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. I probably wouldn’t use the name of a baby I was guaranteed to know long-term (a cousin, a nephew), but a name of a baby born to people I probably won’t even be Facebok friends with in 5 years? Stolen, no regrets!

  2. Look at it this way: an online acquaintance you barely know in a small town she will likely never leave in a snapshot of time vs. your kid’s LIFE: childhood, adolescence, and partnerships through to career path, kids himself perhaps, into old age…who knows whe he will go in the world and what he will become. Look at the big picture. If you feel he is an Indiana, don’t let a vague contact with such narrow thinking make you feel bad about choosing that name. Shame on her. You will know when you meet your son who he is. Who do you care more about? This woman or your son? Don’t get caught up in small town drama. It’s a big world out there and room for everyone.

  3. I had this happen, we had picked a girls name, had a boy and my friend had a girl and took the name we were going to use for our girl even though we had wanted to use the name for our future girl and now we dont have that option. I was very upset. I personally think you should come up with your own ideas and own name and not take someone elses. Obviously names are repeated and reused but I think youre crossing a line.

    • There’s no rule saying that you can’t still use the name. To be honest, unless it is a name you created yourself, the name you pick probably won’t be terribly unique anyway. It would be a shame to not be able to use your favorite name just because your daughter would share it with someone else.

      Even people with fairly rare names like mine still grow up with people who share their name. When I was young it sometimes sucked to share the name with boys, but it’s something you get over. I love my name. Sharing someone’s name doesn’t somehow make you less special or important.

      However, I do think it’s rude for a close friend to use your name if you’d made it clear that you were going to use it and wouldn’t want others to use it, but these women are only acquaintances.

  4. I named my son Carl. A name so darn common that no one could claim I stole it from them. But a name so old-fashioned that no boys Carl’s age have the same name. I always think of his name as a win that way.

    If I have a girl I want to name her Eleanor, which has a similar used-to-be-common-now-isn’t mystique.

  5. My mom “stole” my name from a co-worker. She had named her daughter Tiana, shortened from the name Tatiana. My mom loved the name so much that when I was born a few months later, I got the name Tiana.
    Growing up, I never met another child with the same (or the same birthday), so I felt special and unique. However, in recent years, Disney decided they HAD to name one of their princesses Tiana, and now I hear the name EVERYWHERE, especially in baby groups. Stupid Disney!

    For my own child, “stealing” a name from a close friend or family member was out of the question. I remember having a conversation with my younger brother, before my daughter was even conceived, about baby names. At the time I loved the names Aiden (this was before it hit the top 10) and Emma. In hearing this, my brother yelled “you can’t have those names! I named my right ball Aiden and my left ball Emma already!” Yeah… so those names were outta the question (and I didn’t want to have to think about my brothers balls!!)!

    As for “stealing” from an online group, I say if it’s the perfect name, go for it. Unless you are going to see this person regularly in real life (as part of the same baby groups, etc), then it shouldn’t be a big deal.

    • However, in recent years, Disney decided they HAD to name one of their princesses Tiana, and now I hear the name EVERYWHERE, especially in baby groups. Stupid Disney!

      I hear you on this: I was 15 when the Little Mermaid came out and suddenly “Ariel” was a hot baby name.

      • This absolutely. I was born in 1990, the movie however came out the year before. My mother was oblivious of this. She LOVED Shakespeare and read a TON of classic literature. My father did acting at a local college and did performances so powerful that it brought scouts from several companies who were interested in him. (He later gave up because my dream-crushing grandmother refused to pay for his college if he decided to become some starved actor).
        The both loved Shakespeare, especially Hamlet. They decided to name me after one of the characters, Ariel. So my name was Ariel Adrianna. Unfortunately, I was ALWAYS associated to the little mermaid.
        It doesn’t help now that I live on the Gulf Coast and I’m near the beach, so when i wear my name tag people always are pointing the irony out to me. The joy I get out of it though, is when little kids ask me if I really am a disney princess, and why did i dye my hair when it looks so pretty red. lol.
        I’ve grown into it though. It makes me happy to see other people named Ariel. It is unique, its just how you wear it and own it that matters. I just don’t know if I could have lived with the male name my mother picked out for me if I wasn’t a girl.
        Corin Albean.

        Yeah. No.

      • A few years back my name (Emily or Emma) was the in the top 10 for baby girl names for something like 10 years in a row. Needless to say, there are A LOT of girls named emily out there. It’s a bit annoying because I CONSTANTLY hear my name being called by parents trying to wrangle their kids, “EMILY! EMILY COME HERE RIGHT NOW!” and every single time for like a split second I think they are talking to me.

      • My daughter was four when Shrek came out. At that time it was AWESOME to see a karate chopping Princess Fiona! In kindergarten she would meet new parents that would go “Fy-ona? Leona?” and their kids would go “Just like Princess Fiona on Shrek, mom!” lol
        By the time she finished elementary school it was decidedly NOT cool, but by high school she liked it again.

  6. Unique-ness is so relative. Many of my friends and family are named after people in the Talmud (compendium of discussions about Jewish law). This means that among us, there are repetitions but the names seem unique to others.

  7. My mom tried to talk me out of naming my daughter Ripley because my cousin had named her son Riley and it was “too close”. My cousin, who I’ve only seen three times in my life and communicate with, sparingly, through Facebook hasn’t seemed to care one iota and Ripley fits my kiddo perfectly.

    Only months after she was born did we realize that first name Ripley, middle name Aurora, and a last name that rhymes with “fartly” means that she will probably be dubbed “Rip A Fart” for a good portion of her childhood. Naming children is hard.

    • I wouldn’t use the same name as a cousin, but Ripley and Riley aren’t the same at all! The spelling is similar, but I wouldn’t associate one with the other. 😀

  8. My partner’s oldest sibling is pregnant with her third child (her first girl) and just announced the name, which turns out to be both OUR top pick for a future girl AND my partner’s brother’s top pick for a future girl! My partner’s brother and his fiancee had a good laugh with us about it. Oh well! We all figured she had kids first, so she got dibs. We’re bound to find something else we like eventually for our hypothetical future children.

  9. Upthread it looks like you’ve made your decision, and you should do what you think is best. However. I would’ve said to just go for it – nobody owns a name. Not even the person who wears it! I’m an almost 30 year old Sophia.

    It felt like there were no other Sophias the entirety of my childhood. Now there are a zillion of us! I don’t meet them in gradeschool, so I didn’t have to deal with the problem the Ashley/Stephanie/Katies of my generation did, but all these new Sophias are between 0-6 and I hear their parents calling them constantly! It feels like kind of an old-time-ish name now but this wave of Sophias will change it, I think. You can’t control this stuff, go with what you like!

  10. I don’t think it really should be a big deal. The child is unique, who cares if the name isn’t? You don’t take out a copyright on your child’s name when they’re born! There are very few truly unique names out there, so while your child may be the only baby you know with their name it doesn’t follow that this will continue once they get to primary school or senior school or even university. At some point you’re likely to have to deal with the fact that their name isn’t unique.

    Also, having a unique name isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be- I hated my name when I was growing up and am yet to meet anyone with the same name as me. Similar, sure, but not the same. As a consequence I’ve had a ton of misspellings, mispronunciations etc so now outside of work I go by a much more normal nickname as it saves a ton of hassle. I reckon it could be quite nice to have a name in common with someone. Not too many people, perhaps, but someone else might be nice!

  11. I still refuse to tell people my one non-negotiable baby name (it can be a middle name, but by gods it is going in there somewhere). It’s a family name going back at least four generations, very old school, and I have never heard it outside my family. And yes, I’d be heartbroken if someone outside my family found out and used it. Keep it secret, keep it safe.

    • “Keep it secret, keep it safe.” lol! Love this.

      While I would love to spread my daughter’s beautiful name around, I try to keep it hush hush in naming groups (which I still frequent because I’m a name buff lol.) Her sixteen year old sister’s name went from outside the top 1000 to top 300 but I don’t think it’ll ever be top 100. The boys are still around 800 and off the chart in their teens…I picked her name fourteen years earlier for her brother, so I LOVE it – but her nickname is cracking the top 100 this year. Since she’s still under two, her full name is VERY similar to the nn (just add “A” to the front) AND a celebrity has used another version of it recently (though mine is a more obscure Irish adaptation of the old school name) I’m secretly terrified that it’ll become popular! lmao!

      It’s ridiculous, I know. But I put so much research into finding the perfect names for my kids. Her siblings have always enjoyed being the only children in their entire school with their names and have always gotten nothing but compliments for them. I know I’m a name snob and it’s not that big of a deal but still…I feels how I feel.

  12. I’m sorry the other mom reacted that way, but it’s similar to how I ended up with my name. My mom had always wanted to name a daughter “Sarah”, but my aunt got pregnant first and well, Sarah is now my older cousin! But my parents ended up morphing my grandmother’s maiden name into my first name, and Sarah is my middle moniker 🙂 Plus, while I hated my name as a kid (seriously, stupid nicknames and never finding personalized keychains sucked), I love it now because people remember it and I’m not one of 5 people in my circle with the same name (although I did spend 4th grade going only by Sarah). Whatever name you end up with will be good.

    • Lol, I would have just named my daughter ‘Sarah’ too. So what if cousins have the same name? I’ve seen that in at least a dozen families, it’s never seemed weird to me. Now, if you were naming two SISTERS both ‘Sarah’…

  13. I can relate to the other mom, even though her reaction may have been a little over the top. Choosing a name is such a personal thing, something that stays with you for the rest of your life, becomes a part of your family and your family history forever… not to mention your child’s life forever. We chose a fairly unique name for our daughter that I hadn’t heard of before but it isn’t so uncommon that it’s silly or sounds made up. I know other people in the world have the same name and I’m okay with that. If it became common, though, I’d be really, really disappointed. Maybe that is part of the fear behind the mother’s reaction?

    Even though I know my daughter won’t be the only one with her name, I wouldn’t be happy about someone else naming their daughter the same thing after hearing hers… if asked what I thought about it, of course I wouldn’t want to encourage them to use it—I picked a unique name for a reason, after all. And, I think that would be my natural reaction, not a contrived, underhanded way to try to ruin the name for someone else. I really would be upset and hope that they wouldn’t use it. It’s one thing to naively believe that no one would ever have the same name, but it’s another to give your blessing when faced with the prospect of someone else taking the same name, especially someone else in the same small town. I would feel like I had been cheated, as irrational as that may be. Maybe because we spent so much time devoted to searching and discussing and going back & forth… having someone else hear it from me and say “I like it, I’m going to use it too!” just seems unfair.

    • THIS. If I was going to steal her name, I would just disappear from the name group…People are being hard on the other mom but it sounds like she was very civil about a bitter disappointment. In a small town she faces the prospect of having the girls attend school together in the same grade or one grade apart not by coincidence but because of OP’s decision.
      I did a lot of searching for my childrens’ unusual names and while I wouldn’t mind somebody using one of my teens’ names or somebody online from another area using my toddler’s name, I would be upset about a local acquaintance using her name while she’s still a toddler. Of course, if they didn’t know her name and found it independently that would be different.

  14. I’ve always felt really weird about baby naming, because I have two unique names. First name is Aubrey, which I never met anyone else with that name until Teen Mom 2, and my middle name is Azalee. Azalee was my grandmother’s middle name that she changed too legally because she didn’t like her first name. They got that name from my great, great, great grandfathers, who’s name was Lee, so they tacked on “aza” to get the name Azalee. Both my sister-in-law and my future sister-in-law fawn over that name and they BOTH asked me if I was planning to use it. I said “yes, if I choose to have kids and have a girl, I’m going to use it as a middle name” they both looked hearthbroken. But heres the thing, I told them to use that name if they liked it. I’m not for sure if I’m going to have kids and even if I did, I’m not going to burn their house down if they used it. I don’t get it.

  15. My partner’s mother named her daughter after her sister… who is still alive! (i.e. My partner’s sister Mindy has an aunt Mindy) *names changed to protect identities* I would think this was fine if it was in memorial to a deceased sister, but the fact that she is still living is really strange to me. I guess with naming it is really a personal thing. My dogs are named like rich old gentlemen, Harvard and Bertram, commonly refered to as Harvey and Bert, which people think is pretty strange! I have names picked out for my children and they are super duper awesome so I will tell no one so they cannot be “stolen”. haha! My mom almost named me Amberlee (pronounced all together like Kimberly) but changed it to Heather at the last minute because back in the early 90s she was afraid that it was too offbeat! I think Amberlee is way cool, so maybe I’ll post it here and some offbeat mama-to-be will see it pass it on!

    • This is a tradition in my family. My middle name is my aunt’s first name, and my great-aunt’s middle name. All three of us are alive and I am so proud when we get together as a family and make sure we have a photograph of “the Doreens.” It’s not uncommon.

      (Funny thing – I’m also a Heather!)

  16. In my second grade class we had me, a Kristen, along with a Kirstyn (k-EAR-stin), Kerstin (kher-stin), Kristin, Christine, and Kerstine (kher-steen). The six of of chose to all sit at the same table. To make it even more confusing, our last names and middle names all had a combination of the initials of B, M, K, or L. We had a KBM, KBM, KLM, KML, CBL, and KLB so we couldn’t even really go by that.

    I think the most annoying thing about my name is just people that misspell it (it’s with an E, people!) or mispronounce it (Chris like the name and ten like the number!) and yet I have a very common name! If anything, I’ve learned that spelling your name and correcting pronunciation is going to come with ANY name these days.

    That being said, the eventual father of my babies has a difficult last name. We’re combining that with some very.. umm… unique names that come from a combination of books he enjoys and some mythology I enjoy.

    I think I’m less worried about what the child will have to grow up with a unique name and more worried about my mother’s response! All her children are named from the top 10 lists in our respective birth years!

  17. I have enjoyed having a unique name for most of my life. There was another girl in my graduating class with the same name as me, but she spelled it Raegen, and were were in TOTALLY different groups of people (she a blonde cheerleader, me a brunette, well…not cheerleader), so people always knew which one you were referring to. However, now as a 27-year-old, I am hearing my name more often. A lady that I work with has a 15-year-old daughter named Regan, and there is a little girl in my daughter’s preschool class with the name Regan, so it’s becoming more common now. However, I named my daughter Jaelynn, because I always loved having a unique name that wasn’t too weird. It wasn’t until after we had chosen the name that I kept hearing it – for little black boys! So I laughed abut it and said, “at least she won’t be confused with any of them!” But I get comments about it all the time. She has 2 cousins, whose names are Jaydin and Jaelee, but we don’t ever see them, so it works out!

    • Your poor mother must get tongue tied with grands named Jaelyn, Jaydin, and Jaelee! Mine still complains because ALL of my cousins have J names and one of my siblings (my parents deliberately gave each child a different initial.) I might just pass this along next time she mentions all the Js!

      • My family never did this on purpose, but something like 80% of us in the past three generations have names starting with the hard C sound, like Kendall. It wasn’t an alliteration thing, we just seem to have some genetic disposition to favor them! While I don’t have kids, more than half the names I love start with this same sound, so this is a trend that doesn’t look like it’ll be stopping anytime soon.

  18. I think as long as you say something it should be OK. That being said I’m not even telling my sister the name my hypothetical daughter would have.
    My mom had told my Aunt (her sister-in-law) what middle name she wanted if she had a boy. My mom had a girl and my Aunt stole it cause she had a boy. It was revealed the name was stolen after my cousin was born. This was the first of many wedges between them

  19. I going to admit.. I was one of those instantly peeved when my friend’s husband suddenly decided that the name I love was something he wanted for his kid. He had no clue , of course, that I had this name picked out for like 10+ years or so and that fate drew me to be friends with his wife who was going to have a boy. They decided not to name him that though, opting for Connor, instead because they saw a kid in a sailor uniform with some racist mother and just thought against it.
    The name I want to name my first boy child? Owen Thomas Lee. It sounds like a historical name to me.. I love Owen for its Celtic roots, Thomas because my husband’s fathers name is that and yea with the last name. It has a beautiful ring to it and I can’t wait to use it someday. I now actually don’t care if someone else has the same name, I know my kid will have the personality to love it an own it, and if he doesn’t like it, well 18 years isn’t a long wait to change it. lol.
    Girls name? I’ve floated between Diane Taylor Lee, or Helen Rose Lee, or Glenda Lenore Lee.
    My husband won’t let me name our second boy Thor Odin Lee though…has me bummed. =(

  20. Choosing names can be so difficult and very personal. We chose to never tell anyone what we were considering, since everyone has an opinion (and usually not positive) and, frankly, we didn’t want to hear it. Once you introduce your baby, it is a done deal.
    With a German-American family, we definitely wanted “unique, but normal in both worlds” and we chose Torben for our son. It comes from Thor, the Scandinavian god of Thunder. We love it and so does he! It’s easy to pronounce and works in both languages.
    Feel free to add another Torben to the world 🙂

    • Love that! I’ve never heard the name but with the popularity of -aden names and ALL names ending with an -n syllable he’ll fit right in while enjoying a unique name.

      Plus the history and meaning behind it makes it so much cooler.

  21. My partner and I got ourselves caught in a bit of a trap, we both like different names in particular for me mythological names (a long standing obsession of mine) where everyone knew we would never settle on the popular names such as Jack. We also had the rule that we wouldn’t choose any name starting with the same letter as one of our other children or the same cultural origin.

    Our first son was easy as both my partner and I chose the name before we had even met; Loki the Norse god of mischief.
    Our second son was more difficult and I let my partner take more of a lead with his name but it swapped between Raiden the mortal kombat character and Ronin which was the name we settled on.
    And our latest and most likely last was easy as before I got pregnant I had the name I wanted for a girl, strangely enough during my first two pregnancies it was the girls name I could never choose. The night before the ultrasound I made my partner sit down and help choose a boys name which was Orion but we apparently didn’t need it as my little Avalon is expected in late September.

  22. “I was trying to be unique… but what can you do?”

    I understand people will have different opinions, but I don’t understand people calling her response a “strong” or “extreme” reaction. I’m sure that her feelings were much stronger than she revealed, given the small size of the town and the closeness in age (and no, it’s just not the same as if she had chosen the same name independently.) Yet this response is very calm and not a “dump of feelings.” It would be different if the town was larger or her baby was a few years older..

  23. I wouldn’t have even asked tbh (but you sound like a lovely person for doing that). She doesn’t own the name and honestly – it isn’t that unique so I’m not sure what she’s talking about with that one haha 😉

  24. My first name is Kendall, which was extremely rare in the early 80’s when I was born, hovering at the bottom (or off) of the Top 1000 list for the last century or so. Now? It was the 116th most popular name for baby girls last year. It’s actually more popular than ‘Jamie’, by a couple orders of magnitude. Heck, when my mother was born in the 40’s, ‘Sydney’ was so uncommon a name most teachers couldn’t spell it. Now, it’s a fairly popular choice. You can’t predict what trends will come. And you can’t predict when a famous Kardashian will have a baby sister with your name. You just have to roll with the punches life gives you.

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