Does My Brother Have Dibs on My Favorite Name?

Filed under: Baby Names

I am having my third child and plan to name the child (if it is a boy) after my father. My older brother has two daughters, and he is recently remarried. He has talked about having more children. My father is the only boy in his generation, as is my brother. Am I allowed to name my child Michael or am I supposed to save it for my brother in case he ever has a boy?

- Mom-to-Be

I suspect that many of my readers will find your question flat-out baffling. Of course a daughter is allowed to honor her father with a namesake grandson, why not? But a few of you are thinking, "Whoa girl, not cool! You'd better get your brother's OK first or you're begging for a family feud."

That's because this question takes us beyond the realm of baby naming rules, into the twisty world of family traditions.

There is no standard etiquette that gives eldest sons first dibs on namesakes for their fathers. If your brother has tried to claim the name out of left field, you can tell him that I said so. But the fact that you even asked the question suggests that somebody in your family believes that your dad's name "belongs" to your brother, making you a name poacher.

A small number of families do have such a custom. In most cases, it's connected to a hereditary name passed down through the generations. Are names in your family handed down like aristocratic titles? Does your brother have Jr. or III after his name? The more the family history is wrapped up in the name choice, the harder it is to buck tradition. In those cases, you risk ruffling feathers of relatives up and down the family tree.

For what it's worth, though, I think it's best for all children to have equal rights to their parents' names. A first-come, first-served policy is not only the most fair, it's also the best way to ensure that beloved relatives are honored. The fact is, your brother may never have a son. You could put the name Michael up on a shelf, waiting for the day your brother gets to take it down and play with it, only to find that day never comes and your father's name passes with him.

Only you know what kinds of waves you'd be making by naming your son Michael. Only you know your brother's feelings about the name -- and your own. But to answer your literal question: Yes, you are allowed to name your son Michael. I hope your brother can come to see it that way, too.

What are your family naming traditions? Share your experiences here. And if you have your own question to Ask the Name Lady, drop her a line!

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