What’s In A Name?

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Dear Miriam,

My husband and I are expecting our first child – a baby girl! We have a particular initial we want to use in memory of dear grandparents whose names started with that letter. We’re a bit limited, though, because we have several close living relatives with the same initial and don’t want to use a name too similar to the living relatives’ names. 

We’ve found a name that checks all our boxes, and we both love it. However, we’re hesitant to use it because of a well-known historical figure with that name who was pretty evil. Do you think that we should avoid the name? Are we overthinking it? Or should we perhaps reframe the situation – we’re claiming the name for good instead of evil? Please help!


What’s in a name?


Dear Name, 

Picking a name for your child can run the range from fun, to stressful, to verging on impossible, and it sounds like you’ve already experienced all that and more. But I do think you may be overthinking it a bit in some areas and maybe underthinking a few other potential options to explore. 

Since you love the name – and agree on it, which is no small feat – I would tell you to listen to that and consider this your top contender. You could think about pairing it with a middle name that you use to change the vibe. You could think about possible nicknames that you would also be happy to use. You can also just own that this is the name you love. There may be a person with this name who becomes famous when your child is five, or when she’s twenty, or her best friend or worst enemy in school might share the name. All of which is to say you can make your best decision and not account for every connotation the name has or will have. 

If people – including your daughter – ever ask about the historical villain you have in mind, feel free to be ready to share your idea about reclaiming the name. Frankly, I would be more concerned about rhyming words that might lead to playground taunts or mispronunciations that could lead to embarrassment. And even then, you just can’t prevent possible associations. You’re naming your daughter in memory of loved ones, and that’s what matters most. 

But here’s where the underthinking may come in: Did your grandparents have Hebrew names that started with a different letter that could open up your options? Have you explored possible names based on meaning (in Hebrew or English) rather than first letter? What about anagrams or middle names or character traits? There are many possible sources of inspiration, all of which have roots in tradition, and you don’t need to be tied to an initial as the only way to honor someone’s memory. 

Ultimately, this is only one of an infinite number of parenting decisions you and your husband will be making together. The process you use to decide and how you both feel about your shared decision-making at every stage is at least as important as what goes on her birth certificate. 

Be well, and b’sha’ah tova,