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Vanessa and her husband are expecting their fourth child next month. They already have a son named Darcy, and two daughters named Molly and Matilda, and would like a traditional name which fits in with this sibset.

They live in a rural area, and would like a “country” style name which would suit their farming background (by this they mean an Australian country name, not an American “cowboy” type name). If they have a boy, they are considering the name Digby, which is the name of a good friend.

If they have a girl, they have fallen in love with the name Mai$ie. However, Vanessa’s sister-in-law, who lives not too far away and who she is reasonably close to, is expecting a baby girl several weeks after her, and is planning to call her daughter Macy.

Vanessa thinks Mai$ie and Macy are two separate names that are pronounced in different ways. Unfortunately, her sister-in-law disagrees. She believes that Vanessa has “betrayed” her, and “stolen her thunder”, and has made every effort to cut Vanessa out of her life (as much as is possible when you are family members living nearby).

Vanessa is having trouble understanding what her sister-in-law’s issue is, and she wonders what people think of this problem.

* * * * * * * *

I’ll get straight to the sister-in-law issue, which I suspect is your main reason for writing in. This is an extension of the “name stealing” issue – some people not only want their child to be the only one (in their family or their town) with a particular name, but they don’t want anyone else to choose a name which even sounds alike. This is a problem, as there are so many names which sound similar to other names that obeying this request can seriously limit your pool of name choices.

That your sister-in-law feels “betrayed” suggests that she announced her name choice before you did, and is now angry that you picked a name that she sees as uncomfortably close to her favourite name, Macy. I wonder if this is her first baby, as that might increase feelings of wanting to feel “special”: in any case, she probably feels that announcing Macy’s name will have had a bit of shine taken off it.

Funnily enough, the last couple who wrote in to the blog considering the name Digby had a name-stealing issue too, as friends of theirs already had a son named Digby. After some deep soul-searching, and considering other names they could use instead, they decided to use Digby anyway, as it was the only name they really loved. Their friends were quite upset over their choice, and after that things became quite cool between them.

The trouble is, it’s a bit harder to just press on regardless when it’s a family member who is upset with your decision. This is your sister-in-law, who lives an hour’s drive away and who you felt quite close to. You’ve already had a taste of being cold-shouldered for just thinking about using the name Mai$ie, and I’m sure it’s made things quite awkward and unpleasant for you, and possibly for the extended family as well.

As you previously got on fairly well, I hope you will be able to get your relationship with your sister-in-law back on track. If you are are able to talk to her, it might be an idea to find out what exactly she is so upset about. Does she hate the idea of the cousins having similar names that might be confused, as they will be very close in age? Or does she just hate the idea of you being the first?

As both of you are aware you are due to give birth before her, and are therefore in the stronger position, and the default “winner” in this situation. I wonder what she would do if the positions were reversed – would she kindly step aside and choose a different name for her daughter so that you could have Mai$ie? Something tells me that she would stick with Macy, even though it meant risking having two cousins with similar names.

The basic etiquette in this situation is “first in, best dressed”. As the “loser” with less power in this situation, it is her role to accept this as gracefully as she can, and to realise that she has the choice of either picking a different name (if she can’t bear the thought of cousins named Mai$ie and Macy), or of learning to live with the situation if she can’t bear the thought of giving up the name Macy.

As the “winner”, it is your role to be as gracious, understanding, and sympathetic to her plight as possible. It’s perfectly okay to be sorry that she’s unhappy without feeling responsible for it, or changing your behaviour to suit her. You can let her know that you didn’t have any intention to hurt her, and that if you have a daughter named Mai$ie, it won’t in any way make her little Macy any less special, or loved, or welcomed into the family.

I don’t think it would be helpful to your relationship with your sister-in-law for you to choose another name, unless you genuinely feel that this whole episode has spoiled the name Mai$ie for you, or you fall in love with another name.

If you name your daughter Mai$ie as you always intended, then most likely she will eventually get over it, especially if she finds that the names aren’t any huge problem, and that the whole family easily copes with having a Mai$ie and a Macy. Be brave, and be prepared to continue being gracious and compassionate to your sister-in-law until everyone gets used to it.

And most of all, don’t make too big a deal about any of this until the baby is born, as you don’t even know at this point whether you are having a girl at all. It would be silly to have a big fight or a huge drama over something that might never happen. It might be a good idea to gently remind your sister-in-law that for all you know, it is a boy on the way for you.

In some ways, it would be rather convenient if you did have a boy – I’m sure your sister-in-law thinks so, anyway! If you did, Digby would be a great choice. It’s a handsome name, has a nice country feel to it while also being quite hip, and is a lovely way to honour your friend.

Readers, what do you think about Vanessa’s “name-stealing” dilemma, and what advice do you have for her?

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