Note: This post is NOT meant as a bash against people who feel an initial counts as naming a child after someone. It’s just meant to express my opinion on the matter.
I’ve always scratched my head at the custom many Ashkenazic Jews have of using a single initial to name a baby after someone. To me, that’s not naming a child after someone, but just using the same letter of a name. When you name a child after someone, you can:
Use the same name
Use the middle name as a first name
Use the first name as a middle name
Use a similar-sounding name (e.g., Micah instead of Michael, Isabeau instead of Isabelle)
Use a different version of the name (e.g., Amelia instead of Amalia, Nicholas instead of Nikolay)
Use the opposite sex’s version of the name (e.g., Davida instead of David, Oliver instead of Olivia)
But seriously, a single initial? That connection seems so tenuous to me, even after over 16 years in the Jewish community. I used to regularly watch A Baby Story, as terrible as it was, and I saw a number of instances of this kind of tenuous connection. It was obvious the parents wanted to use some popular, trendy name, and it just happened to start with the same letter as a much different name. If you want to use a super-popular name like Kaitlin or Tyler, go for it. But don’t try to claim there’s an immediate connection between that name and the name of some great-grandparent, like Klavdiya or Timofey. They’re completely different names.
Obviously, there are times when you might want to name a child after someone with a name that’s way too popular or unfashionable for your liking, such as Mildred, Milton, David, or Jack. So perhaps you could use that name in the middle position, or find a variation or similar-sounding name. Maybe Millicent or Jacques.
If a name looks or sounds too foreign for your personal tastes, or it’s too common for you, there are probably a number of other forms of the name. For example, Elisabeta instead of Elizabeth, Joseph instead of Ioseb, Rachel instead of Rakhil, Andrew instead of Andrzej. These universal names have equivalents in just about all world languages, even if it’s not always fun to have an overly common name.
If you’re a name nerd, you have a list of names you love and would love to give to future children. You should be able to use the names you love and genuinely want to use, instead of feeling beholden to a few particular letters or names. If you name a child after someone, that should be genuinely motivated, not because you felt like you had to. To be honest, there aren’t that many people in my family I’d consider naming a child after.
And what if you passionately love a name like Xanthe, Quintessa, Zvonimir, or Ulysses, but there are no relatives with those names or initials? Obviously, you usually only get final say in naming your baby if you’re a single parent, but even taking spousal compromise into consideration, you should be able to use the name you really, really love, and not always feel sad when thinking about how you were denied the chance to use your favoritest name.
There’s no rule that says “Thou must always and only name after relatives.” It’s a custom, not canon law. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with honoring a dear relative or friend, that shouldn’t be forced upon you.
Finally, I still call BS on people who insist Nevaehlynnlee-Angel or Jadenbradencadenaidanmaiden was named after Great-Grandma Nora or Great-Grandpap Joshua. Nope, you just used a tryndy name, with the first initial as a pretense.