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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: An Important Honor Name is Not the Parents' Style

Stephanie writes:
I need your help....again!  You and your readers gave me the push I needed to name our last baby, and you addressed a naming quandary I was worried about early in a previous pregnancy [naming a second son after someone when the first son already had a name honoring the same relative].  Sadly, that pregnancy ended in a loss.  Ecstatically, we are finally expecting our third child, due December 15, but expected to be early.  We just found out that this baby is a girl, so that eliminates the previous honor name quandary, but introduces a different one!

We have a son Thomas (family surname) M. and a daughter, Audrey Kathryn M.  Both middle names are our middle names, with my son's middle name going back several generations as a middle name. Our naming style is traditional (that less common spelling of Katherine is my mother's fault :) ), and we have a short list of candidates from before. We are not in love with them, but DH hates most female names. I can live with this though.  The issue now, is the middle name.  I desperately want (need) to honor my grandmother here.  The reasons are highly emotionally tied to her death shortly after my daughter's birth and the two losses we suffered last year.  So, what's the issue?  Her name was, well, not our style.  D0nna Je@n Lew1s.

Can your readers brainstorm for me?  A great classic first name and a middle name honoring my grandmother?  Candidate first names are:  Anne or Anna, Mary or Marie or some other variant.  I like Elizabeth and Margaret, but DH does not.  My favorite idea for a middle name is Lew1s or Anna Je@n but DH isn't sold.  Naming our son was so easy! Girls are just hard for us.  Flow with the last name isn't a big issue.

Here is what it is going to come down to: on one side of the scale is your desperate need to honor your grandmother by using her name, and on the other side of the scale is the fact that her name is not the style you'd normally choose. Which seems like a more important side of the scale? It would be completely reasonable for you to decide you'd rather choose a name you like better, and to find other ways to honor your grandmother.

It's true the name Donna isn't in style for today's babies, but that's also true of most of the names of adults we'd like to honor: each new generation kicks out of fashion most of the previous generation's names. (Exceptions to this may find themselves with an unexpectedly high number of namesakes.) I think it's even part of the reason namesakes are considered such an honor: it means something to sacrifice fashion for significance. If you were intent on using the name as a first name, I might reluctantly agree that it was not going to work---but in the middle name position, style seems like a very minor matter. Many of your baby's peers will also have out-of-fashion middle names, and for similar reasons.

You could play around with names that aren't your grandmother's, trying to make those names honor her, but all of them will be a significant step down in honor. You could use the same initials, use a name with similar sounds or letters, use a name with a similar meaning, use one of her nicknames, combine names to make a different name, use an updated version of the name, use the name of one of your grandmother's relatives, etc. For each possible solution, think to yourself, "Does this name bring my grandmother immediately to my mind? Would my grandmother recognize this as a tribute to her?" If yes, then they are good options.

If you called your grandmother "Grandma Lewis," you might find that the name Lewis brings her to your mind more quickly even than her first name---though if you're like me, it brings to mind the entire side of the family and not just one person. You could use her middle name; it's done commonly enough. But for me, my grandparents' middle names don't bring my grandparents to my mind, whereas their first names do.

Each time I re-read your letter (as well as the additional part not for publication), what stands out to me is that you are not just doing this because you loved your grandmother and feel warmly about the idea of using her name, but because you NEED your daughter to have her name. So in your case, I don't recommend any compromise names or fixes; I strongly urge you to go directly for the name Donna. I recommend saying it over and over in your mind until it does that thing where words/names turn into combinations of sounds, and see if that helps you hear the sound that caused so many parents to choose the name for their daughters to begin with. You could also see if you preferred it as a double middle name: Donna Jean, or Donna Lewis. This has the additional benefit of dramatically strengthening the connection to your grandmother.

In time, whether your daughter's middle name is to your tastes or not will, I hope, pale in comparison to the comfort and satisfaction it will bring you to be able to say to her "You were named for my grandmother," and tell her the stories you want to tell her. And the good news is that names tend to come around again: by the time your daughter is grown, she may be like one of the current lucky women who have suddenly found that their previously-disliked middle names of Emma or Abigail are now considered wonderful.

The other comforting thought is that middle names are rarely used or thought of after the birth announcements go out. When you do think of her middle name, it will almost always be because of your grandmother---so, with feelings of love and happiness. All the rest of the time, you will be thinking of her first name, which can be something more in your style.

Anna Donna has some appeal to me, as do Maria Donna and Mary Donna, or maybe Marianne Donna or Annemarie Donna. People tend to be split on whether they like two names in a row with -a endings; I tend to be in favor. And because the honor name is so important here, I would only barely consider flow anyway.

I wish I could suggest one of my own favorite names, Eliza, but the movie My Fair Lady has forever connected Audrey Hepburn and Eliza Doolittle in my mind. Maybe Eloise would work? Eloise Donna.

I was also thinking Ella Donna sounded so beautiful to me---and then realized it was certainly because of Belladonna.

With siblings named Thomas and Audrey, I would lean heavily on the Timeless section of The Baby Name Wizard. Here are some of my favorites:

Abigail Donna
Caroline Donna
Cecily Donna
Charlotte Donna
Clara Donna
Cora Donna
Eleanor Donna
Elsa DonnaEmily Donna
Eva Donna
Eve Donna Jean
Grace Donna Jean
Greta Donna
Hope Donna Jean
Ivy Donna
Jane Donna Lewis
Josephine Donna
Julia Donna
Laura Donna
Leah Donna
Miriam Donna
Naomi Donna
Nora Donna
Rose Donna Jean
Sarah Donna

Name update! Stephanie writes:
I am certain neither of us expected this update to come so soon, but baby girl M had other plans.  She arrived two weeks ago at just 25 weeks, while we were on a vacation!  So far, Mary Lewis M. Is proving to be a tough little fighter with the feisty spunk of her namesake. We were caught off guard with having to name her before we had settled on a name.  It felt strange to use her name for at least the first week, but I'm used to it now, and we love the simplicity of her very traditional first name.  I will send a picture once she is bigger and stronger.  For now, know that we appreciated the input from you and your readers!


Ashley Lauren said...

Great suggestions! What about Lou to connect with Lewis? Mary Lou, Anna Lou.

AirLand said...

I think you should use Donna as the middle name. Maybe thinking about it a bit differently would warm you to it? A first name ending in "a" or an Italian sounding name totally changes my feelings about the name Donna. Brings it out of the 70s and makes it seem pretty again.

Donna is the Italian word for woman... Which is why it sounds pretty good with a name like Maria.

Other ideas:

If Lewis was your grandmother's married name, could you use her maiden name?

Swistle had the idea of using two-names-in-one for the first name, but what about doing that for the middle name? You could combine Donna with one of your favorite names- I like Annadonna the best. Marydonna, or Mariadonna would work as well.

Anonymous said...

Since Anna is sometimes used as a short form of Donna, I think that is a great first name choice, if you really aren't sold on Donna. Anna Lewis is a lovely name and it honors your grandmother twice!

I think Donna is a great name. It doesn't clash too much with Audrey or Thomas, and I bet she would be the only Donna in her class. Donna Charlotte, Donna Elizabeth, and Donna Marie are quite nice.

Since Donna means lady, you could look for names with the same meaning, or that use Lady as a nickname, or use Lady as a first name! Lady Lewis is adorable. With Adelaide (which may be too close to Audrey), you can use the nickname Laidey or Lady. Adelaide Lewis, Adelaide Marie, or Adelaide Jean are also very nice names.

Anonymous said...

I like Swistle's suggestion of a double first name with Donna as the middle. Annemarie Donna is wonderful! I also like Anna Jean as first/middle or even Anna Jean as a double barrel first with the middle Donna. Anna Jean Donna. Mary Jean would also work if you wanted to do this.

Jill said...

When I read that your grandma's last name was Lewis, I immediately thought of Louise. It is my own personal favorite and using it with Donna would make for a really special honor name that might be more your style. Louise Donna M. Thomas, Audrey and Louise. She could be "Lew" :)

Swistle said...

Anonymous 12:20- I could be wrong (some things are regional), but I don't think Anna is considered a short form of Donna.

Anonymous said...

You could reverse the name order and play off of that. You may have more options. I personally love any name combined with Mary. MaryJean is beautiful. You could use Dawn as an alternate to Donna as well. Or choose a first name you love and have Donna Jean as a double middle name. That way you do not compromise the integrity of the honor name:

Here's just a few possibilities:
MaryJean Dawn
MaryAnn Jean
MaryAnn Dawn
AnnaDawn Jean
AnnaJean Dawn
MaryAnn Donna Jean
Jeana Dawn (love this)
Jeanna Donna
DawnAnna Jean

You get the picture. Let us know what you decide to use Best of luck!

Helena said...

I've also never heard of Anna as short for Donna, but perhaps that's regional, as Swistle suggested.

I agree with Swistle that no one really pays attention to middle names after the birth announcement. My friend's middle names are family surnames, "old" names, names with significance, etc. I only know them because I'm a name nerd. I'm sure other people would be pressed to remember these names!

Wendy said...

You know, I was thinking as I read that some form of Jeanna would be another option (Donna Jean.... Jean Donna.... Jeanna) for the middle name. I also really like the middle name of Jean, but Donna is nice as well.

My daughter is named Audrey Kate, so I'm thinking we have similar naming styles..

Miriam Jean
RoseMarie Donna
Genevieve Donna

All the best to you!

Heidi J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heidi J said...

I really like the suggestions of Grace, Leah, Nora and Rose for you.

For the middle name, if you want to use the "combine names to make a different name" option, you could combine Donna Jean to make the name Deana (Deen-uh).

Kimberly said...

There's always the option to give you daughter the first name Donna, but call her by her middle name. I know quite a few people who go by their middle name. I think Donna Marie sounds pretty, and you could call her Marie. I liked an above commenter's suggestion of Genevieve, you could name her Donna Genevieve and call her Genevieve. Audrey and Genevieve sound lovely together.

Anonymous said...

I think D0nna Je@n L0uise is beautiful. True, I haven't met another Donna since I went to school with one 35 years ago, but just because it is not in style doesn't mean it isnt beautiful. And it has a huge significance for you, and losing your last baby I feel gives you the right to 'win' this one. It has lovely sound and meaning, she will be the only one in her class, and you will think if your grandmother every time you say her name. It actually sounds totally fine with Thomas and Audrey. Please follow your heart. I will always regret not pushing harder to give my daughter my grandmothers name.

Anonymous said...

love Louise! jean Louise like in tkam is cute! Elouise is great too. Jane and Deanna could be versions if jean and Donna. or June. ooh even better Junia! Junia Louise Donna!

Rita said...

I would go for a classic first name - but one that sounds feminine and "light" in comparison to Donna. Love the suggestions of Emily, Eve and Clara!

Alice Donna
Annabelle Donna
Beatrice Donna
Cecily Donna
Emmeline Donna
Madeline Donna
Mary Donna
Olivia Donna
Sophie Donna

Use a form of her the name: Donella, Donata, or Donatella are nice. Then tere's always Louise & Louisa to honour her last name.

Stephanie said...

I think Donna is a beautiful name. I relate the name Donna to the character in the TV series "The West Wing" (Donnatella Moss). She's a lovely and endearing character in the series, so the name only has positive associations for me.

From your names, I like Mary Donna best. If DH does not like Margaret, maybe Greta Donna or Greta Jean?

I also love the name Adelaide Donna, and it has nicknames Ally/Ellie/Addy.

Bethany Haid said...

I like Rita's comments above and he names Swistle recommends in her list. I personally disliked first names with a vowel sound like Maria or Elsa because of how Donna ends. For what it's worth, I like classic honor names too and both my kids were named with the help of Swistle, so if you look at their comments it could be helpful! Their names are Daniel Henry Hyde and Elsa Catherine Haid.

Anonymous said...

'Stephanie' here :) Thank you all for your ideas. I actually floated Louise/Louisa at DH but he prefers going straight to Lewis, which would definitely have been the middle name for a boy. Lewis was actually her maiden name, her married name is very surname-y and would actually feel like honoring my grandpa to me (who is also a very awesome person and was honored with my nephew's birth). She was always Grandma Donna to us, but Lewis does still make me think of her very much. Genevieve was actually one of her sister's names, and was also shot down by DH (and I never met her, so seemed weird to use her name). I think we'll just have to warm up to one of the three names. As swistle alluded to, I gave her the full reason I need this and it really does come down to a very emotional need. Having swistle recognize that in her response is the kind of shove I think I needed to hear :)

Jan said...

I like the longer first names with Donna that have been suggested - Caroline, Josephine, Genevieve. I'm in the camp that doesn't like a repeated 'a' sound. I think any of those would also go well with Lewis as a middle name.

Anonymous said...

I really like the name Joy for this baby. Joy Donna or Joy Donna Jean. Thomas, Audrey & Joy. How lovely is that?

Slim said...

Would either of you warm up to a variant of Donna or Jean? Aural variant, that is, or in charades terms, "sounds like." -- Dana? Gina?

I know these aren't in the same style as your preferred names (which I love) and aren't as traditionally Anglo, but could they work?

FWIW, I love last-name middle names.

Lauren said...

I'm going to echo Swistle's suggestion of repeating Donna over and over again to yourself. My first reaction upon reading your letter was that Donna sounded old-fashioned (and not in a good way), but the more I read it and said it in my head, the more pleasing it became to me.

I think it's a lovely, classic name that goes great with both her siblings, but especially with Audrey--Audrey and Donna. I love how the strong D ties them together, but they're both their own sounds! As you can see, my suggestion would be to go with Donna as the first name since it means so much to you.

However, I'm going to add two other suggestions which I personally like with Donna (or Donna Jean) as a middle name. I haven't seen others suggest them, so maybe I'm unique in liking the way they sound (since perhaps they don't flow together the way it seems a lot of people like?), but these things are rather subjective, and since the honor name is so important, it strikes me that the way they sound together is not as important as loving both the first name and the middle name. Anyway:

Elizabeth Donna (or Elizabeth Donna Jean)
Helen Donna (or Helen Donna Jean)

Congratulations on your new addition, and my sympathies for your losses.

Anonymous said...

I had the same problem when naming my daughter. I really wanted to name her for my grandmother (Elfrieda) but I was absolutely unwilling to use that name and I knew she would have felt the same way. So I chose the name of my grandmother's mother who was very special to her and had died when she was very young. Really it made no difference since my grandmother died the year before my daughter was born. But I knew she would have been pleased by my choice. Even though some would say it diminishes the honour of the name, for my situation I felt it was perfect. My daughter, who is now 9, knows who she is named for and the reasons for our choice.

StephLove said...

I agree if the honor is the most important thing it makes sense to use Donna as the first or middle.

I was going to suggest Louise, but I see that's been nixed already.

Janelle said...

I have to agree with Swistle, and I would use Donna as the middle name. Like some other poster said, the more I've thought about the name, the prettier it becomes.

I used the "would I want this name myself" test, and found that, yes, if it meant I would have the name of my grandmother, I would. For me, the association with a beloved family member trumps the current fashion of the name. How wonderful for your daughter to grow up hearing all about how she was named for such a lovely lady!

Janelle said...

Just to add: Mary Donna is my favorite combination.

Best of luck!

Christina said...

Donna seems quite similar to Anna on your list, would thinking of it like that help?

Ms. Key said...

I say use Donna as the middle name, no matter what. There are lots of beautiful, classic names that flow really well with Thomas and Audrey, and would sound perfectly matched with Donna as the middle. I like the sounds of a three or four syllable first name with Donna.


Cecelia Donna; Thomas, Audrey and Cecelia

Jocelyn Donna; Thomas, Audrey and Jocelyn

Elena Donna; Thomas, Audrey and Elena

Isabelle Donna; Thomas, Audrey and Isabelle

Annabel Donna; Thomas, Audrey and Annabel

Meredith Donna; Thomas, Audrey and Meredith

Brianna Donna; Thomas, Audrey and Brianna

Olivia Donna; Thomas, Audrey and Olivia

Surely said...

Is it too much to find use the word "grandma" from a different language?

In German, it's is "Oma", for instance.

Too weird?

My mom & mother-in-law's names are both Donna. (Donna Leigh, both of them) It's a very 50's name to me

liz said...

I love Anna DonnaJean.

Or Mary DonnaJean.

But I also have always liked Donna as a first name and to me Thomas and Audrey and Donna sound perfectly fine as sibling names.

phancymama said...

After saying the name Donna over and over to myself, I am really liking it. Especially if I say it with a light / up ending, like I would say Bella.
I also really like the suggestion of Donatella, or using a double name like Donna Maria, or Donna Lucia. That feels like it updates the name from the 1950s.
And I agree that the name Donna may come back around again. It (and Jean and Lewis) are all good names, just a little out of fashion.

Personal experience: I was named after my grandmother, and our name was top ten from 1935-1955. (I was born 1976) So I really had a "mom" name growing up, and sometimes felt angsty about being out of fashion. But the knowledge of who I was named for, and how important my my name is to my mom is priceless.

Beckye said...

Jumping on the "Donnatella" bandwagon here. Donnatella gives you the honor name which does feel dated but also Ella which would fit in to the current Isabella theme name.

Best of both worlds!

Anonymous said...

I like Donna. It feels right to me. I like for the middle name though to not end in a vowel sound. For my daughter we had two names Sidney Michelle and Je$$ica Faith. I really like the way the names flowed. So I saw your delimma and thought of my own naming. I saw the name Donna Karen and I liked it. But I realized it was the same as the designer Donna Karran. So no. Then I thought of Donna Kate. But that doesn't work because your first daughters name is katheryn. So I like:

Donna Ann
Donna Gwen
Donna Claire
Donna Camille
Donna Elizabeth.
Donna Ruth
Donna Rose

Anonymous said...

"Stephanie" again :) I have to share the chuckle that some of the suggestions are giving other grandmother was Helen, so Helen Donna actually would honor both although that wasn't my intention. You've all managed to hit a lot of names on the family tree! It's making me smile to see the names all juxtaposed together in combinations. I really appreciate the encouragement....something I needed in naming our first daughter and I'm guessing it will help this time around too.

Anonymous said...

I adore the name Mary Donna. I wouldn't have thought I would until I read your post and repeated a few of the options. Mary Donna sounds beautiful to me and great with Thomas and Audrey.

aaleighton said...

I love and have considered the name Olivia Jean. Also, you could use the middle name Louise which is so close in pronunciation to Lewis it would still be a wonderful tribute!

Anonymous said...

I had a really cool Persian student a couple of years ago named Donya. She was a beautiful, smart person and I loved her name. It sounds like Donna but is much fresher and really so pretty. You could also spell it Donia.

What do you think?

Tamara said...

I really hope that you use the name Donna. After saying it over and over and thinking about it for a while now, I think it is a lovely name that clearly has a very special place in your heart. Babies should be named with more than what is fashionable at the time in mind; Donna is strong and dynamic sounding to me - perhaps I'm thinking of the 2 Donna's I went to school with; both beautiful, strong willed and hilariously funny young women.
Good luck with everything; looking forward to seeing which way you go.

Barb said...

Just read the update and I will think good thoughts and say a prayer for little baby Mary.