My name is Amanda Dale and my husband’s name is Niall Aidan. Our last name is Beg-lee. My husband is Irish and I am culturally Jewish. Although we are not currently expecting, I love name searching! Boy’s names come pretty easily to me, and for now my favorites include: Connor, Theo, Brenner (my mom’s maiden name), Miller, Owen, and Declan. Despite my ease at finding suitable boys names, I have found a lot of anxiety in my search for a wonderful girl’s name. A lot of this anxiety seems to stem from what expectations I am placing on my future daughter with the name I choose- let me explain:
The names that I am most drawn to seem to be unisex names, and the reason, I believe, is what I call the “cool” factor. Growing up, I knew girl’s named Brett and Sloane, and they just seemed so ridiculously cool to me! I was never a particularly cool kid, and having a very common name didn’t add to my confidence level. Those names always stood out and have continued to draw me in.
On my “cool” name list include:
Emerson, Brett, Sutton, Logan, Piper, Tristan, Spencer, Wren, Leighton, Rowan,
Despite my obvious preference, I have serious hesitations about using these names. Given that neither I nor my husband were cool kids, I worry that giving my daughter a cool kid name will set expectations she simply won’t meet. I feel that kids with slightly off beat names really need the confidence to own those names, and while we can definitely harbor those feelings in her through parenting, I still worry that it may be too much of a weight to bear. I worry that years of people not knowing her gender will cause her undue grief..
Given these concerns, I find myself searching through and enjoying some old fashioned and more feminine name choices as well, which I feel are more “cute”. Some “cute” names that I have considered include:
Evelyn, Penelope, Madeleine, Eloise, Fiona, Lena, Lila
Despite liking these, I’m not sure I love these choices. Moreover, I’m not sure being “cute” is better than being “cool”! Are there any names you can think of that can help me bridge the gap- the perfect blend of unisex cool with a feminine touch so my daughter can enjoy being whatever she wants to be?
Something I notice when I think back on the cool girls in high school is that their names were not necessarily cool: Stephanie, Monica, Lisa. Having a cool name might have further improved their coolness, it’s true—but their coolness seemed quite separate from their names. In some cases, a cool girl made her ordinary name cool by being cool herself: one example is Lynn, who had a Mom Name but forever changed the image of that name for me and probably many others at our school.
I remember some of them were given Cool Nicknames, based on in-jokes or surnames. One cool girl was called Shock (her actual name was Jennifer). A couple others were called by their surnames, which gave them the unisex/boyish/preppy sound. A girl whose name isn’t cool enough can increase the coolness if needed.
To look at the other side, I’m trying to think of the non-cool girls I knew who had cool names. I remember the first Mikayla I met: a new girl who came to the school mid-year. Her “weird name” (it’s hard to imagine it that way now!) was one more strike against her, and my guess is that she would have paid cash money to blend in a little more as a Melissa or a Nicole. The naming climate has changed considerably since then, though, and I wonder if that has considerably changed the way kids feel about other kids’ names. I do know my kids still report to me the “weird names” of other kids, and we’ve had to have discussions about that (“Kids don’t choose their own names; we don’t make fun of people’s names,” “That name is fairly common, it’s just the first time you’ve encountered someone with it,” etc.). It still seems based mostly on exposure: if they know someone with that name, they feel like it’s a normal name.
Another naming-climate issue is that unisex names are more common now. When I was a child, there was Erin/Aaron, some Jamie/Jaime and Cory/Corey; Tracy and Shannon were supposedly unisex but I knew only girls with those names (except for one male Tracy we felt sorry for). Girls who wanted something more unisex generally went the Andrea/Andy route: the feminine name with the boyish nickname. The recent naming situation is quite different: Jaden, Jordan, Avery, Cameron, Taylor, Riley—lots of names where I have to ask my kids if a particular classmate is male or female. A name that would have been startling on someone of the parent’s generation might be perfectly ordinary and non-expectation-setting on someone of the child’s generation.
In fact, we’re hindered in some ways by being The Parents: it’s hard to know which of the names we consider cool (or cute, or professional) will be considered cool by the children and their peers. It can help to imagine our own parents, and whether we think they’d be capable of choosing a name for us that our peers would consider cool.
One good solution might be to choose a name that is cool but also relatively common. Avery, for example, is unisex and strikes me as falling into the Cool category, but it was #12 for girls in 2013. This makes it familiar enough not to stand out in an uncomfortable way, and the number of Averys helps to dilute the associations people have with the name: if you know one cool Avery and one sporty Avery and one academic Avery, it’s harder to have expectations of other holders of the name. More possibilities of this sort: Harper, Taylor, Riley.
Another good solution might be to choose a name that’s cool and unisex but has a common and girlish nickname. Emerson from your list is a perfect example of this: she could easily go by Emmie or Emma if she preferred. Miller from your boy-name list would work well for this too, if you wanted something more daring: Milly/Millie is sweet.
Or you could do the opposite: give her a familiar/traditional girl name, but with a cool/unisex nickname. I recently encountered a Nicole my age who is going by Cole, which is a big change from all the Nickys. A Katherine could go by Kit; a Caroline could go by Rory; a Charlotte could go by Charlie or Chaz or Chip; a Juliette could go by Jet or Jules; an Alexandra could go by Al or Zan. I think this works particularly well with girl names that have boy versions, such as Charlotte/Charles and Alexandra/Alexander: it seems like any of the “boy” nicknames would be available for the girl version.
Another possibility is to use a very cool name, but use it as the middle name and then deliberately put it into rotation as one of her nicknames as she grows up. This gives her the option of using it if she wants to and/or it suits her, or hiding it if she doesn’t and/or it doesn’t.
Or I think it can be easier to pull off an unusual or cool name if there’s a good quick explanation for it. For example, if you used Brenner for a girl, she’d have “It was my grandmother’s maiden name.”
It may also reduce your concerns if you choose a unisex name that is used more often for girls: Emerson is now used mostly for girls, but Spencer and Tristan are used mostly for boys. Piper is used almost exclusively for girls. She’ll need to correct people less often with a name like Wren (48 new baby boys and 332 new baby girls in 2013) than with a name like Logan (12,270 new baby boys and 704 new baby girls in 2013).
When I think of names that seem “too cute,” I think of the ones that seem too lightweight: names chosen for a cute little baby girl that will feel silly or diminishing when she’s a grown woman. I feel nervous about giving examples for a category I just described so negatively, but perhaps it would help if I used one from my own generation: I know a Chrissy who would prefer to have something a little more solid to use now that she’s an adult, and I find it difficult to even use her name: it feels like I’m using an inappropriately affectionate nickname, and it also feels too babyish for her serious nature. Another of my peers has the given name Jenni: that’s another that seems too cute to me.
The names on your cute list don’t seem cute to me at all. Evelyn, Madeleine, Eloise, Lena—these are good solid traditional choices, nice vintage revivals. Penelope and Eloise and Fiona have a little more whimsy to them, but they’re still serious choices with good long histories. If your list were Maddi, Ellie, Evie, Fifi, and Pip, that would fit better with what I think of as “Maybe these might be too cute” list.
The big question here, though, is whether a cool name puts too much pressure on the child to be cool. I’ve been thinking about that since you wrote, and I find I can go either way on that. My first answer is yes: I do think it’s possible to burden a child with an overly cool name. I think a child can feel pressure from her name, and I think parents can inadvertently or deliberately put their own issues and expectations into a name. But if the parents like cool names, does that mean they shouldn’t use those names, just because it could be an issue? That’s where I start to come down on the other side of things.
I think my main advice is to see if you can figure out what style of name is your favorite, separate from the image of the names. That could be a nearly impossible task, since the image of a name is a huge part of whether it’s to our tastes or not. But what I mean is, see if you can separate “a cool name” from an image of “a cool high school girl.” See if it helps to do the same exercise I did: think of the cool girls you knew, and see if all of them had cool names or only some; think of the girls you knew with cool names, and see if all of them were cool or just some. Or when you’re out and about, mentally try the names on people of all ages and types to see how well you like the names with those people attached to them instead of to the cool girls from your memory. Picture various types of kids with various types of names; picture people your own age and your parents’ age with various types of names. Sit at the mall and watch people go by, and try the names on for size. Break the name from your image of the name as much as you can, and see if you still like the name.
But maybe you will do these exercises and realize that you like cool names because you like cool names: you DON’T feel like they’ll change your child’s temperament and you don’t even want them to, you DON’T mind if she doesn’t end up being cool, you’re NOT trying to correct for your own childhood experience—you just like cool names because you like them and they’re your preferred naming style. In that case, I would treat them as I’d treat any other name category: it’s considerate to build in some flexibility if possible (a middle name, a nickname, etc.), but as long as you’ve taken into account the things I can see you’re taking into account already (wondering how the names will fit on a variety of people, wondering how the child might feel about the name), it’s okay to go with the ones YOU like best. That’s what we all end up doing, whether our favorites are Margaret or Spencer or Chrissy. Then our children either like their names or don’t, just as we like our names or don’t, and they modify them if they need to—but most don’t need to.
I think the reason I had trouble deciding on this issue is that I feel one way up to a point, and then I feel a different way after that. I DO think it’s important to be aware of the seriousness of naming a child, and all the issues that can go along with choosing a name. I DO think it’s important to consider how the child might feel about the name, and what the consequences of each name might be. I DO think it’s important to separate names from our images and expectations of those names, so that we don’t accidentally feel as if giving a child a willowy, pretty, confident name will make her turn out willowy and pretty and confident. I DO think it’s important to imagine the names on plump plain receptionists as well as on popular pretty high school students.
But I ALSO think that we can only take this so far. We don’t know what the child will be like, and thinking about it a lot won’t tell us more. We don’t know how ANY name might fit the child, or how those names will be perceived as the child grows up. It would be silly to throw away a name we loved “in case it doesn’t fit,” and then have the child turn out to be a PERFECT fit for that name. And I think it’s possible to worry more than we need to: it is, in the end, just a name. For MANY names on the spectrum, the name is a stretchy garment that fits a great variety of wearers.