Middle Name Challenge: James ________ Dixon

M. writes:

I would love your honest opinion and ideas. My husband and I are naming a potential boy (unknown sex, due in May) James, after his father. I think it is a strong handsome name and am very happy with it. The problem is the middle. I like unique, fun, a little different names-especially in the middle spot. He likes traditional names with meaning for us. I fell in love with the name Atlas but husband really hates it. He says he hates it because of the sad mythology and its in line with naming your kid Adonis, Hercules etc, its too powerful, it just sounds silly-the list goes on. I just like the sound, especially with James and it works for us b/c we love travel and aspire to keep traveling with our kids. He really struggles with picking anything that doesn’t have meaning to us so we have been trying to come up with clever names that have something to do with our love or our lives.

So the question is two part. I’ll give you our small list-none of which either of us are completely jumping at, and then I’d love to hear any suggestions. Our last name is Dixon.

James Webster (Webster is the town where his family cabin resides, many good memories there)

James Oscar (my greatgrandfather- we think he might have been an SOB so we’re pretty sure we want to name our baby after him)

James Forster (my greatgrand mother’s maiden name-a stretch since we didn’t know them or really anything about them, but I like that is reminds me of nature al la forester)

James Stellan (a mix of William & Stevens, two family names. I’ve been told this is too full of the ‘s sound)

I like Archer (but the raunchy cartoon ruined it), Brooks (but his friend named his son that), Fitzgerald (but he thinks it sounds too Irish) He suggests a lot of words in German or French that apply to us but they never sound right and I don’t think he actually likes them anyways. We love travel, nature, hiking/camping, literature, history, music…we’ve also contemplated Hemmings & Walden (for literary reasons), Hugo, Canon (he can’t get on board but I like it!), Amory (This Side of Paradise Character). Other names I like but he thinks are too “out-there” or he doesn’t like them for other reasons: Knox, Gray, Heath, Wilder. Family names from my side that we don’t want to include outright but wouldn’t mind a twist on include: Rudolph, Joseph, Ora, Alan, William, Stevens.

Thats basically it. We are naming a girl Charlotte Auden. We wouldn’t want to use Auden for a boy.

Any suggestions? I realize you don’t know us so matching our loves or lives isn’t easy but I thought i’d ask anyways. We’re getting close to the end (I’m already 36 weeks!) and I’m worried we’re never going to find a perfect fit.

Thank you!!

P.S. I realize I left out- this is our first baby and we have a dog named Henry & a cat named Olive.


If both the surname and the first name are from your husband’s side of the family, I would be very inclined to look for a middle name from your side. You have a great-grandfather’s name and a great-grandmother’s maiden name on your list, but do you have any closer connections? Perhaps the name of your father or grandfather, a brother or uncle or cousin, your own family surname?

Looking at your list of names you don’t want to use without changing them, I’d suggest Rudy instead of Rudolph. James Rudy Dixon.

Instead of Joseph, I suggest Jonas: it has a little of the sound of Atlas, too.

Instead of Alan, I wonder if you’d like Nolan. I’m not crazy about the choppy sound of it with the surname, but full names are hardly ever said aloud, and I see from other candidates on your list that this isn’t a sound that bothers you. (This is the same as the issue of “too much S”: if it sounds like too much S to you, then it’s too much S; if it sounds like too much S to someone else but not to you, then it’s not too much S.)

Instead of William, you could use Liam or Wilson or Wills or Wells.

Instead of Stevens, you could use Evans. But to me, all these suggestions feel like they suck the meaning/significance right out of the names. Since meaning/significance is very important to the two of you, it seems better to find something you can use in its original form, if possible.

If Archer is out, I suggest Asher.

If Brooks is out (though with middle names especially, I think duplication is fine if everyone is fine with it), I suggest Hayes and Wells and Felix.

If you like the sound of Atlas, I wonder if you’d like any of these:


Are there any names you considered as a first name but rejected for reasons such as not going well with the surname, or already knowing a baby with that name, or not liking the initials? Names that had to be ruled out as first names can often be salvaged as middle names.

Instead of looking for names that relate to the two of you, I wonder if there are names that include goals you have for him? James Felix could tie in to a desire for him to be happy and lucky; James Sterling could tie in to hopes for his character. More virtue-name possibilities:


While the goal is to find something you’re both happy with, it sounds to me as if your husband could stand to do a little more compromising on this: the first name is thoroughly traditional and meaningful, which are his priorities. It’s also a significant honor name from his side of the family. For the middle name, which is mostly hidden and unused and so is a great place to be more adventurous/whimsical, it seems like he could budge a little toward your preferences: something perhaps a little more fun and different than he’d normally prefer, without going quite as far as Atlas. It might work to have him make a list of names he’d consider a little fun/different, and see if there’s anything on there that appeals to you.

Baby Boy or Girl Cadaret, Sibling to Gabriel (Gabe)

Ashley writes:

So, I am 6.5 months pregnant with my second child, due June 20. We don’t know the sex, but we are fine on girl names (probably Adele). Our 3.5 year old son is Gabriel Christopher. We had three criteria for naming:

- Not too popular (ie: definitely not top 10, or ideally top 20, right now – since Mike and Ashley, our names, were in the top 3 the years we were born. TOO POPULAR.)
- Not too uncommon or trendy (ie: he won’t have to repeat himself five times, spelling it to the credit card company as an adult won’t be a pain, etc)
- Not boring/plain (this is subjective, obviously. His name needn’t be creative & unusual, just not TOO plain.)

I liked that I didn’t know any other Gabriels, but that it wasn’t a name that was unfamiliar. So far he’s the only Gabe in his playgroup, at preschool, etc. But no one ever says, “Oh, interesting name.” So! It was the name for us. I mean, him.

Our last name is Cadaret – sounds like “cabaret” with a d.

For this child, we are stuck with boy names. Nothing is sticking. At ALL. To add to our above criteria, I’d ideally like another name that has a nickname (we call our son Gabe) and that isn’t too biblical (No Raphael and Gabriel. Nope.).

Our (my?) favorites:
- Luke/Lucas/Luca (young cousin named Lucas, so it might be Luca/Luke)
- Oliver
- Julian (worried it’s going to be mistaken for feminine)
- Jude (maybe as a nickname for Julian – but sort of a stretch?)
- Theodore (Theo!)
- Samuel
(We do like the following, but start to veer into too plain territory…)
- Zachary
- Charles/Charlie
- Matthew

Names liked but cannot use (because we have a LOT of young boys in my family, they’re a top 10 name right now, or my husband just hates it)
- Leo
- William/Liam
- Caleb
- Dominic
- Henry
- Amos

Middle name will be a family name, probably. Christopher is my husband’s middle name. We’ll likely be doing John, Michael, Anthony, Salvador, William, or Thomas.

Okay. That is a lot of information. I’d love to hear what you have to say if you have time/space in your posting schedule!


My very first suggestion is a biblical name: Isaac, nicknames Zac or Ike. Biblical names have gone so mainstream: when I was growing up, Noah would have been a startlingly religious name to use, but now it’s the fourth most common name for U.S. baby boys in 2012. If I met a family with a Gabriel and an Isaac, the biblical nature of both names wouldn’t occur to me—and I grew up the daughter of a pastor. But I’m with you on avoiding a household set of archangels.

Before we go on to discuss other names, I want to take a minute to discuss name popularity. The name Ashley was in the top three from 1984 until 1997. The name Michael was in the top three from 1953 until 2010. But even more impressive than rankings are percentages: at its peak in 1987, the name Ashley was given to 2.93% of baby girls. I didn’t go through all the years for the name Michael, but it looks like it peaked in 1969 when it was given to 4.66% of baby boys; even in 1987 (to match it with the name Ashley and give your husband a more statistically likely birth year), it was given to 3.27% of baby boys.

Those are ENORMOUS numbers, compared with today’s: in 2012, even the most popular boy name in the United States (Jacob) was given to .94% of baby boys; the most popular girl name in the United States (Sophia) was given to 1.15% of baby girls. To match the popularity of Ashley in 1987, we’d have to almost combine the top three 2012 girl names (Sophia, Emma, Isabella); to match the popularity of Michael in 1987, we’d have to almost combine the top FOUR 2012 boy names (Jacob, Mason, Ethan, and Noah). If I’ve done the math correctly (and I really hope so, because that was some very tedious math), the Top 20 in 1987 accounted for 33.5% of boy names and 26.5% of girl names; the Top 20 in 2012 accounted for 14.9% of boy names and 12.2% of girl names.

This is not to say we can’t look for less-common names, and we will; and I know what you mean about wanting something that feels more interesting. But comparing 1987 names to 2012 names is like comparing 1987 dollars to 2012 dollars: adjustments are needed or else the results are misleading to the point of uselessness. The number one most popular boy name in 2012 is used at the same rate as the 23rd or 24th most popular boy name in 1987: if you wanted to avoid the equivalent of 1987′s Top 20 for boys, you could still choose 2012′s Top 1.

I don’t know why I did three paragraphs on that, considering I have no Top 20 names to push on you. But if there are any names you really like but have eliminated purely on the basis of popularity, I urge you to reconsider. William is Top 10 right now and was given to .83% of baby boys in 2012; in 1987 numbers, this level of usage would have put it between #27 (Adam, given to .87% of baby boys in 1987) and #28 (Benjamin, given to .76% of baby boys in 1987).

As an aside, Benjamin is an interesting example for popularity changes: I see it is currently MORE popular at #16 while being used LESS often at .63%. In fact, would you want to consider Benjamin? Gabriel and Benjamin; Gabe and Ben. I really, really like those names together. Or Bennett, if Benjamin seems too familiar: Gabriel and Bennett; Gabe and Ben. Which makes me think of another idea: if William is too popular, I wonder if Wilson would work: Gabriel and Wilson; Gabe and Will.

Okay! Let’s get out of 1987. In 2010, the name Gabriel was #21, given to .63% of U.S. baby boys; in 2012, it was #24, given to .57% of U.S. baby boys—very similar numbers. Some possible brother names:

August Cadaret; Gabriel and August; Gabe and Gus
Calvin Cadaret; Gabriel and Calvin; Gabe and Cal
Darian Cadaret; Gabriel and Darian
Davis Cadaret; Gabriel and Davis
Elias Cadaret; Gabriel and Elias; Gabe and Eli
Elliot Cadaret; Gabriel and Elliot
Emmett Cadaret; Gabriel and Emmett
Everett Cadaret; Gabriel and Everett
Hugo Cadaret; Gabriel and Hugo
Ian Cadaret; Gabriel and Ian
James Cadaret; Gabriel and James; Gabe and Jamie
Jasper Cadaret; Gabriel and Jasper
Louis Cadaret; Gabriel and Louis; Gabe and Lou
Malcolm Cadaret; Gabriel and Malcolm
Milo Cadaret; Gabriel and Milo
Nolan Cadaret; Gabriel and Nolan
Ruben Cadaret; Gabriel and Ruben
Simon Cadaret; Gabriel and Simon
Wesley Cadaret; Gabriel and Wesley; Gabe and Wes

Baby Twins Martin

J. writes:

My husband and I are welcoming fraternal twins of undiscovered sex in August. Many of our friends question our sanity at waiting until delivery to discover their sex, mostly because this requires us to come up with four mutually-agreeable names. We’ve only tentatively begun discussions, but two things are clear: we both favor more timeless or traditional names, and they are not likely to be the same ones. My top female contender – Daphne – inspires from him a serious side-eye and Scooby-Doo reference, while his suggestion of Samuel is a no-go for me. For no rational or obvious reason, the name inevitably makes me think of sandaled, dirty feet (apologies to any Samuels out there reading this).

We are both German, English, and Irish; I am also Scottish. Our surname, Martin. The twins will be our first, and most likely only, children.

His father is Charles Gregory, mine Gary Charles. We would like a “GC or CG” boy’s name that recognizes our dads, perhaps a Grant or Graham Charles Martin. For a second boy’s middle name, I would like to incorporate Lawrence, my grandfather’s name. Other male first names on my short list are Elliott, James (Jamie), Benjamin and Harrison. He likes Brooks and Heath.

For our two female names, I tend to like names that are feminine, but gravitate most to ones that also evoke a degree of gravitas (the aforementioned Daphne is perfect in that vein). Other contenders are Madeline (Maddie), Marion, Blythe, Ava, Charlotte (Charlie – again, perhaps, a nod to her grandfathers), Emmeline (Emme), and Annalise. I only have one middle name in mind: Gildea (pronounced GILDE), an Irish surname in my maternal grandmother’s family and her own middle name. My husband hasn’t yet offered suggestions.

Your advice and alternate name recommendations would be most helpful in bringing us to common ground. Please help!


It’s true you’ll need two boy names and two girl names, but I would suggest a different way of organizing the hunt. Instead of looking for four names, I suggest looking for three sets: a set of two girl names, a set of two boy names, and a set of one of each. I’d set it up like this: one page where you jot down all the names you like, one section for boy names and one section for girl names; then another page where you’d start pairing them up, divided into three sections labeled Girl/Girl, Boy/Boy, and Girl/Boy. (Or if that’s not enough room, you could have a page for each.)

Then this is how I’d go through your joint list of names when you have one: Take the first name on your list, and see if it pairs up well with any of the other names on the list—boy names or girl names. So for example, let’s say Grant is the first name on your list. Look at all the names on your boy-name list and see if you like any of them with Grant; if you do, put the pairing on your Boy/Boy list. Then look at all the names on your girl-name list and see if you like any of them with Grant; if you do, put the pairing on your Boy/Girl list. And so on for every name on the list. You might think I’d advise stopping when you started to make reverse sets of pairings you’ve already tried (_____ and Grant instead of Grant and _____, for example), but actually I recommend trying ALL of them: order can make a difference in the way the names strike you.

This exercise is going to accomplish a few side things as well. For one thing, it will show you which names you feel strongly motivated to find pairings for, which can tell you something about your preferences. It may also expose some names that are outliers on your list: if a name doesn’t go with anything else you like, it may not be your usual style. And it might give you information about what you like in a PAIR of names: do you feel drawn to twinniness, or do you prefer to avoid it? Sharon/Karen and Timmy/Tommy pairings are out of style, but many parents enjoy slight twinny things such as matched or reversed initials (G.C. and C.G., for example), matching numbers of letters/syllables, A/B names (for Baby A and Baby B), a strong matched vowel/consonant sound, etc.

One nice thing about choosing twin names is that there is even more room than usual for bargaining and compromising. Perhaps you will end up with a boy/girl pairing where the boy name is your first choice but his second, and the girl name is his first choice but your second—things like that.

I find both Grant Martin and Graham Martin a little difficult to say—not to the point of ruling them out, but enough to give me pause. Would you consider Charles as the first name? (I’m guessing you already HAVE already considered it, but let’s discuss it anyway.) It’s a name both of your fathers have, and it is very appealing to take advantage of that coincidence. It has the S-ending of James from your list and Brooks from your husband’s. It’s classic/traditional, meaningful to both sides of the family, and has good nickname possibilities. If you have two boys it would be nice to split up the honor names, but if you have boy/girl twins I think I might choose the honor value of Charles Lawrence over the honor value of C.G./G.C. initials: I like the balance of Charles being your husband’s dad’s first name and your dad’s middle name, and then the middle name being your grandfather’s first name. Plus, I love to say Charles Lawrence: it gives me just a pleasing hint of Charles Wallace from A Wrinkle in Time, without overdoing it.

I’d put your girl-name list into three groups. Madeline/Maddie, Charlotte, and Ava go into the first group: all very popular names (because of multiple spellings, Madeline is more common than it appears on the charts). Emmeline and Annalise go in the second group: less common, but I’d consider them both aligned with current styles. Blythe and Marion are in a third category: much less common, not yet back in style. I might intermix the first two groups, but not the third: I think Charlotte and Emmeline work nicely together, but less so Madeline and Blythe, or Annalise and Marion. Another nice thing about Charles/Charlie (not to oversell it) (too late) is that it works with all three groups: Charlie and Ava; Charlie and Annalise; Charles and Marian.

If you had boy/girl twins and named the boy Charles Lawrence, I’d be very inclined to look for a family name for the girl twin as well: ______ Gildea. Or perhaps she could be the one with the C.G. initials: Charles and Cora, Charles and Claudia, Charles and Cecily, Charles and Claire, Charles and Clara, Charles and Cordelia, Charles and Clarissa, Charles and Celeste.

There are so many decisions to be made, so many lists to write. If it all starts to seem too overwhelming, there’s another method for choosing twin names: pretending they’re not twins. So first you’d think, “Okay, we are having a baby; we don’t know if we are having a boy or a girl,” and you make a list of boy names and girl names and you choose one of each. Then you say, “Oh, and now we are expecting again!” And you look at your chosen boy name, and imagine a little toddler with that name, and now you are expecting a little brother or sister for him, so you make a boy name list and a girl name list and choose one of each again. (Repeat with the chosen girl name, imagining a girl toddler about to have a new brother or sister.) This will still result in all three pairings (a boy and then a girl; a boy and then a boy; a girl and then a girl), but in a way that removes the complication of twinniness.

Baby Boy Dawson-with-an-L

Megan writes:

My husband and I are trying to decide on a boy name for our first baby due August 12, 2014. We have a lot of finalists, but can’t decide which one is best, or if there is something similar that would be better.

Our last name is like Dawson with an L. My name is Megan, and my husband is Matthew (goes by Matt). We’d love an M name (our dog is named Maebee, goes by Mae), but can’t think of an M name we like (Max is OK, but not our favorite. Mason is too trendy. Too many friends named Micah).

We are pretty confident that we want to use Stone as the middle name. It is my maiden name and we both really like that it is a strong, easy to pronounce name. We’d use it as a first, but are worried about the nickname “Stoner” (we live in San Diego).

We want a name that is unique, but not too different. We don’t want one that is becoming really trendy though. We like classic names, but feel they are becoming too trendy.

Our finalists (and thoughts on each) are:

Finley (nn Finn) – my favorite, but worried it is going to become really trendy in the next few years. However, we are both surfers and love that the nickname is ocean-related. My husband prefers Findley for a girl, so we’re thinking of saving it in case we have a girl as our second.

Mateo (nn Teo) – this is our only M option, but is it weird that we are essentially naming him after my husband without using the same name? We’d call him Teo, which we both really like. We like that it is pronounceable in Spanish since we both speak Spanish and travel in Latin America frequently, but worry about using a Spanish name when we aren’t Hispanic.

Brooks – love this, except it doesn’t go with “Stone” as a middle name since it runs together and sounds like Brookstone.

Beckett (nn Becks) – also worried this is going to become trendy in the next few years.

Rio/Reo – same concern as Mateo about using a Spanish name when we aren’t Hispanic. My husband suggested the alternative spelling “Reo” – his brother was Richard and grandfather was Edward, so we are using their first initials.

Lane – my middle name is Laine, so this would be a spin on that. Not sure about the double LL sound though for first and last name.

Names we’ve considered but discarded:

Oliver (nn Ollie)

We’d really appreciate any thoughts or other suggestions you have.


I suggest Milo. It starts with M, and it’s similar to Mateo and Rio, but without the concerns. Milo Stone ()awson. My one hesitation is whether the -lo of Milo is not great with the La- of the surname. Mi-low-law.

In which case I suggest Miles. Miles Stone ()awson. [Edit: A commenter pointed out that both Milo Stone and Miles Stone sound like "milestone," and I agree.]

I also love Malcolm. Malcom Stone ()awson.

Or Marcus.

Or Mitchell, though there’s some muddling with the L’s of first and last name. I also thought about Marshall, but with the surname I get Martial Law.

But before we go any further with the discussion of M names, let’s consider the consequences for future children. If you two both have M names and your dog has an M name and you give your first child an M name, will you feel that you need to keep using M names? Since you have only one M name you like for a boy, and since you might want to name a daughter Findley, this has the potential to paint you into a very tight and uncomfortable corner.

The issue of using names from a different nationality is an interesting one. Currently, it seems to depend on the particular nationality (the 1970s craze for Irish names didn’t seem very angsty), the particular community (some communities have a wider or different range of names than others), and the particular names (for example, someone might object to a significant/symbolic name of one culture being used outside that culture, but not mind two figs about run-of-the-mill names being used). Or there can be issues resulting from the traditional relationship of the two cultures.

The name Mateo seems fine to me, culturally-speaking, but I know very little on this topic; perhaps others will have more input. Names ending in -o are currently in style, and I think the fact that his dad’s name is Matthew is a plus, not a minus: it makes it a sort of honor name, and “explains” the use of the name to anyone who might find it surprising.

The name Rio feels riskier: it’s much less familiar/common in the United States (98 new baby boys named Rio in 2012, compared to 3,513 named Mateo/Matteo), and Duran Duran’s song about a female Rio still plays frequently on some radio stations (54 new baby girls were given the name in 2012). Spelling it Reo doesn’t strike me as an appealing solution, and the connection to an R from one family name and an E from another family name feels like a reach. I’d also say it falls into the “too different” category you’re trying to avoid: only 5 new baby boys were named Reo in 2012.

Theo is another possibility.

Or Nico.

You mention liking the ocean connections of the name Finley (903 new U.S. baby girls and 473 new U.S. baby boys in 2012), but Finley means something like “white-haired warrior.” Are you thinking of swim equipment fins and fish fins, or is there another connection to oceans/surfing? Another option is the name Ocean, given to 63 new U.S. baby boys and 54 new baby girls in 2012—similar in popularity to Rio. Or Kai is a Hawaiian word meaning “sea,” and might be a good fit for you: not too unusual, not too common (1,925 new U.S. baby boys and 277 new U.S. baby girls given the name in 2012). Or is there another surfing/ocean-related word that has meaning for you: the name of a beach, a famous surfer, etc.?

To narrow down a list of good candidates, I recommend thinking ahead to sibling names—as you’ve done with considering not using Finley because of the possibility of using Findley later for a girl. It’s not as if I’d suggest choosing all the names in advance (it’s hard enough to come up with one name at a time), but it’s a good exercise for narrowing down what it is you most like in a name, as well as for figuring out how important sibling name coordination is to you. We talked a few paragraphs ago about the issues involved in choosing an M name such as Mateo; it would also be a good idea to think about how the name goes with other names you’re likely to choose. Would you feel as if you had to choose another Spanish name for a second boy, or would you feel fine with, say, Mateo and Lane, or Mateo and Beckett, or Mateo and Brooks? I’d apply the same question to the other finalists: do any of them make you feel stuck with a theme, or as if other names on the list are ruled out?

Baby Girl H., Sister to Samuel (Sam) and Vivian (Vivi)

H. writes:

We are having trouble coming up with a name for our third child. It will be a girl. Our first child is Samuel (goes by Sam) and our daughter is Vivian (goes by Vivi as well). My husband’s initials are JFH. I started thinking it would be nice to use his initials. Our last name is two syllable and goes with most names The only J name that has resonated with us is Juliette. So far, I have liked Juliette Faye and Juliette Farah with JF. I also started considering alternative ideas

Farah Juliette
Genivieve Claire

Names that i liked but didn’t work for me after I really thought about them


But, at the end of the day my husband to date has only liked Juliette. I really love it as well but I can’t believe we can’t come up with an alternative that works with Sam and Vivian. I usually like names that have a nickname option and more than two syllables. We are American, but currently living in the UK. This doesn’t matter other than I am becoming more accustomed to names more common in the UK.

Do you have any advice on possible JH combinations or an alternative girl name that goes with our children’s names? I usually love so many names but with five weeks to go, I feel like I am missing something.



When you say “I can’t believe we can’t come up with an alternative that works with Sam and Vivian,” do you mean you think Juliette doesn’t go with Sam and Vivian (I think it goes very nicely), or do you mean you think it DOES work but you wish you could come up with more equally good candidates? It sounds like Juliette is perfect: you and your husband both love it, it’s more than two syllables, it has the initials you want, and it has several nickname options (Juli, Jules, Etta).

If you decide to drop the idea of using your husband’s initials, I think Genevieve is a very nice option. Have you considered which nickname you’d like to use for it (Gen, Genny, Genna, Evie)? Evie might be too close to Vivi.

Without a surname it’s difficult to come up with additional options. Looking just at the name Vivian, I might suggest Eleanor, Eloise, Helena, Louisa, Lucille, Lydia, Philippa, Silvia, Winifred. Looking at your list of names you liked but they weren’t quite right, I might suggest Adeline and Cordelia.

For more JF combinations, I might suggest:

Jemma Felicity
Jemma Frances
Joanna Faye
Jocelyn Fiona
Jocelyn Freya
Julianna Faye

And I would reconsider Josephine, if you think there’s any hope for it: it’s great with Vivian, and I love the nicknames Jo and Josie.

Baby Boy Hefner-with-a-Hay

J. writes

We’re expecting our first child in July which we’re expecting to be a boy. Even if the ultrasound is wrong, we’ll be covered as we’ve a few girls names we both like (Abigail, Isabel, Emily, Annabel). We may use these if we have a girl when we (hopefully) have a second child.

Our last name is like Hefner, but with a Hay sound instead of a Heh sound. We both like traditional sounding names and my husband would like something with a ‘bit of history’ – though naming after a close relative (such as a grandparent) is out because (1) choosing one side over the other may lead to undue discord and (2) neither of us were overly close to our grandfathers. We’re both J’s so thinking we’ll avoid that as a first initial. I also don’t think I can handle an alliterative names (e.g. Henry, Harry…certainly avoiding Hugh!). I also worry about anything ending with a -er, -a or -ar due to the rhyming sound… e.g. Oscar Hefner.

Names on the current shortlist include:
- Benedict (nn Ben): worried it’s too ‘out there’ in its full version
- Benjamin: quite like this, husband lukewarm.
- Edmund (nn Eddie): husband doesn’t like Eddie.
- Humphrey: I’ve got issues with alliteration and lack of a suitable nickname; my husband thinks it’s brilliant!
- Jacob: like the sound but never met a Jacob who wasn’t the ‘naughty kid’; also don’t like nickname Jake
- Leonard (nn Leo): don’t like Lenny and in Australia this name is pronounced Len-ard
- Sebastian: husband doesn’t like nickname Seb
- Solomon: worried a bit weighty cf. Tobias & Benedict
- Tobias: I keep going hot and cold on this one. Love nickname Toby but worried Tobias is a bit weighty.
- William: is a family name in several ways on my side. Don’t mind Billy, hate Willy and not in love with Will.

Other ones that take my fancy but don’t quite work include Miles, Atticus, Theodore (used by close friend recently), Rufus, Oscar, Oliver, Lewis, Joshua, Joseph, Jasper, and Elliot (close friend used recently). I love, but can’t use as already belong to my siblings, Lachlan, Malachi and Reuben.

Husband has Ghanian (West African) heritage and traditionally his family use a Ghanian name with the format Nii Something as a second middle name. So we will use a format of first name, second name, Ghanian name, surname… e.g. Humphrey Miles Nii BlahBlah Hefner.

Would love some fresh suggestions! Feel like I’ve read every boy’s name in the history of the world and coming up with nothing we both love.

Thank you!!

Baby Girl Herlocker, Sister to Georgianna (Georgi)

M. writes:

I have been searching your blog frantically the past couple of months and love all your suggestions but none have been the right fit for me so I am writing you as a last ditch effort to find that “perfect” name.
I am due with our second daughter at the end of May and I feel like it is crunch time for a name decision. My husband has a very noncommittal mentality of “oh it will just come to us… and let’s just wait and meet her first”… this makes me want to scream. I feel like if we wait then we will end up settling for a subpar name that we both agree on but don’t absolutely love. I’m OK with having 2 in mind and then making the final decision when we meet her, but we can’t seem to narrow it down.
Our first born daughter is Georgianna Marie and she goes by Georgi. It fits her perfectly! Georgianna is a family name and it was an instant decision for me when I found out she was a girl but it took my husband awhile to adjust; at first he thought it was a “grandma” name (now he LOVES it :)). Our last name is Herlocker, I really don’t consider the last name as being one that “flows” with anything… it just seems harsh. If it had been a boy I really liked double H names; ie. Henry Herlocker but I do not like any H girl names so that doesn’t work.
I would like a girl name that is similar in style to Georgianna; a long classic name with a shortened, fun nickname but this has proven to be more difficult than I anticipated.
We have crossed off….

Charlotte/ Charlie because we live close to Charlotte, NC and he does not like “place names”
Josephine is my middle name and my great-grandmothers name but the “J” sound in Georgi and Josie is too similar. For this reason we also want to stay away from Genevieve.
Penelope/ Penny… it seems to be making a major comeback and is really popular in our area
Alexandra/ Alex… my husband’s name is Alex and he hated the amount of Alex’s he had in his classes growing up.

Our two favorite middle name options are Rose and Sage ; both family names and both work well with most any first name and with our last name. We toyed with the idea of Rose or Sage as a first name option but both felt like they worked better as middle name. Still haven’t crossed them off of our first name list though. Here are our top names right now:

Margaret Sage Herlocker (nn Margo) I think Margo and Georgi sound nice together but my husband thinks Margo Herlocker is not “cute” enough.
Eleanor Rose Herlocker (nn Nora) we like this option we aren’t thrilled about it
Elliott Rose Herlocker (no nn) I worry that Elliott is too trendy and doesn’t go with the classic, traditional family name Georgianna. This is my husband’s top name choice.

Other name options; Laura Rose (my mother’s name but no nn and I can’t imagine calling a baby Laura), Liselle, Louisa (nn Lou), Clementine (nn Clem).

Please help! We would love any and ALL suggestions and would immediately update on our name decision.

Baby Boy Veselka

Megan writes:

My husband and I are due with our first baby (a boy!) on June 18. We are at a stand off when it comes to names. Our last name is Veselka. It’s a Czech name that sounds exactly like it is spelled, but it stumps so many people. We have to spell it for almost everyone. His family is very Czech (grandparents only spoke Czech in the home.) My family is mostly English and Irish and I seem to be kind of partial to the Irish names. We don’t want a name that is TOO common since we both grew up with pretty common names, but we don’t want anything off the wall either. I think that’s every parent’s wish (except those crazy few.)

My husband’s name is Steven Rey. His dad’s name is Reynold and he goes by Rey, that’s where the Rey comes in. My name is Megan Anne. Simple, normal names. I want our son to have a name that is easy to pronounce and spell since he will most likely have to spell his last name for everyone already. This is the first grandchild on Steve’s side and the 4th grandchild on mine, all boys. That doesn’t really make a big difference, but it does make me want to kind of honor his side of the family some since this is the first.

Originally, my husband REALLY wanted to name our son Riggins, as in John Riggins, the old Washington Reskins football player who was his idol growing up. He loves last names for first names. I vetoed Riggins because, well, just no. I told him it’s a great dog name. We have been calling the baby Riggins kind of like you’d call him Peanut or something as a fetus nickname.

I would like our son to have his dad’s middle name, Rey, but I am not set on that. I’m not opposed to using other family names as middle names, whether they are from his side or mine.

My favorite name for our son: Emerson Rey
My husband’s favorite name for our son: Quinn (he hasn’t suggested a suitable middle name and I think Quinn Rey just does not sound that great)

We can’t seem to think of any other names we really like.

Here are some family names, both from his side and mine
Gordon, Emil, Robert, David, Henry, Jordan, Alden

So! Those are the details and I know I didn’t give you much to work with, but maybe you or your readers can help with some suggestions. Thanks so much!


Let’s start by taking a look at the name Emerson. I’m glad to have a chance to discuss it, because we received another letter awhile back asking if it was still a usable name for a boy, but I ran out of time that week and didn’t get to it; so if you’re thinking, “Wait, but I didn’t ask about this aspect of it,” that’s the explanation.

Here’s a look at the current usage of the name for girl (F) and boy (M) babies in the United States, and how it’s been changing over the last ten years:

2003: 324 F; 265 M
2004: 268 F; 266 M
2005: 683 F; 387 M
2006: 1068 F; 469 M
2007: 1079 F; 537 M
2008: 1161 F; 583 M
2009: 1016 F; 638 M
2010: 1009 F; 635 M
2011: 1149 F; 734 M
2012: 1301 F; 828 M

As you can see, the current usage of the name Emerson is unisex, rising for both girls and boys, with about half-again more girls given the name than boys. In 2012 in the U.S., it was the 364th most popular name for boys and the 244th most popular name for girls.

Alternate spellings should be factored in as well; there are more spellings than this, but I stuck to the ones with at least 20 babies given the name:

Emersen: 56 F; 12 M
Emersyn: 455 F; 8 M
Emmerson: 134 F; 9 M
Emmersyn: 57 F; – M

If we add those numbers to the 2012 numbers for the spelling Emerson, we have 2003 female babies and 828 male babies: more than double the number of girls than boys. The name Emerson fits well with the Madison/Addison trend, as well as with the recent popularity of Em- names for girls; for boys, it fits well with surname names such as Mason and Grayson.

Now that I’ve written out all this data, what is my point? It’s not that you shouldn’t use the name for a boy: tons of boys are still being given the name, and the usage is still unisex. But it’s good to know the numbers going into it. I have an acquaintance who named her son Mackenzie without realizing the current usage was primarily for girls (the only Mackenzie she knew was a male family member). It’s turned out fine (he goes by Mack), and she likely would have used the name anyway—but she didn’t enjoy the surprise of finding out after the fact.

I can’t tell from the letter how each of you feels about the other one’s top name choice. If the issue is that you each have your own favorite name and neither one of you wants to use the other one’s favorite, the most likely (and painful) solution is that both favorites will need to be scrapped and the search will need to start again—not for names you like as well as the names that had to be scrapped, but for the names you like best out of the choices that remain. Or maybe one of you would accept being the middle name choice: Emerson Quinn or Quinn Emerson. Or if you’re planning to have more children, and since both names work for both sexes, one name could be used for this child and the other for the next—though this is risky, as parents often feel differently about names with each baby. Or one of you might give up a favorite in exchange for another desired name: for example, would your husband agree to Emerson if Riggins could be the middle name? Would you agree to Quinn if you had more choice in the middle name?

One way to get more ideas for a shortish list is to chop up a name into the reasons you might like it, and then look for other names that match any of those pieces. Maybe you like the Em- sound of Emerson, in which case I might suggest Emmett and Jeremy and Remy and Emory—or Emil from your middle name list. Maybe you like the -son sound, in which case I might suggest Carson, Hudson, Lawson, Wilson, Samson, or Greyson. Maybe you like the unisex nature of the name, in which case I might suggest Avery, Rory, Rhys, Rowan, Finley, Casey, or Ellis—or Jordan from the middle name list, or your husband’s choice of Quinn. Maybe it’s something more general about the sound of the name, in which case I might suggest Anderson, Garrison, Harrison, Edison, or Davison. Maybe you like surname names, in which case I might add Davis, Bennett, Miller, Redford, Thompson, or Wells. Maybe it’s the poetry connection, in which case I might suggest Byron, Whitman, Blake, Tennyson, or Eliot. Maybe the name has another sentimental association for you, in which case I’d look for more names with similar associations.

We can do the same with Quinn. Finn, Quentin, Finnegan, Finnian, Griffin, Quincy, Zane, Flynn, Teague, Dean, Sullivan, Tiernan, Keane, Ian, Bryce, Kieran, Sean, Felix, Briggs, Seth, John, Casey.

Or there’s the game of baby-name-book surfing I like to play with The Baby Name Wizard: start with Emerson, and look at the suggested brother names: Everett, Paxton, Whitman, Beckett, Miles, Truman. Pick your favorite of those (even if you’re only so-so about all of them), and then look up THAT name and ITS brother names, and pick your favorite of THOSE. If you hit a dead end (for example, the name you like best doesn’t have its own entry), go back and choose again. Keep going until you feel like you’re narrowing in on a circle of preferred names or a preferred TYPE of name. Or maybe you’ll find that every name you choose belongs to the same one or two categories, so you can flip to the back and look more carefully through those categories. Another type of success is to think, “I really don’t like ANY of these names”—which may mean the name you’re looking at is an outlier for your style.

I keep finding treasures on your middle name list. Would you rather not use a family name as the first name? If you don’t mind it, I love Alden and Gordon especially. Alden would probably need to be spelled—but I think that’s okay. Both my maiden and married surnames have needed to be spelled every single time (and often more than once), and my first name also needs to be spelled every single time, but I wouldn’t say it’s been a big deal. Most first names (even easy ones) need to be spelled.

I think I’d add Riggins to the middle name list: I like Quinn Riggins, though then the name is very heavily chosen by your husband; I’d want to have an agreement in place to try to even that out with the next child.

Would your husband like to use John Riggins’s first name instead of his last name? Depending on where you live, John as a first name can be quite a fresh and surprising choice—like Mary for a girl, where it feels like such a common name but it’s not common at all for current babies. John has a similar sound to Quinn, and John Emerson Veselka would be a very handsome choice.

Baby Girl Ellis, Sister to Samson Ryan

M. writes:

We are expecting a baby girl at the end of the summer. We already have a little boy, Samson Ryan. We call him Sam and I love that he has a not terribly common full name, but a classic nickname. For a girl, I’m ok with pushing the envelope a little bit. I’ve always liked unexpected names for girls, typically ones that tend to be more popular for boys. My “can we get away with it” question is two fold. First, we have a list of names that might be a little too masculine for the general public to accept for a girl. Second, the more feminine sounding names we like do not go well with our last name (Ellis). Or, do they? Depending on our choice, her middle name will be an honor name of either Cate or Josephine.

So first, here are some of the more masculine names we’re considering:


As far as more feminine names that are at odds with our last name:


I suppose I just like names that have similar sounds – I never thought we would have an issue with our relatively “easy” last name. Perhaps I’m over thinking some. Most people will not continually say her full name over and over like I’m doing.

Some other names that we have thought of are Maisey and Sadie. I like the idea of both of them, but not quite them- if that makes sense. I’ve also considered names like Theodora (Thea/Teddy) or Leonora (Leo).

So, are our masculine picks a bit much? Can our feminine picks work with our last name? Is there a hidden gem we haven’t thought of?

Thanks so much!


Let’s start by looking at the current usage of three of the four names on your first list. These are the numbers of female/male babies given the names in 2012:

Jasper: 25 F, 1339 M
Wesley: 28 F, 2624 M
Wilder: – F, 90 M

Right now in the United States, none of these names are unisex names; they are all used for boys. (For comparison, in the same year there were 18 new baby girls named David, 17 named William, 20 named Ethan, and 26 named Jacob.) The name Wilder is also very unusual for boys, while the names Jasper and Wesley are more familiar for boys. All three of these names have as part of their package deal that they will be initially assumed to be boy names. It sounds like this will not bother you, and is in fact part of the appeal.

I wanted to consider the name Lochlan separately, because there are more spellings to look at: the traditional Lachlan; the easier-to-pronounce alternate spelling you’ve listed; and the spelling I saw recently on a celebrity baby that made me think the name could easily fit in the same category as Brooklyn:

Lachlan: 15 F, 183 M
Lochlan: 5 F, 149 M
Locklyn: 24 F, – M

Lachlan and Lochlan are still very uncommon for girls. But Locklyn is different: even though it is still a very unusual name, its usage indicates that it reads GIRL. That usage is very new: I went back through the previous ten years and it’s not in the Social Security data base for 2002-2010. It appeared suddenly in 2011 with 17 new baby girls named Locklyn. The actor Vince Vaughn named his new baby girl Locklyn in December 2010, and my guess is that a bunch of other people had the same reaction I had, which was, “Hey! I never would have thought of that for a girl, but with that spelling it DOES work!”

There is an interesting distinction to consider here: Do you want to choose a name for your daughter that on paper will cause everyone to assume that she is a boy (Jasper, James), or do you want a name that sounds like a “boy name” but on paper gives a clue that she is a girl (Locklyn, Elliette)? It’s two quite different philosophies. Is the double-take/confusion part of the fun?

As to whether the names on your second list go with your surname, I think there are some that go less well than others. Emmeline Ellis does seem quite alliterative, though no more so than Harriet Harris, which I love; in fact, it might be another good way to get a very distinctive and memorable name. I’m not crazy about the -el/El- of Mirabel Ellis, but it’s not something that would make me rule out the name; as you say, most people will not be saying the two names together over and over. Amelie Ellis seems a little L-heavy, but no more so than Wesley Ellis—which is not only a little L-heavy but also a little S-heavy.

In any case, I don’t think I’d go with Wesley over Amelie just because of preferring one with the surname: it seems like the first step is to decide what you want in a daughter’s first name (name currently used for boys? name currently used for girls? unisex name? name currently used mostly for boys but spelled in a feminine way? long feminine name with short masculine nickname?) and then find one from that category that goes with your surname within an acceptable range of compatibility.

If you decide you want a distinctive name currently used for girls, the name that came to my mind was Winifred. It has some of the sounds of Wesley and Wilder, and the rhythm of Emmeline and Amelie and Mirabel. It has Winnie or Freddie as nicknames (also double nicknames such as Winnie Jo and Freddie Cate), depending on what her personality turns out to be. I like either Winifred Cate Ellis or Winifred Josephine Ellis.

For more distinctive names currently used for girls: Jasper made me think of Juniper; Wesley made me think of Paisley and Waverly; Wilder made me think of Lavender.

If you decide you’d like a long feminine name with a short masculine nickname, I’d wonder if you might want to consider putting Josephine as the first name: I love the nickname Jo, but also Josie is similar to Maisey and Sadie. Theodora/Theo and Leonora/Leo made me think of Francesca/Frankie and Augusta/Gus.

If you decide you’d like a name used only for boys, I suggest Winslow: the boys have mostly given it up, and the sounds remind me of Winifred and Sloane and Harlow and Marlowe and Willow.

Here are a few names that come to mind when I think about Maisey and Sadie: