Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Thanks for joining me at a new time.
Q. What's in a Name?: My husband and his first wife named their son Adam. Their Adam is 25 and lives across the country from us. Now we are having a son, and Adam is my late father's name and grandfather's name. I always wanted to name my son after my dad. My husband says I can't do that because of his firstborn son, and he can't have two sons named Adam. But mostly, because it would upset his ex-wife. I don't think I should have to forgo naming my son after my dad because of this. We rarely see his older son, so I don't see what the problem is. My husband got to pick the name for our daughter and it meant a lot to him. This means a lot to me. His son said it would be all right with him, but his ex is livid at the idea.
A: Only three more sons to go—all named Adam—and your husband could tie George Foreman's record for having sons who all share the same name. I hear from a lot of people who think other family members have "stolen" a name they wanted for their child. But while it doesn't matter if cousins have the same name, it is bizarre to give more than one of your own children the same name. You husband already has a son named Adam. The older Adam may feel so disconnected (or is so laid back) that he says he doesn't care that he could have a younger brother also named Adam. But your husband says he doesn't want to give both his sons the same name. I agree the wishes of the ex-wife are completely irrelevant, but maybe your husband is trying to make her the heavy. You can honor your own family name by making Adam your son's middle name. You could even flip your father's first and middle names for your own son. I know Adam was the first man, but there have been many since them and you need to choose another name, because in your family, Adam is taken.
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Q. Self-Centered Niece Drives Me Nuts: My sister and her husband had their daughter Abby after struggling with infertility for years. Now 13, Abby has been spoiled by being an only child. Since childhood she has always demanded the attention of whatever adult was in her vicinity. Her favorite phrases were, "Look at me!" and "Listen to me!" While I thought her antics were cute when she was 5 or 6, I know find them very grating. I am not the only person in my family who feels that way, either. Abby still interrupts conversations to show a new trick or tell a joke. At my daughter's last birthday, Abby put on a concert while we ate cake and became upset when some people continued their conversations. My sister and brother-in-law are incredibly sensitive when it comes to any criticism of their daughter. I wouldn't say anything to them about Abby's behavior if I hadn't recently passed the point where having her around annoys me. I love my niece, but I don't like her very much. Should I talk to Abby or to my sister about how I would appreciate it if Abby didn't demand so much attention? Or should I keep quiet and avoid Abby?
A: Abby's been horribly spoiled, but please, it's not a function of being an only child, it's a function of being the child of your sister and brother-in-law. (I say this as the mother of a wonderfully unspoiled only.) Some people with enormous talent and drive take the internal imperative of "Look at me!" and turn it into a successful show-business career. Most people like this, however, are just obnoxious show-offs whom others—like their loving aunt—want to avoid. Abby's road is going to be plenty tough when she gets out into the world and loses her captive audience. Some people in her situation find life to be a corrective when they realize the rest of the world is not interested in being part of "The Abby Show." Let's hope your niece learns from the cold water others are going to throw on her. As far as family functions are concerned, however, Abby is old enough that you don't have to address her behavior through her parents. If she starts screaming, "Look at me! Listen to me!" you can say, "Abby, honey, I'm talking to someone else, so I can't pay attention to you right now." If she gets upset that her concert audience isn't in hushed awe, that's her problem—you can just keep right on talking.
Q. Sisterly Advice About Weight: I am debating whether to broach a very sensitive topic with my younger (and only) sister: her weight. She has been significantly obese since childhood (no thanks to our mother's lack of supervision and predilection for fast food). I also struggled with my weight, but through diet and exercise I was able to lose 40 pounds a few years ago and have maintained the weight loss. Although only in her 20s, she is at least 100 pounds overweight, and we have a strong family history for Type II diabetes and heart disease. My sister has three kids already and during the delivery of her last child, she had a life-threatening complication that could be linked to her obesity. We live across the country from each other, but she recently told me that she intends to try for another baby this winter. In light of her last pregnancy (and she has gained even more weight since), I am very concerned for her health, but it does not seem to concern her at all. I don't want my sister to end up leaving her children motherless. But, I also know my sister is very sensitive about anyone talking about her weight. A well-meaning relative purchased her a weight-loss system when she was a teenager and that seemed to throw her into a depression which led to more comfort eating. How should I go about bringing this up?
A: I'm so glad you came to me because I've been wanting to unveil my simple, fail-proof system for getting other people to lose weight. I think you know that this subject is a loser. Your sister knows she is obese, but she's made the subject verboten. I agree it is alarming that someone who almost died during her last pregnancy is planning another one without having resolved any of her underlying health issues. I think the only way to broach this is in person. Set up a visit and before you come say that because of the complications of her last pregnancy, you are very concerned about the potential danger to her health of another. Say you would like to go with her to her gynecologist to discuss a future pregnancy and how to make it safe. If the doctor doesn't mention weight, then you absolutely should. If she refuses this suggestion, you could try to have a private talk with her husband about your concerns. But if she (and he) are not responsive, just accept there really isn't anything you can do. And be careful while your broach this subject that you don't appear to be lording your weight loss over you sister.
Q. Re: Too Many Adams: What about using a different middle name? Adam Michael (older) and Adam James (baby). Or compromise with a variant name: Adam has 24 variant forms: Ad, Adamo, Adams, Adan, Adao, Addam, Addams, Addem, Addie, Addis, Addison, Addy, Ade, Adem, Adham, Adhamh, Adim, Adnet, Adnon, Adnot, Adom, Atim, Atkins, and Edom.
A: I'm against giving two sons the same first name, period. And somehow I think a mother who wants to name her son Adam is not going to go for "Adnot." I'm sticking with finding a new name altogether, or flipping the first and middle names of the paternal grandfather.
Q. First Anniversary After Death: My sibling died recently after suffering through a long illness. While I am not close emotionally or geographically to the spouse, I do still care greatly for this person and imagine that the upcoming wedding anniversary will be a painful time. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can acknowledge this date without causing more pain? It seems like reaching out on the anniversary is just sending a reminder that my sibling is gone, but ignoring it seems even worse. Thanks.
A: People in mourning often say one of the hurts they suffer is that everyone seems to forget their departed loved one, when it turns out other people may be just trying not to "remind" them of their loss. No one is forgetting their loss. It would be lovely for you to call or send a card saying you are thinking of your brother or sister in law on this day. Say you know how much you are missing your sibling, so you sympathize with their pain. You can add that seeing your sibling in such a happy marriage was a great joy to all of you, and your sibling chose wisely.