Baby Girl, Sister to Persephone

Dear Swistle,

We are in desperate need of help. We have a four year old daughter with a perfect name; Persephone Jane. We call her Effie, but love PJ as a nickname option if she chooses, too. Some of the many reasons we love her name: the nod to my Greek heritage; the badass myth (she rules hell!); the fact that all four “e”s make a different sound; the fact that it’s obviously very different, but has a reference point; and four syllables plus one syllable just rolls nicely. Unfortunately, we’ve set our bar way too high and are having a lot of trouble naming our second daughter and last child, due in late January. If she had been a boy, we’d have used Sullivan. We’ve had that boy name locked since we were dating but aren’t fond of the female nicknames for it. So far in the running are Ophelia (Ollie) and Delphinia (Finnie). We are a Matt and Jenny born in the 80s, so we want a name that isn’t on the top of any list. I’d love something in the same vein as Persephone, hence our top two choices, but we’re just not sold one way or another. We also love Comisa (Ozzy). I actually love Cossie but I know people will say it Cozzy so I’d rather just go Ozzy) and Coredelise (Lisey). We’ve mentioned Desdemona (Desi) but I don’t love the nickname. We love the nickname Lisey (lie-zee) but aren’t in love with any of the full-length names for it (Lisette, Liesel, Melissa, etc.). When naming Effie, we actually loved the nickname and worked backwards from there, after having dismissed Persephone originally for her being a villain in a terrifying Stephen King novel but then thinking better of it. As for a middle name, we’re currently thinking Lynn in honor of my aunt but aren’t 100% on it. Jane was initially just a toss-in; something simple to counteract the enormity of Persephone and give her a less crazy option if she wanted it later and we liked the J initial for nickname possibilities, but it ended up being absolutely perfect. I can only hope we’ll luck into the same situation again. We’re not afraid of crazy, clearly, and I’ve even tossed out Polemistis, which isn’t even a name but rather just the Greek work for warrior. We’re raising one fearless feminist and can’t wait to start on our second.

I’m sorry I’ve written you a novel. I’m so grateful for any help you can offer – I’m starting to seriously worry and that’s causing anxiety over the whole idea of having a second child. Really, what was I thinking?!



I vote for Hermione. I think that name should be WAY more popular than it is, but perhaps we just need to wait a few years for all those Harry-Potter-in-their-formative-years kids to start having children. More options:

Amaryllis (I think you could get Lisey from this)
Diana (Wonder Woman as well as a goddess)
Lysandra (could get Lisey from this)
Seraphina (might be too similar in sound to Persephone)
Sophronia (in The Five Little Peppers, the nickname is Phronsie, which I LOVE)

Some sources for further browsing:

Women Warriors in folklore
Women in Greek mythology
23 Incredible Goddesses Who Kicked Patriarchy’s Ass
The Dangerous Woman Project
Roman Deities

Baby Girl Tuber

Hello Swistle!

Long time reader, first time writer!

Before we were married, my husband and I agreed on a couple of things as far as naming our children went: 1) Middle names would be meaningful/honorific names, as both of our middle names are family names; 2) First names would be their own, and have little/no tie to family members, unless it was absolutely something we loved; and 3) My family names would take slight precedence, since I added on/go by his surname and, with three sisters and only female cousins on my father’s side, my surname will likely not be continuing on. My husband told me soon after that he would actually prefer that we use my two grandmothers’ names as middle names for any daughters, since he considers them his grandmothers too, and loves them very much.

That leads to now. I’m elated to write that I’m pregnant with my first child, a little girl! First girl for either side of our family in 15 years. My much-adored grandmother, Patricia “Pat,” passed away unexpectedly only a few months before I became pregnant, so middle name is a no-brainer, non-negotiable for us. We also don’t like changing the names, so using Patrice or some other variant is a no. We briefly considered using Anne, her middle name, but it doesn’t feel as special or connected to her.

However, Patricia is not exactly the easiest middle name to work with. I am waffling between trying to find something that sounds GREAT with Patricia (that we also LOVE), and saying “forget it!” and just using what we love regardless of how it sounds. I know, realistically, that most people won’t be familiar with their friends/co-workers/acquaintances middle names, so it’s probably more important to focus on how the first sounds with the surname, but I am a Name Nerd, capital-Ns, and it’s proving more difficult than I’d have hoped. I tend to like a lot of longer names that end in -a or -ia, and visually it’s very unappealing to me to repeat that, even if it sounds okay aloud. Add to that, a lot of other names I like end in S or R sounds, and our surname is Swiss-German, sounds kind of like “tuber” with a hard Z/S, so some of the combinations run into each other or just sound so clunky… I’m just a little stuck. I am even thinking about throwing Rule #3 out and using Patricia as a first name, but I am also having a hard time with that, because I’m not crazy about the nicknames, and losing her is still very fresh, and my husband’s best friend is a male “Pat.”

I would LOVE some new suggestions, or just your thoughts on our favorite names. I feel like I’ve seen everything and still none of these feel like a great fit. Right now we are calling the baby Potato (get it? Tuber?).

Our names so far are:




























Names that have been vetoed because they are too popular, a close relation, or my husband dislikes:


Cleo (he says it’s too Miss Cleo)













Paloma (initials PP–my husband hasn’t said anything so far about Phoebe, and yes, he knows how it’s spelled, but he HATES these initials. Do you think this is a problem? I’m torn.)

Pearl (initials PP)

Persephone (PP)


Rose and all Rose variations (hurts my heart because Rosemary was one of my favorites, but I understand my husband’s reasons)





My husband has a well-known, Hebrew/Biblical name that has no nicknames. I have a long, feminine, ancient Greek/Roman name with a million nicknames, and I go by a unisex nickname with most people. We tend to like nature names and older, well-known names, that are either long with easy, intuitive nicknames, or have few/no possible nicknames (just like our names). We slightly prefer the versatility of nicknames, but it’s not a necessity. Had this baby been a boy, my front-runners were Fox, Adam, Ignatius, and Malcolm, with about 25 other options waiting in the wings. We plan on hopefully having three to four kids, and, if we have another girl, her middle name will be Olive.

Thanks in advance for any input!

Mama Tuber


I first zeroed in on Minerva: it’s very high on my own Sorry I Can’t Use It list, and I just love it, and I think it’s great with Patricia. But I love it less with the surname; I think it’s the repeated -er- sound: Minerva Tuber. My tongue twists around it.

It’s hard for me to narrow down the list because I think such a large percentage of them are really good (especially since I don’t share your dislike of the look of two names in a row ending in -a), but some that seem particularly good to me are Florence, Gwendolyn, Marigold, and Sabrina. And I’d bring Cordelia, Josephine, and Winifred back from the veto list, if I had that power.

Harriet Tuber brings Harriet Tubman to mind, but that’s a very positive association and also I’m not sure if your surname actually begins with Tub-.

I too avoid P.P. initials. They’re not out of the question, and I can imagine loving a name so much I would consider them—but since you are planning more children, I would save the P names for when you’re not using a middle name starting with P.

I would take Ruby off the list: to my ear the almost-rhyme is a little comical with the surname. Ruby Tuber. I would remove Juniper Tuber for similar reasons. (Luna Tuber and Winter Tuber are already off the list, or else I would remove them as well.)

I doubt I will be adding anything you haven’t already considered, but here are a few that came to mind when I was looking at other names on your list:


I notice you have some groups of names on the lists that, if you were to use one name from the group, it’s possible you’d feel it ruled out using others in the group. For example, if you used one color name (Violet, Lavender, Lilac, Hazel, Coral, etc.), would that mean you would not want to use any of the others? If you used one plant name (Iris, Juniper, Lilac, Marigold, Dahlia, Fern, Hazel, etc.), would that rule out the others for you? If you used Opal, would that rule out Pearl? It is good to think through such things ahead of time, so you can be sure you’re choosing your top choice from any group that would be eliminated once one name was chosen.

Baby Naming Issue: We Want Our Son Called by a Nickname, But Someone Keeps Using His Given Name

My name problem is a little different.

My son is named after his father, who is named after his, who is named after his. In other words, my husband is Robert III and my son is Robert IV.

My husband went by Bobby when I met him, but now likes to go by Robert or Rob. This is because it’s kind of a tradition for the Dad to go from Bobby to Robert once they have a son, that way the son can now be called Bobby. It honestly doesn’t really matter to me what my son is called, but it’s very important to my husband.

So, the issue is with my step-mother. She never had kids of her own and spends a lot of time with my son. She never thought she’d have grandchildren, so the fact that my son thinks of her the same as my mother is a big deal I think. She’s a nice lady, a bit high-strung and can’t seem to ever sit down, but nice. When she has my son, she fills every minute with different activities.

She has always called my son Robert though. It really bothers my husband. She gets ornamates made for my family and my brothers at Christmas time. My sons character always has “Robert” on it and my husbands is “Bobby”. This is what bothers him the most. He really likes the idea of the ornaments, but doesn’t want to use them because of this issue.

Shas texted me and said “what’s Robert doing?” I reply that he’s working, she’ll reply that she meant the other one, so I say something like “oh Bobby isn’t doing anything.” I know that sounds passive aggressive, but she is VERY sensitive. One time, as a child, I got in severe trouble because I made her cry. How did I do that? I didn’t say hi back to her when she walked by one morning. I was eating… my mouth was full and I tried to do the head nod thing, but she got her feelings hurt and I got yelled at. Because of this, we usually try to go through my dad for any issues. I try to talk to her about them, but I also always try to make it light-hearted because of her sensitivity.

So, I’ve told my dad about the issue a couple times. He now calls my son Bobby and husband Robert, but she doesn’t. (Meanwhile, her family still calls my son “Baby Bobby” which drives my little guy crazy because he’s now 5. Even the kids call him that, but I digress.)

To top it off, I recently had a baby girl. I’ve always wanted a girl named Charlie. My husband wanted it to be a nickname just in case she doesn’t like it and that was fine with me. So her name is Charlotte, but we literally never use that. It’s Charlie to everyone. Except to my step-mother, again. She always calls her Charlotte. I’ll call her Charlie and then it seems like my step-mom will make sure to use Charlotte right after.

I’m not sure what to do. I’m non-confrontational in general, but it’s even worse with her. I got in trouble for hurting her feelings more times than I can count as a child. I’m sure I deserved it sometimes. But this is a woman who started full-on sobbing because my dad brought the cat to their new house first and not the dog. He was going back to get the dog that same day.

Anyway, this is so long! Is it really a big enough deal to risk an altercation? Please advise if you can and thanks for your time.


This is tricky. This is very, very tricky. I have been thinking about this since you wrote over a week ago, and I am not yet settled in my mind on an answer.

In general, in GENERAL, I think the parents are the bosses of the child’s name until the child is old enough to be boss of it. If you have a James and you want him called Jamie, I am here for the discussion on how we get a relative to stop calling him Jimmy.

But in nearly all the situations I can think of, there is ALSO the option of using the child’s actual given name. That is, it seems like parents are usually more like “If you’re going to use a nickname, this is our chosen one,” and not “You may ONLY use the nickname and you may NOT use the given name.” James and Jamie, but not Jimmy; Elizabeth and Libby, but not Beth.

Here is a situation I could think of where this was not the case, and it is has some overlap with yours. The parents were using an honor name they absolutely didn’t want to use, consisting of names they hated, so they asked that the child be called something completely different. That is, the child’s name was something like Egbert Leslie Johnson IV, and the parents could not find anything within that name that they could stand to have their child called, so they asked that he be called Jason. In that case, if a relative were insisting on calling him Egbert and then saying with faux innocence “But that’s his given name! YOU named him that name!,” I would be ready to throw down. This is what stops me from saying to you that the child’s legal given name really should be one of his name options.

Also, reading your letter, it really sounds as if your step-mom must be doing this on purpose at this point. I know you don’t want to upset her, but it’s time to either let the whole thing go or else dial things up. Hints are not working, either because she is genuinely that clueless or because she is deliberately leaning on the benefit of the doubt in order to go against what you want. If she asks how Robert is doing, and you say he’s at work, and she says, “Oh, I mean the other one,” it doesn’t seem to be working to say “Oh, Bobby’s playing with blocks.” It’s time for “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you meant Bobby: we never call him Robert. My husband’s family’s tradition is that the dad goes by Robert and the child goes by Bobby. We’re really not calling him Robert at all.” You’d say it pleasantly, so very pleasantly.

If she responds to the escalation and says, “But it’s his naaaaaaame!,” you’d say, “Oh, I know! But we’re using the nickname. That’s the tradition in their family, so that’s how we’re doing it.” Lean on this tradition concept. Lean on the “Despite other possible ways of doing this, this is how WE are doing this” concept.

If she gives you ornaments that are mis-labeled, swap them if possible. That is, unless she got a Rockette ornament with “Bobby” on it and a My Sixth Christmas ornament with “Robert” on it, just…swap them. The Robert one is your husband’s. The Bobby one is your son’s. Or, since your husband once went by Bobby and the plan is for your son to one day go by Robert, you could say that the two ornaments belong jointly to the two of them, representing the two versions of their name that they will both use in their lifetimes (assuming your son chooses to follow this tradition).

If swapping/sharing won’t work, you have a few options. You can decline to put them up, without comment. You can put them up and not make a big deal about it, the way you might for any other well-intentioned gifting mistake (for example, if she got your husband a golf-themed ornament and he doesn’t even play golf). If your husband went by Bobby for several decades, perhaps he already has ornaments personalized with “Bobby” and can add these to that batch; your son can think of his “Robert” ornaments as being customized for the time after his first son is born or, more simply, as just being customized with his full/formal name instead of with his nickname. Or you can address it with her around November: “In previous years you’ve had such wonderful ornaments made for us. We LOVE this idea and we really treasure them. In case you’re planning to do it again this year, I wanted to mention that in my husband’s family it’s tradition for the father to go by Rob/Robert as soon as he has a son, and for the son to go by Bobby. So Rob’s should say Robert or Rob, and Bobby’s should say Bobby.” You say it pleasantly and informatively, as if it’s the first time you’ve told her.

The follow-up is this: You start calling her on it EVERY SINGLE TIME. When she asks how Robert is, you correct her every single time. When she says, “Hi, Robert!” to him in your presence, you say “Oh, Linda, remember we only call him Bobby”—every single time. You say it as if you are a very pleasant voice-recording that can’t be annoyed by having the replay button hit again and again and again. You say it as if the concern here is that perhaps your step-mother is getting senile, and you are filled with compassion for her sad plight and don’t want to make her feel bad about it by letting her know you’ve already told her this a hundred times.

You also train Bobby to correct her. It has to be with politeness beyond reproach, but if he has a strong preference about what he’s called, he’s old enough to learn the polite way to make his preference known.

I suggest handing off almost all of this work/training to your husband. Not only is he the one this all matters to, but it sounds as if there is a history here that means we need to be realistic about the practicality of suggesting you repeatedly correct your step-mother’s behavior. And I may be utterly wrong here, but when I have encountered people like your step-mother in my life, I’ve found they tend to take a gentle correction from a man WAY BETTER than the same gentle correction from a woman; same thing with non-relatives over relatives. If she begins to work up a fit, you can shrug sympathetically and say, “Oh, Linda, I know! It’s not something that seems like a big deal to me either! But it IS a big deal to Rob, and we’re going with his family traditions on this one.” If you have access to a running joke about something that is done YOUR family’s way (and even better if it’s HER special way of doing something), this is the place to put it: “After all, he gave in to our family on what’s REALLY important: leaving the skins in the mashed potatoes.”

If she throws a fit, this is yet another level removed from being within my area of expertise, but certainly at this point you are an adult and she can’t get you in trouble anymore. You don’t have to do things her way, or apologize to her when you choose not to do things her way. You can ignore her reactions. …Well, I mean, theoretically you can ignore her: I know these things are never so easy when applied to real people and real relationships. But there is room here to say, “I’m really sorry it upsets you, but this is still how we’re doing the names” and “I understand you prefer the name Robert, but we have decided that he will be called Bobby for now.” You’d say the same if she got your dad or another family member to bring you the problem: “I’m really sorry it upsets Linda, but these are the names we’ve decided to use.” Say it with a little bit of bafflement, as you would if she were INSISTING that the whole family join her in getting you to buy Bobby blue sneakers instead of white.

Or, and I do think you should consider this possibility: Don’t do any of this, especially if it doesn’t bother your son to be called Robert. (DOES it bother him to be called Robert?) Let her do what she’s doing. Resign yourself to the idea that she will always use your children’s given names rather than the preferred nicknames. As a Coping Thought, think of it as if these were her own special pet names for your kids. Stop trying to work on her: when she asks you how Robert is, answer the question you know she means. Try to think of it as an opportunity to enjoy another facet of the names, one that you don’t hear as often. See if your husband can come to peace with the idea that his family’s naming tradition does not need to be followed by every member of the extended family; and that just as he might have old friends who still call him Bobby, his son might have people in his life who call him Robert ahead of schedule. (This will have a side benefit of allowing room for your son to go by Rob or Robbie or Robert later on if he prefers it, even if he has not yet had a son.)

One issue that makes me inclined to either let it go or at least go very, very easy on your step-mother is that you’ve been letting her do this for five full years. When parents have a strong preference about a child’s name, this preference needs to be set firmly and immediately, from the very start. Instead, we’re talking about five years of established behavior, and with someone who is very involved in your son’s life. To you and your husband, it may feel as if she’s ignored five years of your requests; to her, she may feel as if this is the first time you’re telling her.

In fact, it may work in your favor that you recently had another baby: you can do it from the start this time, and piggyback the other naming issue onto it. You have already thoroughly learned that hints don’t work, so from the very start it should be, “Oh—we are ONLY calling her Charlie—just like we’re only calling her brother Bobby. We only put Charlotte on the birth certificate in case she wants something more formal later.” Then every time your step-mom says Charlotte, you say “Oh—remember, we are only calling her Charlie.” EVERY TIME.

If this doesn’t work, you will need to decide how far you are willing (and/or how far it is worth it) to escalate this. The next step would have to be even more direct and probably less pleasant (“Please stop calling her Charlotte; we are only calling her Charlie” or “Is there something we could do to help you remember to call him Bobby?”), and not everyone can do that, or wants to.

Baby Girl Rahtickah, Sister to Beckett

Dear Swistle,

My husband (Brandon) and I (Julianne) are excited to be expecting our second child this March, and we’d love your and your readers’ input! I have always had a deep love of names – I have notebooks filled with name lists and imaginary families I created just so I could put names together! I thought I had a great list for naming my future children, and then I married an amazing man who was just a little more opinionated on baby names than I expected. :)

Our toddler son is Beckett (nn Beck) James, and our last name is extremely Finnish with lots of double letters and is pronounced “Rah-tick-ah.” I would describe our naming style as fairly traditional/classic with a unique twist. It would take a lot to get us to select a top-20 name, although it’s not out of the question. We love how with our son’s name, people often comment that they haven’t heard it before, but it’s not too strange that they struggle to remember or pronounce it. I felt like I had a similar experience growing up with the name Julianne.

My biggest challenge is that while I like the names on our current list, I don’t feel like I love any of them.

This baby is a girl, and had she been a boy (or if she turns out to be one!) our top name was Charleston (nn Charlie) Luke. Other boy names we loved included Jonas, Rhys, and Lincoln. We are hoping to welcome more children into our family in the future.

Here are some of our frontrunners:

Josie – my husband’s favorite
Cambridge (nn Cambrie) – this is what our son would have been named if he had been a girl
Hannah (although is the “ah” ending too rhymy with our last name?)
Charlotte (my #1 but it’s getting way too popular)

Names vetoed by one spouse or the other: Adalyn, Jacqueline, Annaliese, Lucia (love – but again with the rhyming last name), Jordyn, Mackenzie

Current middle name options (all honor names, but we are open to other options): Lauren, Kate, Esther, Elisabeth

We look forward to hearing your suggestions and promise to update!

Brandon and Julianne


If popularity is a concern, here are the names I would take out of the running:

Isabel: Isabel itself is safely out of the Top 20, but Isabella has been Top 20 for 15 years in a row so far.

Hannah: Gradually falling and is now out of the Top 20, but it was in the Top 20 from 1994 through 2008.

Charlotte: Entered the Top 20 in 2012 and the Top 10 two years after that; it’s still there, and rising (#7 in 2016).

Evelyn: In the Top 20 since 2013 and has risen each year since then (#12 in 2016).


You have a mix of traditional/classic (Charlotte, Hannah) and modern surname names (Leighton, Landry). Do you find yourselves agreeing which way to lean? If you like sibling names to coordinate, and you’re planning to have more children, this is a good time to see if you can narrow down your style. Which seems more like Your Family: breaking up a fight between Cambridge and Kensington, or between Josie and Violet?

Vivienne is a great alternative to Evelyn: similar sounds, but less common. The spelling Vivienne was #245 in 2016; the spelling Vivian was #95.

I like Josie, but as a nickname for Josephine, especially if sons will have longer-form names with nicknames.

Would “Beck and Brynn” make you feel stuck finding another snappy B-name for possible future siblings?


Let’s see if we can find more options to consider.

Along the lines of Charlotte/Hannah/Josie/Evelyn/Isabel:

Margaret (not sure about this with the surname)
Miriam (not sure about this with the surname)


Along the lines of Cambridge/Landry/Kensington/Leighton:

Callister (Callie)
Campbell (Cammie, Bella)
Holland (Holly)
Keaton (not sure about this with the surname)
Miller (Millie)
Winslow (Winnie)