Baby Names

Baby Naming Issue: Is it a Dishonor NOT to Use an Honor Name?

Hi there
My brother passed from cancer 5 years ago. It devastated my family as he was the youngest of 16 children. He was a wonderful fun loving dad, brother, son and friend. I was so happy and recite to hear that his only son and wife are expecting a boy. Though my happiness was diminished when I heard they are not including any of my brother’s names in their son’s name.
I am shocked and deeply saddened and I know my other 14 siblings will as well. Seems they have chosen a first name which is not related to anyone in our families, and his wife’s brothers name will be the baby’s middle name. AITA to assume that they would honour my brother by including his name, and to feel this is dishonouring my brother’s memory for excluding him.

Aunt anonymous


I am so sorry about your baby brother; what a terrible loss.

I don’t know the dynamics of your particular family. Perhaps your nephew has a long history of using symbolic behavior to hurt and exclude members of his family. Perhaps you know him to be someone who would want to dishonor his father’s memory, and as someone who would want to do that in a way that would shock and hurt his aunts and uncles. In that case, it may very well be that he is using his child’s name as a way to dishonor his late father’s memory, and as a way to hurt you and your siblings, and as a way to symbolically exclude his late father and the entire rest of his family from this baby’s arrival.

Is that a theory that rings painfully true for you in your heart, given what you know of your nephew and his relationship to his family and father? Or did you find yourself bristling at this portrayal of your nephew, because it’s so utterly unlike him? My guess is he doesn’t have a long history of trying to hurt you, or of trying to dishonor his father’s memory, or of trying to symbolically reject his father and his entire family. My guess is that he’s a good boy and you love him, and that he misses and grieves for his father and was devastated by the loss of him, and that he wishes nothing more than that his father could be there to see his first grandchild. My guess is that this is a very simple matter of him not seeing the choice of his baby’s name at all the same way you do.

It is in no way wrong for your brother’s son and daughter-in-law to name their baby without using that baby’s name as one of the ways they honor and remember your brother; it does not have to mean anything negative about how they feel about your brother, or about how they honor your brother overall, or about how they remember your brother. It is in no way wrong for them to choose a first name that doesn’t honor anyone from either side of the family; it is in no way wrong for them to use a middle name that honors someone from the mother’s family; it is in no way wrong for them to use your niece-in-law’s family surname (or whatever surname they used) instead of your brother’s/family’s surname.

Using someone’s name is an honor, but NOT-using a name does not mean ANTI-honoring: a baby’s name is not a slap in the face to every single person the baby is NOT named after, and thank goodness for that. I’m not saying a non-naming CAN’T be used as a slap, because it certainly can be, but it’s not automatic: the intention has to be there. I can imagine many, many reasons they might have for thinking it best not to use your brother’s name, especially when his death was and is such a devastating event in your family’s history. It could be that they think they are sparing you pain; it could be they are sparing themselves pain; it could be they don’t want to saddle a baby with such an important and emotional family name so soon after the loss of your brother; it could be that they wish to honor your brother by saving that name for their memories of him; it could be that they’d prefer to use the name for a non-firstborn; it could be that your nephew’s wife also has a recently-lost beloved family member, and your nephew/niece-in-law felt that using either name first would hurt the other side of the family, so they decided to use neither. Or of course it could be that the name is by coincidence the name of your nephew’s wife’s serious ex-boyfriend who continues to send her inappropriate emails about his enduring feelings, or that they just don’t like the name, or that in general they are of the “everyone should have their own name” philosophy and don’t want to use any honor names as first names. It could be any number of reasons, but I think it’s unlikely that the reason they didn’t use your brother’s name is that they wish to hurt you and your 14 other siblings, and to dishonor the memory of your brother, and to symbolically exclude your brother somehow.

Perhaps you know to calculate that likeliness differently, based on your own experience of your nephew. But if not, then my vote is that you are solidly in the wrong—that you made a strong assumption that turned out to be incompatible with reality and are now reeling a little from the shock of THAT, rather than from any act of hurtfulness/dishonor. Once you have given yourself some time to adjust, I think you should put SIGNIFICANT effort and energy into not allowing that mistaken assumption to continue to diminish the happiness you would otherwise feel at the arrival of this new family member, this baby descendant of your baby brother, this sweet new little life in the family.

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