Baby Naming Issue: Is Dash Too Much Like DAESH?


I’ve followed your blog for years, but having always been a name nerd myself I never really thought I’d need advice. Cliched, but true.

After 4.5 years of dealing with infertility, my husband and I are thrilled to be expecting a baby boy, due late January. Unfortunately, we ended up finding baby boy names challenging. So many of our friends have already had baby boys, which knocked many of my favorites (Caleb, Micah, Asher, Ezra) out of the running. Plus, my husband is quite particular about names, which eliminated some others (Milo, Jasper, Graham, Gilbert, Levi).

Fortunately, we found one name which we both not only agreed on, but loved–and are planning to name our little one Dashiell Alexander N. (Last name is Greek, 4 syllables, and appears in the Bible and the Rats of NIMH). It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s strong and striking, we think Dashiell would be a fine name for a judge or doctor, and we LOVE the nickname Dash. The name seems like a perfect combination of grown-up sophistication and a super-fun nickname that he can use if he wishes.

All was well, until yesterday, when we were driving to work and heard John Kerry on NPR, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. Which, unbeknownst to us, is DAESH. And sounds just like Dash.

So. We LOVE the name. And DAESH doesn’t currently seem to be in super common usage–most people say ISIS or ISIL–and it’s spelled differently, of course. But would we be dooming our child to being associated with an awful terrorist group if we call him Dash?

Thanks in advance for any help you’re able to provide. We’ll be heartbroken if we have to go back to the drawing board, but I’d hate to inadvertently saddle our little guy with a name that has truly terrible associations. We haven’t shared the name with anyone in real life–and would prefer not to until he arrives–so an outside opinion would be very valuable.

Thank you!


I wish fervently that I could figure out how to get polls to work again, because I feel a poll would set your mind at ease. I am going to say back to you the things you already know and have just finished saying to me:

1. The child would live in a country that uses the term ISIS, not DAESH.

2. Dash would be only his nickname, and one he could stop using in a worst case scenario where our country suddenly started saying DAESH instead.

3. Dash and DAESH are spelled differently. To someone not familiar with the pronunciation of DAESH, it doesn’t look as if it were pronounced the same.

If you were expecting a girl and you were planning to name her Isis, I would indeed advise you to go back to the drawing board, no matter how much you loved the name. I would speak to you earnestly and with full sympathetic eye contact, saying I was so very sorry but that I believed this name was currently off the table. But Dashiell does not seem to me to belong in the same category. When you presented the problem, I didn’t get any little chills down my neck, or a sinking feeling in my stomach.

On the other hand, I just searched for DAESH online, and saw some articles about how ISIS is a term with unfair associations and how DAESH is a pleasingly mocking term as well as being more accurate. I can picture the United States deciding that combination is irresistible: I can imagine all the Facebook links to articles telling us we should say DAESH instead, and blog posts explaining it, and so forth. In THAT situation, where DAESH is the word we use…well, I suppose it could start to feel more like naming a girl Isis. I admit I am starting to get a slight sinking feeling in my stomach.

(I’ll be very interested to see what the name Isis does in the next couple of years. In 2014, there were 396 new baby girls given the name in the U.S., and I thought of it as a name rising with Isla and Iris. It seems very likely that usage will be significantly affected by recent events.)

I’m thinking aloud here, because I’m really not sure. ISIS/Isis is a MUCH MUCH stronger link to me than DAESH/Dashiell. But that’s because I’m familiar with the term ISIS, whereas this letter was my first exposure to the term DAESH. With time, my feelings could easily and considerably change.

I think if you decide to use Dashiell, it would be good to think ahead to the emergency exits, just in case. For example, if it were to turn out you could no longer use the nickname Dash, would that ruin the name for you, or would you still want to use the name Dashiell? In the worst case scenario, would you be okay with calling him by his middle name instead? Would it work to change the middle name to your second-choice boy name, just in case? Would you want to use Dashiell as the middle name? You could even still call him Dash.

I think if I were you I would let it simmer a bit. We’ll see what the comments section looks like, and that will give us more information to chew on (though one reason I miss the polls is that the results were often quite different than what the comments section would lead us to guess). Some of us may have information about the likeliness of the United States changing the term they use for the group. Some of us may already be familiar with the term DAESH, and can say if Dashiell now feels strange to them as a result. Some of us may have suggestions of similar names. Some of us may have empathetic stories to tell about names they lost to a current event of the time.

Baby Name Discussion: Names that First Come to Mind

I dreamed last night that I was in the hospital, in labor, with a baby I hadn’t realized I was going to have. Of course my mind skipped right over all the other details (how did this happen? do we have a car seat? why is this hospital room so enormous and luxurious?) and went directly to “What will we NAME the baby?” In real life, I’d call someone to bring me a baby name book and a notepad; in the dream, I had to come up with names off the top of my head.

For boys, the names that first came to mind: Oliver, Henry, George, Charlie. (Henry is the pseudonym of my fifth child; it was very close to being his name, and I’d be glad for another chance to use it.)

For girls, the names that first came to mind: Genevieve, Penelope, Annabel, Clarissa.

What are the first names that come to your mind, if you imagine needing to name a baby on short notice? No consulting lists or baby name books! Just write down the ones you would think of if you were alone in your hospital room. (I didn’t cheat, and you can see in the comments section how repeatedly sorry I was.)

Baby Naming Issue: When Are Names Too Similar for Siblings?

Dearest Swistle –

While my husband and I are *pretty* sure that the one baby is enough, I think about Theoretical Second Baby all the time.

And one of the things I think about, of course, is what TSB’s NAME would be.

When we named our daughter, we had three names that were Top Contenders. And one of those three still stands out to me as The Name That Got Away. Not that I don’t love my daughter’s name – oh no, I DO. Just that I would LOVE to name another daughter Name 2 from the Top Contenders list.

The thing is… If we WERE to have not just a second child but a second daughter, I think that Name 2 would be out of the running because it shares two syllables with my FIRST daughter’s name. And that’s what I wanted to email you about today, because I thought it might be fun.

At what point are names TOO SIMILAR to be sibling names?

Let’s say my daughter’s name is Gwendolyn, and that the Second Favorite name is Guinevere. Not quite true to life in terms of my own issue, but pretty close: The names begin with the same sound. The emphasis in both names is on that same sound. The nickname possibilities BOTH include that first syllable.

I mean, that to me seems like the biggest PROBLEM: the nicknames. Because even if at home you call the girls Dolly and Vera (or whatever), if their friends decide to call them each Gwen, you are in trouble. I suppose it’s unlikely that if you already had a sister going by Gwen that you’d ALSO agree to be called Gwen, but it’s still POSSIBLE. And this is a game of hypotheticals, after all.

But aside from that first syllable, the names are pretty different! So… are they different ENOUGH that they would work as a sibling set?

What if the names were Madeleine and Madison? Or Bridget and Britney? Or Elinore and Eloise? Or Luanne and Louise? Or Verdabelle and Veronica? Or Marilyn and Marianne? Or Isabella and Isadora?

I feel like there ARE some… boundaries. For instance, Susan and Suzanne seem MUCH too similar to work. Same goes for Mary and Maria, even though the first syllable of each is NOT quite the same. I guess in each case, they are variations on the same name. Maybe that’s the line of demarcation?

Is this all a matter of personal preference? Or are there some Naming Guidelines that can help in the decision making?

Just something I’ve been thinking about for, oh, ALMOST THREE YEARS. Perhaps it would be amusing to puzzle through with your readers.

Much love


I believe that yes, it boils down to personal preference. I am thinking of friends of my late mother-in-law, who deliberately named their daughters Sharon and Karen. Or a friend of a friend who has daughters Ella and Emma. Or of course there’s George Foreman, who named all five of his sons George. And then on the other end of the spectrum there are people who won’t even use two names that start with the same letter or have the same vowel sound.

I think you’re right that MOST people would would have drawn a line by the time we got to two names with the same nickname, or two names that were (or sounded as if they were) variations of the same name. I’ll bet too that most of us feel more strongly about repeated beginnings and rhyming endings than we do about repeated endings (non-rhyming) and rhyming beginnings. And there are other things that can make names feel more/too similar, such as looking similar (even if the sounds are different), or having the same number of syllables, or having the same beginning and ending letters. And of course there’d be exceptions all over the place, for every line we might draw!

Some issues feel like issues during the naming process, but turn out to be a big shrug afterward. For example, I have uncles Jim and Tim. I can imagine thinking rhyming nicknames made the names too close, but it doesn’t feel like a big deal at all now that it’s happened: just a mildly interesting similarity. I still might prefer not to do it with my own kids’ names, unless I loved the name too much to give it up.

I think love factors in very strongly. If you are still thinking of a name several years later, you may decide to go with the “No one REALLY CARES what anyone names their children” philosophy and/or the “Well, it’ll work out, one way or another!” philosophy, and just GO for it. Or you might end up thinking of it as a name you loved nearly as much as the name you used, but unfortunately you could only use one or the other. I have names like that on my list: for example, I love the names Wilson and William, but I was only going to use one or the other. I love Elizabeth and Eliza, but again, only wanted one to use one or the other; I love Edward and Edmund, same deal. Edward and Theodore, that’s more of a flexible area for me, even though both could be Ted. Elizabeth and Eleanor too: I suppose they could both want to use Ellie, but for whatever reason it doesn’t bother me.

Well! It’s a very interesting topic! I’d love to hear where everyone else draws lines, and about pairings that felt too similar or NOT too similar to use!

Discussion: Baby-Name-Choosing Strategies

Hi Swistle,

I have been reading your baby name (and regular!) blog for years and am currently expecting a little girl in March (yay!). But instead of asking for your specific advice, I was wondering if you’d be willing to tackle the more general topic of “name-choosing strategies.”

I’m dealing with a situation that a lot of my friends have reported, too — the mothers-to-be come up with tons of name ideas, while the fathers veto almost all of them and seem totally unwilling to offer more than one or two suggestions.

My husband is awesome and super-involved in every other way — he’s just completely unhelpful with the naming thing, and it’s stressing me out (and him, as I get increasingly frustrated).

In your (vast!) name-helping experience, you must have come across strategies for dealing with these or similar situations. An shared spreadsheet with a points system? A baby-name-generating drinking game? (ok, maybe not the best idea for pregnant women) I would love to hear your general advice and I think it would be helpful for a lot of people.


This is a question I thought would be a great one for general discussion: different things work well for different people, and making a reference section in the comments section appeals to me.

Paul and I had a few things that worked for us. Since I was very interested in names and liked making lists, and he wasn’t and didn’t, one exercise we’d do is I’d have him look at my list and put stars next to the ones he liked best. We chose our second son’s name that way, almost disappointingly quickly and easily, because his clear favorite was also my clear favorite (and one he’d VETOED for our first son! I didn’t point that out to him).

With our last son, we got down to seven names and had trouble narrowing it further—not because we were fighting, but because we both liked all seven names. The exercise we found most useful that time was to rank the names—not in 1-7 order, which was too hard, but in tiers. I had two that were my top choices, so I ranked those both 1; then I had several that were my next choices, so I ranked all of those 2; and then everything else was a 3. Paul did the same, and this let us quickly eliminate all the tier-3 names we had in common (because those were never going to get chosen over the other names), and notice which names were highest for both of us. We got down to two names this way.

I don’t know if this counts as a strategy, but I tried to get Paul into the right mindset. For example, I’d say, “Don’t say yes or no to this name right away: I just want you to think about it.” I’d do the exposure method: saying a name to him over and over again in different contexts (“Baby Milo! 3rd place in the spelling bee: Milo Thistle! Milo, come to dinner! Milo, did you do your homework? Can you pick up Milo after school?”) until he got used to it. And I did the spinning-it method, where if possible I’d think of people I knew he’d like (scientists, authors, book/show/movie characters) with the same name as the one I wanted him to consider seriously.

I had some luck too with setting up TIMES to discuss it. That is, instead of discussing it continually, as I’d have preferred, Paul seemed to do better if we’d arranged to sit down and talk about it over a dinner out, or during a particular evening. It also worked better to wait until later in the pregnancy: he had trouble even thinking about it until we were at least past the halfway point.

One thing I liked about The Baby Name Wizard book is that it let the less-interested-in-names parent work with smaller, more manageable lists. Paul didn’t want to look through an entire baby name book, but he found it much less painful to glance at a category and say yes to this type of name, no to this type. (Plus, it showed him that all the names on his list were 1970’s-80s names.)

Baby Naming Issue: Does the First Son Have Dibs on the Dad’s Name?

My two sons lost their father when they were 5 and 12 respectively. The older one bears his father’s name, Richard. Both boys are now having their first child. My older son is having a girl and my younger son is having a boy. My younger son wants to name his son, Richard, after his father, which is also his brother’s name. My older son is angry with him because he feels he will have a second child and if he has a boy he would want it to be called Richard. Is there a wrong or right?


The reason this is such a tricky situation, I think, is that there is no wrong and no right per se, but there are nevertheless a lot of strong feelings about it. Familiar practices (such as a name being passed down through firstborn sons) may be misinterpreted as having rights or ownership or control, for example. A family may even choose to voluntarily defer to the current name-holder, strengthening the feeling that it must be done that way. And many people feel that names should not be duplicated among cousins, even though it used to be extremely common to do so.

I wish we could start with this understanding: that both sons may name children after their father, however they see fit, and that it is WONDERFUL that they both want to, and that it would be an almost heartbreakingly beautiful tribute if both of them named sons Richard. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.

As things stand, instead of a beautiful tribute, we have the makings of a very ugly situation. Your first son would like to reserve his father’s name for a son he very well may never have—which would be fine, except that he also wants to prevent his brother from using the name. I suspect he is viewing the name as a possession, a single item that can only be handed down to one person as if it were a gold watch. The way he may be seeing it, his father gave the watch to him, and now he wants to give it to his own son; meanwhile his brother is trying to steal the watch to give it to HIS son. Your first son is angry at this perceived attempt at theft. He protests that he is very likely to have another child, which may very well be a boy, and so it is too early to grab the watch away from him and his descendants.

But that is not the way names work. Your first son keeps his name even if he gives it to his son, just as your sons’ father kept his name even after giving it to his son; and the name can also be given to both boys of the next generation. No one takes or steals the name away from anyone else; the name is duplicated, and shared, and is another set of bonds to hold a family together. It is sheer pleasure to look through a family tree and see a name winding its way through the generations and branches. This is the sort of imagery I wish families could use, rather than seeing honor names as grabbing precious possessions away from each other.

If your first son can’t be talked around to a different point of view, I don’t know how your second son can get around it. If your first son continues to see the name as a birthright that gives him possession and control, then even if your second son disagrees completely, it may not be worth the family fall-out. I think this would be a crying shame, especially if your first son never does have a son, and so their father is never honored. Your sons’ father shared his name with your first son; but he, and the memory of him, and the privilege of honoring him, belongs equally to both of them.

Baby Boy Booer, Brother to Jillian

Hi Swistle!

I have been following your blog for the last several years and would love your input on what to name our little boy!

He will be the brother to Jillian and we would love something that went along with her name and was similar in that most people know of a Jillian but don’t know many! So, we like the popularity level and prefer names that aren’t very popular. We don’t like names from our own generation (we are both in our early 30s). The baby boy’s last name is pronounced “boo-er” and will have the middle name of John. We are stuck on the first name!

We currently like Deacon, Benson, and Levi but aren’t completely sold on any of them. Any help??

Thank you so much!!!


This is a letter I didn’t get to from a previous week. The other day, I was out shopping and I heard someone say the name Russell, and I immediately thought of this question. One of my sons has a Russell in his grade, and it’s the only Russell I know—and yet the name is familiar. Russell Booer; Jillian and Russell. Jill and Russ.

Baby Girl Schemmel

Hi Swistle

I love your blog!
We are expecting our first baby in February and it would be great if you could help us. We had a boy’s name picked out all along, but of course it’s a little girl. We are both from Germany but live in Australia. I’m Franziska but mostly go by Franzi, my husband’s name is André and our last name is Schemmel.
For a boy we had Charles (Charlie) Eric Arthur. Charlie because we love the name, Eric after my late brother in law and Arthur after my great-grandpa. It could have been so easy. For girls we have almost nothing.

When we talked about names years ago we decided on Catherine (Katie) if we would ever have a little girl, but now that I’m actually pregnant it just doesn’t feel right. I never thought it would be that hard to pick a name and all the pregnancy hormones aren’t helping either.

André is dead set on Katie and doesn’t like anything else. It’s a nightmare.

Names I suggested but he vetoed are: Elizabeth, Amelia, Madeline, Savannah, Felicity, Alice, Josephine and Emily. I would love a little Lizzy or Annie or Fle, but no. It’s not that I don’t like Katie, she just doesn’t feel like a Katie or Catherine. But then I also thought she is a boy, so what do I know? J

Should we just go with Katie and be done with it? It’s not bad, he likes it and there is no other name that I really love as much as he loves Katie.

My second problem are middle names. Fortunately he is happy with whatever I pick. I’ve always loved Isla. That’s the only other name he would consider as a first name, but I’m quite hesitant as no one in Germany can pronounce it right, it’s so short and there are no cute nicknames. My grandma’s name is Gisela and I really want to honour her, but she doesn’t really like her name. I don’t like Giselle, so that’s out. One time I looked at her name and realised Isla is in there. If you cross out the G and E you have Isla! Is it too farfetched? Would it still honour my grandma?
For the second middle name I like Charlotte as it’s my other grandma’s middle name. I don’t want to use it as a first name, as we still want to use Charles if we have a boy in the future, but I love it as a middle name. Do Isla and Charlotte go together? Does it really matter if I love the names?
It would be amazing if you could help us!!!

Thank you so much



The first thing that needs to happen, it seems to me, is that your husband needs to release his death grip on the name Katie. The baby may or may not end up being named/nicknamed Katie, but insisting that it’s the only name he likes isn’t helping with the process—especially if his filter for all other names is “Do I like this name better than I like my top favorite name?,” resulting in automatic vetoes for all non-Katie names. In short: no, I don’t think you should name the baby a name you think of as “not bad” and don’t feel is right, just because your husband is being so insistent, especially when there is still quite a bit of time left in the pregnancy to think about names. I do think you should keep it in mind as an option, as you’re clearly already doing.

I’d suggest seeing if you can hit his reset button with an exercise we’ll call “Yes, But If She COULDN’T Be Named Katie.” Say to him that you realize it’s his favorite name, and that you’re not ruling it out at this point (this phrasing would, I hope, remind him that you certainly MAY rule it out), but that it doesn’t feel right to you, and that you’d like to use the next few months to explore other options to see if there’s something you both love. Ask him to pretend that the name Katie could not be used for some reason. Perhaps it would help him to pretend the two of you already had a daughter named Katie, and now you were naming a second daughter. Start again with the lists of names you like, and/or have him come up with new names he likes, WITHOUT the complication of comparing every name to the name Katie.

Since you’re planning more children, another possibility is that this baby is not Katie, but the next baby would be. That is, perhaps the reason it feels wrong to you is that THIS baby is Elizabeth/Lizzy, and the NEXT baby is Catherine/Katie.

If all of this fails and he remains stubborn about using Katie, I think one strong possibility for compromise is the double first name. For example, naming her Anna Katherine, and he can call her Katie and you can call her Annie. Or Eliza Kate, or Emily Kate, or any other combination that sounds good to you both and gives you both the nicknames that feel right to you. I don’t see any problem with parents calling a child by different nicknames; I think the most likely is that the child will choose a favorite as she gets older, or that one nickname will naturally take the lead as the one that fits her better.

Another possibility is making a deal: he gets to name this baby Catherine/Katie, but this means you get the final say on the next daughter’s name. This involves a bit of a gamble, but it may come to the point where the baby is about to be born and it is time to cut losses and maximize gains.

To me, Isla is not a honor name for Gisela, any more than Anika would be an honor name for Franziska. But different families have very different feelings about honor names, and so your grandmother may very well be honored by it—and you may be thinking, “But…I WOULD be honored by an Anika!” It sounds as if your grandmother is still among us; could you ask her what names would make her feel honored? It would spoil the surprise, but may be worth it.

I think that in most cases, a person who doesn’t really like her own name would nevertheless feel the full impact of the honor if the name were to be used as a baby’s middle name. I think it is unlikely that your grandmother would think, “Oh! Too bad I don’t really like my name.” Many people feel only neutral at best about their own names, and yet would still love to be honored in that way.

I do think Isla Charlotte is a nice combination, whether it’s first/middle or middle/middle. I’m more hesitant about the combination Isla Schemmel if Isla were to be the first name, but I think it works well enough; Charlotte Schemmel is a lot of SH and L, but it’s rare for the middle name and surname to be said together.

Baby Name Duplication

Allyson sent me this letter, and I thought it was the sort of letter that might be VERY REASSURING, considering how VERY MANY letters we receive with parents worried that there will be “five in every class” of their favorite names:

Hi Swistle,

I’m not sure if this would be of interest to you, but I was given a copy of the class list at my kids’ daycare/preschool. So many of the emails you get have parents worried about using a certain name due to popularity. This list is pretty interesting- out of the 160 kids, there are only 13 names that are listed more than once, even considering alternate spellings. Of the repeats, 10 names are used twice, one name is used three times, and two names are used four times.

She went on to list WHICH names were the repeated ones, but she and I have agreed not to post those here because it seems as if it puts the focus on THOSE SPECIFIC NAMES. That is, it doesn’t matter which names were repeated; the point is that so few of them WERE repeated. I think in the anxious stage of baby-naming, if I’d seen that one of my favorites was used FOUR TIMES in one daycare/preschool, I’d think that name should be off the list; but actually it only means there is a coincidental pocket of that name in one school.

For example, the two names that were repeated four times each: you might expect those to be Top 10 names. But they were not! One is a Top 50 (but not Top 10) name, and the other is a Top 100 (but not Top 50) name. The name used three times is also a Top-50-but-not-Top-10 name. Two of the repeated names in the list are not even Top 100 names. Only ONE name on the list is a Top 10 name.

The point is that name statistics are national. No one can reassure anyone that there WON’T be a crazy classroom where there are five students with the same name. We can, however, offer statistic-unlikelihood comfort.

We can also offer the perhaps counter-intuitive comfort that there isn’t much that can be done about it: you can give your child the #993 name Cordelia, when you liked the #4 name Isabella better but didn’t want her to be “one of five in her class,” and then in her class there may be two Cordelias and no Isabellas. My brother has a name that was ranked well into the 200s for his birth year, and he was in school all the way through with another boy who had the same name with the same less-common spelling. My name was just barely out of the Top 50 for the year I was born, but there was only ONE classroom my entire school experience that had another Kristen/Kristin in it.

One reason I LOVE getting class lists is that they’re almost always surprising. Some years, there is no duplication at all. Other years, a class will have two Connors, two Williams, two Madisons and an Addison, and three Joeys—plus a Zoe, a Zoey, and a Chloe. Elizabeth had a class of the latter type last year, and she said that furthermore, both Connors had the same MIDDLE name, AND the same surname initial! (They solved it by having one go by Connor and the other go by his first and middle initials.)

I’m not sure exactly the kind of discussion I’m trying to start here, but I trust you to take it from here. I think it would be interesting to hear about Interesting Duplications (two Cordelias, for example), and about surprising NON-duplications (only one Emma, for example). Or we can talk generally about class lists. Or about the impossibility of avoiding duplication. Or about how different areas seem to have different concentrations of certain names, so that one school might not have ANYONE named Everly, while another school is simply BURSTING with them. Or if you have a class list nearby, you can count duplicates: not necessarily listing WHICH names are duplicates, but just how many ARE duplicated. Or you can discuss anything else the topic brings to mind.