What Name Do People Always Call You By Mistake?

For the nth time, a Taco Bell employee (it could just as easily have been anyone else in the world) asked me for my name and, when I said “Kristen,” wrote “Christine.” Why. Why why why why why. I can kind of understand why someone might see “Kristen” and say “Christine”: maybe the -en makes them think of -een/-ine. And I can understand why someone might misremember my name as Christine (or Kiersten or Kirsten): they ARE similar names. But why when I SAY “Kristen” and they immediately write down “Christine”?? I wrote something on Twitter that expressed my feelings:

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And within minutes got in reply:

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Clearly this is a thing. Here is what I would like to know: What is the name people think is your name when IT IS NOT YOUR NAME? And/or what is the name people think is your child’s name when it is not your child’s name? Not misspellings (I can understand “Kristin” or even “Christen”) (though not “Chusen“), not unwanted nicknames (I might not go by “Kris” or “Kristy,” but I get how those are nicknames for my name), but WRONG-NAME names?

Baby Boy 0$term@n, Brother to Carys

Hi Swistle,

I’m a long time reader of your blog and planned to write in for help with my daughter, but ended up not needing it – because of you! I was introduced to her name (Carys) on your blog about a month before I got pregnant. It tugged at my heart and, by some miracle, DH liked it too. Even after saying it a million times over the last 3 years, I still feel a little jolt of excitement every time. And the name fits her perfectly – she’s spunky, frills-free, and beautiful inside and out (so far, anyway). It’s hard to compete with all that!

I think I need you this time. I’m having a BOY and am due in May. I know that’s a long way off, but boy names are impossible and I need time to “try on” all of the finalists for a little while. This is definitely our last planned child.

First, IF we can’t come up with anything else, he will likely be named Rich@rd J0$eph 0$term@n, 4th (sounds like Austermun). It’s a strong name, but there are problems with it. Most importantly, I’ve hated the name Richard since I met my first one at age 8. I’ve also known more Richards than any other name. DH goes by Eric (thankfully!) because his mom didn’t like it either and he’s always been annoyed by the disconnect between the names. Upon finding out his real name, EVERYONE asks why he goes by Eric (it’s a complete coincidence that they have the same root). Thus, he refuses to do the same to his son. I proposed we call him Joseph, but DH doesn’t like it. So, we’re left with RJ, which DH and MIL think sounds “down country” or whatever. DH doesn’t have strong feelings about using the name as he barely feels like it’s actually his name, but I’m sure we’ll get some pressure from FIL once we tell him it’s a boy (DH is the ONLY boy in his generation on either side of his family).

Because I’m a name nerd, I presented DH with a list of almost 200 names that I would be willing to consider, which I’d narrowed down from the 2013 SSA file of names used at least 5 times. DH eliminated more than half right away, including several of my favorites (Aidric, Clark, Cedric, Dashiell, Everett, Wesley) and then I eliminated more that I didn’t actually want to consider and we are left with a list of possible new favorites (at least for me and he hasn’t objected). It seems, however, that I have some sort of issue with each name…

Miles: it’s a distance measurement and I have a FB friend with an infant son named Miles – seems trendy

Theodore (Theo): not crazy about the meaning – we aren’t all that religious, also seems trendy

Alexander (I want to call him Alec, DH prefers Alex): the polar opposite of popularity and nn potential from Carys, which seems unbalanced

Elliot: seems trendy and Carys’ best friend at daycare has a little brother named Elliot. I’m not friendly with her mom, but it seems weird – although this leads to a cute story about Carys saying for a long time that she wanted her own Elliot

James (James): again, the polar opposite on popularity from Carys

Zachary: there are a couple in Carys’ classroom

Calvin (sometimes Cal): not sure Calvin 0$term@n has good flow, don’t like that it ends with -n

Evan: not sure it flows with 0$term@n, and I know a few little ones

Russell (sometimes Russ): reminds me of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, though not really in a bad way (I thought Little Russ was cute when I was a kid); might be too stuffy?

Garrett: Carys and Garrett are too similar with their dominant sounds

Simon: same issues as Calvin

Even though he hasn’t gone so far as to say it, I think these are DH’s additional favorites: Dorian, Graham, Malcolm, Cullen (he had forgotten about Twilight and may have changed his mind after being reminded), Conrad, Caspian. I’m surprised by these, but he probably only likes them because they are connected to some video game or fantasy character.

I can’t figure out if meaning is important to me. It was with Carys, but only because I already loved the name. Felicity was our 2nd choice for her and I always thought it would be neat to name a 2nd daughter named Felicity so I could have “love” and “happiness” – cheesy, but adorable. I’m not sure if we would have gone with Felicity this time had he been a girl. We tried not to discuss names before finding out the sex.

I noticed after saying both names together a lot, that Eric and Carys have very similar sounds and it might be nice to get a name that has some sort of connection to my name (Michelle), which is one reason I like Dashiell. However, this is not that important in the end.

Middle name options are Richard or Kn0wle$ (my maiden name). Carys’ mn is Elizabeth after my MIL. I think I’d rather use Kn0wle$ to give a nod to my family, but it’s cumbersome with 0$term@n. Also, Richard seems so obvious because it gets 3 specific (and worthy) people.

I had been hoping to be able to find something as rare as Carys but not strange, just beautiful and interesting. Once people get that her name is Carys and not Cara or Carries, they love it. Unfortunately, DH eliminated my preferred rarities and I’m not sure I can handle his.

I guess I’m looking for help with arguments for and against these names and for advice on what works best with Carys. I’m also open to other suggestions, but feel like I’ve seen almost everything since I’m familiar with the entire SSA list.

Thanks for reading!


This is one of those opinions that’s really easy to give from a safe location outside the situation, but here it is anyway: if you hate the name Richard, and if your husband doesn’t care if he has a namesake or not and doesn’t like any nicknames/alternates for the name, then Richard should not be the default name. In fact, if I were you I would rule it out decisively right this minute. If necessary, your husband should go have a frank talk with his dad right now, so that the joy of your son’s birth is not compromised by anyone feeling shocked disappointment. It sounds like your father-in-law is the only one who wants this (though your mother-in-law may have a feeling of “Crud, why did I have to go through with that if the tradition was just going to die out anyway??”), and his vote is not strong enough to carry the day here. Scratch it off the list, I say! Scratch it off! End this silly tradition that is only being done because it’s a tradition and not because anyone wants the name! You are at least the second generation of mother who didn’t like the name. The tradition will end eventually anyway, and it might as well be with you guys.

Whew. Swistle should perhaps apply a little lavender oil to her temples until she can regain distance and perspective. She is getting a little bossy.

Ahem. What were we saying? Oh, yes: we were looking for a non-Richard name for this little boy. The next thing I’d consider is whether your husband’s family would appreciate having the blow softened, or not. Some families would feel a little better if you named the child Joseph, or gave him the middle names Richard Joseph (or just Richard), or gave him the initials R. J. but with different names (such as Russell James). Other families would feel that was insult added to injury. I think my own favorite, for a family that would feel better rather than worse, would be to choose a first name you love and then use Richard Joseph for the two middle names: ________ Richard Joseph 0$term@n. That way you get the entire Family Name, just with one part added (the new first name) and one part removed (the number at the end). It’s not The Same, but it’s Something.

Another possibility is to use a DIFFERENT male family namesake. The original Richard Joseph has been extensively honored at this point, as has his son, so now we could give someone else a turn. Your mother-in-law’s father? Your father? Either of the baby’s other grandfathers? A brother or uncle? This shows you’re not breaking a tradition of family honor, you’re just giving someone else a share of it.

Another fun possibility to consider, if it works with the first name choice, is to give your son the name Eric as his middle name: not your husband’s given name, but the name your husband feels is his name—and probably the name he would in fact have been given if your mother-in-law and father-in-law weren’t following a tradition.

This makes it fun to consider the name Leo, so that his first name and his initials would be the same. I also think Leo is very nice with Carys. Leo Eric 0$term@n; Carys and Leo.

Or perhaps these sorts of ideas won’t work for your husband’s family, or won’t work with the names you’d like to use, in which case we’re starting from scratch. You’ve done such careful research already, I’m reluctant to make suggestions: it seems like anything I’d suggest, you’d have already thought of. However, we’ve noticed before on this blog that sometimes hearing the idea supported by others can make a difference.

For example, if you like Miles, but you don’t like that it’s also a noun and also the name of a Facebook friend’s baby, I wonder if you’d like Milo? Perhaps you long since eliminated Milo for other reasons. But I love it with Carys. Milo Eric 0$term@n; Carys and Milo.

I don’t worry very much about name meanings. I suppose I might hesitate if a name meant something very unpleasant, but many, many names have been assigned religious meanings I don’t bat an eye at. People who ARE religious may get extra satisfaction out of using those names, but I don’t worry that anyone will think those meanings were intended. My own name means Christian, and yet I don’t feel as if anyone I met would think that was on purpose, or that it would communicate anything about my religious preferences.

Both Theodore and Miles are in style, but neither one seems trendy to me: they’re both doing the thing names with long histories do, where they come gently in and out of style with the years.

I think if you were having a daughter and considering the name Isabella, I might have concerns about the popularity/nickname gap between that name and the name Carys. For a sibling of the other sex, it doesn’t bother me at all. Many people have different styles for boy names and girl names, so if I met a Carys and an Alexander-called-Xan (or whatever), I wouldn’t think it was odd. A bigger hesitation for me is that the two of you prefer different nicknames. Some couples can work around that, and others can’t.

I feel the same way about the popularity of James: Carys and James seems like a perfectly reasonable sibling set to me. I like it.

I think of Isaac as “the next Zachary.” Isaac 0$term@n; Carys and Isaac.

Elliot goes into the Theodore/Miles category for me: not trendy, just a name with a long history having another turn being in style. I think the connection to Carys’s best friend’s brother is sweet.

Or would you like Emmett?

While I generally prefer to avoid repeated endings, I think it’s significantly different when there are different numbers of syllables. If your name were 0$tm@n, I might feel like Evan 0$tm@n and Simon 0$tm@n and Calvin 0$tm@n were a little choppy (though still okay to use). Because your surname instead has three syllables, I think it gives the name a nice tied-together sound, and I like all three name possibilities.

Russell stands out to me as an excellent choice with Carys. It has a similar level of unexpectedness yet familiarity, which seems like it’s one of your preferences. Plus, it sounds a little like your name, which would be fun because of the Carys/Eric thing. I know a Russell the same age as one of my kids, and his name has struck me again and again as being very usable and pleasing.

I’d also take Graham and Malcolm from your husband’s unofficial list. They too have that nice combination of unexpected and familiar.

Another option to sound somewhat like your name would be Mitchell. It looks quite a bit like Michelle, but the sounds are quite different. Mitchell 0$term@n; Carys and Mitchell.

I think you have a great list, and that at this point I’d suggest letting all the names simmer for awhile. Maybe do some ranking games, where you and your husband each pick your five favorites, for example, or each put the names in order from top to bottom and see if any of the names can be eliminated. Spend a day concentrating on one particular name, and see how it feels to you: do you find yourself trying to find reasons not to use it, or do you find yourself feeling very reluctant to cross it off the list, or just what? Go down the list as if you’re going to cross each one off in turn, and note which ones you don’t really mind crossing off, and which ones give you heart-pangs. Find some pictures of babies online, and try the names on them like little outfits. I think of every name in the world as having at least one issue, so it may also help to go down the list and see which issues bother you more, and which ones bother you less.

I remember when Paul and I were naming Henry, that was when we had our longest list of “These are all good but none are the obvious leader” names. We narrowed it down to seven, and I spent a lot of times playing games with the names. I put the list on the wall next to my desk, so my eyes could drift to it. After awhile, some names just floated to the top and some just sank to the bottom: I’d notice that every time we discussed them, there were a few that we really did like, but that those few NEVER came out ahead of the others. Eventually we got the list down to two names, then added one more, then finally had our winner—but I think we would have been happy with either of the other two finalists, too.

There’s also some chance your husband would come around to some of the favorites he eliminated before, which could make the decision clearer.

Baby Boy or Girl C@ldwell

Hi Swistle,

I have been a long time blog reader and am thrilled that I am finally pregnant (after two years of infertility!) and can pick your brain. Our last name is C@ldwell and I am due next spring. My husband and I have decided not the find out the gender of our little one. It is so easy for me to pick out girl names, I love unisex names with short feminine middle names. My husband and I have completely agreed on two girl names: Elliott Maeve and Sawyer Brynn. We have loved these two names for a long time and could realistically use Elliott for our first daughter and Sawyer for our second.

We are in desperate need of help when it comes to boy names. My issue is I have this tendency to want to use masculine names for girls, and as a result most “boy” names are ones I would want to use for daughters. A great example of this is Jasper. My husband first mentioned the name and he absolutely loves it. I immediately thought it would be amazing for a little girl, which my husband is NOT on board with. After letting it sink in for a few months, I really have come around to the name Jasper for a boy, but for some reason, I can’t see it being the name of our little boy (does that make sense?).

The other top contender right now is Graham. I like the name quite a bit, but worry it is not strong enough of a name next to his future sisters’ names? Another big concern is the worry that a child who is Graham C. will always be called graham cracker. My husband doesn’t like Grant or other similar sounding names.

A few other names that made our lists are: Lincoln, Hudson, Desmond, Finn, Oliver. Again, all of these are great names but I have a hard time thinking of them as the name of my child. Our girl names feel so natural and I just wish we could find a boy name that felt just as right. I should also mention my husband is named Miles, which I love absolutely love, but we don’t want to name the baby after him. My two brother-in-laws are named Kaleb and Dylan which I like quite a bit as well. We would love any input of suggestions you have for our little one!! Thanks Swistle!



I have been mulling this over, and I’m not sure what to advise. Awhile back we answered a similar question about siblings for a girl named Micah: What to Name the Siblings of a Child with a Gender-Neutral Name or with a Name Traditionally Given to the Opposite Sex. In that post, I had to draw a bunch of pictures to explain what I meant, but the gist of it is what you seem to be getting at as well: if you have girls named Sawyer and Elliot, should the boys have names that are more boyish than their sisters’ names?

In 2013, the name Sawyer was used for 683 new baby girls and 3,142 new baby boys. That same year, the name Elliott…well, that’s harder to figure out. Counting spellings used for more than 25 babies:

Eliot: 27 F, 194 M
Eliott: – F, 69 M
Elliette: 115 F, – M
Elliot: 308 F, 1486 M
Elliott: 280 F, 1465 M
Elliotte: 47 F, – M

That’s 777 girls and 3,214 boys—very similar to the numbers for the name Sawyer. Both names are currently unisex but used more often for boys.

I think that no matter what names you use for boys, there is going to be some occasional paperwork confusion as to whether children named Sawyer and Elliott are boys or girls. At first I thought my advice would be to reduce this effect by choosing very decisively boyish names for any boys—but I found I couldn’t muster or sustain enthusiasm for that plan. I think it’s that I can’t think of ANY names you could give to boys that would cause the names Sawyer and Elliot to read Obviously Girl on paper. Even if you named the children Sawyer, Elliott, Benjamin, and David, there will still be the occasional confusion about the names Sawyer and Elliott, and it seems like you’re aware of that and it’s not going to bother you. And the feminine middle names will help with paperwork confusion too.

I guess I would suggest staying away from names that were unisex but used mostly for girls. For example, I wouldn’t recommend naming boys Emerson and Harper in this sibling group, because it doubles the confusion factor. But Graham seems good—great, even. It’s a name used almost exclusively for boys, and I don’t think it seems insufficiently strong with sisters Sawyer and Elliott. My guess is that a child named Graham will occasionally hear the graham cracker joke regardless of the surname; I would probably avoid using it with a Cr_____ or C______er surname, but just C doesn’t make me think of cracker.

Jasper seems like another great choice. I do know what you mean, though, about really liking a name but feeling like it’s not Your Baby. I used that as a test, in fact, to narrow down my own lists: I’d imagine a baby in my arms, and then I’d try to picture the baby having each name in turn. Some of them clicked into place: YES, that’s MY baby. Others failed: great name, but not My Baby. Sometimes the test results change with time: it might happen that by spring, the name Jasper WILL seem like Your Baby. Or it may be that it’s the right name but for a second boy. Or it may continue to be “Great name, but not My Baby,” and so it’ll be the kind of name you try to talk your friends into using.

This is a shot in the dark, but I wonder if it might apply. With my first pregnancy, Paul and I were both certain the baby was a girl: it isn’t that we thought it over and made our guess, it’s that we were assuming it without even realizing we were assuming it. Finding out at an ultrasound that we were in fact expecting a boy was a significant shock. We went home and spent the rest of the day in near-silence, just getting used to the intense surprise of it: the surprise of the baby being a boy, but also the surprise of realizing we’d been assuming the baby was a girl. I’ve wondered since then if that’s why we had strong girl-name candidates but a harder time coming up with boy names: when I pictured the baby in my arms, I think I was always picturing a girl. Subsequent boys were easier to name, I think because it was easier to picture the baby as a boy. Anyway, this might not apply to you at all, but if it DOES feel like it might be the case, it could be reassuring: it might not be that you haven’t found the right name yet, it might just be that it’s hard to use the same Rightness Detectors that you’re using for girl names.

Even without a situation of that sort, many parents have an easier time with names of one sex than with names of the other sex. It could be that boy names will never click into place for you as naturally as girl names do: again, not because you haven’t found the right one yet, but because for whatever reason they just won’t click in like that for you during the naming process, and/or because you never will feel as enthusiastic about boy names.

Or maybe it IS that you haven’t found the right name yet! If so, there is still lots of time. I suggest the game I play with The Baby Name Wizard book: look up a name you like (Miles, Graham, Jasper, Sawyer, Elliot, etc.), and then pick your favorite name of the suggested brother names. You don’t have to love the name: just pick the one you like BEST of those options, and look up THAT name. And so on: keep traveling until you think, “No, these are not my style at all; I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere,” or until you loop back around to your original name; then go back and try a different choice. I found that this helped me narrow things down a little: I found I kept cycling among the same dozen or so names, and all of them fell into the same few categories, so I felt like I started getting a better grasp on what my style was. I also added a few names to the list, because I kept seeing them again and again and they grew on me.

With names such as Miles and Graham and Jasper, I think of names such as:

Everett (not with a sister Elliott)

Baby Naming Issue: What if You Love Classic Names with Traditional Spellings…and Also a Modern Name with an Alternate Spelling?

Hello Swistle!

I am pregnant, due in January with a little girl. We are over the moon! We had a boy name all set in stone, and are thrown for a bit of a loop!

Here’s the issue.

I’ve always been a huge fan of easy to pronounce, classic (but a bit on the trendy side) names. I loathe creative spellings and always have.

So naturally, I’ve completely fallen in love with a unique name of which I want to stray away from the classic spelling. Help!

The name is Everleigh. I heard it first about 5 years ago when celebrity Cam Gigandet named his daughter Everleigh Rae. I was hooked! I thought it sounded whimsical and beautiful– a name you’d see in a fantasy movie. I didn’t even care that a celebrity had used it, or that it wasn’t a classic name. The spelling seemed normal to me, at the time. I loved how feminine it looked.

Then, about a year ago, another celebrity, Channing Tatum, named his daughter Everly. I started to wonder about the spelling. In searching, I found that Everly (spelled this way) was originally a boy’s name, and that this is the way it should be spelled (if I’m sticking to my naming rules at all at this point).

I can’t help but love Everleigh, spelled this way. I’m such a stickler for a ‘proper spelling’ with a ‘proper name’ that I don’t know how this spelling/name would be perceived by others. Part of me knows I shouldn’t care, and that we should name her whatever we want, but the other side of me knows the world can be a cruel, judgmental place. Would people think this was a cheap way to spell Everly? Have people even heard of this name? Is there anything else you can suggest? Needing some guidance!

If it helps at all, other names I love:

Thank you so very much,


There are two issues here, I think. The first thing I would want to figure out, before working on the spelling, is whether Everleigh is not only an outlier name for you, but also a problematic outlier. I bring this example up a lot, but it’s particularly applicable here: when I was pregnant with my first child, I saw Teri Hatcher on a talk show and she mentioned her daughter Emerson Rose. I FLIPPED for the name. It was not my usual style at all, but it seemed PERFECT. We started calling the fetus Emerson right away. And I am very glad we had a boy, because I like sibling names to coordinate, and if we’d started with a girl named Emerson, I’m not sure where we would have gone from there: none of the other names on my list go with it at all.

So if you hadn’t provided a list, that would have been my first homework assignment for you: make a list, and see if you like any of the other names (girl names and boy names) as a sibling name for Everleigh. People have different preferences for sibling name coordination, and different feelings about which names DO coordinate, so you may look at your list and think of MANY combinations you like. Or you may look at your list and realize, as I did later with the name Emerson, that using a name outside my usual style would have painted me into a very difficult corner: there’s nothing wrong with pairing Emerson with, say, Clarissa or Genevieve or Elizabeth, but I’d prefer not to. If it is also the case for you that you look at your list and you don’t like any of the names with Everleigh (and this may very well NOT be the case), then I would suggest using it as a middle name and spelling it however you like best.

If on the other hand you look at your list and you think a lot of the names go well with Everleigh, then we can turn our attention to the second issue, which is the spelling. I too prefer to use traditional spellings. However, there are non-traditional spellings and there are NON-TRADITIONAL SPELLINGS. For example, I think you and I would agree that we didn’t want to spell Penelope “Pynnellapy.” But if you’re like me, you’re on board with Katherine/Catherine/Kathryn and Madeline/Madelyn: you might personally prefer (even strongly prefer) one spelling over another, but none of them feel like violations or make you cringe the way Jaxxon or Emmaleigh might.

With modern names such as Everleigh/Everly, I’m not sure I’d say there IS a traditional spelling. I found a commenter online claiming that the name was old and traditionally male, but I’m not having any luck verifying that claim: as far as I can tell, it’s a surname name that came into usage only recently. Historical/origin information for the the name seems to be based on its use as a surname, not as a first name. Very likely in the long history of humankind there HAVE been people with it as a first name, but it’s never been in common enough usage to have established a standard spelling. As a surname, the traditional spelling would be Everly. As a first name, we will have to wait and let time sort it out: maybe one spelling will emerge as the standard; maybe several spellings will all be considered standard; or maybe the name will be used only briefly and a standard will never be established. In 2013, the spelling Everly was used for 804 new baby girls, and the spelling Everleigh was used for 295 new baby girls. Another 119 were named Everlee, and another 71 were named Everley.

As to your concern that people won’t have heard of the name, I do think you’ll encounter some of that, since the usage of the name is relatively new and because not everyone loves baby names and follows them intently, but I think most people the age of your peers and your daughter’s peers will have encountered it—or will encounter it soon. Look at its progress on the Social Security site:

(screen shot from SSA.gov)

(screen shot from SSA.gov)

(screen shot from SSA.gov)

(screen shot from SSA.gov)

The online data starts in 1880. Neither Everly nor Everleigh were in the Top 1000 at all from 1880 until 2012/2013—but look how fast they’re jumping up now that they’re here: Everly was #907 the first year, and already #383 the year after that. Perhaps it will stay around that level, or perhaps in next year’s data we’ll see another huge leap.

It’s not uncommon for people to THINK they like/dislike certain things about baby names, and then find out otherwise once they start the actual naming process. The most frequent, I think, is for people to think they hate common names—and then find that their whole list is made of common names. It can be an odd adjustment, but I think it’s better to make the adjustment (“Huh! I guess I don’t hate common names as much as I’d thought! Or in fact at all!”) than to give up the names you like on principle (“All my favorite names are Top 20, but I HATE Top 20, so I must NOT like those names after all and will choose something else instead”). If you love classic names with classic spellings, but you also love Everleigh, it could be that you like classic names with traditional spellings AND modern names with alternate spellings. And how nice if you do: it gives you a much broader field for browsing. And there is room to use both styles: classic/traditional first names with modern/alternate middle names, or the other way around. Lydia Everleigh, for example, or Everleigh Sophia.