Dear Bruce: I’d like to Give My Son the Name I Share with My Father. What Do You Think?

I received a phone call from a man named Emmanuel. He had a copy of 100,000+ Baby Names and needed some advice. His father’s name was Emmanuel and he wanted to name his boy Emmanuel. He asked me, “If my father was Emmanuel (senior) and I am Emmanuel (junior), if I named my son Emmanuel, would he be Emmanuel III?

My answer would have been “yes,” but before I answered that question, I asked him: How do you like having the same name as your father? If you found it either demeaning or confusing or unpleasant to share the same name with a close relative, I would recommend against calling your son Emmanuel III.

He said, “At times it was confusing, but I still like the idea of naming my son Emmanuel.” That gave me an opening to provide some helpful advice. I told him that people who were “the third” were sometimes given the nickname Trey (an English name that means “three” or “third”). I told him I thought Trey was a “cool name” and recommended it as a nickname for Emmanuel III. I explained that if you are Emmanuel and your son is called Trey that will reduce confusion when someone calls to speak with “Emmanuel.” He seemed to like that idea.

Because Emmanuel spoke with an accent I asked him where he was from. He told me he was from Ghana and mentioned that both his “English name” (Emmanuel) and his “Ghanian name (Kwesi) were in my name book. (He told me that Kwesi means “born on Sunday.”) Emmanuel explained that in Ghana many people receive a Ghanian name based on the circumstances of their birth (including the day on which they were born). He told me his wife was born on Tuesday and he was very excited to find her Ghanian name in my book too.)

As Emmanuel was thanking me for my help and saying goodbye, I realized that Trey would make a fine middle name for Emmanuel’s son–because it referred to the circumstances of his birth: he would be the third Emmanuel in the family. I’m happy to report that Emmanuel (who had already ended the phone conversation) called me a second time to ask me how to spell Trey.

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