A unique namesake idea

Not everyone names children after relatives or friends. Some take inspiration from literature, film, music, and popular culture.

And some people make the presumably rather uncommon decision to name a baby after a much-loved doll or stuffed animal from childhood.

While some kids don’t like stuffed toys very much and strongly prefer things like model cars, science kits, and kites, I think it’s safe to assume most kids have at least one special doll or stuffed animal. Boys as well as girls can also enjoy and love dolls, just as some girls always prefer stuffed animals to dolls.

If a child acquires this cuddly friend at a very young age, that doll or stuffed animal will become a major part of their life growing up. Sometimes a special toy is the one constant in a very difficult childhood.

There are so many touching stories about cuddly friends who were with children all during wars, civil upheavals, totalitarian dictatorships, abusive childhoods, poverty, orphanage upbringings, long journeys to a new country, etc.

When it comes time to have children, that doll or stuffed animal’s name may spring to mind as the most natural, perfect namesake. Obviously, this presumes it’s a normal name that works on a human in that language, not something like Precious, Gumdrop, or Babykins!

It also seems more meaningful if it’s a name the child chose, instead of the name the toy came with or a name bestowed by someone else. Even if you give a child a doll or stuffed animal at a very young age, you should leave it unnamed so the child can select the name later.

My character Tatyana Tvardovskaya-Koneva names her firstborn Kira after her first doll, a ragdoll with brown braids, whom her father braved the influenza pandemic to buy when she was a few days old. When she was six weeks old, he finally gave it to her.

That doll was with her all during the terror and uncertainty of the Russian Civil War, including several very close escapes from being killed. Tatyana also made the long journey to America with her dear doll, and it remained her dearest toy during her family’s difficult life in a tenement.

When she was probably about four years old, Tatyana named her Kira. No other name felt just right for her first child.

“Yes, exactly like my doll. I never forgot how you braved the flu pandemic to buy me my first doll, and how you kept her with you for six weeks until you gave her to me. That doll represents all the love you’ve always had for me, though you’re not my blood father. Now you have your own Kira to share with me, and you’ll be able to love her just as much as I loved my first Kira growing up.”

My character Inga Savvina likewise names her firstborn child after her dear doll Dotnara, whom her unjustly imprisoned mother made and gave to her as a fifth birthday present. Dotnara comes along with her when a high school graduation present vacation to Vladivostok in 1942 turns into a defection to Shanghai and eventually a journey to America to meet the father who has no idea Inga exists.

Dotnara is the one constant in Inga’s life through so much upheaval and uprooting, her one friend left from home whom she’ll never have to say goodbye to. She’s also particularly special because she came from Inga’s missing mother.

Again, no other name fits just right when Inga becomes a mother herself.

Would you ever consider naming a child after a particularly beloved doll or stuffed animal? Do you know anyone named after one? What’s the name of your dearest childhood cuddly buddy?

Original ways to name a child after someone

While I’m a very strong advocate of giving kids original names you love, and only naming them after someone if you’re truly moved to do so for your own reasons, the pull of culture can be very strong. I know a lot of people in the Jewish community who feel like they HAVE to name their kids after deceased relatives if they’re Ashkenazic, or after living relatives if they’re Sephardic.

Sometimes, that special older relative you want to name your baby after has a name you’re not wild about, a name that’s too common for your liking, or a name that stands out like a sore thumb in the modern era. Here are a few ideas to use a namesake in a roundabout way.

1. Use a similar-sounding name. E.g., Micah instead of Michael, Helena instead of Ellen.

2. Use the middle name instead.

3. Use a variation on the middle name.

4. Think of something that was really important to this person, either a concrete thing or an intangible quality. E.g., if s/he loved donating to charity, you could name your baby Charity or some name that means “charity.” Someone who worked tirelessly for peace organizations could be named Shalom or Miruna.

5. Use another language’s form of the name, or the original form. E.g., since the name Adolf is taboo and even illegal in many countries, you could honor your great-grandpap through the original form Adalwolf. Or if you’re concerned about how trendy Alice is becoming, you could honor your great-grandma through a form like Alisa or Adelina.

6. Find another name with roughly the same meaning as that person’s name. Perhaps you’re not keen on how common David is, or you don’t like the feminized form Davida. In its place, there are a number of other names meaning “beloved,” such as Cara, Carina, Shivali, and Erasmus.

7. Perhaps name the child after someone who was a huge hero and inspiration to that relative.

8. If that person were really proud of being from a certain country, state, province, or city, consider using a symbol of that area which could work as a personal name. E.g., Amethyst for Ontario’s provincial gemstone, Lilac or Rose for New York’s state bush and flower, or Hibernia after the national personification of Ireland.

9. If s/he were Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, use his or her patron saint’s name.

10. Perhaps use a name s/he always wished s/he’d been called instead.

11. If the person had a pen name, consider using that.

12. You could also name the baby after one of that person’s favorite literary characters.

A single initial=a namesake?

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.

Why do you need a Mini-Me?

I’ve never understood the custom many people apparently still have, of automatically naming the first boy after the father. He doesn’t get his own special identity. He’s just Dad, Jr., a Mini-Me. It’s like letting your parents-in-law or parents name your child, or even your grandparents or further back, if the kid has a Roman numeral.

Unless you’re royalty or the Pope, it seems really silly to have a Roman numeral in your name, unless it’s skipped a generation. Like, say you really want to name a child after your dad or grandpap, who had his own name. Your son would then be James II. It would be pretty cool if there were a custom of skipping generations, so that no boy in the family would ever have the same name as his father, but the last generation before.

The Roman numeral II, by the way, is NOT the same thing as Junior. I’ve seen so many birth announcement for IIs, when clearly they’re really Juniors. You only use II when you’ve skipped a generation. Otherwise, it makes you look pretty pretentious and ignorant.

Junior is traditionally only used when the name is exactly the same. So, for example, if your name is Robert William and your son is Robert John, your son wouldn’t be a true Junior. I’ve heard that you’re “supposed to” move everyone’s suffixes up when the oldest bearer of the name dies, but I really don’t think too many people actually do that. A guy who’s gone by Junior his whole life usually doesn’t become Senior when his dad dies, and his son wouldn’t go from III to Junior.

It’s not very common anymore, but it used to be pretty standard for a firstborn daughter to be named for her mother. While I’ve seen references like Jane, Jr., I don’t think that was ever really done, practically or realistically. A girl would just have the same name as her mother, without any suffix calling attention to it.

When you and your son have the exact same name, it can lead to embarrassing and inconvenient incidents like opening one another’s mail and taking one another’s phonecalls by mistake. If there’s a III in the house too, it gets even more complicated and embarrassing. Isn’t it awkward enough when someone accidentally answers when his or her name is called, when the speaker wanted someone else in the vicinity with the same name?

If you want a carbon copy, someone in your exact image, have yourself cloned. Do you like hearing your name over and over again? Will you not feel secure and fulfilled as a man unless you pass your name on? The only time I’m fine with it is when it’s a posthumous child, named after a father he’ll never know. That’s a sweet, touching way to honour your late husband, not the man himself deciding he’s incomplete as a man without his own little Mini-Me.

Maury is one of my guilty pleasures, and I’m always gobsmacked at how many babymamas name their sons after denying deadbeats who’ve treated them, and their children, very poorly. Why would you want your son to have the same name as such a jerk? Some of these names aren’t even that great to be passing on for more than one generation. And when it’s shown a guy isn’t the father, why keep calling him Junior or III? He just happens to have the same name as a guy you slept with without protection, not the same name as his father.

It’s also pretty egotistical. Why can’t you leave it to the next generation or greater to determine if you’re worthy namesake material instead of naming a child after yourself?