Baby Naming Issue: Is it Okay To Use a Name that Was Chosen for a Baby Lost to Miscarriage?

Hi Swistle, I just found out a few days ago that I am pregnant with child #2! Super excited, way to early to know what the gender is yet. My husband and I already have a boys name picked that we love. Rhyse Riordan (we pronounce it Rise). We would have used it as our first child’s name if she had been a he. We still love it as much today as we did then, so its a no brainer. Girl names however have always been much more difficult for me. There are just so many that are so pretty, its tough settling on one!

After much reading of sites (including this one), making lists, bouncing ideas, and falling in and out of love with various names, I ended up naming my daughter after she was born Imara Arissa. And then a month later I decided her first name didnt suit her at all, but her middle was spot on. So we are calling her Arissa May until we can get a formal name change.

Ok now with that all out of the way, onto my question. Is it ok to use a name that we love, but was earmarked for a pregnancy that ended in miscarriage? I was pregnant with my 1st husband over 10yrs ago, and sadly miscarried. The name I had picked out for a girl then remains a perfect name to me. Rinoa Seraphine, nn Noa. This husband loves it as much as I do. But I feel very hesitant to revive it just because, what if that baby would have been a girl? I don’t want to steal her name away. But there is no other name I love as much, other than our daughters name. So what do you and the other readers think? Totally taboo, or could be considered an honor name, especially if we find a different middle?

(Twins run in my family, and on the off chance that this pregnancy is twins, I love Rhyse and Rinoa together, with an M middle for Rinoa to tie her name to big sis’s. I’m matchy matchy like that!) Thanks Swistle!


Whether it’s okay to use a name you’d picked out for an earlier child depends completely on how you feel about it. Some people feel as if all the finalist names they considered for earlier children are off the table, but your choice to put Rhyse back on the finalist list for this baby shows us that this is not the situation here.

Do you feel as if the name Rinoa belongs to that baby? Do you believe that the baby, if the baby were a girl, would know and care that you used the name? If the baby were a boy, do you believe he would know and care that you used the name you would have used if he’d been a girl? Here is where I would start drawing my own lines: do you feel that you GAVE THE BABY this name, or was the name the finalist girl name but NOT yet given to the baby? That is, was the baby NAMED? was the name USED? Or do you feel that you don’t name your babies until the baby is born and the sex of the baby is known (the “after she was born” part you used when describing how you named your daughter)? When you think/talk of the baby now, do you think of this name or use the name to refer to that child? If you were to use the name, do you think it would remind you of the lost baby? Did you tell everyone your name choices at the time (or have you mentioned them since), so that using this name would remind others of the previous sadness?

I would advise against considering it an honor name. The idea fails the “Would I want this name for myself?” test: I would not want to be named after a sibling who died; it would make me feel as if I were expected to replace that child. Also, using the name as an honor name means it was indeed that baby’s name, as opposed to being a finalist on the name list that is available to use for another child; the act of calling it an honor name is the very thing that would mean to me that the name should be ruled out. And since you don’t know if the baby was a boy or a girl, it feels even more inappropriate: let’s say the baby was indeed a boy, and now there is a child named after her brother who died, but the name is the name that would have been his if he’d been a girl. No, I don’t think that works at all.

If you use the name, I would say the story as it is: that you have loved the name for years. You could, if you like, say that it would have been the name of an earlier baby if that baby had been born alive and female: it is similar to saying that your daughter Arissa would have been named Rhyse if she’d been a boy. In fact, that may be the way to think of it: you didn’t use the name Rhyse for your daughter, even though that name was picked out for her if she’d been a boy, so the name Rhyse is still available for a future child. Did you name the lost baby Rinoa, or do you think of the name the same as you think of the name Rhyse—i.e., unused, even though it was the finalist name?

If you decide to choose a different name, I think there is a very good chance you will find a name you like just as much or more, just as you did when you found Arissa’s name.

Baby Girl Uhspike, Sister to Will, Kate, and Elizabeth: Royal Names

Hi Swistle,

We expecting our fourth (and probably last) baby in October. My husband Ben comes from an all boy family and I figured ours would follow suit but that hasn’t been the case! Our only son, William, is 7. At the time I considered naming him Nicholas or Jacob but William Scott (nn Will) won out. Then our almost 5 year old came along and without any question we went with our family girl name from the previous pregnancy- Kate Eleanor. I opted for that instead of Catherine because I wanted her called Kate and didn’t want that to change over time. A couple of years later there was the royal wedding and now people always comment on our Will and Kate and seem to like it. I didn’t mind continuing the theme when our number three came along last year and we named her Elizabeth Anne, Elizabeth having such a beautiful meaning and being my favorite name of my childhood. When we aren’t calling her the Queen, we also call her Bitty or Beth.

Now our surprise baby (and girl number 3) is coming in the Fall and we are OUT of royal names! I have a few funny rules I’m trying to follow and can’t seem to let go. Our two syllable Dutch last name rhymes with Spike and starts with an “uh” sound. I think “uh” names sound funny with the double “uhs” (like Emma Uh-spike, Amelia Uh-spike) although I quite like them. I’d also prefer not to duplicate first letters and sounds if possible, for ease in calling children and labeling their belongs (yes I know these are some OCD problems!)

If this baby had been a boy we would have named him James Benjamin. Right now I have only a few names left on my girl list that still fit into the royal theme.

A few I love but aren’t willing to use for the above reasons are Emma, Amelia, Alexandra, Emily. I also like Charlotte// nn Lottie but it’s ridiculously popular in our area. Despite the supposed frequency of my other children’s names, we’ve only run into one other Will and a few Katelyns but no Kates or Elizabeths at all! Maggie is a favorite of mine but we don’t love Margaret (and I’m not sure I’m creative enough to branch out to a Magnolia// nn Maggie with our other names).

My husband isn’t crazy about Grace. I love Caroline but would not want any nicknames for it, so I think it might be better in the middle name slot for Grace or Mary (it’s also a family name and that feels like a nice spot for the tribute name, as we have done with our other children). I also think Mary Caroline is beautiful but would likely be Mary in the long run and I wonder if Mary is too “old” to go with our other names. My brother and both like our old fashioned, classic names (Anne and John) that were never too popular but I don’t want to saddle her with a name that’s just too old for her generation. My reservation with Jane is that it rules out having a James just in case we had another. Also, I feel like we’ve gotten some really mixed reviews about the name and that it might be too old, too (and it’s only questionably royal as Lady Jane Grey was a contested Queen who only “reigned” a few days but we’re alright with that).

So my question is, do I need to let myself break out of our little theme? Do you think Mary is just too old for a little girl? What about Jane, does it fit comfortably with William, Kate, and Elizabeth, or is she bound to feel like the named-with-the-leftovers sister? How did I let myself get into this crazy theme? Do you have some other nice classics lying around that I’ve missed?

Thanks so much!

PS Yes we do love this theme, the kids dressed up exactly like Will and Kate for a Royal Wedding Halloween and we have a British decorated room. I just wish there were a few more British Royal names and still wish the Royal Baby had been a girl with four or five more names to choose from, although I’m sure she would have stuck with a classic like Alexandra anyways!


I think Jane is a great choice. My main hesitation is the same as yours: for me, it would rule out using James later on. My second hesitation is that it feels very similar to Kate. But I don’t see any reason anyone would think of it as a “leftover” name.

Grace seems like the perfect choice to me, so it’s unfortunate your husband doesn’t like it. Perhaps he will come around: we get many letters where a husband’s dislike of a name causes me to ignore it as an option, and then we get the name update and the name has been chosen after all.

Caroline seems excellent, too. I don’t think of it as having any natural nicknames (that is, there are nicknames people could use if they wanted a nickname, but it isn’t a Michael/Mike kind of situation), which increases the chances she’d go by the full form. But I agree that if you feel strongly about it not being nicknamed, that knocks it further down the list.

Mary doesn’t seem too old to me; in fact, it feels like a refreshing choice. I might not have thought so, except that I encountered a Mary in the kindergarten class of one of my older boys. My first reaction was something close to shock, as my brain rearranged what I thought of the name: my mind had always filtered it as Common Name, never even really hearing it as a name, and now suddenly I was hearing the sounds that made it such a long-loved choice. Sisters named Mary and Kate do briefly bring Mary-Kate and Ashley to my mind, but surely that is not an enduring association—and not much of an association at all when it’s Kate, Elizabeth, and Mary.

I’m hesitant to suggest any further options: it seems like you must have already combed through the list thoroughly and rejected all the other royal names. Still, this makes a better reference post if we include the others, and sometimes hearing other people remark positively on a name can put it back on the list. I used Wikipedia’s British Royal Family page to assist the search.

Beatrice and Eugenie are the first two names that come to mind, even before looking at Wikipedia. I especially like Beatrice for this sibling group, and I love the nickname Bea/Bee (I would buy everything in the world that had bees on it). Eugenie seems like a harder name to sell in the United States, and also repeats Elizabeth’s initial.

Next I think of Diana. Few names have such a royal association for me as that one does. William, Kate, Elizabeth, and Diana fairly BOILS with royal.

And although you specifically said you don’t much care for the name Margaret, I want to put in a good word for it: I love it, and I love all the nicknames, and it definitely sounds royal. We had a little girl named Margaret at our bus stop a few years ago, and it made me love the name even more. If you love the name Maggie, it may be a great choice for you.

I assume you’ve considered and rejected Victoria. For me the main downside of this name is that I don’t like any of the nicknames and only like the full form.

I think Philippa with the nickname Pippa would be a strong candidate if it weren’t for the -uh/Uh- issue: it brings to mind not only Kate’s sister but also Prince Philip. Does it help at all that Philippa is three syllables? To my ear, that third syllable gives a little natural pause. I do still hear the -uh/Uh-, but it seems less troublesome.

Camilla is another name of this sort.

It would be more a royal reference than a royal name, but Georgia would be sweet. The -uh/Uh- issue doesn’t hit my ear in this case, perhaps because it’s more of a -juh/Uh-, or perhaps the issue bothers me less overall.

Two more royal-reference names would be Henrietta and Harriet, for Prince Henry (called Harry).

Sophie and Louise are both possibilities. I particularly like Louise.

I also love Alice and Sarah, if either of those are royal enough.


If you find you’re just STUCK and none of the royal names work for this child, another option is to choose a name that COULD be royal. I remember there was a lot of talk during Kate’s pregnancy about what names they’d be likely to choose, and it’s possible they WILL have a girl later on. It’s a bit of a long shot, but that could work out in a fun way, with them choosing the same name you chose for your third daughter. It wouldn’t be something to count on, of course, but it could help ease the discomfort of breaking a theme.

Baby Boy Lamberton, Brother to Annie

Dear Swistle,

I’m hoping you can help us out with a few suggestions for a boy’s name. We just found out that our child due in mid-November is a boy, which is great, except for the fact that we only can find girl names that we like!

Our last name is Lamberton, and we have a daughter (who will be 2 when her little brother arrives) whose name is Annie (not Anne, Anna, Ann… Annie – we knew that’s what we would end up calling her for a long time, though we are not nickname-averse).

Girl names we’ve liked:
Margaret (Maggie)
Talulah, Louisa (Lulu as a nickname for either of those, although we weren’t entirely sold on the alliteration with our last name)

Boy names we’ve liked but nixed:

Elliot (our friends have a son named Elliot and it would feel weird to us)
Henry (I love it still, but my husband is less sure about it… it doesn’t feel right to him.)
Charles (I like it, husband doesn’t)
James (we’re kind of on the fence – it’s my one brother’s first name, but he goes by his middle name)
Beckett, nickname “Beck”. – I really liked it until I saw a sign for Beck beer….
Oliver – love it, especially with Annie, except for the fact that my far-more-astute-than-I friend pointed out that both our children would then be named after orphans.

We’ve also nixed a lot of the really popular names right now: Mason, Liam, Noah, Owen (he’ll have a big cousin named Owen)… Names ending in “-aden” don’t even enter the discussion.

Using “Richard” as a middle name is a possibility, as it is a strong family name on both sides, but my brother has already used it as the middle name for his son, so we don’t need to use it… but it would be nice to find something that could go with it.

My husband is Benjamin (goes by Ben), so that is probably out, although I do love it as a name. Basically, we like interesting names that are more timeless than trendy. Oh, also, we’d probably like to steer clear of names beginning with a “B”. We’re already having our first two children (I’d like more, at least I think I would, but my husband isn’t sold on that yet) at pretty much the exact same interval as my husband and his older sister, and since his sister’s name also begins with an “A”, I’d like to try to stop the similarities before they get too out of hand. Hmm… any other conflicts? Ben thinks it would be hilarious if the baby’s initials were “LOL”, but I beg to differ :)

I hope that made sense… we obviously have some time, but I would just love an impartial third party’s opinion!

Thank you so much,

Kate Lamberton


The sibling pairing Annie and Oliver does immediately bring both musicals to my mind, even though I don’t think of the musicals with either name alone. Whether this is a problem or not depends on your own reaction to it: it would bother me, but if it doesn’t bother you I think there’s plenty of room to spin this as a musical theme rather than an orphan theme. I also think “named after” is too strong a condemnation: if you’re not deliberately naming the children with the fictional characters in mind, then it’s just a shared name rather than a namesake.

I do love James from your nix list, though I would have liked it better with Anne or Anna: pairing it with Annie suddenly makes me feel as if the girls get cute names and the boys get serious names. To avoid this feeling, I think I would lean toward using a boy name with a similar nickname feel: Charlie/Charley, for example, rather than Charles. Or Jack would be exactly the kind of thing I mean. I think Henry also works for this, perhaps because of the -y ending.

Gus, perhaps? Gus Lamberton; Annie and Gus.

Or Grady. Grady Lamberton; Annie and Grady.

Or Eli. Eli Lamberton; Annie and Eli. My tongue gets just a little tangled, but not enough that I’d rule it out; I find I even like it, so perhaps tangled is the wrong word. I find I start saying it with a little sass.

Or Theo. Theo Lamberton; Annie and Theo.

Or I wonder if you’d like Milo: Oliver and Charles and Elliot and Henry and Milo were all finalists on my own name list. Milo Lamberton; Annie and Milo.

Or Hugo. Hugo Lamberton; Annie and Hugo.

Or George. George Lamberton; Annie and Georgie.

Or Louis, if you find you’re pro-alliteration. Louis Lamberton; Annie and Louie.

Elliot makes me think of Emmett and Everett. Emmett Lamberton; Annie and Emmett. Everett Lamberton; Annie and Everett.

Baby Girl Alber, Sister to Charlie

Hi Swistle,

You helped us (through a private consultation) name our little boy Charlie almost 18 months ago. Now we’re expecting his little brother or sister in early October and would love some input from you and your readers.

The issue this time around? Finding a good match to go with Charlie. Our favorite names are Audrey for a girl and Henry for a boy. Despite these being our clear favorites, I’m hesitant because the rey/ry endings seem perhaps too close to Charlie’s name. So the question is, am I over thinking this? Or should we avoid these names and move on to others we are also considering?

For more information Charlie’s full name is Charles Gray (sounds a lot like, but isn’t quite) Alber. We call him Charlie 99% of the time. Gray is my mother’s maiden name and is my middle name. This baby’s middle name will be Bryce (my maiden name).

For a girl, in addition to Audrey, we also like:
Emilia (but maybe a little too fancy paired with Charlie?)
Eliza (or maybe Elizabeth with the nickname Eliza?)
Louisa (also seems a bit fancy with Charlie)

For a boy, in addition to Henry, we also like:
Samuel (nickname Sam)
Jack (but maybe sounds a bit..geriatric…when paired with Alber?)

Names we like but can’t use:
Caroline (my absolute favorite name, but I had to give it up when we named Charlie)
Eleanor (another big favorite, but too close to my mother in law’s name, Ellen, and Jewish families do not name children after living relatives)
Alexandra (a little alliteration is ok, but Alexandra Alber is too much)
Molly (love this one with Charlie, but we already know several little Mollys)
Josephine/Josie (my husband vetoed, sigh)
Sabrina (also vetoed)
Nathaniel/Nathan/Nate (too close to my name, which is Natalie)
Theodore/Teddy (another favorite, but already used by close friends)

So please Swistle, and your insightful and creative readers, help us name baby Alber!

Thank you!



I don’t think the endings of Audrey and Henry are too close to the ending of the name Charlie, so I would stop right there and not even move on to the other names on the list. I think a second -lie/-ly ending (Lily, for example) might be too matchy, and that having a group of, say, four children all ending in -ie/-y (Charlie, Audrey, Henry, Ivy) might be too matchy, but if you hadn’t pointed it out for Charlie/Henry or Charlie/Audrey, I wouldn’t have noticed it. It further works in your favor that Charlie is a nickname for Charles: Charles/Henry and Charles/Audrey aren’t too similar at all, and I don’t think it matters nearly as much how nicknames fit.

Baby Girl or Boy Owens, Sibling to Eli Dane

Hi Swistle!
We are expecting baby #2, and could use a little help with a name. We will not find out gender, which makes it twice as hard! We are fairly set on middle names, as we will probably pass along my husband’s middle name to a boy (Alan) and my middle name to a girl (Marie), to continue a tradition. We skipped this tradition with my first son’s middle name (Dane), as we honored my elderly grandfather instead.

We would prefer to stay away from overly common names, in fact, Eli is even a little too common for our liking. Yet, we are hoping to stay away from names that are hard to pronounce or spell, or sound made-up. We also don’t want another “El-” name, although I LOVE the name Eliza. It was actually our “girl” name for our son. Lastly, I don’t want a name that ends in an “O,” given our surname. I love Milo and Leo, but crossed them off because I feel like it just runs into our last name, or sounds stutter-y.

Some boy names we like, but may be too common for us include: Noah, Henry, Landon
Some girl names we like, but may be too common for us include: Evelyn, Nora, Layla

A few boy names currently in the running: Toby, Jasper, Sawyer, Adrian, Soren, Chase, Cody, Wyatt, Isaiah.
Toby may be the front runner at this point. I like Jasper…unique and masculine, but I’m a little afraid of the “Twilight” connection…still too strong? I love Sawyer, but I worry a little about pronunciation “Saw-yer vs Soy-yer.” Personally, I’d probably say Soy-yer, even though the other may be phonetically correct, because Saw-yer is hard for me to pronounce. The others are “eh” names…but could grow on me.

Our current list of girl names include: Taya, Raina, Vianne, Corinna, Mattea, Linnea.
People seem to have an easier time with girl names, but we are the opposite. Taya may be our front-runner, but I worry about pronunciation (I like TAY-uh) and spelling. It would also be a great nn for Mattea, but spelling is an issue (Tea?). Honestly, I’m not sold on any of these names the way I was with Eliza. I loved the connection with My Fair Lady…classic, spunky and sweet. Along these lines, I like Annie for a nn (Vianne?), but my husband doesn’t seem to love it.

We also hope to have a third (or fourth!?) child, and don’t want to create a “rule” so to speak. For example, if we go with “Eli & Adrian,” (Eli Manning, Adrian Peterson), will people think we are football-crazy? Or, If we go with “Eli & Isaiah,” if we name a third child something non-biblical, will it stand out?

Lastly, I’m not sure we want an extremely long name, next to our “short & sweet” Eli. I’m thinking 6-7 letters, max, unless we have a great nn.

I would be THRILLED if you are able to feature this, as I would LOVE any input you might have.

Thanks so much for your time! I PROMISE to update you when baby comes :)


One of the things I find most interesting about baby names is how the second child’s name “spins” the first child’s name. If a family has a child named Noah, for example, and then they name their second child Liam, it’s a totally different effect than if they name the second child Moses. So I do think you’re sensible to consider the effect of the second child’s name. I wouldn’t have noticed the Eli and Adrian tie-in, but Eli and Isaiah does start a biblical theme for me.

As with other themes, though, I don’t really consider it a theme until the third child matches. If a family has a Noah and a Natalie, I notice the matching N but don’t blink if they name the third child a name not starting with N (in fact, I feel relief that they didn’t feel pressured into it); if, however, they have Noah, Natalie, and Nathan, I feel like they’re all but committed to the N theme at that point—particularly if they plan only one more child.

Since you’re planning 3-4 children, I think the easiest way to avoid a theme is to avoid it for the first two: Eli and Isaiah won’t seem as themed if you have a Sawyer in between. But if Isaiah is your top favorite, or Adrian is, I say go ahead and do it: if people do see a connection, it still doesn’t seem like a large issue. Maybe someone would say “Oh, Eli and Adrian—are you football fans?” and then you’d say “Oh, no, it’s a coincidence—we just liked the names.”

For me, the Twilight problem has all but disappeared. I still wouldn’t name siblings Edward and Bella, but names such as Jasper and Emmett and Alice feel available—and I’d use the names Edward and Bella individually without worrying that anyone would think it was because of Twilight. I looked in my archives, and parents were asking about or worrying about Twilight associations regularly until mid-2013, when it stopped; the concern peaked in 2010. This indicates to me that the associations are disappearing from people’s minds. And Jasper is my favorite from your list. Jasper Owens; Eli and Jasper.

If you don’t mind hearing Sawyer pronounced both ways by other people, then I don’t think pronunciation has to be an issue. I get concerned about it mostly when parents say they hate one pronunciation, or that one pronunciation drives them crazy; in that situation, it doesn’t seem worth the inevitable stress and irritation. And the difference in pronunciation between Soy-yer and Saw-yer is subtle to my ear and local accent.

If you like Mattea and Taya, it does seem like a natural solution is to use the latter as a nickname for the former. I don’t see any reason you can’t use the spelling Taya: it’s common for nicknames to be spelled differently than the starting name. For example, it’s fine to use Abby for Abigail, instead of using Abi; it’s fine to use Bree for Brianna/Gabriella/Aubrey, instead of Bri/Brey; it’s fine to use Zac for Isaac, instead of Saac; it’s fine to use Joe for Joseph, instead of Jo; it’s fine to use Jake for Jacob, instead of Jac.

My first guess upon seeing Taya was TIE-yah (I think because I know one Maya and one Amaya, both of whom use the long-I pronunciation), but I immediately knew it could also be TAY-ya and would say it that way if reading from a class list (“TIE-yah, TAY-yah?”), and I would quickly learn to say TAY-ya. Téa Leoni helps a little with the pronunciation of the Tea spelling, and you could spell it her way with the accent over the E—though that does seem a little odd when the full name doesn’t have the accent. Well, I also think this is an area where you could let things evolve naturally if you don’t have negative feelings about any of the options: name her Mattea, and call her Taya/Tea/Téa, and see how the spelling shakes out over time. Personalized stuff can have “Mattea” on it, avoiding the issue for most situations.

When I see Corinna and Nora, I think of Cora. Cora Owens; Eli and Cora.

I’m sorry about the name Eliza, because it’s one of my top favorites—but I see what you mean about Eli and Eliza. I was trying to think of a name that seemed similar to me, and Fiona is the only one I can think of—but I don’t like it at all with Owens. Perhaps something like Penelope/Penny/Nell/Pip? I know you’d rather avoid a long name, but I think it works quite well when the boys and girls in a family have different types of names. A few more possibilities:


Baby Naming Issue: Does a Cool Name Set Expectations?

Dear Swistle

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.

Baby Naming Issue: Trends and Time-Stamps

Dear Swistle,

Please help! My husband and I our expecting our first child in late August. We don’t know the gender, but have easily settled on a couple of options for a girl’s name and we thought we had settled on a boy’s name ages ago, but now we’re facing the oldest naming dilemma in the book: We’ve had the perfect name for us in mind for years—Silas—and now it’s getting really popular.

Popularity per se doesn’t bother me, but excessive trendiness and date-stamping do, so what I’m hoping you and your excellent readers can help me figure out is how our chosen name reads and how trendy/date-stamped it’s going to feel decades from now.

Years ago, we decided on Silas for a hypothetical future son because the Biblical association was very meaningful for us; because it has a long history; because it’s not aggressively masculine but still distinctively a man’s name; and because it’s relatively easy to spell and pronounce. (We have a hyphenated last name that starts with a one-syllable word that sounds like Rau. The second word is two syllables and starts with an H. Neither is spelled or pronounced intuitively.) Finally, we liked that the name was familiar but not over-saturated.

But, of course, in the past seven years since we settled on Silas, the name has gone from being ranked in the mid-300s on the SAA list with 937 births nationally to being ranked #116 with 3367 births. In the part of the US where we live, it’s even more popular: #72, #78, and #70 our tri-state region. I don’t yet know of any Silases in our particular community, and I wouldn’t even mind if I did know of a few others unless they were in our immediate circle of friends or lived on our block. I had even anticipated that the name would become more popular for a variety of reasons; what I did not anticipate was Duck Dynasty, where Uncle Si is a featured character and has given the name a bump I wasn’t expecting (and an association that I don’t really care for.)

I should also say that, even without DD, we weren’t planning on calling him “Si” regularly. Although we wouldn’t be opposed to his name being shortened for ease occasionally, we don’t love the nickname. (Although that’s also a question we have: Some names—even two-syllable names—seem to get shortened automatically. Will that happen with Silas? Will we become those parents who spend decades insisting that Chris is really Christopher?)

Again, it’s not the popularity I mind—it’s the type of popularity or what that popularity will communicate to others. I read (or have read) Silas as being part of a trend of slightly antique-sounding Biblical names—like Ezra, Levi, or Micah—and I’m okay with that; I also saw it as connected to those gentler gentlemanly s-ending names, like Miles, Lucas, etc. But with the sharpness of its rise in popularity, I’m worried that I’m reading Silas wrong or that there are other readings of the name that I don’t see. Specifically, I’m worried about Duck Dynasty becoming its major and defining association. My husband thinks that it’s Biblical roots and long history trump Duck Dynasty, as well as any other trendiness it might be gathering and will keep it from feeling too painfully of-its-moment in the decades ahead. (We don’t want to it become the 2010s equivalent of what Willard was in the 1910s or Chad was in the 1970s.) We would really appreciate thoughts—and even some consensus—from you and your readers. Our two big questions are:

1) Do people associate the name Silas with Duck Dynasty (and, if not, what are their associations/sense of the name)?

2) Will Silas’s popularity now make it seem dated and passé in the future or does its origin and history give it more longevity?

We’re feeling short on other finalist names at the moment—this one has been “The Name” for so long—but our next top contender is Whitman (although that has its own set of issues for us). We also like Everett, Wesley, and August. We like but have had to rule out Theo, Isaac, Lincoln, Henry, and Emil. If this baby is a girl, her name will likely be Pearl, June, or Clara. We don’t care for Cyrus, which a few people have suggested as an alternative.

We would be so grateful to hear your thoughts on this and insights from your commentators, too and maybe also a poll about the Silas/Duck Dynasty connection (or just about Silas’s trendiness in general.)

Many thanks!

The RHs


The trouble with questions about the future of a name is that none of us can answer them. We can all guess, and some of our guesses will be right, but we’ll have to wait and see who wins—and by then those babies we helped name will be grown and worrying about THEIR babies’ names.

Back when I first heard the name Braden, I didn’t guess that it would become a “one of the -adens” name. When I first heard the name Noah on a little boy, I would never have predicted it would be #1 in 2013. I remember thinking Olivia was a very daring choice (I had a very strong association with Olivia from Sesame Street), and I remember thinking Jack/Max/Sam sounded extremely fresh and new. I know how I felt about those names back then, and I know how I feel about them now, but I STILL don’t know how I’ll feel about them in another fifteen or twenty years.

“How a name will feel later on” is one of the hardest categories to predict. All the parents choosing the name Jennifer as a distinctive and unusual name had no idea we’d be looking back on it mostly for its abundance. Names chosen for their youth and glamor back in the 1940s now seem like Grandparent Names. I can look at the chart of Silas and try to guess if its popularity line will continue, but trying to guess the image people will have of the name in 30 years is like trying to guess how our fashions will look to people in 30 years: some of our clothes will seem like good choices, most will seem like boring and unfashionable choices, and some will have our children and grandchildren wheezing with laughter and unable to BELIEVE that ANYONE would EVER wear such a thing.

There is reassurance here, though: when there’s no way to know, there’s no need to spend too much time worrying about it. We can try to choose our current clothes based on what our grandchildren will think of them later, but I’d say that’s a waste of time and a shaky goal. We do want to do our best to choose names that will wear well over time, and we can apply some good solid sense to that process, but most of it is still guesswork: we can’t know how date-stamped a name will seem later, when we’re still in the middle of its fashionable time. Maybe in 30 years the name Silas will seem like “part of that whole Hipster Biblical trend,” or maybe Duck Dynasty will have made it seem like a hunting/beards kind of name, or maybe we’re on the verge of an -as trend and THAT will be its most identifying factor, or maybe it’ll be one of those satisfying choices that is in fashion at the time but never baffles/amuses anyone later on. None of us want to look FOOLISH with our choices, but I don’t think the name Silas will make you look foolish.

I think it helps to think about how few names HAVE ended up looking foolish. I can think of many that seem linked to a certain generation, but very few that are therefore embarrassing: names just naturally come in and out of fashion like that, and there’s no avoiding it. The name Henry was once extremely common, then became old-mannish, then became startlingly fresh and new, then became the kind of name where parents wonder if it’s too common to use—and soon, as all those baby Henrys grow up and become grandparents, the name will once again seem old-mannish, because all the HENRYS will be old mannish. It’s the life-cycle of names.

I don’t know if Silas will be shortened to Si/Sy or not, but I don’t think you’ll have to fight it the way you would have had to in the 1970s if you wanted a Christopher-not-Chris. Now is a good time to use a name without a nickname,: some kids use them, but many choose not to. A Jonathan can easily be a Jonathan, not a Jon or a Jonny; a James can easily be a James, not a Jim or Jimmy or Jamie. But whether an individual person is called by a nickname depends on a number of factors, including whether the person in question likes it or not. The name Silas doesn’t seem like an automatic-shorten name to me: I can see people using Si/Sy, but it’s not as intuitive a combination as Jackson/Jack or Samuel/Sam.

You mention the current hipness of biblical names, and that’s one that interests me, too. I remember thinking of biblical names in two categories: the ones that were so common they didn’t even seem like biblical names (Matthew, David, Andrew) and the ones that were way too biblical to use for an actual child (Ezekiel, Ezra, Moses)—and THAT sure changed. And now we have a new question to answer: how will these names look to us when we’re looking back on them? Will we see them as hip trendy names, or will they keep their biblical/ancient reputations? Or both? Or perhaps we won’t we give it much thought at all, because all those names will just feel like the regular names people have.

For me, the primary association with Silas is the Biblical Name category. I might wonder if the parents’ motivation was primarily fashion or primarily faith, but that’s the association for me. I don’t think of Duck Dynasty—but then, I haven’t seen the show, and that makes a huge difference. I agree with your husband, though, that the long history of the name is very likely to trump any short-term association. Even if, briefly, the name is associated with a television show, I don’t think that’s going to STICK the way thousands of years of usage will.

It may very well seem a little dated later on, however. Most names do. Even classics go in and out of style: remember when the name William felt classic but not at all fashionable? Very few names escape this, just as very few clothing items stay in fashion decade after decade: there’s a natural tendency to get tired of something and move on to the next thing. The difference is between the things we come back to again and again, and the things we feel grateful we weren’t photographed wearing. With a name like Silas, history shows us that the name goes in and out of style but we keep pulling it out for re-use; that’s a very good sign for its future.

Let’s cut-and-paste your two main questions here again, to remind commenters:

1) Do people associate the name Silas with Duck Dynasty (and, if not, what are their associations/sense of the name)?

2) Will Silas’s popularity now make it seem dated and passé in the future or does its origin and history give it more longevity?

And let’s have a poll to help us answer the first question:

Baby Naming Issue: Trends and Time-Stamps
Do you associate the name Silas with Duck Dynasty?


Baby Girl Rhymes-with-Kerchew, Sister to Josephine Mae (Joey)

Dear Swistle,
I am due in September with a baby girl. We have a 4-year-old daughter named Josephine Mae who often goes by Joey. Our last name is French and hard to pronounce and rhymes with ker-CHEW and starts with a “ja” sound. My name is very unusual but simple and my husband’s name is fairly common. Because the last name is tricky, we’d like to find a name for our daughter that people are familiar with but isn’t ultra-popular, either. We lean towards classic/old-lady names. We like either Pearl or Claire for a middle name. This will be our last child. If she’d been a boy, we would have likely named him August George.

Names we both like:
Matilda (nn: Tilly, Millie, Molly) – this name would honor my grandmother

Caroline (nn: Cal)
Edith (nn: Edie) – meaningful family connection
Hilda – would honor my husband’s grandmother

Names I like:

Names my husband likes:

Names we like but probably won’t use for various reasons:
Eliza (an Eliza and an Elizabeth already in the family)
Henrietta (close friend with new baby with same name)
Emmaline (close friend Emily; Emma is so popular)
Clementine (too spunky?)
Avelina (pronunciation an issue)
Adelaide (friend’s baby’s name)
Juniper (too much alliteration with Josephine and our last name)

We’d love your (and your readers’) thoughts and suggestions!
Thanks much,
Nameless in Seattle


With the sibling name Josephine, I’d be inclined to go with the long version of Greta and then use Greta as the nickname. Josephine (Joey) and Margaret (Greta).

Sadie is more difficult, because it’s a nickname for Sarah but I’m not sure that’s well-known, and because I don’t think Josephine and Sarah go together better than Josephine and Sadie; in fact, I much prefer Josephine and Sadie. But Sadie still seems nicknamey to me with Josephine. Joey and Sadie are very cute together.

Clara is an excellent style fit, but it bothers me just a little bit that it doesn’t have a nickname similar to Joey. (But if you were writing to say it was your favorite and you were concerned that it didn’t have a nickname, I’d be brushing that concern aside.)

If Margaret/Greta is not an appealing option, then my top choice on your list is Matilda. I like that it’s similar in length to Josephine, with similar nickname options; I also like that it would honor your grandmother (and with the -ilda ending, it comes close to also honoring your husband’s grandmother Hilda). I immediately want to use a short middle name starting with J, to coordinate with Mae. Josephine Mae and Matilda Joy, for example: each girl’s middle name would start with the first two letters of the other girl’s first name. But that’s just playing around for fun.

I might also take Delia from your Maybe list and make it into Cordelia, which gives you Cory as a nickname option. Josephine and Cordelia; Joey and Cory.

Because you like Henrietta but can’t use it, I suggest Harriet. Josephine and Harriet; Joey and Hattie.

Because you like Eliza but can’t use it, I suggest Eloise. Josephine and Eloise. I’m not sure what to suggest as the nickname for Eloise. Ellie, I suppose. Or I’ve seen Lola suggested, but it doesn’t feel natural to me; perhaps it WOULD come about naturally, though, or perhaps another nickname would instead. (This is how I feel about Clara as well: perhaps she would be called Clary, or perhaps something else would develop on its own.)

Because you like August for a boy, I suggest Augusta. Josephine and Augusta; Joey and Gussie.

Edith on your list makes me think of Meredith. Josephine and Meredith; Joey and Merrie. But that may ruin the family connection element.