Hi Duana,

I've read your column for a long time now but it's totally possible I missed the one about this subject - I find it hard to believe you haven't tackled it before.  But anyway, I've decided to go ahead and write to you and hopefully you'll decide to give me some advice even if you have had a question like this before. My husband and I are expecting a baby girl who is due in February but because of some high risk complications may arrive a bit sooner than that. Since we're pretty sure she's going to be here soon, we'd really like to get the name nailed down.

Both of my husband's grandmothers are alive and they've both recently turned 90.  We'd like to honor both grandmas by naming our baby after them (first name for one g-ma and middle name for the other).  My husband and I love both of the names and are very pleased with the decision.

There's just one small problem.  My husband's cousin, who is not pregnant right now (as far as I know) has put "dibs" on the name we'd like to use as the first name for our baby girl - Elona. She's never said anything about the name to me and the only reason I know about the whole dibs thing is because any time I've mentioned that I like the name someone (at Thanksgiving or some other holiday where extended family is present) will say, "Oh, that's Katie’s name."

What should we do?  Should we just back off and let Katie have the name that she's reserved even though she's not pregnant and there's no guarantee that even if/when she is, she'll have a girl?  Should we ask her permission and accept that she might say no?  Should we just go ahead and do what we want and risk possible grudge holding from Katie, the name reserver? It's my inclination to just go ahead and do it and let the chips fall where they may but I'm hoping that you'll give me the hard truth and tell me if I am in the wrong.

Thank you so much!


The thing about this that kills me is that it’s all about discovering that your family is not like someone else’s family. In your family, I suspect, as in mine, there’s no reserving names for up to a decade – if there were, you wouldn’t be so shocked by this development. But given that this is a thing these people do, you’re stuck having to figure out how to navigate it. And I get it, believe me I do. When we had our kid and announced the double-middle-name verdict, one elderly aunt looked at us imperiously and went “LOOMIS!” Like somehow we were also supposed to include Loomis in the name. We didn’t, and it was miiiighty tense for about 15 minutes….

….and then it was over.

So I think there is every reason to think that you might happily be able to choose the name you love and plead a bit of ignorance to Katie’s name. But there are mitigating factors. Herewith:

Is Katie of childbearing age or possibly trying to become pregnant? If so, these things are a lot more raw.  If she’s fourteen, well, what are you going to do? These are the benefits of being the older cousin.

Is there any reason you couldn’t swap the names so that the middle and first are reversed? You can still call her Elona (especially if the 14-year-old clause is in effect), but officially on paper she has the name of your grandma instead? That way, if Katie has a girl sometime later, and is allowed to keep her dibs, she gets 50% of the deal too? Her daughter’s first name is THE name, but she calls her something else?

Still, all this being said, you have to acknowledge that if more than one relative has mentioned that this is Katie’s name, or if it’s coming up a lot, you are doing something that is totally legal, but a dick move. Like snatching up a sweater on sale when someone set it down just to answer their phone.

Which tells me that you should ask Katie in person.  

Here’s why this is brilliant: your baby is imminent. Her baby is not and is, of course,  possibly a boy. You might even want to be cute about it – ask if you can borrow it.    She may say no, she’s really looking forward to using it – in that case I think it’s fair to ask what if she has a boy. She may say that was something she said when she was 10 and all the relatives just latched onto it because it was in memory of their mother, and so they won’t shut up about it. She may initially be like “no, sorry, that’s my name and has been since I was 12” and then in the moment realize how that sounds, get over herself, and give you her blessing.

The secret is if it’s going to be all fraught with bitterness and half the family won’t coming to Thanksgiving anymore, or passive-aggressive aunties referring to your daughter as ‘not the real Elona’, well then you don’t want the name anyway. But I want you to want it. It’s gorgeous. So good luck and let me know!