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Is it correct to use the phrase honorary gifts to describe gifts that are given to honor someone? The normal usage of honorary is “given as an honor without the normal duties” (as in an honorary degree), which conveys quite a different implication.

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No, it is not. Gifts for Honor, maybe. There could be a better term even. –  Kris Oct 25 '12 at 15:45
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@kris - "honorary gifts" turns up 47k Google results, while "gifts for honor" doesn't seem to be used except in phrases such as "gifts for honor students." Your comment is actually the second result in that search! –  kurkevan Oct 25 '12 at 15:50
    
The first page consists of the term exclusively in "commercial usage", though. Try COCA instead. –  Kris Oct 25 '12 at 15:56
    
Apparently, some spell it honourary, although this is an extremely rare use. –  tchrist Oct 25 '12 at 15:58
    
honouring/honoring gifts –  mcalex Oct 25 '12 at 17:09

6 Answers 6

dictionary.reference.com's entry for honorary includes the following definition:

5. given, made, or serving as a token of honor: an honorary gift.

While I have not come across the term (or received one, for that matter) myself, Google's search results suggest that it is in use. Google Books also provides some examples of its usage.

According to the University of Colorado Foundation:

Honorary gifts are a meaningful way to pay tribute to a living person. It may honor a special occasion or achievement, or merely acknowledge the honoree’s importance in your life.

Any type of gift can be designated as an honorary gift.

The School of Public Health at UCB states:

Honorary gifts commemorate a significant event or someone who is still living.

Therefore, it appears to be perfectly acceptable to honour someone with an honorary gift.

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The word honoraria is used to convey gifts or payments made in this sense:

a payment in recognition of acts or professional services for which custom or propriety forbids a price to be set

However, if you actually mean that you are giving a gift in their honor, then "honorary gift" is a perfectly acceptable term. See, for example, the Metropolitan Opera's page on Memory & Honorary Gifts, or the results from this search term.

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I think OP would be unwise to use the expression "honorary gifts" for his intended sense. It's not a well-established term with a clear-cut meaning, but here's one site's take...

A memorial gift can help perpetuate the values and ideals that defined a loved one’s life. Honorary gifts commemorate a significant event or an exceptional person who is still living.

I see many sites making a similar distinction between memorial and honorary gifts. My guess is they don't normally mean the honorary gift actually goes to the person being honoured. More likely you're making a gift/bequest to a "trust fund". Perhaps a trust set up by the person being honoured, who is still alive; perhaps in honour of a sick relative who's about to die but hasn't yet.

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You could try "honorific gifts".
Honorific:

Showing or conferring honour and respect.

That may not be ideal either, I tend to think of "honorific" as a title, e.g. Lord Lieutenant kurkevan.

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Honorary gifts is an uncommon and potentially confusing usage. More typically you will find them dubbed Honor Gifts, Gifts in Honor Of, or In Honor Gifts.

See, for example:

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While "token of appreciation" is often used for a small gesture that is meant to honor the person receiving the gift, "gift of appreciation" can also be used (11,500 hits on Google Books vs. 76,000 hits for "token of appreciation").

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