Baby Boy or Girl Donson-with-a-J

Hi Swistle,

Long time reader, first time writer! My husband and I recently found out we are due with our first baby this February, although we have been debating baby names for years. We will not be finding out the sex of the baby beforehand. Our surname is Donson but with a J. I would love your help with boy names, as we are in a bit of a pickle.

So my hubby’s great grandfathers name was Axl and he is obsessed. If it were solely up to him, this would be the name of our baby no questions asked. Only problem- I am not a fan. Yes, if we have a super athletic, strong Viking of a boy I can see it, but what if he is more of a gentle soul? I just can’t. The compromise he has proposed is to move Axl to the middle name spot, and basically give me free reign with the first name. I’m leaning towards agreeing, even though I would prefer not to use the name at all. Should I reconsider to make the full name more mutually agreeable? Or should I take this compromise and go wild with the first name?

Names at the top of my list:

Noah (too soft with Axl? Was my all-time favorite for a while)
Calvin (My favorite with Axl, issue with football player?)
Jack (too sharp? Issue with singer?)
Charles (nickname Charlie, which was also the name of my beloved childhood dog, family name)

Names that he loves:

If we are to have a girl, our top names are Penelope, Gabriella and Savannah. We are trying to avoid using names that start with B, V and E.

What do you think of this arrangement? Can you please offer any suggestions for boys?

I promise to update!! Also, do you have an update on the name debate where the husband only wanted Steven?



With so long to go before the due date, my advice is to commit to nothing, but definitely to add this proposed compromise to the list of possibilities. That is, don’t say, “Yes, it’s a deal: if we have a boy, we will use Axl as the middle name and I will have free reign over the first name,” because I think we have all learned an important lesson from the fairly large number of letters from people who made deals they later no longer want to keep. But it’s a great offer, and if I were you I would probably end up taking it—unless you end up both agreeing on the first name, in which case I might want the flexibility to say, “Okay, since we agree on the first name and you get Axl as the middle name, I’d like more say in the next child’s name.”

Here are the reasons it’s a great compromise:

1. For most people, the middle name disappears into The Land of Paperwork shortly after the birth announcements go out. It’s a terrific place for names you theoretically want to use but don’t actually like very much.

2. The first name is the classically most-desirable real estate here. Getting final say on that can be a powerful thing.

3. Your husband, by offering the first name in exchange for his choice of middle name, is showing unusually excellent perspective: he realizes he can’t demand something just because he really wants it, so in exchange for what he fervently wants he is offering to give up something larger.

4. I think you’re very wise to take into account that the child might not be the Axl type—but a far larger percentage of people can carry an unusual middle name. It appeals to me to think of it tucked there secretly: the thin, sensitive little intellectual with the kick-ass middle name.

Even without his offer of the first name, I’d be suggesting you strongly consider it unless you deep-down hate it. An alternative compromise could be that he gets a name from his family for the first boy, and you get a fun family name from your side for the first girl or second baby.

From your list of first names, my own favorites are Calvin, Charles, and Henry. I hesitate over Noah not because of how it sounds with Axl (I have more of an issue with the ack-ax/jackal sound of Jack Axl), but because 2016 was its fourth consecutive year as the most popular boy name in the United States. Normally name-popularity doesn’t bother me much, but with a very common surname it does give me pause.

I wonder if you’d like Nolan? It has a similar sound but is less common.

Or Owen? That’s the same sounds as Noah, but rearranged.

Or Theo? That has the gentle sound of Noah, plus the same long-O sound.

Or Milo? The gentleness and the long-O sound again.

Or Leo?

Or Joel? The pleasing alliteration of Jack Johnson, but without the ack-ax sound.

Or George.

Or I like Jasper with your surname. It is a little challenging to say the full name, but it is so rare to need to do that.


More possibilities:


If E weren’t out, I’d suggest Elliot and Everett.


Is this the post you mean about the father who only wanted Steven: Already-Born Baby Boy Papadopoulos? No update yet.

23 thoughts on “Baby Boy or Girl Donson-with-a-J

  1. Andrea

    Since you have a long time to think about this, I would privately (and without your husband knowing) play around with Axl in the first spot. It is a great name, underused and fun to say. Mostly, though, I really love the nickname Ace. I think it is so boyish and charming. However, as you dislike it now it may be that you will continue to dislike it forever. In that case, the middle spot is perfect. I love pleasing my man where I can–I’m sure you are the same way. I particularly like the suggestion of Theo. Theo Axl is charming.

  2. beep

    Although Axl on the face of it does have a bit of a tough vibe, I think it’s also uncommon enough and foreign enough (especially with that spelling) to be a name that has the potential to be largely defined by its bearer. And while there is the axe association, axles are pretty neutral mechanical parts, and axels are fancy ice skating moves! I think it would end up being an OK name for a gentle boy to make his own. None of which is to say you have to like it, but I’d encourage some revisiting of the name to see whether you might be able to approach it with fresh ears.

  3. Shaeby

    Using the name means a lot to him, and he’s offering a really reasonable compromise that I would probably (eventually) accept. I can’t tell from your letter if you dislike the name Axl on its merits as a name or if it doesn’t fit your vision of your baby. If it’s the former, I would really struggle using a name I disliked that much. If it’s the latter, using it in the middle spot is still a good compromise because he can use it if it suits him or he can choose not to.

    From your list, I like Charlie and Henry best. I really like Swistle’s suggestions of Owen and Simon.

    I would also suggest Malcolm, Marshall, and Emmett.

    Good luck!

  4. FE

    I know that Axl is a very different style from Alex … but is this a possible compromise? It’s hard to know with honour names … sometimes having all the letters there is enough to satisfy the desire to honour in a more subtle way, sometimes it feels that changing the name takes away all the honour associated with using the name.

    It just feels like Alex (or Alexander) fits within your style of Jack, Charles & Henry and fits more versatile temperaments.

    Also, on honour middle names – my children all have these, and I do tend to think of the names as ‘people’ rather than an array of letters I like the sound of, if that makes sense. Having said that, there are some I haven’t been able to come around to (maybe it says something about me, but I’ve found this easier to do with boys).

    A long time to wait, but I look forward to hearing what you come around to!

    1. Margaret Dunn

      I like the idea of Alexander as a possible compromise. In fact, though Axl isn’t related to Alexander, I think it could definitely work as a nickname. Your husband could use Axl while you use another nickname (or the full Alexander) you like if you don’t feel like it fits his personality.

  5. Phancymama

    Did your husband know his great-grandfather Axl and wants to name a child in honor of him, or is it a cool name that also is a family name? Your mileage may vary, but that would impact my view of the name. I tend to adore the unexpected fun middle names, and Axl fits that perfectly. And if it turns out he is a human that just is an Axl, and no other name would fit, then he can still go by it. But I also don’t think you need to use it just because your spouse wants to, and if it just isn’t the name of your kiddo, then it isn’t. Maybe y’all could table Axl as an option until, say November, and that would give you a chance to play around with all your favorite name options without feeling like you are locked in to Axl. Then in November or so, y’all can see how you are feeling about it then. Good luck and congrats!

  6. Ashley

    I am not a huge fan of Axl either but the more I hear it used the more I like it. My daughter has a little boy in her playgroup named Axl. They’re both preschoolers now but we have been hanging out since Axl was a baby. At this age he’s not yet particularly athletic or Viking-ish and who is to say how he will end up, but for now he’s a gentle, quiet guy (and based on my interactions with his parents, unless the apple fell quite far from the tree I think he’s unlikely to end up a big, strapping, athletic kid). I actually think “Axl” doesn’t bring to mind a particular type, but a variety of types. I can picture an Axl as an athlete, musician, comic-con fan, free-spirited poet, etc. (The only other Axl I ever met in real life was a middle-aged tour guide in Germany, and he wasn’t at all tough–rather geeky in a sweetly awkward way, actually.) I’d definitely strongly consider Axl for the middle name slot, and possibly even for the first name position.

    Having said all of that, I will also say that when my husband met Axl for the first time he later privately told me, “Why is that kid named Axl? That’s a ridiculous name.” So it IS polarizing, and I think that part of the “package” of the name Axl will be knowing that people don’t feel neutral about it. I think it’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it names. But I think with the popularity of “names with xs” these days you’ll get more and more people in the “love it” category.

  7. Ash

    I’m 35 and there was a guy that I went to college with named Axel so the name doesn’t bother me. With that being said, a high school classmate named his son Axel and I find the name more fitting on someone my age than a child. However, I find no problem with the middle name being Axl for any age and I would use it as a middle name if it’s that important to your husband. I think you’ll find yourself coming around more to the idea once you find a first name that you love and sounds good with Axl in the middle name spot.

    I like Andrew Axl

    Other suggestions:
    Cason/Kasen Axl
    Grady Axl
    Reid Axel

  8. Dances with diapers

    I agree you shouldn’t make a firm commitment at this point. I proposed a name to my husband years before we had our son, we both loved it, we agreed it was our first son’s name. By time I was pregnant with my first son I had doubts but husband was still 100% sold and kept telling me it was my idea. Which it was, years earlier. (Hes not a jerk, if I gave it a hard veto he’d have moved on. But it clearly meant so much to him so I felt bad doing that and remained wishy washy.) We used the name and I love it now but it caused lots of frustration during pregnancy and even early in my son’s life.

    However, I do think with the meaning of Axl it’s the PERFECT middle name. For me, middle names are meant to be meaningful. It’s like a secret (because most people won’t know it) story your parents pass to you. It’s perfect to honor family members, artists, significant places, etc. Axl is a great name, but I can see why you think it only fits certain personality types… but as a middle name, if it doesn’t fit, it’d just be quirky and fun because of its significance.

    You have a great list of names. My favorites are Calvin and Penelope. Other ideas: Callum, Carson, Caleb, Oliver, Theodore. Willow, Cecilia, Olive, Siena, Georgina.

  9. Sarah

    Hi ladies,

    Thanks for all the feedback. For some context, we live in the Pacific Northwest and Noah isn’t as popular when I checked the Social Security list. We’ve found that most of the kiddos we meet have more original/unique names, vs the traditional style I lean towards.

    Theo is actually my husbands name, so as much as I love it, I can’t use it :).

    He did not know Axl, just the talk of legend and love of the viking name.

  10. liz

    I love Axl as a middle name, and I love even more that your husband realizes that Axl is an easier sell in the middle name slot.

    I would totally embrace this offer, but specify it’s for this baby only. If you have a girl this time, the agreement doesn’t hold for the next pregnancy.

  11. Sargjo

    I share the baby’s last name, your first name, live in the Pacific Northwest, and my grandfather was Axel!!! Would spelling it Axel help take it out of rock star and Nexo Knight territory and into “father of peace” feeling? I am a huge fan of Scandinavian names but I can see your style is more classic and your husband’s style is more rugged or surnamey. You’re right that Noah is rare in our region. What about Cole instead of Charlie (there are three Charlies in my son’s pre-k and one of them is a girl!)? Or Axel Cole nicknamed Ace as a commenter suggested? Jack and Henry are running around everywhere in my neighborhood-our block has several so maybe Henrik? What about Corbin instead of a Calvin? What about Carl? Otto? Okay those last two I was sneaking in some Scandi ;)

    1. Sarah

      Oh my goodness what a coincidence!!! I do like Ace as a nickname, but am just not sold on Axl as a first. Cole is very cute too! I seem to like a lot of C names haha!

  12. ema

    I think you should use Axl as the middle… and definitely not use Jack as the first- to my ear, Jack Axl sounds like JackA$$. Eek! I like Calvin Axl!

  13. Kim

    Well, you seem pretty set against Axl (which, hey, fair dues) but I will say that I know an Axel that just finished 1st grade, and the name is just his name, not anything he has tolive up to, or down for that matter. We have a Torsten in the same grade, so maybe that helps. But names are so diverse these days that people might have an initial reaction, but then move on. I guarantee his peers are not going to think anything of it.
    Although I also know an 8yo Maverick, and he is a sweet kid, but dweeby as all get out, and his name catches me up every time. But I also fully own the fact that it’s my issue/taste, not his or his parents.

  14. The Mrs.

    Since Axel is the Nordic derivative of Absolom, it means ‘peace’. Can’t get much more chill than that!

    PNW gives you quite a bit of latitude to edge into hipster territory. Classics like Harvey or Ruben can feel very normal with the surname of “Donson”. You have plenty of room to roam there! You could go as far as Rainier or Pike, Puget or Spruce. Salem is also a name that means peace. Salem Axel “Donson” is double chill.
    But if you want something more mainstream, how about Whitaker or Weiss? Franklin or Fletcher? Russell or Raymond? Drake or Driscoll? Huard or Hershyl? Karl or Kaspar? Sawyer or Shane? Terrance or Trevor?

    Best wishes! Very curious to hear what you two decide!

  15. Reagan

    I rather like Axl but that is beside the point. Keeping your options open about a name agreement right now is a good idea. I would probably go ahead with using Axl as a middle if it worked with chosen first name.

    I do like Noah and it is popular for a good reason. If it is not so common where you are, it may be a good choice. My favorite names from both your lists is Henry but I am hearing that name used so much these days. I do like Calvin but not with your last name. Have your considered Carlo, Caleb, or Curtis?

    Since you like Charlie, what about Chase, Chaz, Chip?

  16. JD

    I thought I had a great solution: John Axl nick named Jack. Removes the Jack Axl issues (which I think are small). Then I remembered your last name and second guessed John Donson. It’s kind of a cool alliteration but likely to generate notice. I like it the more I think about it but it may not be your taste.
    What about Joe? Joseph Axl Donson.
    For what it’s worth I think Axl is cool and it would suit a bookworm or a jock. I would use it as a first or middle in a heartbeat but think you shouldnt cave too easy. My husband thinks we should name a boy Valentine. If his grandpa had only been named Axl…… :)

  17. Robin

    There is a great New Zealand series called The Almighty Johnsons, and one of the main character’s names is Axl. He’s a tall guy, but with a sweet personality, and the name still fits him. Yes, I know it’s fiction, but it does demonstrate nicely how a name usually comes to fit the person, whatever the name may be.

    (We once had a sweet bunny nicknamed Fang. And the name fit him, too. 😉)

  18. Jean C.

    I think you should keep all options open (and make zero commitments) until you find out what you’re having.
    But I think Axl makes an unexpected and fun middle name. I’m particularly fond of it with a first name that has a softer sound, like Swistle’s suggestion of Oliver.

  19. Celeste

    I love Axl as a middle, and of your names I like Henry the best.

    But I really like the idea of a J name, so he can be JJ if he wants to.

    Judah Axl
    Jeffrey Axl
    Joshua Axl
    Jacob Axl
    Joseph Axl
    James Axl


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