Baby Naming Issue: How Do You Name a Second Child When the First Child’s Name Isn’t Your Style?

Linda writes:

I am hoping that you can help me with a naming problem. How do you name a second baby when the first baby’s name was very much a compromise name and not at all in the style that you wanted?

When we were naming our daughter 6 years ago, my husband suffered from the belief that we could only use names that were common when we were children. Since we were both born in the 1970s, that means he was thinking along the lines of Heather or Michelle. Those are very nice names, but not what I had in mind. After much debate we finally settled on Shannon Elizabeth “Denny”. I don’t love the name, but it is my daughter’s name and I can’t imagine her with a different one. At the time we were only planning on one child so the issue of sibling names never came up.

Now we are expecting again. I am not due until the end of February, but I really want to start looking at names. After 6 years of seeing names like Sofia and Olivia in my daughter’s classes, my husband has admitted that he had the wrong idea and this time is willing to basically let me choose the name. If it is a boy, I don’t think we will have much trouble as boys names haven’t changed as much over time. However, I am really stumped on girl names and don’t even know where to start looking.

I can’t really think of a naming category for Shannon except for “names that were popular in the 1970s” or possibly “sort of Irish names”. It seems like I would need to avoid anything ultra-feminine since Shannon used to be a unisex name and when talking about my children it might sound like I have a girl and a boy instead of two girls. Other than that, I really don’t know where to start and I was hoping you might be able to help. This will definitely be our last child, so I won’t need to try and co-ordinate a third name. Thank you so much!


I think one idea is to just choose the second girl name without taking the first name very much into consideration. This might not be the advice you’d expect to hear, considering how keen I am on sibling-name coordination. But I think if this time you choose a name YOU love, and the naming story became “Dad chose Shannon’s name, and I chose yours,” that that makes a very nice story and goes a long way to patch two quite different names together.

On the other hand, I always feel a little unhappy about the names of the Bush twins Barbara and Jenna: both names are good names, but the name Barbara is from the 1930s-1950s and so is not yet due for revival, while the name Jenna got popular right around the time the twins were born. Because the name Shannon is currently more often found on mothers than children (though it IS still being used for children, as is the name Barbara), I do think I’d look first for names that bridged the gap: there are girls my age and my daughter’s age named Elizabeth, Katherine, Anna, and Emily. That route appeals to me more than going with, say, Shannon and Isabella.

The name Shannon last peaked in the United States at #17 in 1976, so I would go to the Social Security website, scroll through 1976, and see what still sounds right for a little girl born today. Here are the ones I’d pick from the Top 100 of 1976:



Some of those work better with Shannon than others: I like Shannon and Leslie, and I like Shannon and Holly, but Shannon and Anna are too similar in sound, and Shannon and Victoria might be too different in mood.

The 1976 list could also make a good starting place for more current versions of those names. Laura could lead us to Lauren, for example, or Amy to Amelia, or Julie to Julia. Or some of the names might remind us of other names: when I saw Jill, I thought Jillian might be great with Shannon, and Laura made me think of Maura and Nora and Morgan, and Leslie makes me think of Lindsay, and when I saw Holly I wondered if Molly might be perfect—and Molly made me think of Bridget, which made me think of Bethany. Etc.

My favorites are Jillian, Bethany, Bridget, Molly, Emily, Leslie, and Holly. It’s too bad so many of those are two syllables ending in a Y sound—I suspect they might not work at all well with your surname.

Do you remember which names you were campaigning for when you were expecting Shannon? That’s where I’d start, if I were you. Next, I’d look through name books and make a list of everything you like now, and add it to that older list. THEN, hold each name up to Shannon and see if it creates a Bush Twin Feeling or if it’s fine. I think this is a situation where I wouldn’t agitate too much about the names going well together, as long as neither child seems to have a “better” name. The age gap is on your side as well: it’s easy to see how the parents’ naming style could have shifted a bit in that time, and of course six years is long enough for the overall naming style to shift a bit as well.

It might also work to have Shannon help name the baby. The whole situation falls in a new light if she’s the one who chose the modern and ultra-feminine name.


Name update! Linda writes:

I wrote to you last summer asking for help coming up with another girl name that would go with my daughter’s name of Shannon (you posted it on July 12). I greatly appreciated your suggestions, and those of your readers. It made me feel a lot better to not have to try and restrict possible names to those that would match her name. Of course, this meant that we had a boy. Colin Thomas “Denny” was born on March 2. We let his sister make the final decision on his name, and we love it and think that it matches his sister’s name quite well. Thank you again for your help!


43 thoughts on “Baby Naming Issue: How Do You Name a Second Child When the First Child’s Name Isn’t Your Style?

  1. A

    I like Swistle’s suggestions of Lauren & Jillian.

    Another way to look at it would be to look at names with ranks similar to Shannon now. Shannon was #816 last year. Looking in the 800-900 range, I found Mara, Sonia, Sidney, Kaitlin & Alannah.

    I also looked at names similar in rank to Shannon 6 years ago. Shannon was #357 then. In the 300-400 range, I found Kiera, Emerson, Meredith, Fiona, Kaitlin & Brenna.

    I also like Swistle’s suggestion of “dad picked Shannon and I picked WhateverNameYouLikeBest” In fact, it isn’t uncommon for dads to get stuck on names from their own generation. If I met a family with parents around your age, and daughters named Shannon and Olivia, I’d probably just assume dad picked Shannon and mom picked Olivia.

    If this is your last child, and dad is willing to let you have the name, I don’t think you should feel like you need to compromise too much. It’s your last shot to use a name you really love.

  2. StephLove

    I think the Celtic angle could work for you. A lot of Celtic or Celtic-inspired names are popular now. Probably not one with an authentic hard to spell vibe, but Caitlin would be perfect with Shannnon, maybe a bit more popular for older kids, but not out of style. Keira was a good suggestion, too. Rhiannon? Eileen? Patricia?

  3. jen

    I do like Swistle’s suggestion of Jillian. I also like Kyra/Keira, Meredith, and Caitlin from the other comments. I also thought of Maeve, which might be a little more obscure but has the heritage connection.

  4. Kim C

    I immediately thought of the name Tara. It has the Celtic origins and goes so well with Shannon style wise. Both names are around 800 in the popularity stakes too!

    Shannon Elizabeth and Tara Katherine. Lovely!

    I love Fiona too! Fiona Kate or Fiona Clare perhaps?

    For some reason Jenna comes to mind too. Shannon Elizabeth and Jenna Katherine sound great together!

    Good luck!

    1. Vesna

      I was also going to suggest Tara, for the same reasons!

      Personally, I wouldn’t worry too much about matching Shannon BECAUSE it was such a compromise. I also think while it is certainly interesting to look at names of similar popularity in a certain time, it doesn’t really say much ABOUT these names.. To me, two names aren’t automatically “connected” or “similar” just because a similar number of people chose them for their child in a certain year. If it helps you narrow down your choices, great, but if you find it creates more of an obstacle in your name search, I wouldn’t dwell on it too much.

  5. sonya

    What about if you have a similarity. Shannon has a double letter, that can lead to a lot of nice names, and they can be alike by that fact. Then again I am slightly biased as all my children have doublt letters. Wyatt, Cheyenne, Brielle and Cassidy.
    Cassidy goes nicely with Shannon.

  6. Emily

    Just for the record…. I don’t find “Shannon” to be out-dated. It, to me, is NOT in the same category as Barbara at all. I think it is really cute and will go very well with almost any name you chose. I agree with Swistle that the age gap definitely will help as well. For me, it is hard to give ideas since I don’t really know what names you are actually drawn to. Once you take the advice of Swistle and the commenters and start researching particular names, can you write to update us on a list of names you like? Good luck!

    1. Swistle Post author

      I meant Barbara and Jenna (1950s and 1980s) go together in a way that I’d want to avoid with Shannon and, say, Isabella (1970s and 2000s). I’m referring to the gap, not to the name in particular.

      1. Emily

        I only mean that I see Shannon on a lot more children than Barbara these days. But I totally agree that Barbara and Jenna are worlds apart.

  7. Heather

    A currently stylish name that’s still under the radar (I think anyway) is Susannah. I agree with above that Shannon doesn’t come across as totally dated, but when I read Shannon I immediately thought of Cheryl and Susan as her contemporaries. Susan updates beautifully to Susannah. I think in this case a bit of matchiness (first initial, similar sounds) bridges the gap between the styles. Shannon and Susannah Denny sound like cute sister names to me!

  8. Mary

    does she go by Shannon or Denny? Do you want this baby to also have a nn? i.e. Shannon & Katherine, Denny and Kat go well together.

    Shannon and Georgia, nn Georgie
    Shannon and Cadence, nn Cady
    Shannon and Felicity, nn Fliss, Lissie or Flicka

  9. Kaela

    I think Swistle’s advice is very sound if you are certain that choosing a name that sounds “right” with Shannon is more important than just choosing a name that you like. Personally, I’d let go of the need for the names to match and just pick something I liked at this point. You were denied that the first time around, and as Swistle says, you have a nice little story– “Daddy picked Shannon’s name, and I picked yours.”

    Also while I agree 100% with Swistle about how jarring Jenna & Barbara Bush always seemed, I remember it making more sense when read that Jenna was the name of Laura’s mother (and I just double checked and this is indeed the case). Very unexpected considering the period Laura’s mother was born, but there you go. I also think that the jarring stylistic differences between Jenna and Barbara are more apparent because they are twins. Your children will be 6 or 7 years apart! They will have different social circles, different schools at different times, etc. It’s a little less apparent.

    Why not try to make a list as though you were starting again from scratch? What names did you like? I’m very liberal about this, but I pretty much think that unless it rhymes or overshares sounds with Shannon (so no Anna, Shayna, etc.) it’s ok.

    I do like one of the previous poster’s idea of Celtic/Irish/Irish-flavor names as a route if you really want compatibility. Some that I like and think do go nicely with Shannon:

    Katrina/Catriona/Catrina (Catriona is actually the traditional spelling and I like the ‘C’ to get away from the storm)
    Maeve (love this with Shannon!)
    Fallon (also love this with Shannon!)
    Lily (my Irish grandmother’s name, I think it works with Shannon)
    Roisin (serious Irish heritage choice, pronounced Ro-SHEEN)
    Bronwen/Bronwyn (technically Welsh but I think it really goes with Shannon)

    Also for some reason I keep thinking of more currently stylish names that don’t end in -a as somehow better with Shannon, maybe because the ends-in-a names are so feminine….like Isabella is very different from Shannon to me, but Chloe is not. Others that feel “right” with Shannon that are currently in style: Daisy, Harper, Grace, Zoe.

    Good luck!

    1. bff

      Ok, I am just going to to say AGREE with this list and would add the prior suggestions of Tara (I know a sib set of girls in the 4 & 6 year old range named Shannon and Tara)

    2. Eva.G

      Great list!! I agree that names that end in ‘a’ feel a bit off with Shannon, but a lot of names still work and don’t seem clashing. I really like going with the Irish route. Fiona is great! I especially like Elowen and Eve.

    3. Angie

      Obviously I didn’t read the comments before I made my own comment. I had no clue Jenna actually was from Laura’s side of the family and I never bothered to research it. Who would have thought…

  10. Amie

    What about having the sisters share the S for their first names. Shannon and Sophia, Shannon and Samantha, Shannon and Sabrina, etc. That would be a way to connect them without having to be so concerned about style.

  11. Jms

    I’m glad to see this post! My son’s name is a compromise name that I don’t love & its not very ‘us’. Its very biblical but we are not. We are thinking of trying for a 2nd & I hope not get stuck in a genre or in a compromise situation again. Happy to see Swistle’s response! Tho mine would only be 4 yrs apart if things go well, but still enough time to rethink naming patterns perhaps.

  12. Squirrel Bait

    I know there is a big emphasis on names that fit sibling groups around here, but in your case I would suggest not being too concerned about it. Your children will only be living in the same house for 11 or 12 years. Once they move out on their own, few people will ask about their sibling’s name. I think it’s better for a child to have a great name for his/her entire adult life instead of a so-so name that works marvelously alongside his/her sibling’s name for a decade or so.

  13. Lashley

    For what it’s worth, I’m sure there there’s a parent of a Sophia or Olivia in your daughter’s class who, after hearing her name, wishes they’d picked something not quite so trendy.

    Regardless, Jill/Jillian also jumped out at me and I also like the suggestion of Tara. Or connecting the names by first letter, but diverging on styles. Or each parent picking a name. I really think you have a lot of flexibility here – don’t fence yourself in!

  14. Elizabeth

    Shannon is a little dated (which makes it a nice contrast to today’s more common names!), but not enough to really tie your hands here. I’m totally with Swistle that the names you must avoid are the Sophia’s and Isabella’s and I also think you should avoid a gender-neutral name.

    I really like the name Bridget with Shannon. Stays on the Celtic theme and together, those girls could have been named anytime from the 70s to the present. I also love Katherine with the nn Kate. Shannon and Kate are pretty yet down-to-earth names that match very well.

  15. Kerry

    Shannon doesn’t read particularly gender neutral to me. My first guess would always be that Shannon was a girl. You might not want to go super frilly…but just plain feminine should be just fine.

  16. Nedra

    I knew sisters named Shannon and Amy when I was a kid. I think Amy is a super cute name. I like the suggestions of Maura and Bridget as sister names for Shannon too.

  17. Katie

    I really love the name Lorelei. It’s not trendy, so it doesn’t clash next to Shannon, but it’s familiar. There are lots of nick name options (Rory, Lola, Lor etc) and it flows nicely with your last name. Plus I think the names go well together:

    Shannon and Lorelei “Denny”.

    1. Eva.G

      I was going to suggest Erin! I think Shannon and Erin make great sister names. A little dated, but Erin is still in the top 200’s.

  18. caro

    I love the suggestion of Susannah from a previous commenter. Another name I like is Marissa. Never took off like Melissa did, but could fit nicely with Shannon or an Olivia (for instance).

    Another name that I link with the 80’s is Mallory (because of the show Family Ties) but that I’m seeing popping up on little girls right now. I think Shannon and Mallory would go nicely together.

    And yes, Isabella seems a little to flowery next to Shannon, but I think in any era they just wouldn’t mesh–stylistically they’re too different. What about Shannon and Isabel?

    1. Kaela

      Shannon and Isabel is a great compromise.

      I see that the Shannon and Susannah pairing is popular among commenters but for me the names share too many sounds– to my ear they sort of mesh together into the Hebrew form of Susannah, “Shoshana”.

  19. The Mrs.

    I’ve got to give props to the ideas of Maeve and Mallory. Wow! Great ideas!
    Shannon Elizabeth and Maeve Katherine “Denny”
    Shannon Elizabeth and Mallory Catherine “Denny”

    Shannon seems to fit in the same category as Michelle. Both have two syllables, double letters, a timelessness that works from girl to grandmother, no ‘ee’ ending to rhyme with your last name, is totally familiar to everyone, and is no where near the top ten.

    Shannon Elizabeth and Michelle Kathleen “Denny” would be my top choice. The combo reads classic and clever to me.
    Best wishes to you and your growing family! Please let us know when your new joy arrives!

  20. lucy

    Shannon is lovely and I think if I met a little girl with her name I’d think, “What a lovely name – why isn’t it used more often now?” So, I went with other names that I feel similarly about. A name I’ve felt that way about for the last few years is Jill. I really like it’s simplicity and that it seems both spunky and sophisticated at once. I think Shannon and Jillian are perfect together – Denny and Jill.

    I also think Margaret, nn Molly, simply Molly, or even Margot would be great. Margot has the great nn Go, or Gogo. Susannah is also lovely – Denny and Susie. Oh, and a name I associate with the 70s, and love love love is Amy – too close in sound to Denny, though? Oh, and I like Bridget too!

  21. Eva.G

    “I always feel a little unhappy about the names of the Bush twins Barbara and Jenna” – ha ha ha, Swistle! This is one of many reasons why I love reading your blog. You make me laugh in such a witty way.

    And I agree – it’s always been very unsettling for me as well.

  22. Angie

    Ah time-warp dads! What a frustrating predicament.

    I was always bothered by the Bush twin names too. When I realized one of the names was honoring, I was a little less bothered by it, but not too much because then I thought, “Why didn’t Jenna also get an honoring name, perhaps from Laura’s side of the family?” And then I wondered if perhaps Jenna was an honoring name from Laura’s side, but considering how forwarding-thinking Jenna was in the 70s that didn’t seem likely. And then I decided just to stop thinking about it because I doubt the Bush’s care about my thoughts on their twins’ names!

    But I agree with Swistle that the 5+ age difference is on your side. With the Bush twins, there’s the added burden of them being twins, and coordinating, but not matching twin names seems more important than with other siblings.

    I wish I knew what names you were considering for Shannon, but my favorite name from the 1970s is Monica, and I think a Monica would fit in with the Sophia’s and Olivia’s of today.

  23. Elizabeth

    I think that both Barbara and Jenna Bush were named after their paternal and maternal grandmothers. It is too bad the styles are so different! Jenna named her baby Margaret Laura after the baby’s grandmothers, which is a very sweet gesture – fortunately those two names go together beautifully! :)

  24. Jan

    I like the suggestion of Lauren – shares the end sound with Shannon and is also somewhat of a gender neutral name, but more associated now with girls.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *