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Why Family Names Are Central for Parentless Parents

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Family names are important to nearly three quarters of expectant parents, according to a Nameberry.com poll, but for parents whose own mother and father have passed away, choosing a name that honors them and keeps their memory alive may take on a special significance.

That's one important message of Allison Gilbert's new book "Parentless Parents."

When Gilbert's second child and only daughter was born after she'd lost both her parents, choosing a name that echoed theirs helped soothe her loneliness.

"I remember musing over her name and gazing at her tiny hand wrapped gently around my index finger. Lexi, with an 'L,' because my mom's name was Lynn. Lexi, with the middle name Syd, because my dad's name was Sidney," Gilbert writes. "And then, just like that, my cheery thoughts evaporated. Yes, I had a daughter. But I didn't have a mother. Or for that matter, a father. I let the nurse take Lexi back to the nursery until she needed to be fed again. I turned on my side, pulled the hospital sheet up to my neck, and closed my eyes."

For one of the parentless parents Gilbert profiles in her book, her strong feelings about choosing a name that honored her mother and father caused enormous problems in her marriage.

"Naming our daughter was a horrible process," Amy, a former journalist, told Gilbert in an e-mail. "I wanted her middle name be my maiden name. My husband was furious, saying that I was 'stealing' his chance to name his child. He demanded that we have two middle names so that he could choose a name too. Never mind that she already had his last name, and genes, and that his parents would play a huge role in her life. I felt two middle names detracted from the honor to my parents."

For Amy, as for many parentless parents, her husband could not relate to the depth of her feelings about the issue -- and she could not relate to the fact that he could not relate. "How could he not get that giving her this middle name was an important way to honor my family?! Eventually, I guilted him into legally dropping the middle name he wanted. The name is still a sore spot in our marriage. I am still stunned a year and a half later by his lack of understanding."

My third child was born after both my parents had died. I'd already used my dad's name, Joseph, as my older son's first name, and had to cede total control of Joe's middle name to my husband in exchange (he picked, gulp, Leopold). And I'd used my mother's first name, Margaret, as one of my daughter's middle names, though I wish I'd fought harder with my husband to put it in second rather than third place

So even though I wish my parents had been alive to meet their third grandchild, I didn't feel a need to remember them with his first name. But I did insist that his middle name be my maiden name Redmond, which I also use in the middle.

And Owen, who's now 17, says having that name makes him feel more like a member of the Redmond family -- a family that no longer exists, except for me and the marker of the name.

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