Baby Girl Erdlen, Sister to Ivy Frances

H. writes:

I am 5 months pregnant with our second daughter and due the first of September. We have a 17 month old daughter named Ivy Frances and we are in love with her name. Plus, your blog definitely inspired us and gave me great direction when it came to naming her. Also, Ivy was one of the only names my husband and I really agreed on as we have very different tastes. Frances is a family name on my husband’s side of several generations. Overall, we had an easy time picking Ivy’s name and unfortunately, it’s not going the same way with the next one.
For our second child, we have decided to go with the middle name Lee. It honors my father who is no longer living as well as his father who is 93 and very much alive and well! There is a possibility we will have a third child but I don’t want to save Lee in the event we don’t…Now to the trickiest part of our baby naming dilemma, our surname! It is Erdlen and pronounced exactly as read. It’s German and a tough one…
So far, these are the two names that my husband and I agree:
Isabel Lee, call her “Isa” although my husband likes “Izzy”
Josephine Lee, call her “Josie” or “Poppy”
Penelope Lee, call her “Poppy”
But I of course have a few more on my list:
Nora Lee (not a fan of Eleanor)
Emory Lee
Willow Lee or Willa Lee
Talula Lee or Tallulah Lee
Esme Lee
Savannah Lee
Zoey Lee
Gemma Lee
Elise Lee
My husband isn’t too keen on the above.
I do like Annabel but “Annabel Lee” is an Edgar Alan Poe poem and I’m not keen on having the relation…
Names we’ve vetoed because of the way it sounds with our last name or popularity amongst friends / family:
Eve / Eva

If we have a third child and it’s a boy, we would most likely go with a classic family name although I would push for a rock star name like Axel! Ha!
We did consider Josephine “Poppy” with our first child so as much as I love Poppy, I feel bad that it is a leftover for our second. Also, are Poppy and Ivy too similar sounding as sibsets? My concern with Isabel is one, the popularity of the name. Two, the fact that Isabel ends with an L and then there is Lee so you have back to back L’s. Three, we are starting a trend with giving our children “I” names which of course is not intentional. I’m not a fan of the spelling Isabelle and much more prefer Isabel. I noticed when picking names for my first that I was not a fan of names that ended in E because our surname started with an E but now I’m thinking how much does that really matter?
Please help! I know Ivy is categorized as an “antique charm” name and I am wondering if there are other names out there I am missing or what are your opinions on the ones we like thus far? I want something different and creative and it is driving my pregnancy brain crazy! I like that Ivy is a bit common but still stands out and would love to be able to give that to our next one.
Many thanks!

Baby Naming Issue: What Is the Proper Etiquette for Middle Names?

A. writes:

I have a question about proper etiquette for middle names (if in fact there is any)

My daughter just had her first born son and he is the first grandchild to both grandparents. Very early on they decided to name him after his father’s grandfather which made everyone very happy on both sides. The problem now arrises when we were at the hospital shortly after the birth, they were asked by hospital staff (for birth certificate reasons) his full name. My daughter responded with first name as mentioned the grandfather of the father and then the second name was the fathers father and then last but feeling least was my daughter’s father. I can’t explain how much hearing this has sent an emotional wave of total hurt … so much so that I had to leave the room. I would totally understand the reasoning if the first name was in no way family associated, but it was.

I have not said a word to my daughter and I won’t…having a baby is such a beautiful event but also emotional. I will not spoil it for her.

Am I being silly about this? Really need an unbiased opinion.

Thank you


My daughters father says it doesn’t bother him and will not admit to it bothering him but I know him very well and I believe it does.


You are asking me what the proper etiquette is in this situation, and I will tell you: Stopping this whole thing right now. While our culture does not have consistent rules for middle name etiquette, it is definitely inappropriate behavior to leave the room of your newborn grandson because your daughter’s father’s name was included in what you consider to be a place of lower honor. (The correct response was gasps of joy and/or tears of happy surprise at the unexpected honor.) The only hope is that everyone else may have interpreted the behavior as something completely acceptable, such as needing to use the bathroom, making room for other visitors, giving the new family of three a little peace, or needing a moment to yourself in your overwhelming joy and relief at your daughter’s successful and safe delivery and the resulting thrill of a first grandchild.

The issue here seems to be that you are perceiving name-order as communicating rank/love/respect, as well as the lack of those things. With that interpretation, the child’s first name would indicate that the new parents feel the greatest love and respect for the baby’s paternal great-grandfather; second for the baby’s paternal grandfather; and third for the baby’s maternal grandfather. It seems to you that by using her father’s name third, your daughter is communicating that she ranks him lower than the other two men.

This, however, is not how children are named. If you have been here before, you’ve seen hundreds of letters where the parents say things such as, “We really want to use my mom’s name as the first name, but we can’t because it’s bad with the surname” or “…because we feel like we have to use another family name first” or “…because if we used it, we’d feel like we’d also have to use my mother-in-law’s name, which we don’t want to do” or “…because we think it would be confusing” or “…because my sister has dibs” or “…because we don’t want to use that initial” or “…because the name just isn’t our style” or “…because we hate the nickname” or “…because the rhythm is terrible with the chosen middle name” or “…because it’s also the name of my husband’s step-mother, who is awful and we don’t want her to feel honored.” There can be all manner of complicating issues.

Issues of rhythm and sound and style come into decisions about name order more often than issues of ranking. And patriarchal issues can be surprisingly dominant: names from the father’s side of the family can still seem like more appropriate choices for honor names, especially for a boy. Furthermore, parents often save other family names for future babies, and take that into account when naming others: if for example your daughter and her partner were planning to name a future daughter after you or another important female family member from your daughter’s side of the family, they would likely want to balance things by making sure their first son had more names from the father’s side of the family.

Parents may also be weighing things such as “Well, my side of the family is likely to have far more grandchildren, so let’s make sure to use the honor names from yours” and “I’m an only child, so this is the only chance to carry on these names” and “I think my brother has more of a right to use the men’s names from our side of the family” and “Well, we moved to live near your side of the family, so let’s make sure to use names from my side of the family to balance that out a bit.”

And many other parents don’t give it anywhere NEAR this amount of thought, and end up giving names without taking balance into account at all. Parents may love and respect both sides of the family equally, and nevertheless use names mostly from one side, or from more distant (and even less-liked) family members, because those names happen to be in their style anyway. It is not time to score the tally sheet, is what I’m saying, even if we are assuming that honor names are done on a fair point system and need to be balanced, which they are not and need not. Names are connected to the people we’re honoring, but they also stay separate.

Your daughter’s father was honored here; that is the point to keep in mind. You don’t like it that his name was put third, but it is important to remember that the decision about order could have been made with no symbolic intent at all: the new parents could be thinking, “Good, we honored Grampa as we intended to, and we ALSO found a way to honor both of the baby’s grandfathers by using their names as middle names! What a happy surprise for them both!” The choice of order was most likely based on the rhythm or sound of the names, or on some similar issue.

It is also possible that there IS symbolism in it: let’s go to the worst case scenario and assume that they chose this order deliberately in order to communicate their feelings. Let’s say they genuinely DID mean to show your daughter’s father that he was third in their joint affections. In that case, I would say several things:

1. Third is pretty great.

2. There is still only honor in the act of using the name, not insult or hurt.

3. You are right that nothing can be said or done about this (including communicative behavior such as walking out of a room, or withholding a positive comment on the use of the name).


I realize it is hard to do much about feelings: if you feel hurt, you feel hurt; if your daughter’s father feels hurt, he feels hurt. But I strongly advise you to make the effort, to whatever extent is possible: these hurt feelings may be real but they are nevertheless inappropriate, and indulging them will bring you nowhere good. Give yourself a brisk talking-to; reason with yourself; think things through until you have chipped away at the false foundation of those feelings. Give yourself some time, if you need it: as you say, the birth of a baby is a beautiful but emotional event. But by all means, don’t NURSE the feelings and grow them bigger and stronger; don’t try to plant them in your daughter’s father if he doesn’t already have them.

Concentrate on the honor, rather than on what you perceive to be the relative honor. Concentrate on your lovely new grandson, and how wonderful it is that he has so many good family names—not from “our side” or “their side” of the family: the other side of the family is your family too, the two sides permanently linked by the birth of this new baby.

I wonder if we could be of additional assistance by giving examples of honor names we used that did not accurately represent our exact ranking of family members? For example, Paul and I love our grandmothers as much as we love our grandfathers, but we used only two grandfather names—neglecting the other two grandfathers and all four grandmothers. We could have used a grandmother name for my daughter’s middle name, but we tried them out and didn’t like the combinations; also, we had another priority for her middle name (using another candidate that was almost her first name); also, one of my grandmothers had a name with a bad association for me. We could have honored the other two grandfathers with the names of our other two sons, but instead we used other names; in one case, it was because the name was too similar to a first name we were using, but overall it was because we felt we’d “done” grandfathers and were ready to honor some of the many, many other possible candidates. We used my dad’s name as the first name of one of our sons, but didn’t even use my mom’s name as a middle name; this doesn’t reflect a difference in how we feel about my dad and mom, but instead reflects the way my mom’s name sounds odd as a middle name and wrong-generation for a first name, and seemed weird to use once we’d used my dad’s name for another child; it also reflects that we had four boys and only one girl. And my dad is more important to me than my grandfather, but I honored my grandfather first because my grandfather likely had less time, and because my dad’s name didn’t work as a middle name with my first son’s name and I hadn’t yet considered using it as a first name. I gave all the children my maiden name as their second middle name, not because it matters to me less (it was crucial to me to use it) but because it reflected the order of my own name.

There are so many reasons why names are chosen or not chosen, or why they’re used where/when they’re used.

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.