Author Archives: Swistle

Baby Boy Knight, Brother to Graham

Hello Swistle!

I am desperately seeking some guidance and creativity in naming our second born son, which we are due with on 8/2/17. We haven’t received the most positive feedback on our top contenders (see below) which isn’t a deal breaker if we were truly sold on any of the names but also both me and my husband have a slight suspicion that we maybe haven’t found THE name yet. I also feel like I already ran the well dry on male names we like when we named our first born. For some reason, I feel very inspired by girl names, if we were ever to have one and have ideas in droves but always come up short with another male name.

My name is Maggie and my husband is Brett. Our surname is Knight. We have a son, Graham Townes. We are seeking a boy name with a complimentary feel to our first’s- meaning a classic sounding but not common name that we will then pair with a more unique, less common middle name for some individuality. I like that all three of our names now have different sounds/endings and are heavy on the consonants- we are hoping to continue this with son #2.

A few things we don’t want:
A name that ends in N due to blending of that sound with the beginning of our last name if that makes sense
Anything super common or top 100
A name that tries to sound like a classic name but isn’t (i.e. Grayson, Jayden, Jace, Brinley)
Anything long enough to require a nickname- would rather just use the shorter name that I like. I’m a Maggie and not a Margaret for that reason per my parents :)

A few we do:
Something perhaps more gender neutral
Different initials than we already have (not set in stone, just a general sentiment)

Contenders (feedback appreciated):
Noel (male pronunciation)- love how this sounds but we hear from everyone that he would be constantly confused with the female pronunciation of this name.
Morgan- breaks our “ends in N” rule so might not work?

Female names we love (in case we were to have a girl, a third child is something we will likely try for):

I have only thought of one potential middle name at this rate and it is Madden (my dad’s middle name and his mother’s maiden name). What else is in the same vein as Townes?

Hoping you can help us think of something that hasn’t been brought up yet or validate any of the contenders we have. We would love any ideas and are open to considering! I had a nightmare last night that we brought the baby home and months in were still staring at him wide-eyed with no name. Obviously, those are the hormones talking but am getting desperate to fall in love and it feels like my time is borrowed.

Thanks for any help you can provide! Happy Summer!
xoxo Maggie Knight


Let’s begin with a moment of silence in which we clench our teeth at the way our society loves “boyish”/unisex names for girls but not so much “girlish”/unisex names for boys. Then let’s see what we can do with the reality we’ve got.

Part of the package deals of the names Cary and Noel would be their periodic confusion with the more familiar names Carrie and Noelle. Some parents would mind this very much and for the sake of their blood pressure should not use those names for boys; other parents would be able to do a genuinely casual and friendly “Actually, it’s Cary—like Cary Grant” or “Actually, it’s Noel—the male version of Noelle” or whatever, and move on with their lives without thinking much about it.

Another issue with Noel, I think, is that the number one most popular boy name in the United States right now is Noah; with Noel at #380, people’s ears are sometimes going to hear Noah instead. Again, some parents would be tearing their hair out over this, and others would say “Oh—no, it’s Noel” and it would be zero big deal.

Another tiny issue with Cary is that with Graham I think of Cary Grant. Which is a positive association, and which is very unlikely to come up or be an issue, but I am in the mood to be thorough.

Leland is a fresh one to consider; I sat here with my coffee for several minutes, staring into space. I don’t think I’ve encountered a Leland in real life, so I was visualizing the name on various of my kids’ friends. It sure SHOULD work: the similarity to the very popular Liam and Landon, just for starters. I think you might be able to avoid the nickname Lee, but the child himself might choose to go by it later. I have a little trouble saying Leland with the surname Knight: the d/n transition is tricky.

Fletcher seems good. It feels like a different style than Graham, but a compatible one.

Rudy seems a little casual with Graham, but not startlingly so. It would rule out Trudy for a possible future girl.

Spencer is my favorite from this list: Spencer Tracy gives this name the vintage Hollywood appeal of Cary Grant. And it feels just right with Graham. Spencer is my favorite from the list. Spencer Madden Knight; Graham and Spencer. Yes.

Part of the package deal of the name Morgan is its unisex nature, so let’s take a closer look at that. In 2016, the name Morgan was #643 for boys and #133 for girls; it was used for 407 new baby boys and 2,319 new baby girls. At those usage levels, I would expect the typical person to be aware of the unisex usage but to be more likely to err on the side of guessing girl—though Morgan Freeman helps us out here. I think the combination of Morgan and Knight is fine: I think it would come naturally to leave a tiny pause between the names to keep them from running together. The running-together issue bothers me mostly when it leads to a misunderstanding of what the name is: for example, Nolan Knight could sound like Nola Knight.

My favorites from your list are Spencer, Fletcher, and Rudy. More possibilities to consider:

Alistair. Alistair Knight; Graham and Alistair.
August. August Knight; Graham and August.
Brooks. Brooks Knight; Graham and Brooks.
Ellis. Ellis Knight; Graham and Ellis.
Elliot. Elliot Knight; Graham and Elliot.
Harvey. Harvey Knight; Graham and Harvey.
Jasper. Jasper Knight; Graham and Jasper.
Miles. Miles Knight; Graham and Miles.
Quincy. Quincy Knight; Graham and Quincy.
Reid. Reid Knight; Graham and Reid.
Rhys. Rhys Knight; Graham and Rhys.
Wesley. Wesley Knight; Graham and Wesley.

I am not sure about some of these with the surname; some of them seem a little hard to say.

I searched with unisex names in mind, but I didn’t find many that were the right style. Cary and Noel feel right with Graham; Jaden and Riley don’t have that same fit. Jules, maybe? Jules Knight; Graham and Jules.

I think Madden is a great family middle name. Is Townes also a family name? If so, and if Madden doesn’t work with the chosen first name, I’d look for another family name. If not, I’d browse other similar surname names: Hayes, Ames, Brooks, Bryce, etc. Or, if you decide against Cary/Noel/Jules for the first name, they might work as middle names.

Baby Boy Keller

Dear Swistle,

I am a little ways out still, due in August, but don’t see us getting any closer to a name. It’s not that we are so in love with these top names, but just can commit, or omit any of them for some reason. Desperately looking for another opinion, and still open to adding more to our list. I love reading your suggestions and reasoning for why names work!

This is our first baby, boy. Our last name is Keller. That makes it’s a little difficult, since I want the first name to have a solid ending…and not to end in “ER.”

We are hoping to use a family name for the middle name, and will choose which one based upon how boring/traditional/common or off the wall the first name is. James, Petersen (some form of it; Pete, Peters, Peter), or Baldwin. My husband and I both have longer formal names, and then nicknames and I like that option, but not a must. I really like the trendy traditional names, but I feel like the ones I like are getting overused and aren’t as rare.

We can’t use; Charlie, John, Jack, Luke, Bo or Teddy.

Our current list includes;

William/ Liam: I was excited about a more unique name that comes from a very comfortable and traditional name.

Finnick/Finn: I am worried this is getting a little too popular, and Finley being used now for girls

Thomas: Too safe, and too popular?

Wyatt: Love it, no negatives, other than no nickname can come from it

Crawford/Ford: If he will always go by Ford, silly to have Crawford?



Graham: Too long, with nothing to shorten it to?

Thanks in advance for your help and assistance!


Let’s start with the Social Security Administration rankings. The name Liam is the second most popular boy name in the United States as of 2016, one notch higher than William at #3.

Finn, on the other hand, was the #175th most popular boy name in 2016. You’re right that it’s rising; here are the rankings for the five years before that:

2011: #302
2012: #291
2013: #251
2014: #234
2015: #209

And here are the rest of the name rankings (all for 2016):

Thomas: #48
Wyatt: #33
Crawford: (not in the Top 1000 for 2016)
Ford: #712
Brooks: #231
Owen: #23
Graham: #179

This is a pretty big spread, popularity-wise: from Crawford (56 new baby boys given the name in 2016) to Liam (18,138 new baby boys given the name in 2016). I don’t recommend making naming decisions based too strongly on popularity, but I think it’s a factor to take into account. On the other hand, all of the names on your list, despite the popularity spread, are familiar and not difficult to imagine pairing with other names from the list.

And in fact, imagining those pairings can be a good way to narrow things down a bit. I suggest making a list of brother pairs from your list, and seeing which ones stand out to your more or feel more like “your kids.” Do you find you’re more drawn to William and Owen, or more drawn to Ford and Brooks, or more drawn to Graham and Wyatt?

I see what you mean about the difficulty in choosing one or eliminating any: I find as I’m sitting here staring at the list, nothing is leaping out at me as one I’d cross off or as one I want to push you to use. I think it’s that you have a good solid list of names and can’t really go wrong here.

Paul and I had a similar situation when naming Henry: we got it down to 7 names and then we were having trouble cutting it down any further. The method we used was this: we each took the list and we ranked the names—but we could rank as many as we wanted at each ranking. That is not a very clear description; here is the kind of thing we ended up with after doing this exercise:

One parent’s list:
William 1
Wyatt 1
Owen 1
Graham 2
Thomas 2
Finn 2
Brooks 3
Crawford 3

The other parent’s list:
Owen 1
Wyatt 1
Finn 2
Crawford 2
Graham 2
Brooks 3
William 3
Thomas 3

So, comparing those lists, the parents can say to each other, “Well, it looks like Brooks is not going to win out: we love it, but it’s going to lose to other names no matter what” and “Well, we both have Owen and Wyatt as #1, so I think we should consider those more seriously.” Any name where both parents ranked it a #1, or where one parent ranked it a #1 and the other parent ranked it a #2: those should be moved up the list. Any name where both parents ranked it a #3, or where one parent ranked it a #2 and the other parent ranked it a #3: those can probably be safely removed from the list. If the parents’ lists are basically in reverse order from each other, I’d focus on the names that both parents ranked a #2.

I hesitate to add MORE names to your list—but since I’m not doing a good job eliminating any, let’s go the other direction!

You have likely already considered this, but I wondered if you might want to use Petersen as a first name. It’s pretty cute, and Petersen Keller reminds me favorably of the successful combination Anderson Cooper.

John is out so maybe Jonathan is also out—but if it isn’t, I really like it. Jonathan Keller. I would probably use James as the middle name. I find I’m reluctant to use Baldwin: it seems like guys can be a little sensitive about the word “bald”.

Or I wonder if you’d like the name Henry. Henry Petersen Keller is smashing.

Or Daniel? Dan is on my list of favorite nicknames: it feels so warm and friendly and approachable. Daniel James Keller, or Daniel Petersen Keller.


[Edited to add: A commenter who is having commenting problems has asked me to add this:

For what it’s worth, Thomas Keller is a famous chef (, which to me is a positive association but one I would have wanted to know about before committing. Best wishes!

You may wonder why I am putting it in the post, instead of as a comment. It is because I CAN’T COMMENT EITHER. I can only do it in the behind-the-scenes part of the blog, only as a reply to someone else’s comment. This commenting issue is going to drive me screaming into the sea.]

Baby Names: High School Graduation Edition

I loved when the kids were in preschool and the school would send home a directory so I could see everyone’s names. In elementary school, one of the best times of the school year is February: the kids come home with lists of names for addressing valentines. When the kids are in middle and high school, I like when the yearbooks come out and I can look at all the names.

I will tell you what tops all of those experiences: high school graduation. Finally, the MIDDLE names!

My eldest child graduated from high school recently, and I am ready to make a report:

1. I was so happy that we’d given him my maiden name as his second middle name. So happy. I loved hearing it read aloud. In fact, it made me wish we’d hyphenated his surname so I could have heard my maiden name more often. There have been years and years of my husband’s family name getting all the reading-aloud at events and all the writing-down in the yearbooks and programs, and that seems very wrong and unfair.

2. Occasionally someone naming a baby will express concern about a name they’re considering, thinking ahead to how it will sound being read aloud at graduation. I had forgotten an aspect of the situation, but Rob reminded me: during rehearsal, the person who will be reading aloud the names asks each graduate how they would like their name read aloud. If you are fretful because of sound or rhythm or length or whatever, the name can be read differently than it is on the birth certificate. (I don’t mean like saying Louise Thoroughgood if the name is Emma Thompson. But if you went with Emma Rose Bella Louisa Parker Thompson, you can have them read it as Emma Rose Thompson.)

2b. But also: it mattered not one single fig. The reader read each full name with big spaces between the parts of the name so there were no issues of running-together; for example, “Robert. Elliot. Whistle. Thistle.” There was vast variety in length and type of name, and everyone was listening too hard for familiar names to worry about other people’s names. One kid had FIVE names, and who cared? No one. Well, Swistle cared, but in a thrilled way: five names! Good stuff!


Even better, the graduation program has all the names printed in it, so I could really pore over it. Heck yes I made a spreadsheet so I could sort them.

There were a lot of the middle names you would expect: Anne, Lynn, Jane, Rose, Elizabeth, Marie. I realized when trying to make the boy half of that list that I don’t think of there being standard middle names for boys. Maybe James? But not the way I think of Grace/Rose/etc. Now, that’s interesting. Why aren’t there? Or why ARE there for girls? For boys there were a bunch of middle-name repeats, but not ones that I’d list off the top of my head as Middle Name Names the way I would with Lynn and Jane.

The most common middle name for girls in this graduating class was Elizabeth: approximately 13% of girls had that middle name. The second most common middle name for girls was Marie: nearly 12% of girls. Third place was Rose with nearly 6%. More with a significant number of repeats: Ann/Anne, Lynn.

The most common middle name for boys in this graduating class was James: approximately 9% of the boys had that middle name. Close on the heels were Joseph and William with nearly 7% each; then Michael and Robert with nearly 6% each. More with a significant number of repeats: David, Edward, John, Matthew, Patrick.

One student had MY name (Kristen) as a middle name. I was pleased and interested. I think of my name as having the wrong rhythm for a middle name—but WHY, when Robert and William and David and Thomas and Joseph all have the same rhythm and all make perfectly terrific middle names? In fact, I notice a large percentage of boys have middle names that are in that DAH-dah rhythm, but girls tend to have one syllable (Jane, Grace, Rose, Lynn, Ann), or emphasis on the second syllable (Nicole, Marie, Noelle, Elizabeth).

There were several middle names that seemed like they could be honor names or names that the parents loved but didn’t quite want to use as first names: Edna, Dorothy, Eugene, Melvin, Saoirse, Vasilis, Meadow.

There were not very many that seemed likely to be the mother’s maiden name, but there were some, and there were several hyphenated surnames. There were approximately as many double middle names as there were hyphenated surnames.

There were three pairs of near-duplicate names. One was just the same first moderately-common first name and then the same first two letters of the last, like if it were Sean Cowan and Sean Cobalt. The other two were the same first, the same middle, and the same first one or two letters of the surname. One of those remaining two pairings had a Top Ten name but then a less common middle name, like if it were Ashley Sage Mooney and Ashley Sage McNeil. The other was a first name in the 200s followed by a more familiar middle name, more like Grant Charles Bolton and Grant Charles Boyd.

The most popular girl name in 1999 (the year Rob was born, so it’s the year I used for this graduating class) was Emily, used for 1.36% of baby girls nationwide; it was used for less than .5% of this particular graduating class. The name Catherine, which was #98 in 1999 and used for .17% of baby girls nationwide, was used three times as often as Emily in this graduating class.

The most popular boy name in 1999 was Jacob; it was used for 1.73% of baby boys nationwide, and for 2% of this particular graduating class. The name Kyle was #28 in 1999 and used for .68% of baby boys nationwide; it was also used for 2% of this graduating class.

What mostly surprised me was how few repeats there were, even of Top Ten names you might have expected to have repeats of. Hannah was the #2 most common name in 1999, but there aren’t any in this class. Only one Samantha, only one Ashley, only one Jessica, only one Elizabeth, only one Michael, only one Matthew. Most students were the only one with their name in their entire graduating class—and we are not in a very name-adventurous area of the country.

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.

Baby Girl or Boy Airs, Sibling to Jacob, Avery, and Carter

Dear Swistle,
We could really use your help! I am three weeks away from having our fourth (and last) child, and we do not know if it’s a boy or a girl. Our older kids are Jacob Daniel, Avery (called both Avery and Avery Jane) and Carter William. Our last name sounds like Airs.

If it is a girl, we are somewhat settled on Cameron Grace or Cameron Rose, but I have a hesitation with Cameron for a girl, which is that it was given to 6,807 boys in 2016 but only 583 girls. Would she always be mistaken for a boy? If not Cameron, my husband likes Charlotte and Harper but I think they are too popular. I like Emily (maybe too dated), Josie, Sadie and Macy but am afraid that Sadie and Macy are common dog names. I am also not sure about Josie as a standalone name.

If it is a boy, we have another issue that has come up on this blog before. We really like the name Logan but it was the name of our family’s cat that died about 2 years ago. I have heard people say that it’s fine to use it since the cat is no longer with us, and other people who just think it’s weird. We don’t want to create confusion/weirdness but we are annoyed with ourselves for using Logan on a cat 13 years ago. Our oldest (11) doesn’t think there is a problem with it. Is Logan still usable? I like Benjamin, Ethan, Evan, Jeremiah, Wesley and Nolan. My husband really likes the name Chase (I think it might be too short), is warming up to Benjamin and doesn’t like Ethan or Evan. He is thinking about Jeremiah, Nolan and Wesley. Middle name options are open but I am thinking about Michael after my brother.

Names we can’t use: Emma, Marley, Morgan, Lucas, Grayson

Your help is appreciated!!



The difficulty with a name like Cameron is tallying up all the spellings. Here are just the ones that were used for at least 50 boy babies or 50 girl babies in 2016:

Kamryn: 861 F, 279 M
Camryn: 815 F, 186 M
Cameron: 583 F, 6807 M
Cameryn: 64 F, 33 M
Kameron: 59 F, 1436 M
Kameryn: 58 F, 34 M
Kamron: – F, 196 M
Kamren: 17 F, 179 M
Kamran: – F, 51 M
Camron: – F, 241 M
Camren: 10 F, 162 M

Even so, we can see without doing the math that the name is used more often for boys—but still hanging in there for girls.

Part of the package deal of a unisex name is that people may sometimes mistake it as belonging to someone of the opposite sex, but this seems fairly easy to correct when it happens. And most of the time when there’s doubt (on paperwork when the child is not present, for example), there will be other information available such as the middle name or an M/F entry. Also, Cameron is a well-known unisex name: many people encountering it will know they need more information before automatically adding the name to the boys’ team or the girls’ team.

One possible solution is to use a spelling more associated with girls: Camryn, for example. There will still be occasional mistakes, but it will reduce them. I would do this only if you don’t really care about the spelling: I think there will be occasional mistakes no matter what spelling you use—unless you go with ♀️Kamrynne♀️.

If Harper is too common (and to me, it also sounds too much like Carter), I wonder if you’d like Harlow or Harlowe.

I wonder if you’d like the name Riley? It’s another one that needs some spelling-tallying:

Riley: 7110 F, 1706 M
Rylee: 2947 F, 165 M
Ryleigh: 1877 F, 10 M
Rylie: 1003 F, 31 M
Rilee: 127 F, 17 M
Rileigh: 127 F, – M
Ryley: 97 F, 73 M

Still unisex but, like the name Avery, it’s used more often for girls.

On the subject of Logan and the cat who is no longer with us: I think you should go ahead and use the name. I think the handful of people who find it weird will get over it, as well they should, and that none of them are likely to care very deeply about it even during the stage when they still find it a little weird. For anyone you haven’t yet asked, I wouldn’t mention the connection: I’m trying to think of the names of my friends’ pets, and I’m having some trouble. If a friend used a name that I remembered was the name of a former pet, I might remark on it but only because I would want to hear more of the naming story, not because I thought it was weird.

On the other hand, Paul and I didn’t use the name Oliver, not because we’d had a cat named Oliver but because Paul said he was certain his mother would never, ever stop saying “Oliver: the boy named after a cat!,” and then Paul so perfectly imitated the little laugh she’d do every time she said it, it immediately killed the name for me. But if you don’t have anyone like that in your life, I say use the name and shrug it off.

Otherwise, my favorites are Wesley and Nolan: I think they both do a nice job of uniting the styles of Jacob and Carter.

Baby Girl or Boy Johnson, Sibling to Juliet

I’m really in need of some outside advice here. I’m due in August, but due to IUGR complications, could be having the baby any time now. We are team green (as we were with number one), but completely stumped on a girl name and it is beyond stressing me out!!

My name is Katelyn, my husband is Justin, and our daughter is Juliet Marie. Our last name is Johnson. We did not choose a J name on purpose and I want to avoid it this time around. I don’t want to be the only non-J (silly, I know)!

The boy name we have picked out, if the baby is a boy, is Gavin Arthur. It was on our list the first time around (along with Lucas Alexander), but it seems to have won out as top contender.

Juliet seemed like such an easy choice at the time, and now we absolutely LOVE it. Romantic and girly. Widely recognizable, but not popular on the charts. Easily pronounced. An uncommon, masculine nickname (We call her Jet). Both Jet and Gavin have kind of a badass, rockstar, vibe (Joan Jett and Gavin Rossdale), but also a literary connection.

We have considered Caroline- it was on my list the first time, but my husband isn’t into it. There don’t seem to be any great nickname options here. It just doesn’t feel right anymore.

Vivian- nickname V, We don’t have a middle that works and we’re both kind of meh here.

Ariana- nickname Ari. I’m liking this name, but it does seem like a bit of a mouthful.

Evelyn- nickname EV. This one my husband keeps coming back to. If I’m being honest, I don’t love the repeat of “lyn” from my name.

Is it too much to ask to find a romantic name with a badass vibe? I’m at a complete loss.

Please Help!


I am interested in this “romantic with a badass vibe” concept. Here’s what makes it happen for the name Juliet:

1. The Romeo and Juliet connection, of course, which persists in feeling romantic even though it’s tragic.

2. The nice sharp T-sound at the end: Julia wouldn’t have the same badass quality.

3. The cool nickname Jet.

4. The alliteration with the surname. Juliet Johnson is snappier than, say, Juliet Miller.


Of the names on your list, I think Vivian comes closest to romantic/badass. There’s the Scarlett O’Hara / Vivien Leigh connection, which gives it a flashing eyes / sassy talk feel as well as a beautiful dress / romantic lead feel. Plus the V-sound has sass of its own. Nicknames V, Vee, Viv—all pretty good. I have two hesitations: one, that you’re not really feeling it; two, that if you’re planning more children it might rule out using Gavin later (it wouldn’t HAVE to, but you might think it has too many sounds in common).

Ariana doesn’t seem like too much of a mouthful to me, and it’s got the romantic feeling—but I’m not seeing any badass/rockstar.

Evelyn is a great name, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly romantic OR badass.

Caroline—maybe. It’s got a princess feeling to it, which covers romance. I’m not sure about the badass. I think it hinges on the nickname. Something like Caro, Rory, Ro?

Let’s look at some more possibilities.

Genevieve. This was a top contender for my daughter’s name. It’s got the romantic quality, plus the nice sharp V-sounds to keep it from being too sweet. It alliterates with the surname without actually using another J name. Nicknames include Vee and Evie and G and GJ. Genevieve Johnson; Juliet and Genevieve; Jet and Evie.

Claudia. Romantic, but you can definitely picture her in a roller derby. I’m watching The West Wing so I’m drawn to the nickname CJ, or I like the nickname Claude. Claudia Johnson; Juliet and Claudia; Jet and CJ.

Winifred. Do not mess around with a Winifred. She will crochet you a sling for your arm after she breaks it. Excellent nickname possibilities: Fred, Freddie, Winnie if she’s not the Fred/Freddie type. Winifred Johnson; Juliet and Winifred; Jet and Freddie.

Georgia. A Georgia will bless your heart as she leaves you in a cloud of motorcycle exhaust. G, George, Georgie. Georgia Johnson; Juliet and Georgia; Jet and Georgie.

Beatrix. Literary as heck. Cool X-sound. I’m not your girl for coming up with non-traditional nicknames, but OKAY FINE WHAT ABOUT BEX? (I believe I first heard this nickname idea from my friend Miss Grace.) Beatrix Johnson; Juliet and Beatrix; Jet and Bex.

Maxine. I’m not sure what name has more sass than Maxine. Maybe Roxy? Plus, you get the nickname Max. Maxine Johnson; Juliet and Maxine; Jet and Max. My one hesitation: insufficient romance.

Francesca, with Frank and Frankie to work with. Francesca Johnson; Juliet and Francesca; Jet and Frankie.

Eloise. One of my enduring favorites. So literary! And princessy! But in a going-to-be-queen way, not in a fragile way. I am not sure what you would like to do about a nickname. E? Lo? Maybe Lou? Eloise Johnson; Juliet and Eloise; Jet and Lou.

Eliza. Another enduring favorite. Again the nickname needs work. Eliza Johnson; Juliet and Eliza; Jet and…?

Alice. Literary. Alice Johnson; Juliet and Alice; Jet and Al.

Josephine. I know you said you don’t want another J. And I wouldn’t either, if I were you; that doesn’t seem silly to me. I’m mentioning Josephine anyway. Literary. Romantic. And most importantly: THE NICKNAME JO. Josephine Johnson; Juliet and Josephine; Jet and Jo.

Annika. Annika Johnson; Juliet and Annika; Jet and Nico.

Veronica. Another roller-derby name for me. Nicknames Ronnie, Nick. Veronica Johnson; Juliet and Veronica; Jet and Nick.

Rosemary. Nicknames Ro, Rory, Romy, Rosie. Rosemary Johnson; Juliet and Rosemary; Jet and Romy.

Katherine. Katherine Johnson; Juliet and Katherine; Jet and Kit.

Baby Girl or Boy McGrew, Sibling to Kenna, Landon, Riley, and Galen

We are adding a 5th baby to our brood after an almost 7 year break and we are absolutely stuck on names! We don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl so we need ideas for both. I have a list (but I’m not sold on any of the choices), but my husband just throws names around expecting one to “stick” and it’s driving me crazy.

We have a very Irish last name, McGrew, and the children’s names all have an Irish feel: Kenna Grace, Landon Farrell, Riley Owen, Galen Micah.

I like that they all have unique initials, but it’s proving very difficult to find another name that fits in.

For the most part, I do not like popular, common, trendy names for first names (although Landon and Riley are pretty much all three).

Middle names aren’t so much an issue if we can find a suitable first name. We will probably use a family name (Ann, Lynn, Lee, Daniel).

My boy list:

I like Archer, but when you put a middle name with it, it sounds like a title instead of a name. Archer Lee makes it sound like archer is Lee’s profession! I love Avi, but my husband does not and the rest are just attempts to find something–neither of us love any of them.

My girl list:

I thought Annora might be the one, but hubby ran with it, posted on social media with a middle name, Anora Mai, and my gut reaction when I saw it was a firm NO and we got some not so positive feedback (mostly because of the spelling of Mai). He likes Mae because it honors both our maternal grandmothers (Margaret and Pearline) and his sister Megan and his paternal grandmother was named Nora. I’m not sure it fits with the siblings names, I’m not sure I like the two names together, and I feel like I’m leaving my paternal grandmother (June) out! With only one girl, we’ve focused more on boys’ names, but we still need a girl’s name.

Some names he likes, but I do not:
all the more common Biblical names

We also have 4 kids old enough to have an opinion. It’s going to be hard to please everyone.

Names we cannot use:
Willow and Asher (our babies born to Heaven)
Wesley (older half brother)
Leo, Leon, Leonard (would honor someone we don’t wish to honor)

I hope you can help us!
Thank you!


To start with, I want to mention the spelling Honora instead of Anora/Annora, just in case that’s the issue. Honora doesn’t quite fit with the style of the sibling names, but nor does it clash, and I don’t know about you but by Child #5 I was dropping preferences left and right in my desperation to find anything that wasn’t ruled out by previous children’s names.

I also suggest Nora, which I think is better with the sibling names. The name Mai/Mae doesn’t feel to me as if it honors a Margaret and a Pearline and a Megan; I think I would go instead for something like Nora Margaret or Nora Pearl or Nora June: fewer people honored, but the honorees would know they’d been honored without needing the connection explained. Nora Margaret McGrew; Kenna, Landon, Riley, Galen, and Nora.

Maybe Finley. Finley Margaret, Finley Pearl, Finley June, Finley Ann. Kenna, Landon, Riley, Galen, and Finley.

Or Fiona. Fiona McGrew; Kenna, Landon, Riley, Galen, and Fiona.

I like Emlyn in this sibling group, but I hesitate because the most recent sibling name ends in the same sound. I feel okay using the -ley of Finley after the -ley of Riley, in part because of the name in between them.

I also like Maren in this group, but again hesitate using it right after Galen. Maybe it’s a non-issue. I can’t decide. Maren McGrew; Kenna, Landon, Riley, Galen, and Maren.

Or maybe Morgan would work better? Morgan McGrew; Kenna, Landon, Riley, Galen, and Morgan.

For a boy, I am having a harder time. All of the names I think of either repeat an initial, or repeat a major part of a sibling’s name, or don’t feel right with the surname. Rowan doesn’t feel too similar to either Riley or Galen to me, but somehow seems too close to the two names together. I like Keegan even though it repeats an initial, but when I started typing out the group it seemed like two Ke- beginnings was a little much. Maybe not, though: I had a late night last night and may be over-sensitive this morning. Graham McGrew feels like it just misses. Malcolm appeals to me, but saying “Malcolm McGrew” felt unpleasant in my mouth. Nolan seemed great until I noticed how similar it was to Galen and Landon. Kellen is too similar to Kenna and Galen. Griffin seems too close to Galen.

Maybe Kieran? It does repeat an initial, but I like it. Kieran McGrew; Kenna, Landon, Riley, Galen, and Kieran.

I’m most drawn to Archer and Alden from your list (though I wonder if Alden repeats too many sounds from Landon and Galen). I know what you mean about the name Archer sounding like a title instead of a name: I feel that way about all of the Occupation names. But I’ve noticed that once I know a kid with the name, I lose that feeling: the kid is now Archer, and that’s just how I think of him.

It’s fun to bring older kids in on the decision, but oh man, it can also be such a pain. I recommend mentioning early and often that everyone is welcome to give opinions and suggestions, but that it’s the parents’ job to choose the name. This is a good opportunity to revisit Family Discussion favorites such as “There is no one solution here that will make everyone equally happy” and “You might not be happy with our choice, but we hope that with time you will come around to it” and “When you are grown-ups, you will get your turn to make these decisions.” We had to do it when naming a cat: what started as a fun family project quickly dissolved into fights and tears, and that was for a CAT.

Baby Naming Issue: The Etiquette of Using a Name a Friend Already Used

Hi Swistle!

I am in desperate need of some sound advice about using a name that is also the name of a friends’ daughter.

The back story is that my husband and I have loved a name for a long time, since we named our #2 daughter and agreed that if we had any more girls we would use this one next. The name was not very popular at all so we felt safe haha. Shortly before I became pregnant with our #3, a friend, who I see every week on Sundays and with whom I have a good friendship/acquaintanceship (but we are by no means best friends), used the name that I had had my heart set on. (Very unbeknownst to her and to my great dismay!)

I was even sadder when I did get pregnant with #3 and felt like I couldn’t use the name (and I was so shy to talk to her about it). Whether or not that was the right way of doing things, it is water under the bridge now. We love our #3’s name and wouldn’t change it at all–it suits her perfectly.

Back to present. I am pregnant with our #4 daughter and that name is still one of our favorites. I got enough courage to email her…I’m kind of a whimp…(now that it’s been a couple of years and she has since had another child as well) I felt more courageous…can you tell I don’t like conflict??? Anyway, I asked if she would be bothered by us using the name. She didn’t outright say she was bothered, mostly a “haha, it is a great name! We thought we were being so unique but it’s becoming quite popular”. Not a super encouraging response but not an outright no, please don’t use it response either.

What do I do? Is it generally understood that you don’t use names of other friends’ kids? Am I completely out of line? Am I being a weeny and just need to ask her in person? Do I need to ask at all? (My husband’s opinion is that, no, we don’t need to ask). Since she didn’t say she was bothered by it outright, I’m not sure how much I need to read in between the lines. Is there etiquette when it comes to using names that friends have used?

I am not a boat rocker and do not want to cause unwanted tension but I also just love that name and wonder if I need to let it go once and for all?

Please help!

*hint the name is a purple floral name which was fairly unused three years ago but has gained considerable popularity since!

Thank you so much for your kind and sound advice! I really hope you and other readers can give me a more balanced, non-hormonal perspective–on whichever side it lands!

Most Sincerely,


It seems to me that what establishes the acceptability of name-repeats among friends is not so much about etiquette as it is about the particular social standards in that particular group: in some friend groups there will already be duplicates, and further duplicates will be considered flattering/bonding, and some people will be pushing others to use their children’s names (this is me); in others, no one will care very much about names and would be puzzled that anyone would fret about it, considering how many other people ALREADY have the name; in still others, duplicating a name would be like stealing someone’s spouse.

So! Step one is to think about what kind of friendship is involved here. Am I guessing right that this is a church friendship? If yes: do you ever see her outside of church? how big is the church? are there other duplicates among the names of children in the church? Better yet: has she named any of her children a name that was already in use in the church? That would be GOLDEN. (If I’m wrong about church, then same basic questions but without the word “church”: do you see her other than on Sundays? in what kind of group DO you see her, if any, and are there duplicates in that group? and so on.)

It also matters how uncommon the name is. I don’t want to start listing guesses for this name because I can see you’re trying not to have it in the post, so let’s talk about non-purple floral choices. If the name in question were Lily or Rose or Daisy, that would be a very different situation than if the name were Amaryllis or Zinnia or Chrysanthemum. You and she are in agreement that the name in question has become a lot more popular recently, so I will assume we have more of a Lily/Rose/Daisy situation on our hands.

You’re agonizing about whether or not you need to ask her—but you have ALREADY asked her. You asked her if she would be bothered by you using the name, and she responded by agreeing that it was a great name and adding that it was becoming quite popular. I would interpret this as “neutral permission” or “gracious non-opposition”: she doesn’t enthusiastically/specifically encourage you to use the name, but she demonstrates that she realizes the name is not her family’s original idea or exclusive property, and she also deliberately declined the offered opportunity to say that it bothers her. She doesn’t seem to be HOPING you’ll use it, but that would be a lot to ask of someone.

If you want to ask her again, you can do so—but ONLY ask if you are willing to give her that power over your name choices. This is not something I personally would be willing to do. But if you want more reassurance than she has already given, and if you ARE willing to let her veto a name, then I would bring it up again as a friendly “last chance!” sort of thing: “Okay, so we talked about this before and you seemed like you were okay with us using this name—but it’s important to me not to make you sad about this, so I just wanted to check one more time before we settled on it for sure.” I would do it in person if possible, but casually: not setting up a Serious Appointment with her, but just asking her while the two of you are chatting without other people in the conversation: you cover the weather and the children’s latest cold, and then you say, “Oh! By the way!” This will also give you a chance to read facial expression and body language. But again: you have ALREADY given her the opportunity to say if it bothers her, AND I don’t think people get to veto other people’s baby-name choices (though we may of course decide not to distress others by using names they would LIKE to veto), AND I don’t think you should be trying to wring anything better than neutral permission / gracious non-opposition out of her. I mean, what if she says, “Well, actually…I guess it would bother me a little.” NOW what? Another series of conversations during which you try to establish the line where her botheredness outweighs your love of the name? No, no, no, let’s not do this.

But if you DO ask her again and she says it bothers her, or if you decide not to use it because you’re worried it bothers her, it’s encouraging that this was your third-choice name, and also that you don’t have regrets about your third daughter’s name.

It may even be worth it to you to just cross the name off your list to avoid the stress of the whole thing. We’ve talked before about the “package deal” of a name: part of the package deal of this name may be the discomfort you feel about it being a name your friend used, and maybe you’ll decide you’d rather not.


I am going to add two paragraphs here that will not help this letter-writer, but are for the benefit of others who may one day be in this situation. If it happens to any of you that your secret favorite name is used (or about to be used) by someone else, I suggest INSTANTLY spilling the secret. So if, for example, you get the heart-dropping announcement from a friend that they’ve decided to use the name Rose, and Rose is the name you were absolutely planning to use for your baby, you immediately say, with HUGE joy as if you wanted nothing more than to have kids with the same name, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it! That is the VERY NAME we are planning to use for our next girl!” There’s no “Do you mind if we still do use it?” here: it’s a declaration that you had already made the same decision: it was already settled. Later you may decide not to use the name, but you have established that you didn’t get the idea of the name from your friend’s use of it.

This sort of situation is also an argument for mentioning names ahead of time, even way ahead of time. It’s a risk, though, isn’t it. Nobody wants to say, “I’ve always loved the name Rose” and have the friend say “…Oh. my. gosh. That is the most perfect name. Do you mind if I…?”

Baby Girl or Boy Lenz-with-a-B, Sibling to Laura and Clara

Dear Swistle,

I am hoping you can provide some naming help for our last baby due at the end of June. We have two little girls, Laura Marie and Clara Rose. We do not know the gender of baby number three, but we are decided on a boy name. We are having a hard time deciding on a girl name as some of our nieces and nephews’ names have eliminated names or name variants that we like. And we have two girls already and coming up with a third girl name is tough. Plus we have some naming quirks (but who doesn’t, right?).

My name is Lisa and my husband is Christopher. Our surname is Lenz with a B instead of an L. We like classic/vintage names that have clear spellings and pronunciations. For girls names, I love feminine names that end in “a” – this is a requirement for me. I have always loved the names Laura and Julia. But before my second was born, we had a niece who was named Julia – so that is not an option. We love the name Clara – vintage and not overly used. Plus now we have L&C names to match our names. The third baby will throw off the L&C naming convention because although we love L&C names, I feel the next baby should have his/her own letter and not make our family lopsided.

First names that I like but have been eliminated because of nieces/nephews: Julia/Juliana, Liliana, Alexa

First Name Letters that we like: A, J, K, M, R, S, V

First Name Letters that we will not use: B (only because last name), D, E, F, G, H, Q, U, W, X, Y, Z

We are trying to come up with a name that fits well with Laura and Clara. Since they are shorter names, trying to choose something that does not have too many syllables or is too long. The top two contenders on our list are Victoria and Sophia. I have hang-ups with both. I love Victoria – it is classic, no spelling/pronunciation issues, and I like the meaning (victory). It seems to fit with the other girls’ names, especially with the “r” sound at the end. However, my concerns are nicknames (we dislike Vicky and Tory and our two girls do not have nicknames) – baby/child would have to be Victoria and I am not sure if that is realistic. It is a bit longer than the other girls’ names we have too. I like Sophia – honestly I loved this name 10 years ago but now it is so popular that I don’t feel like the name is special. I like that it is classic and like the meaning (wisdom). I feel like the “ph” spelling is more common than “f” spelling – we both prefer the “ph” spelling. It is a shorter than Victoria. But I fear the child would always be Sophia B because of its popularity.

As for middle names, Marie is my middle name and a family name. Rose is my favorite flower and I just love the name. Yes, these are common middle names, but I am okay with that because it is the middle not first name. Also, both middle names again are easy to spell and pronounce. They also end in an “e”, so it would be nice to have another middle name that ends in “e”. Also, we do consider the baby’s initials and try to avoid inappropriate initials (ex. SOB). Middle name that we are considering is Grace.

Other names that I like, but don’t seem to fit our naming conventions:

First names: Cora (out – C issue and rhymes with Laura), Violet (husband does not like, does not end in a), Serena (not classic?), Sabrina (not sold on this), Seraphina (husband does not like), Ophelia (I just think Shakespeare)

Middle names: Juliet (husband does not like), Annabel/Annabelle, (concern with “bell” sound before B surname), Olive (this is all me not sure about hubby – yet to be discussed), Lily (another flower)

So to summarize, a girl first name that ends in “a” and is classic/vintage, easy to spell/pronounce, and goes with Laura and Clara….and a pretty middle name (it can be more popular and bonus if it ends in “e”). It seems so much harder naming a third when the first two have set naming precedents!




I suggest Anna. Feminine and classic; ends in -a; similar length to other names; no need for a nickname; easy to pronounce and spell but not very common; doesn’t share too many sounds with Laura and Clara.

You mention Grace as a middle name possibility, and I think Anna Grace is very nice.

Or Anna Jane is pretty, or Anna June.

Sophie would be a nice middle name, too, if Sophia is feeling too common as a first name. I like Sophia even better than Sophie as a middle name, if you’re willing to skip the ends-in-E preference. Anna Sophia.

The middle name would also be a good way to use Victoria without having to deal with the nicknames. Anna Victoria.

A few more first-name options to consider:


I would suggest Delia, Eliza, Eva, Fiona, and Georgia, but D, E, F, and G are on the list of letters you won’t use. Is that list set in stone? It rules out so many good options. I kept getting discouraged: I’d think of another name that met all the preferences—and oh, the first letter is on the No list.

I think one reason you’re stuck is that you have too many requirements/preferences you’re trying to meet: too many letters it can’t start with, plus it has to end in -a, plus it shouldn’t have nicknames, plus it has to be easy to spell and pronounce, plus it can’t be too common. I suggest ranking these in order of how important they are to you, and seeing if some of the requirements can be demoted to preferences, and if some of the preferences can be demoted to “eh, nice if it works out, but we don’t really care.” I don’t think just because the first two names have something in common you have to continue that for a third name.

And it’s a matter of trading: each requirement/preference eliminates a large chunk of names. Each time you cut away a chunk of names, you reduce the number of names you might love. Too many cuts, and the choice becomes “Do we go with a name we love but that fails to meet some of our preferences, or do we instead go with a name that meets all our preferences but we like it much less?” That sounds as if I think you should go with the name you love, but that’s not what I’m saying; what I’m saying is that I think it will make the decision process easier if you realize the cost of each preferences, and then decide if you’re willing to pay those costs. You might find that you are willing, which could help you feel happy choosing a name you love less; or you might find you’re not willing, which could help you feel happy choosing a name that doesn’t meet a preference.

As an exercise, I recommend making a list of names without any regard for requirements/preferences. That is, put Julia on the list even though you can’t use it. Put names you like that don’t end in -a on the list. Put names you like that are a little hard to spell or pronounce on the list. Put names that start with the forbidden initials on the list—including L and C. Put them alllllllll on the list. Then you can compare the names that meet your requirements to the ones that don’t, and see if the trade-offs (in either direction) are ones you’re willing to make: that is, put the things on the balance scales and ask yourselves are you willing to forsake [preference] in exchange for [loved name]? are you willing to forsake [loved name] in exchange for [preference]? This may also give you more ideas for names that DO meet your requirements: if, for example, you’d had Anne and Annabel and Hannah on the doesn’t-meet-requirements list, that might lead you to add Anna to the does-meet-requirements list.

If it were me, the first requirement I’d knock off is the initials one. You didn’t mention why some of those initials are on your list, though, so you may have reasons that would change my mind on that if I knew them. Let’s start just with L and C: I understand not wanting to repeat initials (that’s one of my preferences, too), but I think it might be worth the trade—particularly if the next initial were L, so that it wasn’t so much “lopsided” as “alternating.”

From your list my top favorite is Sabrina. I like the repeating B-sound with the surname, and it seems like it checks all the other boxes: goes well with Laura and Clara, isn’t too long, it’s classic and easy to pronounce/spell, etc. Serena is also nice, but I prefer Sabrina.