Baby Naming Issue: Trying to Honor Four Matriarchs at Once

So my husband and I are having our first baby girl, she’s not due any time soon. It’s very important to me that I honor the matriarchs of my family, it’s crucial actually. But I feel like this first girl, being that none of her cousins has taken on a family name, we can’t leave a matriarch out, we must somehow include them all. We’re okay with two middle names. The most important name is Maggie, my dads mom, Margaret, always went by Maggie. I love Margaret, my husband does not. He’s fine with Maggie being on the birth certificate but I feel like she needs a more formal name. My great grandmother was Opal May, we both love both names. My moms mom is Nola, which we also love. My mom is Thia… So how do we incorporate all of these names? We live in North Carolina, I’m not from here, he is, I do love the southern names. The best we’ve come up with is Magnolia May Ellis (“Maggie” and Ellis being our last name) but also Nola and Thia are incorporated and May for Opal… My concern is southerners pronounce it Magnolya, I like the Eah sound better, but that won’t happen in the south.

Do you have any other suggestions of how to get all these names into one fabulous name? And no we can’t leave anyone out… They would be heart broken and so would I


Let’s unpick this a bit. I think it is very unlikely that all four matriarchs would be heartbroken if they were not ALL honored on ONE child. Could you ask one or more of the matriarchs about this? My guess is that they would be eager to reassure you that this is not a goal you have to shoot for.

Also, are you planning more children? If you use all four essential matriarch names on your firstborn, what is the plan for the names of subsequent children?

My feeling is that you have built up an impossible logic problem, and that the way to solve it is to remove the untrue elements (“we must somehow include them all,” “we can’t leave anyone out of they would be heartbroken”) rather than to drive yourselves crazy looking for a solution. Did anyone leap from a cliff when other babies in the family were not named after all the men/women in that family tree? No? Then you do not have to take this burden on yourselves. And my guess is that you will be glad, when naming future children, to still have good names left to use.

The usual plan for parents who like honor names is to use one or two honor names per child, so that everyone gets some, and so that the honorees have room to feel honored. The dilemma, then, is whose names to use first, and in what name order. There can be reasons to move a person’s name up in line: for example, if any of the matriarchs are elderly and you would definitely like them to know they have a namesake before it’s too late to tell them. Some names can honor more than one person: if, for example, you use your mom’s mom’s name, you are honoring both your grandmother (because it’s her name) and your mom (because it’s her beloved mother’s name, and represents her side of the family). And of course your own personal tastes will enter into it: if you have two people you’d like to honor, but you like one person’s name better than the other person’s name, that could alter your decision.

If Margaret/Maggie is the most important of the names, then I would make an effort to use that name for the firstborn child. But because you two love Opal, May, and Nola, and you don’t agree on Margaret/Maggie, I would use Margaret as the middle name and choose the most important of Opal/May/Nola as the first name for this child. So here are what your options would be if I were in charge:

Opal Margaret Ellis
May Margaret Ellis
Nola Margaret Ellis

I would give priority to Opal and Nola, since May is a middle name. I would also give priority to a name that comes from your mother’s side of the family, since Margaret comes from your father’s side. You don’t mention whether the two of you both love the name Thia; if you do, that’s a fourth option:

Thia Margaret Ellis

Then let’s say time passes and you have a second little girl. Pick the NEXT two most important names for her (based on family feeling, age of family member, etc.), and put the name you prefer first. Or if you have a boy, you may want to consider using the name Nolan to honor Nola. Perhaps this first child could be Opal Margaret, and the next could be either Nola or Nolan.

If you absolutely insist on honoring four women with one baby’s name, and if you don’t think anyone will be hurt by being a second middle name or having their names combined/modified, and you don’t mind having no honor names left for possible future daughters, then I think your solution works pretty well. I don’t see Thia in there, unless you mean the -ia of Magnolia, but you’ve got at least plausible references to everyone else.

I think if it were me I would prefer to use all the actual first names and just heap them up: Margaret Opal Thia Nola Ellis. I would not normally want to use so many names, but if I felt I HAD to, I think I would just go ahead and REVEL in it: “YOU get an honor name and YOU get an honor name and YOU get an honor name and YOU get an honor name!” The amusingly long name shifts the situation in my mind from stressful heartbreak-avoidance to a near-comical rejoicing in so many great women. And then look at them all in the list! It’s a loving family reunion of a name. I can picture everyone standing around laughing and crying at the same time—and without you having to explain who was honored by which part of which name.

But again, I urgeĀ  you to reconsider the premises of this dilemma. DO you need to honor ALL FOUR with one child’s name? WILL everyone’s heart be broken if you don’t? It would be such a ludicrously unreasonable thing for a family to expect, it’s hard for me to work on the assumption that they do.

Baby Girl Write, Sister to Mabel, Gemma, and Alice

Dear Swistle,

We just found out that our fourth (and last) daughter will be delivered almost a month early, and we still have not found a name for her. Part of the problem is that we LOVE our other three daughters’ names! Our oldest is Mabel Kaye (initials M and K to honor my sisters), and our twins are Gemma Grace and Alice Devon (after my great aunt, Emma, and great grandmother, Alice). It is proving an impossible task to find a name we adore that goes well with Mabel, Gemma and Alice. In fact, most of the rules we originally considered have gone to the wayside, with only two remaining. We would like for this baby to have her own first initial and would also like her name to have a positive meaning. I worry about using a name with the letter R in it, as our last name is Write (spelled differently). Our three daughters all go by their first names, but we have a variety of nicknames for each, so this is an important consideration in choosing a name for our baby.

Names I like:
Rose- too short with last name? Too much with the double R sound?
Claire- a good friend has a Claire
Louisa- I worry people will pronounce it with a “z” sound
Blythe- too clipped with one syllable last name?
Libby- more of a nickname, but I can’t think of a full name I like to get to this

Names my husband likes:
Lucy- too common?
Rosemary- too much for a child?
Violet- not sure how well this works for an adult and it’s become more popular
Edith- dislike the nickname Edie
Eleanor- we often call Alice “Ali” and know we’d shorten this to Ellie
Cora- “ruh” sound blends into last name

Names we like but feel we can’t use either because of a family/friend with this name or because it is too close to one of our girls:

Help! If this was your daughter, what would you name her given the names of her sisters? Please share any thoughts on the names we have listed and any suggestions you may have for other names!!

Thank you so much!


P.S. My c/s is scheduled for August 23rd, so I am losing sleep trying to decide on a name! I am so worried we will be sitting in the hospital three days after our daughter is born still debating her name, or worse– choose a name we later decide we don’t love/doesn’t fit her! Please help! I promise to update with a picture!


Asking me what I’d choose if this were my daughter was a riveting question. Immediately I had a different way of approaching it: instead of working from your lists, I only looked at the names of the first three girls, and then I got out my name book. Mabel, Gemma, Alice, and…


Winifred is the one that particularly electrified me when I came to it. If I were reading a book about four little girls having adventures, it would be about Mabel, Gemma, Alice, and Winifred.

I found I didn’t mind a repeating R sound with the surname. It sometimes hit my ear as not-ideal, but not as enough of an issue to rule the name out. Well, I did cross out Pearl, but that was more because of an issue I was having going from a -rl sound to a R- sound.

I found myself inclined to rule out names that started with the final sound of Alice, especially if they also had an L sound: Celeste, Cecily, Celia, etc. (Celia is in fact the same letters of Alice arranged differently.) But of course that is only an issue if you’re saying the names in order. Still, I found myself not adding them to the list: Alice and Cecily sound so similar to me, even though they’re quite different names.

Simone is one that stayed, in part because of the visual advantage of starting with an S instead of a C, and in part because it has no L sound. I would expect this name to get more popular after this year’s Olympics, but it’s hard to tell: sometimes parents rule out a name for just such a reason. I remember when the new baby prince was named George, and people were writing saying now they couldn’t use the name George.

Now that I’ve made my list, I’ll go though yours. Rose Write is distinctive in a way that will come down to personal preference: some people will find it snappy and memorable, and others will feel it’s too much R or too many word names. Same with Ruby Write from my list, I think.

Blythe Write is a little hard for me to say: the -the of Blythe wants to blend right into the R sound of the surname. Not enough to cross it off the list, but it knocks it further down the list for me. The same thing happens for me with Edith Write: I get a -thrite sound.

I think spelling it Luisa would increase the success rate of getting the S pronounced softly, but that spelling doesn’t seem as good with the sibset. I do think part of the package deal of the name Louisa would be hearing it often with a Z sound.

I don’t think the name Rosemary is too much for a child, and I think it works nicely in this sibling group.

Violet was the very first name I added to my own list. I then wavered, and then decided to cross it off, and then left it on. I think the name works very well for an adult, and I think Vi is a great nickname, or there’s Lettie. But I find I persistently associate the name with the word violent in both sound and appearance. It’s not as strong as the sweet little flower association, and yet it persists. I wish I didn’t have this association, and so I have left the name on the list.

Middle Name Challenge: Vada ______ Mimree-with-a-K

Hi Swistle,

I’m due at the end of October and until just recently thought I had my daughter’s name settled. As a teacher a lot of names got marked off the list quickly for either a) negative associations or b) not wanting to seem like I was naming my child after a particular student. Before I knew I was expecting a girl I had considered August Pierce for a boy’s name (with the nickname of Auggie or calling him Pierce, depending on what felt more suitable). This pregnancy was unexpected and I am going to be a single mom so by the time I had come around to the idea of thinking about names I had only really come up with the one boy option before I found out I would be having a girl. I’ve settled on the first name of Vada (inspired by the spunky little girl in the “My Girl” movies, but loved entirely because it’s unique and highly unlikely that there will be more than one in her classes or any in my future classes; also, my paternal grandmother’s name is Vanetta and I like the connection of the V names between my Memaw and her only-to-date great-granddaughter). The middle name I’m currently thinking of using is James, simply because I like how Vada James sounds and for pretty much no other reason (which I don’t really like; I like having a story behind a name, even if it is just a favorite movie from my childhood).

My dilemma comes, however, from a recent strong urge to honor my maternal great-grandmother. Her name was Minnie Louise and her nickname was Polly. Depending on who you asked she was either known as Minnie or Polly and the names were fairly interchangeable. Minnie’s descendants are all still fairly close (all six of her children are still alive and there’s a breakfast reunion each month) and while a couple have honored my great-grandfather (Troy Hoover), none have tried to honor Minnie/Polly. Toward the end of my great-grandmother’s life, after my great-grandfather had passed, my mom and I spent a lot of time helping her and making sure she was taken care of. A lot of Friday nights were spent spending the night at her house with my grandma and mother and they’re some of my favorite memories.

I’m open to using a middle name that could be nicknamed into Minnie or Polly, something that doesn’t necessarily scream either of those names at first, but I would know the connection and have a story for the use of the name). I had considered Minerva (which I know you’ve suggested in the past with the nickname Minnie), but it doesn’t seem to go with Vada very well. Completely sad, too, because Minerva (aside from the Minerva McGonagall connection, which is awesome) was the original mascot of my college alma mater back when it was an all girls institute. It would be perfect if it just sounded okay with Vada. Vada Minerva…am I crazy not thinking it goes?

Do you have any other suggestions?

Other girl names I’ve loved, if it helps:

Elizabeth (which is my middle name and where my nickname of Bess comes from, so I’m okay with using a nickname that comes from a middle name)

My last name rhymes with memory, but starts with a K (assuming you pronounce memory like I do: two syllables, mim-ree–I’m from the south, if that pronunciation sounds odd).

Thank you so much for any ideas/help you can give!


This is going to be a short answer, because I think Vada Minerva sounds GREAT. My friend Miss Grace and I have had multiple conversations about how much we like it when there is a repeated sound within two names: that is, not necessarily alliteration (Veda Victoria, for example), but rather the exact thing you’ve got going on with the repeating V sound of Vada Minerva. I think it makes names fun to say, and also ties them together. So I’m doing double-thumbs-up for the Vada Minerva idea, for the sounds and the associations, and don’t see any reason to look further.

But “sounds GREAT” is a very subjective thing, and if it doesn’t sound good to you, you may want to continue looking. In that case, I’d next go with Vada Polly. I think that’s super cute. Or Vada Louise: I like that even better for sound, but less well for connection to the original name.

This is a bit of a reach, but did you by any chance love the Anne McCaffrey books as a child, the ones about a harper and dragon-handler named Menolly? It’s been a long time since I read those, but I used to LOVE them, and I remember Menolly as a good strong character. Also, her name sounds to me like Minnie + Polly. Veda Menolly. (I’d prefer Minerva, though, for the associations and for the more direct reference to the honor name.)

In your circle, is it common to call a child by first-and-middle? That too would influence my advice. If NOT, then I’d be much less concerned with how it sounds, and much more interested in getting the honor name in there. But if SO, then I’d still be interested in the honor name, but would put much more emphasis on it sounding well together.

Baby Name to Discuss: Marvel

As many of you do on Twitter, Paul periodically brings me samples of interesting names he’s heard in the wild. Last night’s was a name he saw on an old newspaper clipping of a woman and a baby; underneath the clipper it said something like “Marvel Smith and her baby daughter.”

There are several things that make me enthusiastic about this name, despite it not being my personal naming style. The first is the association with Marvel Comics, which seems like it puts the name nicely into the category of names relating to science fiction, video games, and comic books. When I searched online for “Marvel Smith,” trying to find the clipping Paul saw, I found there is also a pro-football association with the name. I suspect there are many parents who would find it useful to lean on these selling points, if they loved the name but the other parent was not immediately sold.

The second is that it’s a positive noun name. There were 769 new baby girls and 13 new baby boys named Miracle in 2015; the name Marvel takes this concept down a notch while still being very flattering.

The third is all the name-like sounds. It shares sounds with (among others): Marvin, Marshall, Marcel, Marlon, Harvey, Martin, Marlin, Marcus, Margaret, Margo, Martha, Marley, Marlowe, Mario, Lamar, Evelyn, Velma—and of course all the -el and -elle names.

The current U.S. usage of the name is low and unisex: there were 14 new baby girls and 17 new baby boys given the name in 2015.

To me, Marvel seems like a nice choice for parents looking for a surprising/unusual unisex noun name with positive associations. What do you think of it?

Baby Naming Issue: Will a Kyla Be Mistaken for a Kayla?

Hi Swistle,

My husband and I are expecting our first child (a girl!) after four years of IVF treatments and are thrilled! Back when we were naive and thought we would conceive right away, we picked out names for a boy and a girl, basically ruling out anything/everything else:

Colton Mark (nickname Cole, Mark is my husband’s first name and a follows a naming tradition in his family of giving the father’s first name as the son’s middle name)

Kyla Morgan (Morgan is a family name on my side)

We’ve been calling the baby Kyla since we found out it was a girl and decided not to tell anyone the name until she is born because we don’t want to hear people’s opinions on it. That lasted about five minutes and we ended up telling a friend of ours who later referred to her as “Baby Kayla”.

I recoiled in horror and have been second-guessing Kyla’s name ever since. I do not like the name Kayla – it screams 80s to me, and not in a good way. My husband is full steam ahead on Kyla still, but I am not-so-secretly compiling a list of alternative names.

My first question to you and your readers: have you heard the name Kyla before? Is it too close to the more-familiar Kayla that she will get called Kayla all the time?

Second question: are there better names out there?! Am I settling too soon on a name I picked out literally four years ago?

Here’s what else is on our/my list:

Morgan – as a first name instead of middle
Madelyn – too popular?
Nicole – my middle name, but is it too 80s?
Natalie – the only name my husband has said he likes
Linnea – a childhood obsession of mine from the book Linnea in Monet’s Garden but my husband hates it
Liliana – husband hates it

Corinna Noelle – this is the name I named all of my dolls as a child, then daydreamed naming the daughter I would one day have with my crush as a 13 year old. My sister recently reminded me of my obsession and I, oddly enough, don’t hate it and maybe kind of like it?

Our last name is Polish, full of consonants, starts with Skr- and ends in -ski. I think I lean towards more feminine names to offset the heavy surname.




Oh, yes, I know that feeling, where two names are theoretically similar, and yet one is the name that lives in your heart and the other is a name that makes you shudder. Well. I talk a lot on this site about the “package deal” of a name: that is, every name comes with its own set of upsides and downsides and complications. Some names come with a LOT MORE upsides/downsides/complications than others, and some downsides/complications are much more serious than others, and some upsides are more worth the potential downsides/complications, etc.—and so it can take some considerable effort to figure out how things shake out on the balance scale. And because all that balance-scale work is very subjective, other people’s votes may or may not be much use.

I think that yes, part of the package deal of the name Kyla is that it will sometimes be mistaken for the more familiar Kayla. However, I think that everyone who is a regular in her life will know it is Kyla, and the mistakes will come almost entirely in situations where it doesn’t matter: for example, the Taco Bell clerk may call out “Kayla?” when her order is ready, or the school secretary might call down to ask for Kayla to be sent to the office to pick up her forgotten lunch box.

My vote would be to persevere with the name Kyla. But I also don’t think there’s any harm in considering other options, if that would be fun: it can a little bit of a bummer to go into a pregnancy with all the fun name decisions already made.

Glancing over your list, the only name that catches my eye is Linnea—but your husband hates it, so I don’t think that’s worth pursuing, unless you think he dismissed it without really thinking about it. Nicole does seem too 1980s to me, or even too 1970s, and also seems too similar to Colton/Cole.

I love Corinna Noelle. How does your husband feel about it? It might be necessary to first get him in the right frame of mind: if he’s full-steam-ahead with the name Kyla, he might not be seriously considering new candidates. You’ll know better than I will the right way to reset his thinking, but with Paul I would say, “I know we pretty much decided on Kyla. But it’s been awhile since we decided on that, and I will feel more certain about it if we can first seriously consider other options. So what I’d like us to do is act like we have NOT decided on Kyla, or even pretend that something happened and now we CAN’T use the name Kyla, and give some serious thought to other options.”

A name similar to Kyla (though perhaps, as with Kayla, similar in ways that don’t appeal) is Lila. And that makes me think of the other rhyming options: Isla, Myla, Nyla.

Another similar-but-maybe-in-the-wrong-way option: Kaya. I think the spelling/pronunciation issues might be a bit of a headache.

My daughter is friends with a Kyra, but that one is constantly mispronounced (KY-ra or KEER-a?) and misspelled (Kira).

And another in this same theme of similar-but-maybe-in-the-wrong-way: Kiley.

Clara is an option that shares a surprising number of sounds with Kyla, considering how different the two names are.

I wonder if you would like Brielle? I thought of it when I saw Noelle and Nicole.

Baby Boy Richardson, Brother to Rory and Luca

Dear Swistle,
We are having the hardest time naming our THIRD BOY! We need help! We have a Rory and a Luca, both inspired by our world travels. Rory came from Ireland and Luca came from Italy. My husband likes the name Trey and I like Penn but both names we don’t love. If it was a girl we would name her Rozlyn no question. But since we found out it’s a boy, and with our due date approaching rather quickly (end of August) we feel pressured to find the perfect name for our baby boy Richardson! We are very overwhelmed and would love any input from you or any of your readers! Thank you!!!


My guess is that you are out of locations to draw inspiration from, or you would have mentioned them. Well, if you DO have another country to draw from, I’d start there. It’s a fun theme. Perhaps a country you PLAN to visit some day?

If not, I’d still be inclined toward international-sounding names. And since both Rory and Luca are names with at least somewhat unisex usage in the United States (Rory more so than Luca), I might also look for other names that were not boy-only, or that had the sound of not being boy-only. This is a very assorted sort of list, but this is the kind of thing I’d be considering: