Duana Names: My Tradition is Losing My Mind

June 17, 2016 18:26:26 Posted at June 17, 2016 18:26:26
Duana Posted by Duana

Hi Duana,

My lovely husband has been alternating subtle and not-so- subtle hints that if our second baby is a girl, he would really like to name her for his mother. It's tradition in his family to name new babies for their grandparents, and while that's great for some, it's really just not my style. I managed to dodge this bullet the first time around by choosing both first and middle names used by various relatives over a few generations, but no immediate family members.

I want to point out right away that I have nothing against my mother in law, and we generally get along quite well. I have two main issues with the name:
1. I don't actually like the name Cynthia. There. I said it.
2. Our son, Charlie, shares his name with my husband's uncle, who is my mother in law's older brother. So naming our daughter in the same order feels....weird.

So here's the big question: can you help me come up with a name that is respectful but not exactly the same? Thank you!


Oh guys, guess what, this is one of those things that makes me really really mad.

To clarify, I’m not mad at the letter-writer. I’m mad when people say ‘Oh, but it’s a tradition in my family’, as if that should automatically mean it’s a tradition in the other person’s family.  Like, I know that depending who we’re talking to and about, some people think that marrying a dude means joining his family. Needless to say, I don’t agree—and if we’re always following the traditions that came before, when are we going to make any new ones?

You hit a nerve here partly because someone once informed me that I’d ‘broken a tradition’ that I’d never heard of, but was somehow expected to follow. But even if I had, who says I can’t make my own decisions? My own traditions? Who says you can’t? How important is the tradition if you’ve (okay, I’ve) never heard of it before now? When do your family traditions (I get that they don’t exist where names are concerned, not the point) get to be honoured? What if it’s your/my family tradition not to have traditions? Either about names or holidays or anything else? Who says your ways of celebrating or naming or doing things are less-than just because they weren’t dictated by some old lady who wants you to believe she stepped off the Mayflower? 

Okay, so some of that was about me. Nonetheless, you have more concrete reasons to push back, ready?

Charlie and Cynthia are too close. It’s not as close as Charlotte, but if the family is traditional enough to want to name everyone after all the grandparents, then they’re traditional enough to refer to your daughter as ‘Cindy’, and suddenly your children are from a first-grade reader from 1968. Forget it.

Furthermore, as you said, you’re not going to name your sibling pair just like a sibling pair that already exists, because it’s weird on a number of levels. You’re totally justified here, and your husband should understand this.

So there’s the nice way to deal with this and the less-nice way.

If I were feeling cranky, which clearly I am, I would inform him that it was actually time for my family tradition, which was to find a name we loved first and then find a great story associated with it, to tell our children. You then spin an elaborate story about how when your parents told you why you got your name, they told you for the first time about the legend of…., who is actually fascinating because…, and you go on and on. Adjust as necessary for truthfulness and what you’ve said before, but the option exists to bore someone so desperately that they give in.

But if you’re feeling kind about it, and looking for a way to acquiesce which it seems like you are, you have options.

The first, and the simplest, and, if I’m being not-humble, the best, is Thea. It’s beautiful, it’s rare, it’s stylish. It can be Althea or Anthea or Dorothea or Theodora or, if you’re Hamilton-inclined, Theodosia. It speaks to Cynthia without ever making it obvious that’s where the name comes from. In fact, I’m kind of pleased with it as a way of honouring her without being overt.

You have to admit it’s a relatively seamless solution, and it goes with Charlie. But if it doesn’t work for some reason, does she have a middle name? Or could Cynthia go in that spot?

Other names that occur to me – I’m not sure why, as it’s not one of my usual go-tos, but Kendall sometimes seems to me to be the updated version of Cynthia. Any interest? Or Kendra? Celia might sound too close, when they’re said together, ‘Cynthia and Celia’, but it’s actually a strong and lovely name on its own.

Then the Spanish version of ‘Cynthia’ is ‘Cinta’, and from there it’s a short jump to one of my favourite and oft-recommended names Jacinta. If you spell it ‘Giacinta’, you can even go with the nickname Gia, evoking Angelina Jolie for some of us, and joyfully, Marla Sokoloff for the right-thinking among us. (Please go ahead and email me if you understood/appreciated this digression. Otherwise it’s just for our friend Lara.)

Along the lines of Jacinta, how about Lucinda, called Lucy? There’s a little nod there to Charles Schultz if you’re into it, and it’ll pass totally without being noticed if you’re not. Or, there’s been renewed interest around these parts in Sylvia – could that, or Silva or Sylvie, fit the bill for you?

Then, similar in sound and decoration, I hear Cynthia and think ‘Cyn…Lin…’ Melinda? Belinda? Or if we’re getting further afield, Linnea?

The other way to go is with names that boast the ‘i-a’ ending, which seems to be polarizing. This is out of left field, but Zinnia is not so far from Cynthia at all, nor is Zenia. I kind of love them both. Or if it’s meant to feel more decorative, something like Viola or Ilaria or Lydia? Nameberry helped me land on ‘Orinthia’, is this a possibility? I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention my young friend Olimpia, whose distinctive name is completely her own – but fits in rather well with a classful of Olivias. You could even call her Pia…

Okay. I know there’s enough pressure on you, but I need you to do something for me, and that is to have a girl. I need you to have this girl so that you can push back and change the tradition and prove that there are ways to honour the past while still going forward and doing things your own way. Not too much to ask, right?

Let us know. Please. My blood pressure will be racing until you do.

Can you please tell me about the family traditions you love or hate? What happens, name or otherwise, that makes you go on a rant this ridiculous on a Friday afternoon? If you’re in the Toronto area, please come and tell Lainey and me, at the brand new Sherway Gardens Indigo on Wednesday June 22nd!  

Previous Article Next Article