Baby Naming Issue: What To Do When Your Name List Doesn’t Match Your Rules List

Hello, Swistle!
I’m not sure if you will have time to answer my question. My husband and I are not currently expecting a child, but we are planning on starting a family soon, and since we have different naming styles, I wanted to have a pretty firm list so that we do not have naming wars when I am pregnant and irrational. I have loved names for so long, and I assumed that naming would be easy, but….not so much.

These were our original rules:
1. Nothing overly-trendy (e.g. Brayden, Brayleigh, etc)
2. One common spelling (No Kaitlyn/Katelyn,etc)
3. No made-up names
4. A name with history, but not too boring

Here are my two problems:

1. My husband’s shortlist of names are very country/cowboy style (Ralan, Clay, Harland, Harley, etc.,) and mine are all Vintage/Biblical (Jeremiah, Oliver, Josephine, Theodora, etc)
2. The names we both like break the rules! So far, we both like Jackson and Callan for boys (-en endings, very trendy) and for girls, we like Juliana, Juliet, and Emilia (trendy-ish and multiple spellings).

Do I throw out the rules or the names list? Is it ok to have trendier boy’s names and more vintage girl’s names? Also, do you have any name suggestions that fit our parameters?

For middle names, we have a few family names we would like to use (Eugene, Renee, and possibly Augusta), but past that, I am struggling to come up with names that feel “right.” Our last name rhymes with Bedford (with an M), so my only concern with that is avoiding words like JAM, DAM, etc.

Sorry this was so long!!




I suggest changing the Rules List into a Preferences List. Each name can then be weighed against your preferences, but if a name fails to meet one or more preferences it doesn’t have to be removed from consideration: you’d just move on to considering whether you like the name enough to use it anyway. The preference list can be used to narrow things down, or it can be used to measure the strength of your feelings for a name: “I love it so much I don’t even care about the preferences,” or “I just don’t love it enough to give up that preference.” The preference list can also be used to gently argue against the other parent’s suggestions: “Well, but we agreed we didn’t want anything made-up.”

As you work with your name lists, you may find you want to remove a preference entirely. It’s very common for parents to enter the naming process thinking they want one kind of name, or liking a certain type of name in theory, and then realize that’s not what they want after all. This is another reason I like the idea of preferences rather than rules: it’s psychologically easier to remove a preference than to remove a rule. You may also find you each have your own preference list, and that may help with your discussions: “What about this name? It meets your preference for something friendly/cowboy, but also meets my preference for something traditional/classic.”

Yes, it’s absolutely okay to have trendier boy names and vintage girl names; it’s pretty common for parents to have different styles for boy names and girl names. The only time it bugs me is when parents choose solid traditional serious dignified names for their sons and lightweight cutesy names for their daughters, or when parents make name decisions that assume their sons will keep their full names permanently but their daughters will need room for their husbands’ names—but neither of those cases are what we’re talking about here.

I think it might be helpful to have a discussion about the word “trendy” and what it means to each of you. Some people use it to mean common/popular; others use it to mean a name that may end up very tied to a particular decade, because of the way it came suddenly into style and seems poised to depart just as suddenly. Because the word trendy tends to be used in a derogatory way, you may find it easier to weigh names against your preferences if you come up with a few different words to cover the various aspects of trendiness: “common,” “in style,” even “on-trend” has more of a descriptive rather than negative feel. You may decide, for example, that you’d prefer to avoid common names, but don’t mind names that are in style; or that you don’t mind a name that’s common as long as it’s classic/traditional rather than modern/invented.

If I may answer a question you didn’t ask, I will say that although I think it’s valuable to think about and discuss these things ahead of time, I don’t think you need to settle this before getting pregnant. I remember being queasy and weepy while pregnant, and okay, fine, once I flipped over a (small) dining room table—but I was definitely up to the task of working on names. It gave me something fun and pleasant to do during the long uncomfortable wait of pregnancy, and I also found my opinions on names sharpened and changed when there was an actual baby on the way.

12 thoughts on “Baby Naming Issue: What To Do When Your Name List Doesn’t Match Your Rules List

  1. Elisabeth

    I agree with Swistle, they’re preferences, not rules and everyone’s #1 preference is simply liking the name. I never considered Heather for my children because I don’t particularly care for the name, even though it’s my best friend’s name. (I did consider her middle name Alys). As a matter of fact, neither of my children ended up with names fitting my over all preferences. I’ve always loved Kerry as a guy’s name but it’s an outlier for me. I wouldn’t have used it if it wasn’t already in my husband’s family. Susan is closer to my traditional/classic tastes, but mostly I used it to honor my late mother. Liittle Susan was one of the 250ish born last year.

  2. Stephanie

    I wouldn’t worry about the preference for a name without multiple spellings. That eliminates a lot of names. In your case, I would just use the most common spelling, as those are less likely to look or feel dated.

    Some name suggestions:

    You already have some lovely girl names (love Juliet), but a few more which may or may not be your style:

    1. Andrea

      I totally agree about the spelling. Instead of thinking “this name can be spelled three different ways,” think, “this name has three traditional spellings and I get to pick the one I like.” My daughter, Emeline, was that way for me. We used the same spelling as an ancestor since Emmaline, Emeline, and Emmeline have all been used consistently for hundreds of years. With our daughter Annabel, there were several good, traditional options, and we picked the Scottish spelling because my husband’s family is Scottish. You miss out on a lot of really great traditional names (like Juliet) if you get too caught up on the spelling.

      Also, I think it is totally fine to have a different style for boys and girls. My friend is a FABULOUS namer and is currently pregnant with her eighth baby and I can’t wait to find out what she picks. Her boy names are very masculine and traditional and her girl names are very feminine and botanical. So her crew looks like: Abraham, Sebastian, Malachi, Daisy, Juniper, Marigold, and Theodore. If your boys are western and your girls traditional–great. It doesn’t matter all that much because they start to feel like a set to you no matter what you name them.

      *Small sidenote, my friend is pondering this baby’s name and Birdie is a front-runner for a girl, but it isn’t botanical, although it is nature-themed. She can’t decide if nature themed will be enough tie-in to her other girls. Rosemary and Clementine are the other front-runners. If a boy, she is leaning toward Horatio (nn Harry) or Ezekiel (nn Ziggy). Even experienced namers get stuck and worry about this stuff!!!!!! You’ll figure it out!!

  3. TheFirstA

    I agree, thinking of things as preferences Instead of rules should help.

    As far as specific preferences, I agree with Swistle about the whole trendy issue. Having a definition of trendy you agree on will help a lot. And I’d suggest you reconsider the spelling issue as well. Lots of traditional names have more than one accepted spelling (Catherine/Katherine comes to mind). Instead of saying no variations in spelling, consider how much variation you are willing to accept. For me, there is a huge difference in Katherine-with-a-K and something like Izayah instead of Isaiah (a creative spelling I’ve actually encountered). One is a spelling variant, while the other strikes me as made up or misspelled.

    Finally, I will strongly encourage you to not get too wrapped up in the name discussion until there is a baby on the way. Your tastes and situation could change. A name you love now could sky rocket by the time a baby arrives, or even become tainted by a negative association. And hypothetical situations just aren’t the same as real ones. I really wouldn’t worry about it too much until you need to.

  4. Jean C.

    Names like Silas, Jude, Lydia and Priscilla might fit all bills. A little classic/biblical, a little trendy, and a bit western. (I could see Juliet, Callan or Wyatt fitting in great with those).
    But don’t try to narrow it down too much–it’s fun to have a few lined up, but it could all change if it doesn’t “feel” like the baby’s name once you’re pregnant–and sometimes if it feels like the name while you’re pregnant, it doesn’t feel like the name once you see that little face.

  5. Ashley

    While it’s really fun to think about names before pregnancy–I was making baby name lists for years before a baby was even on the horizon–I wouldn’t worry too much about strict preferences yet. Even though I was a total name geek and had thought a ton about names, neither of my actual children have names that I had even considered before I got pregnant with them. Once there’s a real live baby on the way you may discover that a favorite name just doesn’t seem right, or suddenly fall in love with a name you had never given a second glance to before. It’s almost like the babies name themselves, in a way.
    It’s good to consider your overall style and your husband’s, but I wouldn’t worry too much about making a specific list just yet.

  6. liz

    My husband and I had decided on Alexander John for a boy (after both our grandfathers) years before I got pregnant. Then, when I did get pregnant, Alexandra was leaping up the charts, including being used by three of our neighbors, so we went back to the drawing board and went with Fordon.

    Our original girl’s name was Emily Anne, and Emily was also leaping up the charts. We were still wrangling over whether she would be Margaret (my choice) or Andromeda (his) when we found out I was carrying a boy.

  7. Jd

    My initials are JAM. My mom’s initials are BAM or BM. My aunt is DIM. Never been an issue for any of us, ever. I even use my initials in my email address and have never gotten a comment.
    I wouldn’t worry about initials unless they are a cuss word.

  8. Reagan

    [i]Do I throw out the rules or the names list? [/i]

    Don’t throw out either but set aside the rules. Identify names that you both love. Then when choosing among the beloved names run them by the rules. For example, you both love Jackson and Callan but Callan is less popular/trendy so maybe that is a better choice.

    [i]Is it ok to have trendier boy’s names and more vintage girl’s names? [/i]

    Of course. I agree with Swistle that as long as it doesn’t reflect that daughters names are less important than sons names, why not use the style you love bet for each gender?

    [i]Also, do you have any name suggestions that fit our parameters?[/i]

    [u]Boys -Cowboy/Vintage with one common spelling not too trendy with a history[/u]

    Jasper, Levi, Silas, Amos, Brady, Gordon

    [u]Girls -Country/Vintage with one common spelling not too trendy with a history[/u]

    Georgia, Opal, June, Sadie, Willa, Iris, Pearl

  9. Jacquelyn

    I think Swistle is spot on with her response and would like to just add my two cents.

    My husband and I worked on our favorite names before we were even pregnant, but we knew we were going to be starting a family in the near future. We came up with two boy names and two girl names (first and middle) that we absolutely loved! It was helpful to discover our naming style and also discover that some of our “rules” were really “preferences” that did not matter so much.

    When our first (a son) came along, we actually ended up vetoing our number #1 boy name because it was too overused on my husband’s side of the family. The name was Jonathan, which we both LOVE and was a double honor name after one of my grandfathers (Jon) and one of his cousins who died (Jonathan), but my husband has another close cousin named John and then one of his closest cousins (like a brother, as my husband is an only child) moved across country to marry one of our good friends (they met at our wedding) and his LAST name is Johns so there were just waaaay too many “Johns” and variants of it in close proximity to us whom we see on a weekly basis. We felt it would not be fair to our child so we actually went with our #2 boy name.

    And we could not be happier! His name fits him perfectly. In hindsight, I realize that our #1 name never quite felt right to me, though I could not put my finger on the reason why at the time, and the moment I asked: “Hey, can we go with… [name #2]?” and my husband said: “Sure. I like it!” Suddenly everything felt RIGHT. I just knew our son was that name, we began referring to him by a nickname even before he was born, and I apparently talked to him by name during labor.

    Now we are expecting our second child: another boy! (My husband was a little sad as he really wanted a girl and had chosen our #1 girl name, which we both ADORE so much.) Since we vetoed our other boy name on very good grounds that are still valid, we are now in the process of trying to find another boy name that we love. It is a little harder than we thought, and I have had to let go of some of my preferences, like 3 syllable first name.

    Some of our preferences that we are still seeing if we can work with are: Biblical first name with nickname options, something familiar, and middle name with some kind of nature connection (not necessarily an obvious nature name but some kind of nature connection). We have one “possibility” on our list now, but neither one of is is thrilled about it so we are taking a break for a little while and re-visit the name game later. We have a few months.

    So my recommendation is have fun discovering your naming style but be flexible. Sometimes our “rules” really are just preferences, and with preferences you had more easily weigh whether or not you want to go with it or ignore it. Sometimes the perfect name will end up being outside your rules/preferences. Sometimes the #1 name ends up not usable or just does not fit right once there is a REAL baby to name. Also, you have time for your preferences and tastes to be refined.

  10. Maree

    Pregnant and irrational? I’m sorry I don’t know what you mean…. Hahaha!

    One of the beauties of pregnancy is that small things become very important and important things can become very small. I think it is a wonderful perspective to experience and great practice for motherhood when the little one becomes (and stays) the most important thing in the world.

    My suggestion is to keep a record of names you like and what you like about them (just a couple of adjectives would suffice) this might help you to find common ground. For eg:

    Tom (strong, clean, simple, classic)
    Kurt (short, strong, unexpected)
    Atticus (Classic, literary, strong, popular)

    The common link is ‘strong’ so that gives you a lens to look through for new names – brainstorm all of the ‘strong’ names you can think of. Google says ‘strong’ names include: Atlas, Thor, Angus, Ryker, Alexander. You may find an interesting crossover in your styles.


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