Can I Honor a Male Relative With a Female Namesake?

Filed under: Baby Names, Babies


My brother, Jacob, passed away in October. I was wondering if it would be okay to give a girl the name Jacob as a middle name, since I do not like the female versions of the name Jacob?

- Remembering Jacob

I'm sorry for your loss. It sounds like you and your brother were close, and that having a child to carry on his name and his memory would be deeply meaningful for you.


I can understand why you'd be nervous about the middle name Jacob for a girl, though. Cross-gender names can be confusing and even controversial. (Ask any mom who named her son Ashley in the '70s what she thinks of girls taking over boys names.) And Jacob isn't even a common androgynous choice like Cameron or Peyton. Jacob is America's No. 1 boy's name, firmly in the snips-snails-puppy-dog-tails camp.

Please feel free to put those worries aside. Jacob is a wonderful choice for your daughter's middle name. In some ways, you could even call it a traditional choice.

Middle names serve a different role in our society than first names. They're less bound by fashion, and more bound to family. Middle-name-Jacob actually sounds old-fashioned rather than cutting-edge for a girl, because of the old custom of using a mother's surname as middle name for her children. We don't blink at girls named Catherine Martin X or Grace Williams Y because we expect that these masculine-sounding middles signal their family connections.

That's what Jacob will mean to your daughter, as well. By giving her your brother's name, you are granting an important relationship -- that of uncle and niece -- the weight it carries in your heart and the role you wish it could assume in your daughter's life. Your brother's name is every bit as much a family name worthy of passing down as that of any Mayflower pilgrim.

Have you chosen names to honor people you love? Share your experiences here. And if you have your own question to Ask the Name Lady, drop her a line!

Related: Should I Choose a Name My Husband Hates?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.