Baby Boy Burt0n, Brother to Hannah Claire

Help Swistle!

We are having our second child, a boy, in four days and still don’t know what we are going to call him. He’s been called Baby Brother throughout the pregnancy. Our first child is a girl named Hannah Claire. Her middle name is a namesake for a dear family friend and Hannah both my husband and I instantly loved. Our last name is Burt0n.

We like traditional / widely recognized names that are not too overused.

I love Holden for a boy but I don’t think it works with our surname. I also like Finnegan and Finn but again struggle with the N sound at the end.

My husband likes Noah for a first name. Noah reminds me too much of “No” and I imagine myself shouting “No, Noah!” at the playground! Perhaps this association would fade though?

I’d like to use my Grandfather’s name James as a namesake but as a middle name since it’s so popular now. My husband is considering it for a first name, since we haven’t thought of anything else we can agree on. At any rate James is the only name on the yes list at the moment.

Samuel is also a contender, though we have a few girl relatives who go by Sam or Sammie.

We both come from large families and a lot of the typical traditional names have been used (Matthew, Daniel, Richard, Charles, Thomas, Nicholas, John, Anthony, Alexander, Benjamin, Jacob, etc.)

Any thoughts?!

Many thanks,



This post has some feedback in the comments section on whether “No, Noah” is an issue: Baby Boy Smith, Brother to Carson Michael. I don’t think it would be a problem. A bigger issue for me is that Hannah and Noah both end in -ah and both have strong N-sounds: they sound and look very similar to me, almost like rearrangements of each other. I don’t think that would need to rule out the name Noah, but since it also reminds you of “no” and you’d prefer to avoid overused names (it’s currently the most popular boy name in the United States), it seems like it isn’t the name you want.

I vote for James. It’s less common at #13 than the #1-ranking Noah (18,090 new baby boys named Noah and 13,416 named James in 2013); you both agree on it; and it’s a family name. I love the names Hannah and James together, and I think James Burt0n is a wonderful name. Perhaps Noah would work as the middle name? James Noah Burt0n.

Baby Girl Smith

Hi Swistle,

I’ve waited 6+ years to be able to write you and talk baby names. My name is Allyson (nn Ally) and I’m pregnant with our first child—a girl—and due in late February. My husband, Adam, and I have very different tastes when it comes to girl names. Boy names… piece of cake… we love the names Graham, Archer, Atlas. But deciding on a name for our daughter has been nearly painful, especially trying to come up with something special given that our last name is Smith. The only name we’ve been able to agree upon is Zoe. I love everything about the name: the meaning, the ‘z’ sound, the simplicity. But neither of us our sold on it being “the name.” We would like to give her my maiden name as her middle name, Martel. ______ Martel Smith.

Here are some names from my list:

Here are some names from my husband’s list:

Please, please help us! We’re desperate for your input.

Thank you,

Ally Smith


I think you might be unhappy with the popularity of the name Zoe: combining the 7,187 new baby girls named Zoey and 5,920 new baby girls named Zoe in 2013, the name is as common as Mia, Emily, or Abigail (the 6th, 7th, and 8th most popular girl names in the United States in that year).

I wonder if you’d like Eliza. It has the Z sound, and I love it with the middle/surname: Eliza Martel Smith.

Or Esme. Esme Smith; Esme Martel Smith.

Or very similar to Zoe but quite a bit less common: Zola.

Or Zara.

Or Cleo. Cleo Smith; Cleo Martel Smith.

Or Ivy. Ivy Smith; Ivy Martel Smith.

Or Eve. Eve Smith; Eve Martel Smith.

If it wouldn’t make you feel trapped into continuing with A-names, Azalea is distinctive.

Or Zinnia.

Maisy is sweet. We were such fans of Lucy Cousins’s Maisy books at our house, the name brings that character to my mind immediately—but it’s a highly positive association. Maisy Smith; Maisy Martel Smith. I also like Maisy as a nickname for Margaret, but I’m not as fond of the sound of Margaret Martel.

Josie has both the Z-sound and the long-O/long-E sounds of Zoe. Josephine Smith; Josephine Martel Smith. Or you could call her Joey, which is even closer to Zoe.

I see a couple of V-sounds on your husband’s list, plus Ava; these make me think of Genevieve. Genevieve Smith; Genevieve Martel Smith. Maybe with the nickname Evie.

Olive is quite distinctive. Olive Smith; Olive Martel Smith.

Or Haven. Haven Smith; Haven Martel Smith.

Or Maeve.

Or Silvia/Sylvia.

Kayla from your husband’s list feels past its peak, but I wonder if you’d like Kaye. It reminds me of Wynne from your list. Kaye Smith; Kaye Martel Smith.

Baby Name to Discuss: Reagan

Wednesday’s post set off a bit of a flurry of comments section about the possible political nature of the name Reagan, and whether that association was positive or negative. Many of us are interested to know if the associations (the political ones and also the positive/negative ones) are tied to age, political affiliation, and location.

I thought about making a poll that would take all that into account, but just imagine the size of it: even if we limited it to age and location, age x location is a lot of poll options. Polls work best if they ask one basic question: as soon as we try to make them answer two or more questions (especially if either/both of those questions have many possible answers), we run into trouble.

Besides, although it would be interesting to know how a person’s age or politics or home state affected their feelings about a name, that isn’t really what we want to know on a baby name blog: what we want to know is how the name will be perceived by the population at large. We don’t necessarily care what issues are behind the reasons individual strangers feel the way they do: what we want to know is whether that feeling is likely to be held by a large majority, a slim majority, a minority, a very small minority, etc., and how it might affect a person with that name. ANY name will have a bad association for at least a very small minority of people (“Ug, that’s my ex’s name,” “I had a bad co-worker/teacher/classmate with that name,” “That was the name of our town’s petty criminal”), so what we want to know is if the level of bad association has reached the point where we no longer feel we want our child to have to deal with that association.

Another question to ask is whether the general public would transfer that negative association to the person with the name. If a child is given the name of my terrible ex-boyfriend or a city/actor/celebrity/politician I hate, it might give me a little flinch—but do I have a long-term negative impression of the CHILD and his FAMILY, or not? This will vary all the way from “Absolutely” to “Absolutely not,” and it deals with the future predicted feelings of strangers so it’s not a question with an actual answer. The purpose of the exercise is to get a feeling for how serious we think the particular issue might be: to get an idea of the extremes, first try asking it of yourself with the name John (or any very common name), and then with the name Adolf. Try it with the name of a politician you admire, and with the name of a politician you can’t stand. Try it with the name of an author/actor you admire, and then with the name of one you can’t stand. My guess is that you will come away from this exercise with two feelings: (1) “Boy, there is just NO WAY to know whether it will affect the child: people feel so differently about different names/associations!” and (2) “But I feel more certain about some names than about others.”

So here is what we will do. We will have a poll that asks only one question: whether the specific association of former U.S. president Ronald Reagan affects the poll-voter’s feelings about the name Reagan positively, negatively, or neutrally. If people would like to leave further information in the comments about how they believe their age, politics, interests, or location affected their vote, they may.

I don’t think it would be productive or useful, however, to turn this into a detailed discussion of Ronald Reagan’s presidency or personality. This is a baby name blog, and what we are interested in here is not his presidency or personality per se, but only how it affects the current usage of a name that was his famous surname. I suggest that mentions of Ronald-Reagan-related like/dislike or agreement/disagreement be limited to the existence and strength of those feelings, without the details of precisely which policies or actions or traits contributed to those feelings. I also suggest that as much as possible we speak only for ourselves, rather than for others in our area, age range, social circle, or political group.

Baby Name to Discuss: Reagan
Ronald Reagan affects my feelings about the baby name Reagan:


Baby Girl or Boy, Sibling to Ellis Paige

Hi Swistle, Our daughter’s name is Ellis Paige and she is due to have a sibling come April 2015. My husband and I can’t agree on a girl name and even though we’re months away I am in a panic.

Overall we like Unisex names for girls with a feminine middle. We also like classic names.

Some of my favorites are:

Charlotte, “Charlie”

Help!! Or can your followers help?

Thank you,



The name Ellis was given to 496 boys and 225 girls in 2013: a unisex name currently used more often for boys. I would be hesitant to pair that, then, with any of the names on your list currently used almost exclusively for girls: Charlotte, Emilie, Vivienne, Claire—which you might have on there as middle name candidates anyway. The nickname Charlie does make Charlotte a better fit, but then I start feeling hesitant about the popularity gap: the name Charlotte was given to 9,232 new baby girls in 2013: more than 40 times as many baby girls named Charlotte as named Ellis.

Reagan is an interesting possibility: it was given to 206 new baby boys and 3,020 new baby girls in 2013: a unisex name currently used much more often for girls. The balance of boy/girl usage is different for Reagan than for Ellis, but they seem similarly balanced to me anyway: I think because my primary association with Reagan (Ronald) is male, and El-/-elle/-ella names are currently so in style for girls. I think Ellis and Reagan make a very nice pair of sister names. Ellis Paige and Reagan Claire, maybe, or Ellis Paige and Reagan Charlotte.

Merrill is another interesting one to consider. It was given to 6 new baby boys and 8 new baby girls in 2013, so it’s rare right now for both sexes. Similar possibilities are Merrin and Merrit and Mirren.

The name Tyler was given to 6,590 new baby boys and 172 new baby girls in 2013: a unisex name currently used much more often for boys. A similar name is Taylor: in 2013 it was given to 818 new baby boys and 4108 new baby girls: a unisex name used more often for girls. Or Skylar/Skyler, given to 1,596 new baby boys and 4,630 new baby girls in 2013. I think of Tyler and Taylor as names a little past their 1990s peak, but Skylar is still increasing in popularity for girls.

Vella seems very close to Ellis.

Lucca/Luca might work very well for you. In general I find it a difficult name to recommend: it has characteristics that mark it as feminine for a United States name, but it’s an Italian boy name. For a U.S. family looking for a unisex/boyish name for a girl, it could be exactly the right fit. The spelling Lucca looks like luck-ah or loo-chah to me, but the comments section on this post shows that’s by no means a universal opinion. The current usage in the United States looks like this for 2013: 1,881 new baby boys and 74 new baby girls named Luca; 256 new baby boys and 49 new baby girls named Lucca; 433 new baby boys and 25 new baby girls named Luka.

Without a surname to work with, it’s difficult to come up with further suggestions. But here are some names I think might fit well with a sister named Ellis:


Baby Girl or Boy S., Sibling to Patrick, Lila, and Joel: Good C Names for Girls

Relevant facts:

  • My husband has an unusual three-letter name.
  • Our last name starts with S, which is also the third letter of my husband’s first name.
  • I am due late December with #4, and we’ve decided not to find out the sex of the baby this time.
  • This is our final child, we have a naming pattern with the other three of “first name we liked, middle name family name.”
  • The girls family name we liked last time (when we had a boy) was Alice.
  • If we name a baby _________ Alice S________ that gets us reaaaaaaally close to initials that spell my husband’s first name
  • This is cool, right??? My husband and I both think so!
  • Butttttttttt………..and there had to be one………..there are only two girls names that start with C that I like-not-love (Cora and Clara) and lately I’ve even been toying with NOT using Alice (though I think ultimately we will.)

So here’s where I need help. Can you think of any other “C” girls names that are similar to Cora, Clara (or our other kids – Patrick, Lila, Joel – not super popular but not weird)? OR, can you release me from the desire to HAVE TO USE a name that starts with C?

Relevant info for a boy: we are NOT considering the naming pattern for a boy, but would welcome boys name ideas similar to:

and of course – Patrick and Joel

Help me Swistle!!!!


I will start by making a suggestion I know you have already considered, so it is a little silly to make the suggestion at all, except that sometimes around here we’ve found that it works. Here it is: I love the name Alice with this sibling set, and so I suggest it as the first name. But I know it’s common for a previous frontrunner to not seem quite right for a subsequent child, so I won’t push. But Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Alice—I love it.

The next step is to discuss some good C names for girls, and then after that I’ll work on removing the pressure to choose one of them. Cora and Clara are both great: I love both of those.

Another of my favorite C names is Celeste, but I suspect that would be too much S-sound with your surname. Cecily has the same issue.

Colette, maybe? Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Colette. Hm, it may share too many sounds with Joel.

Or Corinne. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Corinne.

Or Cleo. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Cleo. It bothers me a little bit that Joel and Cleo both have four letters and share three of them.

Claudia works, I think. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Claudia.

Camille would be pretty. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Camille.

Carys may not work with Alice, which is too bad. Carissa instead, or Clarissa? Clarissa is one of my own favorites. But it might have too much S-sound to work well with your surname.

Oh, perhaps plain Claire? Similar to Clara, and takes away all the S of Clarissa. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Claire.

I like Cressida, but I wonder if it’s a little too unusual for the sibling group; also it has the S issue.

Well, my favorites are still your top two, Cora and Clara. I have a slight preference for Cora with Lila, but it’s only slight.

Now for the reassurance. While I agree that it is quite fun and interesting to have a child’s initials spell your husband’s name, I don’t think it’s fun/interesting enough to be worth choosing a name you only like, if there are names you love. It’s the sort of gimmick I do enjoy (like when twins have matching initials or reversed first/middle initials), but it doesn’t feel irresistible. I think in the long run you would get more satisfaction out of choosing a name you loved.

Also, it would break your naming pattern, which of course is fine, but it’s an argument to use if you’d LIKE to talk yourself out of it. (If you wanted to be talked INTO it, and if you found a C name that you liked well enough to use, I’d instead be saying you were still meeting the spirit of the naming pattern: names you liked plus a family-name connection.)

One possibility is to just get CLOSE to the idea: you could give her the same three letters in a different order, for example (Alice C. S.), or use your husband’s name (or a feminine form of it such as Cassie or Cassandra) as her middle name.

I think my strategy at this point would be to set aside the initials idea for now, and look for first names you love. If you find some, then weigh it: “This name we love, or this name we like-don’t-love with the fun initials?” If you find only names you like, then it’s a different situation, and may help make one name pull ahead of the others: “This name we like-don’t-love with fun initials, or this name we like-don’t-love without fun initials?”

For boys, I’m going to copy the list down here again so we have it to look at; names similar to:

and of course – Patrick and Joel

A name we had on our finalist list for our youngest child may work here: Alan. We’d watched a television show with a very appealing Alan Alda doing the hosting/narrating, and then of course there’s Alan Rickman. It comes to mind because I saw it in action on a child for the first time just this weekend: I was in a store, and a mother called her elementary-school-aged son Alan, and I thought “That works!” It’s a slight surprise, without seeming weird. It’s similar in sound to Alice, and I think it goes well with brothers Patrick and Joel.

I wonder if you would like the name Calvin? Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Calvin.

Or Henry. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Henry.

Or Wesley. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Wesley.

Or Timothy. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Timothy.

Or Malcolm. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Malcolm.

Or Graham. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Graham.

Or Edmund. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Edmund.

Or Callum. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Callum.

Or Gideon. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Gideon.

Or Micah. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Micah.

Or Philip. Patrick, Lila, Joel, and Philip.

Baby Naming Issue: Does the name Shepherd / Shepard Seem Religious/Biblical?

I am curious about your opinion (and that of your readers)
I LOVE the name Shepherd and am considering using it for Baby No. 3 but my husband and I are not religious – bordering on atheism. Does it have too much of a biblical flare to make sense for us?



This name came up in yesterday’s post as well, with the same concern, and I’m interested enough to have a whole post on the name. As I mentioned yesterday, I had to think for a moment to discover the religious connection—despite being a pastor’s daughter who grew up very familiar with Jesus/pastor-as-shepherd imagery. The association is diluted by actual non-metaphorical shepherds, German Shepherds, Cybill Shepherd, Sam Shepard, Sherri Shepherd, Matthew Shepard, Alan Shepard, etc.

Sometimes with such things it’s helpful to ask the question from the other side: “Does Shepherd seem biblical if someone doesn’t want it to be?” AND “Does Shepherd seem biblical if someone wants it to be?” For example, if someone were writing here saying they were very religious and wanted to use only biblical names for their children, and did we think Shepherd qualified as biblical, what would we say?

I think I would say it’s a word-name that could be made to have an association with certain religious imagery, but that I wouldn’t think of it as a religious/biblical name per se. It’s a little like saying Lily is a biblical name because Jesus tells a story about the lilies of the field, or that Reed is a biblical name because Moses was in a basket of reeds: it can have that meaning for the family, if the family wants it to, but if I met someone named Lily or Reed I wouldn’t make the connection without being told.

In fact, on further thought, if I encountered a child named Shepherd, I think I would assume the family was NOT religious, because if the family WERE religious, I’d think they’d recoil a bit from seeming to compare their child to Jesus. It reminds me of the more extreme example of the name Trinity: it’s a very religious/biblical word, but not one I’d expect to see used as a name in a religious family.

Shepherd/Shepard is interesting because I think the different spellings could make a big difference. Shepherd is an occupational name as well as a surname name—like Baker, or Deacon, or Archer. Shepard is a surname name. If you want to reduce/avoid shepherd/sheep/Jesus imagery, I’d use Shepard.