after seeing it on a sweet little baby.

In the case of your mom's name, you'll have to guess. Or since she is not here to care one way or another if her name is used, you could consider what the other people in your family will think about it: will they think, shocked, "But Bernice always HATED her name!!" or will they think "Oh, how nice!" Or you can consider how you personally will think of it: will you wince thinking of how she hated her name, or will it bring to mind only your mother herself?

If you decide not to use her name, there are many interesting options to consider.

1. Would her middle name or her maiden name work?

2. Use June: she WISHED it were her name. Or any other name she repeatedly mentioned as a name she'd rather have had.

3. Are there any names she repeatedly said she wished she'd used on a child, or did she ever mention she'd love to have a grandchild named ____?

4. Did she have a nickname she went by, something that could be used as a name?

5. I see in The Oxford Dictionary of First Names that a nickname for Bernice is Binnie. That's adorable.

6. I think it's reaching to use names that "have the same meaning" as the name in question, but it's a fairly common practice. Bernice means "she who brings victory"; other names with similar meanings (according to Baby Names Made Easy) are Colette, Jaia, Jocelyn, Nicole, Veronica, Victoria. But would any of those bring your mother to your mind?

7. I also think it's reaching to do "same first initial" namesakes---but again, it's fairly common practice. Any B name would fit this. But again: would any of those bring your mother to your mind?

8. Now I will REALLY reach, because we're here anyway: could you use your mom's birthstone, or birth month, or birth month flower? Would anything special to her (a collection, a favorite saint, a favorite location, a favorite flower) work as a name?

9. Do you have another honor name you'd like to use that could be combined with Bernice? For example, if your husband's mother was named Jeannine, you might be able to pull off a Jennice sort of thing.

I think if it were me and if it were my mom, I would use her name in the middle name slot as-is. Everyone else would know what I meant by it, even if my mom had always hated her name (it's not like anyone would think I was intending anything but an affectionate honor), and also I know my own mom would be pleased by the honor even if she didn't like the name---just as she'd likely be pleased if I kept a framed photo of her, even if she'd never liked the way she looked. And besides, she wouldn't be here to mind anymore, so I'd be using the name for my own sentimental reasons and to be reminded of her and to let my daughter have something belonging to the grandmother she didn't get a chance to know. Using Veronica or Bridget wouldn't give me any of those same things, just as framing a photo of someone else's mother wouldn't be a workaround.

I just had one more idea. I'm not sure I can think of any good examples that work, and we might need to make up some names, but I kind of love the concept: we'd HIDE your mom's name within your daughter's name. Like this: Ember Nicelle. September Nicelle. Berni Cecile. Aubern Icene. Main problem: pretty much NOTHING ends with -bern or starts with Nice-, and certainly nothing old-fashioned, and I totally had to make up and/or misspell names to get even a few unlikely examples. We could start playing with spelling, but then it's like all those kids named Naveah and Neveah: it doesn't make sense if it doesn't have a hidden word in it anymore. Sigh. Well, I suppose the idea is a bust, but it might work for other people trying to use a name in similar circumstances.

I will tear myself away from this topic and turn my attention to the other issue. An old-fashioned boy name, not starting with M, ideally ending with -n, ideally appropriate for a small-framed nerdy type, with good nicknames. Hm. I came up pretty dry on that, but we will hope the commenters have more success.

Alexander (Alex, Zan, Xander)
Augustus (Gus)
Benjamin (Ben)
Calvin (Cal)
Ezekiel (Zeke)
Judah (Jude)
Leopold (Leo)
Nathaniel (Nate)
Solomon (Sol)
Theodore (Theo)
Wilson (Will)

I think your choice of Sebastian/Baz is best, though I am also partial to Wilson/Will and Augustus/Gus and Calvin/Cal.


Jennifer said...

I love Sebastian and August! I also could see Jude working with your description. I also love Hayden personally, and it ends in -en.

For the Bernice issue I prefer it as a middle name as Swistle suggested. I also like the name June since your mom wanted to have that name. Maybe June Bernice!

Point #9 brought to mind a certain SNL skit with a character named Junice (June - eese). I couldn't help but comment on this.

Beth said...

An alternative to Sebastian/Baz might be Sullivan/Sully/Van Sullivan Ray M.

I think I like Sebastian better but Sullivan is similar in my mind and a little less popular.

And I'm with Swistle: if you have a girl and want to honour your mother I'd just use Bernice, as is, in the middle name slot (unless you don't really like it either and are just feeling compelled to honour her).

Natalia said...

I love the name Bernice, so I'm a little biased here! I have the variation Berenice on my list of favorite names. I adore how Bernice Rae sounds!

Apart from my personal taste which obviously your mother didn't share, I think I'll use Bernice as a middle name and I think June Bernice is the perfect way to pay homage to your mom.

Other combinations using old-fashioned names that I like are:

Charlotte Bernice (love it!! use this!)
Clara Bernice
Norah Bernice

Swistle's idea of hiding the name is great but as she says I don't think it'll work out for you. I played a little bit with names and the best I could think of was Amber Nicea. But it's a great idea for future reference!

For a boy, I love Sebastian with nn Baz! But let me share with you some other options ending with -en or -an that I like:


What about Finnegan with nn Finn? Or Maximilian nn Max?

Please share with us your thoughts and your final decision! Best of luck!!

Sarah said...

I believe Bernice and Veronica are alternative versions of the same name (I think Bernice is Greek and Veronica is Latin). Even if Veronica is not necessarily your style, you can get excellent nicknames, like Ronnie (from the Ronettes! No? Just me? Okay) or Nica (I knew a Nica (NEE-ka) in college).

Karen L said...

I'd be in favour of using Bernice, even though your mother didn't like it. except. For me, the initials BM would be a deal-breaker. Maybe they aren't to you, but it's one of those things to go into knowingly, rather than have it pointed out when the ink is dry on the birth certificate, y'know?

But I LOVE Swistle's suggestion of June.

Guinevere said...

I would feel better about the use of Veronica than many of the other names, because Veronica and Berenice are linguistically related - they are different forms of the same name.
And I think Vera would be a very pleasing, old-fashioned nickname if Ronnie doesn't work for you.

If you're open to more than one middle name, you have more to work with:
BER:Amber/Berit/Bernadine/Berthe/Beryl/any of the month names

I don't know how old-fashioned you like your old-fashioned name, but Beryl and Nigella are really fetching in a very hipster old-fashioned way.

Does using Bernard on a boy seem more honoring?

Or you could do the same hidden name strategy for a boy -- more easily, actually. I think Bertram, nickname Bertie, is ADORABLE, and Nicolas or Niles or Nigel and Cecil or Cedric or Cesar are more old-fashioned choices.

But, some old-fashioned ends-in-n choices:
Napoleon - Leon or even Leo for short?
Julian (or Jolyon, better nicknames?)
Ruben - perhaps too many sandwich problems for a socially awkward kid

Boy names ending in N, and use more of the style restrictions:

Anonymous said...

What about Bernadette...its close and may have a similar nickname to Bernice. Ah but the B.M. problem.

Anonymous said...

I adore the name June and think it would be the perfect way to honour the spirit of your mom. It was the name she wanted as a girl, so it would be so sweet to name your girl this. And that story is hilarious; it would be great have the lovely honour of being named after one's grandmother, in a unique way, with a funny story to go with it!

I also think the name Veronica is fabulous, and so under-used (I guess because of the comic book moniker?) Veronica Rae is such a fabulous name I can hardly stand it. If you were to have another child, and a boy, Veronica & Sebastien go so well together - Nica and Baz! June & Sebastien, June & Baz are also great.

Which leads me to my opinion for your boy name - go with Sebastian/Baz! I also like Solomon/Sol and Nathaniel/Nate.

Swistle often recommends thinking of potential sibling names if you hope to have more than one child, so this may help when thinking of either the boy or girl name.

Though I don't know you at all, I really like the idea of honour your mother with a name so I hope you do, in some way!

Anonymous said...

June is beautiful and elegant and I agree, a wonderful way to honor your mother in a non-traditional way!

The initials BM would definitely be a deal breaker for me.


Alice said...

I was going to draw attention to the Berenice/Veronica relationship as well but everyone beat me to it. I love the name Veronica and think it's a nice way to honor your mom without using a name she didn't like.

I love Sebastian, nickname Baz, and would have strongly considered it if my daughter had been a boy. Some others that sort of fit your criteria:

Evan (Ev)
Austin (Oz)
Abram/Abraham (Bram)
Caspian (Caz)
Riordan (Rory)
Larsen (Lars)

StephLove said...

I may be biased toward June as it is my daughter's name, but that would make a great story.

A name that seems very close to Bernice in terms of sounds, but more current is Beatrice. The most straightforward way to honor your mom, though, would be to use her actual name as a middle. June Bernice, as someone suggested, or Rae Bernice.

For a boy, I think Sebastian is great. It seems to meet all your parameters. I also liked Swistle's suggestion of Alexander with the nn Xander (or Sasha). Or Christopher (Topher). My favorite ends-in-n boy names are Ian and Owen, though those are short on the nn possibilities.

Brittany said...

I love the idea of using either Veronica (and I think Ronnie and Vera both make good nicknames) or June (excellent story!) to honor your mother, or using Bernice as a middle name, unless you really like it and want to use it as a first name. Rae is beautiful as well, and I like Sebastian for a boy.

I wanted to chime in about the BM initial issue as well. My initials (for almost 29 years, until I got married) were BAM, or BM. So the full set sort of spelled a word, and BM for the initials. When I would hear someone rarely use BM to describe the bodily function, it was not my favorite, but I LOVE my initials and was not bothered by them. I can understand why it would feel like a deal breaker for others, but as someone who lived with the initials, it was not a problem for me at all. No teasing, and I wouldn't want any other name or initials!

gail said...

I'm concerned that one of the first things you mention is that your last name is very short, and although I love the name June I'm not sure it works as a first name if your last is very short, and it seems that other commenters are giving you this advice. It would work perfectly fine in the middle.

The other thing I would add is that most of us go through life with very few others ever knowing our middle name. The most important thing is finding a first name that you love that sounds good with your last name--nearly anything can work in the middle.

Swistle's answer to you is fascinating, practically a dissertation, some of the best reading I've done today.

For boys, consider Callahan. It's a bit longer than Calvin, but still ends in "n" and has the cool nickname Cal.

vanessa said...

I'm totaly confused--what on earth do you mean you can;t come out? As what? Pregnant? Choosing a name for the baby?
I love Sebastian/Baz. I also know a Sebastian who goes y Sebi, which I love.
As for Bernice, I got nothing. I would use whatever brings your mother most to mind--you aren't doing it for her, and if I were you I think I'd want something that made me remember my mother. This is a case where I think you can go a bit looser with the name, because it isn;t going to bother your mom (I hope that doesn't sound insensitive, I can't figure out how to phrase it!) so you can use whatever makes your mom feel more present.

Let us know!

The Mrs. said...

The June story is the most charming thing I've read today. Your daughter would dimple up over hearing how much her late grandmother longed to have her name. SO. PERFECT.

As for a fellow, what about Franklin? Frank M- is nice. Wallace is masculine and has the off-beat nickname of Wall. Ruston is from a generation past, and it has the nickname of Russ.

Best wishes to you and your growing family!

Anonymous said...

As Gail wrote, you mention your short last name. I too am a fan of the name June. If it is too *short* with your last name, you could consider Juna. Juna Rae is a stellar name! One of my favourite books is by a writer named Djuna Barnes (the "d" is silent!) Here's a link:

christine said...

For boys I really like Isaac and Simon!

I don't know if I would use Bernice if it was a name that my loved one didn't like. My grandmothers both have/had some names. Neither of which are used in this country or with any regularity...they were pretty adamant that my mother not name us after them. That said, one grandmother went by Lily and the other by Ellie, so I plan on working them in somehow. I kind of love the name June, by itself and it ties into a really sweet story about your mom. I think that's what I would use. Your daughter would not only get a name that your mother once "tried on" for lack of a better term, but a really nice little story to feel connected by.

Best wishes on the little one!

Angie said...

If June works with your last name, I don't think you need to look any further. You said you like old-fashioned, and June just happens to be old-fashioned. June Bernice sounds rather nice I think.

If June doesn't work with your short last name, I think Veronica June is lovely.

Beth said...

Hey, I'm the OP/Question asker and just wanted to thank you guys so much. He's due in May, and he's a boy and right now Sebastian Zel (Bash for short) is a top contender, Zel maybe as the first name, possible Declan (my choice) or Zachary (my husbands) unless we meet him and decide he's a Bob or what have you. But I will update you. In the meantime Thanks Swistlers!!!!