What are the ethics of naming your child — can you use someone else’s baby’s name?

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By: jetsandzeppelinsCC BY 2.0
I’m 38 weeks pregnant and was recently added to a “Local Moms” group on Facebook. It’s a small group — and I live in a small town. In fact, I only know one other member of the group — the rest are an online support system.

One of the moms recently asked about her baby’s first shots, and I fell head over heels for her baby’s name — completely smitten. I gushed on her post, and she seemed thrilled with my response. As days went by, I couldn’t stop smiling and giggling when I thought of the name — I know it’s meant for my baby, and my husband feels the same.

Except… I feel guilty about the idea of “stealing” this beautiful name.

I know it’s not truly a one-of-a-kind name (the name is Indiana — both a state and a well-known fictional character), but I know that the parents worked quite diligently to find the perfect name for their baby. I decided to send a message to the mom to explain myself — I don’t know the sex of my baby, so we might not even use the name, but I’m in love with it. She responded saying “I was trying to be unique… but what can you do?”

Am I able to take this as a begrudging blessing to use the name, or do I need to forget about it? What are your thoughts on the niceities, norms, or ethics of naming your child? — Saska

Comments on What are the ethics of naming your child — can you use someone else’s baby’s name?

  1. My sister chose a name for her second child that my cousin had just given her little boy. She was concerned about it, but asked my cousin if it would be a big issue for her, explaining that they had fallen in love with the name before they knew it would already be in use. Everything worked out and they are both TOTALLY that name – though they go by slightly different versions in day-to-day use

  2. Go for it! Nobody “owns” a name. Unless it’s a close relative, then there really shouldn’t be a problem. FYI, my irl name was super uncommon until about 5ish years ago when it shot up into the top 20. My mom was super proud that she chose such a beautiful and unusual name. Now I can’t go to the mall without hearing some parent yelling after a little girl with my name. And I’m totally okay with it! There really isn’t such a thing as truly “unique” baby name.

    Although, I will share a funny story of a baby name almost gone wrong. I’m the oldest kid in a huge family and my parents have had a bit of a struggle finding names for the last few kids. When mom was pregnant with kid #8, she asked my sister (kid #2 who was 19 years old) if she would be alright with the new baby having Kid 2’s middle name as a first name. My mom’s reasoning was that a) the name was an important family name, b) they’re half-siblings with different last names so it’s not too similar, and c) “you don’t use it anyways.” For example, it would’ve been like Laura Marie Smith having a new baby sister named Marie Oliva Jones. THIS IS NOT OKAY. This led to a big old fight in the family and thankfully kid #8 has her own unique name. This is the only time I’ve ever argued against “stealing” a name and I stand by it. That’s just way too darn close.

    • Apologies for the acronyms! Just noticed that. I meant to say “in real life.” I guess FYI is more an expression, but that’s “for your information” in case it’s a problem.

    • My grandmother was Peggy, and she had an older sister named Margaret. She was the eleventh child and (I think) ninth girl, apparently they just ran out of names. I know she was always sad that she didn’t have a “proper” name of her own until I named my daughter for her.

    • I have a male friend who’s first name is his older brothers middle name. They seem to think it’s a funny story to share and it doesn’t bother them at all. I think it’s totally wierd but they’re happy with it there you go. They only have 3 boys, I wouldn’t have thought names would be such a challenge to come up with, but it’s the name of an old-time movie star the mom had a thing for.

      • I go by my sister’s middle name, which is also my middle name, and my entire name is my mother’s entire name. Never ever thought of it as anything other than a name that was loved so much it had to be used 3x. And, no, it’s not Rod 😉

        Also, I have two boys and naming the second was a BEAR. Apparently we used the absolute only name we both loved on the first kid; we each had dozens of ideas that the other hated. Finally, he picked the name and I picked the nickname that we actually call him (Joaquin, goes by Quini.) We would seriously be a house divided if we had another boy.

    • Not exactly the same, but in high school I knew a girl named Erika whose younger brother was named Erik. Apparently her parents loved the name Erik, had a girl, and figured they’d do the feminine version of the name instead. Later they had a boy, and thought, “Y’know, we still really like the name Erik…”

      They mostly just thought it was hilarious (they were also pretty close in age so had grown up with the similar names their whole lives), but I can see how it might be frustrating. 😉

      • My parents tried really hard to recycle family names so I’ve already got a brother & sister who have the masculine/feminine version of the same name (although it doesn’t sound as similar as Erick/Erica). The whole thing was just frustrating because Kid #2 had just moved out. So it would’ve been like she had literally been replaced. Also, there are so many of us that we didn’t have any personal space or our own belongings. I grew up sharing a bedroom with three of my sisters for example. Wanting to have our own individual names wasn’t too much to ask for.

          • An ex-colleague of mine called her boy (not identical) twins Matteo and Mattia! They are perceived as two different names, but they share the same ethimology. So it’s basically the same name :/

      • This in not unlike how in my town there is a guy who has a chocolate lab named Brandy…and then he later got a second chocolate lab that he named Brandy 2. The first Brandy just passed away, so we’re all wondering if he’s going to get another chocolate lab, and if she’s be Brandy or Brandy 3.

        • I have a customer at work who has the exact same name as his brother. He was named blah blah jr, and then his parents divorced and his father remarried. His stepmother named his first younger brother blah blah jr. as well. He goes by blah blah jr. and his brother goes by bj. This is incredibly weird to me, but he seems fine with it.

          • This is probably the one time I could see being mad about someone “taking” the name. If I were the first wife/mother of the first son, I’d be seriously unimpressed.

    • That’s pretty funny! Good for your sister standing up for herself, she’s entitled to her own name. There are SO MANY fantastic ones out there! I like to joke that I wish I’d had litters so I could use more of my favorite names and themes – we chose Irish with the first and stuck to it which is fantastic, I could name a hundred kids with Irish names that I love. But I also have a whole Greek list, gem list, nature list, Mythological, musical, spices, et cetera et cetera.
      In fact I’m still a little upset that my SO wouldn’t let me give the youngest three middle names since she’s the last! It’s not like she’d have to use them all everyday lol.

  3. Unless you name your kid Assface McButt you are bound to meet someone with the same name. People need to be more reasonable. Sure it can be disappointing to learn that the name you have had picked put for 15 years has been the top 10 baby name the last 5 years because of a sparkly vampire movie, but that hardly your case. This is a person you have never met. Think of it from a kids point of view. If you and this woman stay close and you’re kids play together they will be the best of friends because the have the same name. Pretty sweet. and if you and this woman are ment to be friends, it will be an endearing “how we became friends” story. I would defiantly agree that she might not be too happy about you using the name, but she will forget. Life carries on, despite duplicate names.

    • Honestly, I would probably be annoyed too, but hopefully I would forget about it pretty quickly. I mean, I really would want my child to have a perfectly unique name, but realistically that’s not really going to happen. ESPECIALLY if it’s a name like Indiana. I hope I would learn to realize that it’s a compliment, not a theft. Or I might be hormonal-crazy, and never forgive her, but then honestly I should probably be ignored. :/

  4. My parents thought they were being very unique with my name. Hah! I went to pre-school with a Kristen or two, there were 5 of us in my relatively small high school with name spelled the same but different pronunciation (Kursten and Keersten). So even attempts to be totally unique are going to be foiled by someone. If I lived in Denmark, my name would be probably among the least unique.

    So as someone whose parents tried the unique thing, I would honestly have preferred more common to still be explaining the pronunciation in my 30s. Unique can have its downfalls too. But if it’s a famous character, someone has named their baby that and they are not the first person to think of the idea, obviously (the character got named that, after all). Unless your name is somehow copyrighted, it’s hard to own it. While it’s nice to not use the same name as your friends, it isn’t required and @Ariel is totally right that you never know who you will be friends with later or who your child will befriend.

  5. Is any name truly 100% unique? If you love a name then go with it, regardless of what others may think.

    I am OBSESSED with names, and their meanings. I have agonized over names for months picking my girls names. In the end one got a name that was super popular, and one got a rare name. I love both equally.

    I am on http://nameberry.com/ looking at the name blogs, and lists ALL the time. Also a great source is the Social Security List of names: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/

    You can really see how names trend here too: http://www.babynamewizard.com/voyager#

    Also there is such a thing as baby name regret, or remorse. You can read more about that here http://www.livescience.com/19210-baby-naming-regret-choices.html

  6. This is a great post! The idea of hunting for a unique name is so entertaining to me – both my husband and I have very, VERY unique names, but they’re related to our respective cultures (he’s a Jew with a very Scottish name, I’m Iranian), and after growing up with these names, we’re somewhat more interested in finding names we like the sound of rather than shooting for uniqueness.

    That being said, the names we choose will be slightly unique, just because of the fact that we’re picking Iranian and Jewish names. Not only will they be somewhat uncommon, but they’ll have real meaning and significance, which is the absolute most important part to us.

  7. If you adopted a child with a name already given to them, you wouldn’t think twice about the wee one (or older one) having the same name as your neighbour, cousin, parents dog, etc. You’d be over joyed to have this child as yours. Names are what we’re called. But we get nicknames that fit us better, we get called by our middle names, or initials, or whatever. Its our personalities that define us 🙂

  8. I agree with what so many others have said. Even if you try to be unique, you will see that name all over the place once you are committed to it. We chose Darby for our oldest son because we were looking for a somewhat uncommon old Irish name. several months after our son was born, someone told us about the Disney Winnie-the-Pooh reboot in which Christopher Robin is replaced by a little girl named Darby. So not only is that sure to increase the popularity of our chosen name, but it makes it a girl’s name! Dammit! But what can you do? Our youngest son has a unisex name too (Rowan), so I guess it’s not a big deal.

    • That’s so true! Especially with my older daughter – everybody asked if she was named after Fiona Apple since her first album came out about six months before she was born. I actually heard her for the first time on MTV in the hospital after naming her. Luckily she’s one of my favorite musicians, I would have hated it if Fiona Apple sucked! Then Shrek came out when she was four, and people started asking if she was named after that. Um…no, the movie’s one year old (at that time) and she’s five.
      But I started hearing it like crazy on tv shows and commercials. There was even a tv show that came out right after her brother Alister was born with a character named Fiona McAlister.

      Btw, loooove Rowan! It was always one of my favorites for a girl but it’s an awesome boys’ name too. I wanted to use Bronwyn and Rowan for additional middle names for our last and final baby, but he drew the line at one first and one middle..

  9. I would be really unhappy if someone I knew used the name I had given my child or a name I had been planning to use. If it happened accidentally, I’d be unhappy, but I’d realize that these things happen. If they did it knowingly I’d be kind of pissed at them, especially if it were a close friend or family member. Names are important to me and I find overloaded names (two people with the same name) confusing and annoying.

    If it were a name I was planning to use, I’d feel that I had to pick another name because that one was already taken, in my mind, and I’d be angry about that, but I’d get over it eventually. If it was the name of my child, it would probably always irk me, but I’d try not to let that undermine the relationship. Because while names are important to me, relationships are even more important.

    That said, if it is someone on a discussion board on the internet who you don’t expect to be in contact with long term and who wont be interacting with your kid, I’d say go ahead and use the name if you want. That’s not a close enough relationship for the kids having the same name to be a problem. But don’t go and tell the person you got the name from that you are using it because of them. In fact, don’t bring the fact that your kids have the same name to their attention at all if you don’t have to. Then it wont be an issue (I realize this suggestion comes too late for the original poster here, but that’s my advice to anyone in the same position.)

    It’s true that you cannot expect your child’s name to be completely unique; that’s just not practical (To my eternal, vague frustration:p) but it seems reasonable to me to expect it to remain unique among your ‘tribe’.

  10. My cousin’s name is Hannah Christine, my daughter’s name is Shannon Christina. My husband and I picked out her name in the first month of pregnancy- and that’s who she is. I knew it from the moment I heard it pass his lips that was her name. (Shannon for the area of Ireland that his great-grandmother immigrated from, for the owl symbolism that echoed my grandfather’s Cherokee clan affiliation.) I sent my cousin and her mother an email explaining why we choose that name and said I hoped it would be okay. She was actually tickled about it.

  11. My beau and I have been discussing names for a while now and even though we won’t start trying to conceive for at least a year or so we already have some names picked out. We plan to not reveal our children’s names until the days they are born for so many reasons that I could write a whole blog post about them.

    With that said, there were some names that we were considering until they became ridiculously trendy or “stolen” by a family member or someone we know very well. For instance, I was considering passing down my middle name (Janae) if I ever have a daughter. Then someone I’ve known for years used it as a middle name for her child. To top it all off, this kid has become quite a celebrity in my hometown because she was born with a severe heart defect and there have been community-wide fundraisers held in her name. So we decided to pick another “J” middle name that has completely grown on us, even though he was the one who liked it first.

    One big thing we’re trying to avoid are any “K” names because my mom, my sister, and I *all* have names beginning with that particular letter of the alphabet and it has caused so much confusion for my poor grandparents as well as some other people in our city.

  12. I would think it was flattering if someone liked the name I chose for my child enough to name theirs the same. However recently in my close group of friends three of us were pregnant one of which decided not to tell anyone else the names that they had decided upon. At my shower I was asked what I was planning on naming our baby and I openly announced our top two choices, to then be told by the same person I stole her baby name. It made it awkward…and still sometimes is because she brings it up. Once I saw my beautiful baby girl I knew that it was not the right name for her and ended up choosing the other and our friend ended up having a boy. However if someone loved my childs name and chose to name theirs the same I would be touched.

  13. It looks like the original poster decided not to use the name Indiana, but my thought on that was that it might be awkward if the two Indianas go to the same school (which is likely if it’s a small town). There were two Alexes and two Bens in my class all through elementary school, but it would be kind of weird if it’s a more unusual name and both families know that one inspired the other one. This doesn’t apply if one family is planning on moving, of course.

    Some related stories from my family:
    My dad had always wanted to name his son after his grandfather. I (the oldest) would have had his name if I had been a boy. My sister was also going to have the grandfather’s name. When my mom got pregnant with the third child (who turned out to be a boy), my dad’s cousin named his son after the same grandfather. My dad was irritated that his cousin had “taken” it but he decided to go ahead and use the name anyway. So, my brother and my second cousin are about the same age and they have the same exact first, middle, and last names. At least they live two states apart and they go by different nicknames?

    My daughter’s name is pretty unusual in the United States (where we live) but it’s been around for thousands of years and it is popular in some parts of Europe. My coworker’s daughter just had a baby and decided to go with a different name, but for a while she was considering the same name as my daughter. My coworker specifically asked me permission for her daughter to use it, which I thought was strange. It’s not like I made the name up and it seemed like she was overstepping her bounds (I’d be really offended if my mother told me that someone she works with would have to approve my child’s name). I was actually happy that someone else in this area liked the same name because most people haven’t heard of it.

    • “There were two Alexes and two Bens in my class all through elementary school, but it would be kind of weird if it’s a more unusual name and both families know that one inspired the other one.”

      My thought on that is, when you’re a kid growing up with a class full of kids, the unusual names are the ones you’ve never heard before. If there are two Indiana’s in the class, then Indiana will likely just be another name to you. I grew up in central Florida with lots of first-generation American friends with all sorts of names that, looking back, were ‘unusual’… but at the time, they were totally normal. That’s Xtilan, what of it?

      • That’s a good point. I remember that when substitute teachers (in elementary school again-I swear I usually don’t even think about it) would call roll and mispronounce non-English names or just really creative names, the whole class would loudly correct them. It didn’t occur to me until years later that some of the names were actually less common and it wasn’t fair to expect someone to know how to pronounce them. However, I still think it could be awkward to “steal” a name from a stranger if the kids are likely to know each other. If the alternative is lasting regret (or if the families will probably never meet in real life), I’d say go for it.

        • We did the same thing! We had a Munsami MXXXXXXX in our class, and we would all hold our breath to see if the sub would say it right. I still love his whole name it flows so well

    • One of my best friends has the same name as me. I’ve never found that strange. Our friends just have to say which one of us they are talking to by a nickname or last name but that’s not a big deal at all. I have never found it weird to meet someone with the same name as me…I always liked that someone has my name. There were 5 Anthony’s in a class in my elementary school. No biggie. They just went by initials (A.O. , A.A. , etc.) and that stuck as nicknames for a few of them even into highschool.

  14. Go for it! This other mom is at most an online acquaintance, so it’s not like you’ll be spending time together. And all names are stolen from somewhere – whether it be a list, relative, or fictional character. In fact, the idea of being unique seems pretty self indulgent to me at times. We don’t exist in a vacuum, so we all get inspiration from the world around us.

  15. I’m so bummed to hear the other mama’s response. Of course do what feels right to you, but make sure it’s what feels right to YOU, and not someone you’re doing out of wanting to avoid conflict. (I see this as someone who could practically give lessons on unnecessary conflict avoidance.) I’m going to weigh in as one of the many responders who says you should go for it if it feels like the right name to you. Names are a really big deal, and it sounds like this one is really calling to you, and I feel like there’s always a reason when that happens.

    And I agree with you that Indiana is a super cool name. I think it would be awesome regardless of the gender of your baby.

  16. My daughter’s name is Susquehanna, after the river. I fell in love with it because of the sound, and came up with justifications afterwards (rivers are strong, rivers are flexible, etc). I didn’t name her to be different, I just thought it was such a beautiful, perfect name. All the same, I never thought of anyone else using it. A few months ago, one of my online friends asked me if I would be upset if they used the name. The honest answer was yes, it did feel strange to me. But my feelings of strangeness shouldn’t stand in the way of someone else’s pursuit of beauty. So I told him no, I didn’t mind if they named their daughter Susquehanna. After all, she already shares it with the river, sharing it with another person surely can’t hurt.

    • I love river/water names, especially since a lot of them (especially here in Maine) have native American roots. Androscoggin, Cobboseecontee, Megunticook, Matt-Wamkeag, Pemadumcook….those might be too much of a mouthful, but there are other names that are shorter and easier to say: Kennebec, Saco, Sebago, Sebec, Monhegan……..Then again, a lot of native American names are descriptive of the geographical feature, so it might be worth looking into what the name means.

      • My father is from Maine, and he’s been trying to convince me ever since my daughter was born that if I have a son, I should continue the river theme and name him Kennebec or Androscoggin. My husband’s not too keen on the idea though, he prefers more conventional names. I think the only reason he agreed to Susquehanna is because we can shorten it to Hanna and pass for normal.

  17. I am one of 5 children and we all loved my grandfathers name Jack, it was decided that the first one to have a boy would get to use the name. My older brother had two boys but choose other names and then my sister had a a boy and used the name Jack.

    I have a few names I love but will not tell anyone in case like above they get used by a family member or friends first.

    Here in Australia we get a yearly list on the Department of Births Deaths and Marriages website of the top 100 male and top 100 female baby names for each year.

    • Growing Phoebe was an unusual name (before Friends and Charmed) people always had trouble pronouncing it (Foebe instead of feebee). It was hard always having to tell people how to pronounce it and I still do have to correct people on the how to say it.

      Unique names are fine but I can tell you from experience it can be a pain in the arse and for a long time I cursed my mum for naming me a common easy to pronounce name like my siblings.

  18. In my elementary school class, we were 5 named Cécile (female french name) and 1 Céline (sounding very similar, people often mix those up). Result: When the teacher called Cécile or Céline 1 quarter of the classroom stood up (blessed times when they weren’t 30+ pupils in a classroom). It was fun at some times, but mostly tiring to be called Cécile A, Cécile B, Cécile C etc..
    I had a name picked for my daughter since like forever (Lea). My now estranged brother had his first daugher in 2004 and named her Lea. Thanks Bro! So Lea became a no-go (and when I looked at babies’names I realised it is currently the most given in France right now, so my daughter would have face the same shenanigans than me!) My second favorite name (Louise) was the second name of the ex-wive of my husband so no… (and it happens that the group of the daycare center has already have a Louise). Discussing with my husband we came up with a name quite unique for us, Lucile, meaning light and when she was born we were sure it was meant for her (she definitively couldn’t have been a Lea or a Louise)

  19. I would use the name if I really liked it.

    (Well, of course my sister and I had an agreement that whoever had a daughter first could name her Ronja, and now I have a beautiful niece called Ronja and no idea what to call my (not even in the production) daughter, eventually.)

  20. I went to senior school with another Fiona Patricia G. Very odd seeing as Fiona is a rare name in the Caribbean.

    On another note, I wanted Matthew for a boy and Catherine for a girl, both names were used (one by my brother after hearing me for years go on about it) and the other by a close friend who wanted to honour her mother. Now here I am, pregnant with a girl, and her name is to be Catherine. I have spoken to my friend, who already knew my plans to use the name when she chose it, and it’s fine.

    I really don’t see the big deal. Name your daughter Indiana! Although it always makes me think of the local couple who’s last name is Jones and used Indiana as well…….

  21. My mother in law named her dog one of the names my husband and I had picked. She didn’t know names we had discussed though.

    I will say you can’t go wrong with “family” names. The names we have chosen are personal to our family and honoring people we love. Regardless of who may come along and choose the same name, we know that they have significance to us.
    My daughter is due any day now an her name will be Madeline, clearly notoriginal. But when I was sitting at the bedside of a dying friend and saw his mother’s name on a prayer book, I knew it would be the perfect name if we ever had a daughter.
    Sometimes a name just strikes you and resonates. That is what’s important.

  22. This hits home a little for me. I always loved the name Eliana (Hebrew for “my G-d answered”) and always figured I would name my first daughter that name. Soon after I had a miscarriage, a friend (who didn’t know about the name or the miscarriage) named her daughter Eliana and I was heartbroken. 2 years later, when I finally got pregnant again after a lot of struggle, the name had a lot more meaning to me, but I felt I couldn’t use it. I was set on making it a middle name for a long time, but couldn’t find another name I liked to be a first name.

    At some point, my husband said, “It doesn’t matter that another child has the name. If you want to name her Eliana, do it.” But now we couldn’t pick a middle name. When I was in labor in the hospital, my husband picked a middle name that was perfect. 3 days later, I found out (after the religious naming ceremony–no backsies!) that it was the same middle name as the other girl. I think my friend was pretty upset with me, and I was also pretty upset about it.

    Now, it’s a pain in the @$$ at get-togethers, but I can’t regret her name. It fits her so perfectly. 🙂

  23. Speaking as a mother that worked really really hard to pick a unique name for my child, I would definitely not want to share the name. When we named our son we made sure the name was so low of the baby-naming charts that no one had used it in 50 years. I also live in a small town and if someone else named their son by accident I don’t think it would be a big deal but on purpose, not great. I think you can tell by the mother’s reaction that she doesn’t want to share the name. There are a million great names out there, look around! I always watch all the movie credits and write down my favourites. Or use a last name! We called our son Wallace “Ace” Lier. We don’t know any other boys named Ace, but who knows…maybe a trend will start!

  24. This is too funny, there is a Greek tradition that you name your kids after your parents. My grandfather had 5 brothers, when they all had sons, they all named them after their father. My uncle (George) has 5 cousins named George! Their middle names are their father’s first name, so that’s how they are distinguished, George X, George Y, etc. I know a couple of female cousins both named after the same grandmother too.

    My friend’s dad passed years ago; she and her sisters are all naming their kids differnt versions of their dad’s name. It’s a respect thing… No one gets mad about all the shared names because, hey it’s tradition! Totally different perspective!

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