Category Archives: reference

Baby Naming Issue: What to Do When You Don’t Really Like ANY Names

Hi Swistle! I recently discovered your blog and I really enjoy reading your responses to baby name questions. I’m hoping you’ll have a little advice for me, too.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve dreamed of naming my own children more than most girls dream of a fairytale wedding. You would think that means I’ve had the names decided for years, but that’s not the case at all. Now that I am expecting my first child- a girl due June 14th- I’m finding the task to be incredibly daunting.

We decided on her middle name right away. It will be Blake, which is my husband’s first name. Our last name starts with an E and is opposite of the cardinal direction “west”. We agree that we want her first name to be more feminine, and that it doesn’t need to honor any other family members’ names. It can be uniquely her own.

The problem is I’ve put so much pressure on myself to find the “perfect” first name, and the perfect name simply doesn’t exist. I even went as far as to download the Social Security Database of every baby girl’s name in 2015 (the latest available data at the time) and used an Excel spreadsheet to eliminate names we knew we wouldn’t use. That process took months and eventually we gave up on that route.

At this point we’ve seen almost every name imaginable, and looked at them for so long that we aren’t in love with any of them- even the ones we have at the top of our list. We currently have a top three, although I’m not real sure how we got there other than these three keep coming up in our conversations:

Eiley – I feel like I could potentially be excited about this one, but I’m most worried about common mispronunciation. I’ve also heard it’s a nickname for Eileen, and I’m not a fan of the name Eileen.

Skylie – Or Skyler and have the option of calling her Skylie or Kyler.

Harper – A “safe” name, however maybe TOO safe. It’s the #4 most popular name in our state and I worry the phrase “Harper who? Which one?” would be a daily occurrence in her school years.

Other names we have recently marked off the list but might could be talked in to again- Trinity, Kensington, Mercy, Decklyn, Briley, Everly, Harlyn, Maylee.


Since you have already looked at all the names and you don’t like any of them enough to use them, this is not the kind of post where I make a list of names you haven’t considered and you say “Oh, whew, yes!” Instead, we are going to talk more generally about how to pick a name when nothing seems like the clearly right choice.

1. Instead of looking for a name, look for a STYLE. Once you figure out the TYPE of name you like, you can be reasonably sure that any name you like from that category will be satisfying to you in the long run and will work with future sibling names. Your style looks to me like what The Baby Name Wizard calls Bell Tones. I also see some Last Names First, some Androgynous, and some Charms & Graces—but the Bell Tones stand out. This is good news: it tells us that your choices are fairly consistent, and so you are likely to pick a name that you will like long-term and that will go well with future choices.

2. Don’t look for perfect: look for a good solid useful choice. It can seem to parents as if there is One Perfect Name out there, and that their job as parents is to find that shining grail. But in most cases, there is no One Perfect Name, there are just a lot of perfectly good names that would all work perfectly well. Your quest isn’t to find the universe’s preordained name choice for your child; your job is to give her a sensible identifier that she and others can use to refer to her. You need to find a name to put on the school-registration paperwork, and for her to write on her homework, and for everyone to write on gift tags. You can pick something that Works, without having to find Magic. The magic comes with time, as the name comes to represent the child to you.

3. Realize that every name is not just a name but a Package Deal. Some names come with spelling or pronunciation problems; some may feel boring or overly common; some are trendy or may get much more popular in the near future; some are easily mistaken for other names; some are awkward with the surname; and so on. Finding an issue with a name doesn’t mean that name has to be ruled out, because every name has issues; it only means you have to decide if the issue is one you’re okay with.

4. If having the middle name chosen before the first name is causing you any trouble, I suggest scrapping it for now and considering it again only once you have a first name chosen. When you’re already having such a hard time, there’s no sense making it harder.

5. Take a break. It sounds as if you’ve been doing this intensively for quite a while. I’d recommend taking a short period of time—say, one week—when you don’t talk about names at all, and try not to think about them.

6. Try them out. Once the break is over, take each of your finalists and give it its own day. For that day, refer to the baby by that name and think of her by that name. Does it feel like it works? Does it feel like the name of Your Baby? See which ones feel most comfortable. Are there any that you were sorry to stop using? Any that you were looking forward to being done using?


Let’s turn to the names themselves. I notice that you like the rhyming names Eiley, Skylie, Briley, and the similar-sounding Maylee and Everly. You’ve also got Decklyn and Harlyn. So if I were you, I would be looking pretty specifically at names containing -iley/-ylie and names ending with -ly/lie/lee and -lyn.

When putting names together, make sure you try out the first name and surname without the middle name between them, since that’s the way most people will be hearing them: -ley Ee– is a lot of long-E. (But again, consider the Package Deal concept: this is not necessarily a deal-breaking issue, just one to consider ahead of time.)

I also suggest, as The Baby Name Wizard does in the Bell Tones category, playing around with name parts and endings. If you like Skylie, maybe you’d like Skyler, as you mention, or Skylin or Kylie or Kinsley. If you like Briley, maybe you’d like Brilyn or Braelyn or Brinley or Briella. If you like Maylee, maybe you’d like Maelyn or Mylie. If you like Everly, maybe you’d like Ellery or Emery or Ellisyn or Evanie.

I wonder if you would like Isla with the nickname pronounced Eiley? (I’m not sure how I’d spell it. Isly? Ily? You could see what evolves naturally.) It breaks the connection to Eileen (though I wouldn’t have jumped to that), and may help with pronunciation.

Decklyn makes me think of Locklyn.

Locklyn makes me think of Linnea.

Harper makes me think of Juniper, a much less common choice with the darling nickname Junie.

Delaney comes to mind for no particular reason; I just wonder if you would like it. Cute nicknames Del and Lanie.

I wonder if instead of using Blake as her middle name, you’d like the idea of using Blakeley or Blakelyn or Blakelind—either as middle or first. I like how the second two could be seen as a combination of your husband’s name and yours. Lakelin would also be nice for this.

Baby Girl Tennis-with-a-Gr, Sister to J@ck J0seph

Hi Swistle! My husband and I are expecting our second (and likely final) child in February. It’s a girl. We have a two year old son named J@ck J0seph. His first name is one of the few we agreed on, and his middle name is a family name on my husband’s side. Our last name rhymes with ‘tennis’ but starts with Gr.

We like fairly traditional/ preppy names that easy to pronounce and spell. I’m fine with classic/ popular but not so much trendy/ popular names. If baby was a boy we likely would have named him Reid or Graham. For a while I thought we were set on Evelyn and then in a week’s time I swear I met/heard about five different Evelyns and it made me doubt our choice. Now we’re having trouble even generating a list of enough girl names we like. Boy names were so much easier for me!


Evelyn (bonus that it was my great grandmother’s name)- We can’t agree on what we would call her. Evvie? Evie?

Elise- this is growing on me

Amelia- this was my favorite for a long time, but it has risen in popularity since then and husband is lukewarm

Claire- I would say this is a clear 4th choice, behind the other 3


Possible middle names:

Rebecca- my middle name

Elizabeth- family name on husband’s side


I think I’m still leaning towards Evelyn Elizabeth or Evelyn Elise (I like the double E’s since our son is double J’s, but it’s not necessary). Do you have other suggestions for us? Thank you- I promise to send an update!


The rise of the name Evelyn has been interesting to me. I have an aunt named Evelyn, so I’d mentally grouped the name with other names (Nancy, Carol, Barbara, Deborah) that were still being actively used by the mothers/grandmothers and so weren’t yet ready to come back around for new babies. It’s more typical for names to sound good right around the time everyone who had the name last time has, er, departed. But Evelyn broke away from the pack and came back early.

Well, or maybe not actually early: although I do have an aunt named Evelyn, the name last peaked in the U.S. in 1915, when it entered the Top Ten for one single year. It dropped pretty steadily after that, settling into the 200s rankings in the 1970s-80s. Then:

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Hello! Back for another round! Evelyn is a nice old name, and I think it’s great with J@ck. I think you could wait and see how the nickname works itself out, unless there is a nickname you actively dislike. I love your idea of doing double initials again; I’d vote for Elizabeth since that’s the family name. J@ck J0seph and Evelyn Elizabeth.

Claire is my own top favorite from your list, but I’m less enthusiastic about it if it’s well behind the other three for you. Do you like Clara any better? J@ck and Clara, very nice.

I’m less fond of Elise, but it’s hard to put a finger on why. I’m not crazy about the repeated S ending of Elise _ennis, that’s part of it.

Let’s see if we can come up with a few more names to consider. I like the idea of her sharing your middle name. Just for fun I was going to see if I could come up with a list of repeating-initial names in the right style, but I only found Rose and maybe Rosemary, and J@ck and Rose is probably too much Titanic. More first-name options to consider:

Eleanor. It has the rhythm of Evelyn, the El- of Elise, and a nice assortment of nicknames. J@ck J0seph and Eleanor Elizabeth.

Abigail. Along the lines of Amelia. I love the sound of J@ck and Abby.

Eliza. I love it with J@ck. Rules out Elizabeth as the middle. People differ on this, but I love the sound of a repeated -a first/middle: Eliza Rebecca.

Molly. Some of the sounds of Amelia. J@ck J0seph and Molly Rebecca.

Cora. One of my friends has a daughter named Cora, and it strikes me pleasantly every time I hear it. J@ck J0seph and Cora Elizabeth.

Lydia. This name, like Evelyn, surprised me by coming back into style before I’d expected it to. J@ck J0seph and Lydia Rebecca.

I also like the idea of naming her both of the family middle-name options: Elizabeth Rebecca. J@ck J0seph and Elizabeth Rebecca. That’s just PACKED with classic.




Name update:

Hi Swistle- You helped us with some name ideas for our baby girl back in November. I was really encouraged by all the positive feedback for Evelyn Elizabeth and we felt confident that was her name. But then- literally the same day that you posted our question- long distance friends had a baby and named her Evelyn. What are the odds?  So we had to decide how much that mattered to us, especially since we rarely see them. I loved your suggestion of Eliza and really tried to sway my husband. But in the end, we just couldn’t shake the feeling that she was meant to be named Evelyn Elizabeth- and it suits her perfectly. So far we’ve been calling her a mix of Evelyn, Evvie, and Ev. Thanks for all your help!

Baby Girl, Sister to Xola; Looking for a Meaningful Name

We are expecting another girl- due in four weeks and have NO LIST of names. YIKES. Our first daughter Xola’s name comes from Nelson Mandela’s first language meaning Bringer of peace and Marie is her middle name. The M comes from all of our grandmas with M names. My husband would like a meaningful and unique name for number #2, but we haven’t gotten very far. If you have any suggestions please send them our way.


Have you considered “Swistle”? Unusual, meaningful (“bringer of baby names”). Not entirely unique since she would share it with me, but two in 7.4 billion isn’t too bad, and I will try not to show up at the same parties.

This is a good question to give to a big group like this. Even if the specific people/things other people find meaningful are not the same things you find meaningful, there are bound to be some ideas that lead you to think of other ideas.

I think if I were you I would start by making a brainstorming list. Well, first make a list of words to put you in the right mindset, words such as:

anything other word that makes your heart rise up with “YES, that is the kind of thing we want!”

And then, with that list of words visible to both of you, say “1, 2, 3, GO!” and write down everything that you think of when you think of those words. Or leave a pad of paper out, where you can jot down things as you think of them over several days. Maybe you’d write down people such as Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama, or words such as peace and philanthropy and international and love, or organizations such as Doctors without Borders. Historical figures, scientists, Nobel Peace Prize winners, authors, poets, flowers, words from other languages. Go to your bookshelf and see whose books you have. Look at your charitable giving. Any of these things can lead you to something or someone you would like to honor with your child’s name.

Well, or for some people this method is going to take what was only a slightly difficult problem and turn it into a giant overwhelming mess. If you’re reading through that paragraph above and your heart is starting to pound with anxiety instead of with happy industriousness, then let’s try something else.

I have a book called Baby Names Made Easy: The Complete Reverse Dictionary of Baby Names. Names are sorted into categories such as “Peace & Freedom,” “Happiness & Joy,” “Kindness & Goodness.” If you wanted to stick with the theme of peace, here are a few ideas from that section:

Amina – peaceful, trustworthy, truthful
Reena – peaceful
Selima – peace; healthy
Tula – tranquil

Or here are a couple from the Kindness & Goodness section:

Alma – nourishing, kind
Charis – graceful, kind

Or from the Intelligence & Wisdom section:

Meira – enlightener
Minda – knowledge

Or from the Dreams & Hopes section:

Asha – hope
Nadia – hope

A few more, from riffling through the book at random:

Adelpha – beloved sister
Brisa – beloved
Carita – charity, kindness
Caro – dear, beloved
Jaia – victory
Liora – light
Nira/Nera – light
Rona – strength
Vela – guardian
Yori – trustworthy

And so on. There is a good assortment of names from many countries. I would, however, double-check the meanings in another book to be sure.

For the middle name, my own preference would be to find another name that honors family. Or the middle name would be a good place for a name that hit all the markers of what you wanted in a meaningful name, but wasn’t something you wanted to use as a first name.

Discussion: Baby-Name-Choosing Strategies

Hi Swistle,

I have been reading your baby name (and regular!) blog for years and am currently expecting a little girl in March (yay!). But instead of asking for your specific advice, I was wondering if you’d be willing to tackle the more general topic of “name-choosing strategies.”

I’m dealing with a situation that a lot of my friends have reported, too — the mothers-to-be come up with tons of name ideas, while the fathers veto almost all of them and seem totally unwilling to offer more than one or two suggestions.

My husband is awesome and super-involved in every other way — he’s just completely unhelpful with the naming thing, and it’s stressing me out (and him, as I get increasingly frustrated).

In your (vast!) name-helping experience, you must have come across strategies for dealing with these or similar situations. An shared spreadsheet with a points system? A baby-name-generating drinking game? (ok, maybe not the best idea for pregnant women) I would love to hear your general advice and I think it would be helpful for a lot of people.


This is a question I thought would be a great one for general discussion: different things work well for different people, and making a reference section in the comments section appeals to me.

Paul and I had a few things that worked for us. Since I was very interested in names and liked making lists, and he wasn’t and didn’t, one exercise we’d do is I’d have him look at my list and put stars next to the ones he liked best. We chose our second son’s name that way, almost disappointingly quickly and easily, because his clear favorite was also my clear favorite (and one he’d VETOED for our first son! I didn’t point that out to him).

With our last son, we got down to seven names and had trouble narrowing it further—not because we were fighting, but because we both liked all seven names. The exercise we found most useful that time was to rank the names—not in 1-7 order, which was too hard, but in tiers. I had two that were my top choices, so I ranked those both 1; then I had several that were my next choices, so I ranked all of those 2; and then everything else was a 3. Paul did the same, and this let us quickly eliminate all the tier-3 names we had in common (because those were never going to get chosen over the other names), and notice which names were highest for both of us. We got down to two names this way.

I don’t know if this counts as a strategy, but I tried to get Paul into the right mindset. For example, I’d say, “Don’t say yes or no to this name right away: I just want you to think about it.” I’d do the exposure method: saying a name to him over and over again in different contexts (“Baby Milo! 3rd place in the spelling bee: Milo Thistle! Milo, come to dinner! Milo, did you do your homework? Can you pick up Milo after school?”) until he got used to it. And I did the spinning-it method, where if possible I’d think of people I knew he’d like (scientists, authors, book/show/movie characters) with the same name as the one I wanted him to consider seriously.

I had some luck too with setting up TIMES to discuss it. That is, instead of discussing it continually, as I’d have preferred, Paul seemed to do better if we’d arranged to sit down and talk about it over a dinner out, or during a particular evening. It also worked better to wait until later in the pregnancy: he had trouble even thinking about it until we were at least past the halfway point.

One thing I liked about The Baby Name Wizard book is that it let the less-interested-in-names parent work with smaller, more manageable lists. Paul didn’t want to look through an entire baby name book, but he found it much less painful to glance at a category and say yes to this type of name, no to this type. (Plus, it showed him that all the names on his list were 1970’s-80s names.)




Name update!

Thanks so much for posting my question awhile back — the comments were super helpful. My husband and I ended up using a two-step process, partly inspired by some of your advice.

First, we both downloaded a baby-name app onto our phones — a name pops up, and you swipe right if you like the name, left if you don’t like it. When you both swipe right, you get a match. You only see the names that you both match on. It worked well for us because (1) we could do it while watching TV and (2) it took a lot of the emotion out of the process (ie telling your partner a name you like, them hating it, and you feeling very “what?! how could you not like that name — it’s perfect!!”). Also, because you go through so many names, it reassured me that there wasn’t some Magic Name that we were missing.

We set the app to give us both boys and girls names, which I think ended up being maybe a thousand? And we matched on just 24 (!). Some of the ones we matched on (including our final choice) were ones that we’d discussed before, while others were a complete surprise. From there, each of us individually ranked each on a five point-scale:

0 – prefer not to use this name
1 – could be okay with it
2 – like it
3 – like it a lot
4 – totally love

Then we added up the scores, and used the four highest-scoring names as the finalists. For the next few weeks we practiced referring to the baby as each of those four names.

Sabine was born on March 27. We finally decided on her name about 24 hours after she was born — it was the only one in our final four that had a family connection (I actually don’t think her specific name was in the app, but “Sabina” was and we matched on that). She is the absolute best (though at this point we mostly call her Beanie).


Baby Boy Pippert; Narrowing Down a List

Hello Swistle,

I am entering week 32 of pregnancy and this is our first child. We found out over fathers day we are having a BOY!! I have had a list of names in the running for awhile now, but we are just not 100% and I was hoping for a little help. It has been a little bit of a challenge because my husband is a teacher/coach and knows a lot of kids. That has ruled out a few names we like. We want something that is unique and not overly popular, but still a solid strong name that when you see this on paper, you know how to say it! No names that start with P due to our last name starting with P. Pippert is pronounced (Peepert) .The list we have started for the boys is this and has been pretty consistent for months now.

Jackson (I know is popular)
Graham (My husbands name is Grant so may be too similar)

Isaac (for a middle name)
Isaiah (for a middle name)
James (for a middle name)
Bankes (pronounced Banks, for a middle name)

The girl names we liked were:

Thank you!!


I notice you have unisex names on both the boy-name and the girl-name lists. Unisex names can be a little tricky to work with, so if you are planning to have more than one child, this is the perfect time to think about such things.

There are a few ways to go with it. One is to give all the children unisex names: a sibling group of, for example, Emerson, Grayson, Blake, and Finley. You could even do the fun thing one of my cousins did: she and her husband agreed on a particular unisex name for each child before they knew the sex, using that name either way.

Another is to use unisex names for all the girls OR for all the boys, and non-unisex names for the others. A sibling group of, for example, boys named Vincent and Maddox, and girls named Finley and Gracen; or boys named Emerson and Finley, and girls named Grace and Laney.

Another is to choose your favorite name each time and not worry about it too much: a sibling group of, for example, boys named Emerson and Maddox, girls named Finley and Grace.

My own preference is for HINTS. That is, if I used unisex names for my sons, I’d want to use specifically girl-only names for my daughters to help people remember who was who. I also like to use specific middle names with unisex first names: Emerson James, for example, or Finley Grace.

To help you narrow down your list, I suggest playing games. One game I particularly like is Name the Sibling Group. Imagine how many children you think you’re likely to have; let’s say that number is three. Imagine yourselves gathered around the table for dinner, or imagine the children hanging around in the living room, or imagine introducing your whole family at an event. Pick some sibling name groups, and see which ones seem like Your Family. If you imagine Kendrick, Finley, and Vance arguing about Monopoly, does that feel RIGHT? Does it feel more or less right to imagine them as Jackson, Grace, and Ethan? More or less right to imagine them as Emerson, Blake, and Finley? More or less right to imagine them as Gannon, Grayson, and Graham?

Not only can that game help you find your naming style, it can help you find issues that might not have come up until you were naming a second child. For example, you might find you don’t want to repeat any initials, in which case with this very first child you may want to decide which G name (or which E name, or which V name) you like best of all the names for both sexes. Or perhaps you don’t want to duplicate endings, in which case this would be the moment to pick your favorite among Emerson, Jackson, Nelson, and Grayson.

Another exercise I find helpful is to start pairing up firsts and middles. Sometimes a particular first-and-middle combination will rise above the crowd, even if the names individually didn’t stand out. Also, I find it shows me which names I feel most drawn to: if I find myself WANTING to make a name work, or reaching for it again and again, or AVOIDING a particular name, that’s all useful information.

It can also alert you to issues with initials: if, like me, you prefer initials not to spell anything, you’d know to avoid Vincent Isaac Pippert; or perhaps you have the opposite preference and the fun initials will help you make the decision.

Another exercise is for each of you to assign rankings to all the names in the list. Names can share the same rankings, so that for example you could have Ethan, Jackson, and Vance all marked 1, and Maddox marked 2, and Gannon and Nelson both marked 3, and so on. When you and your husband compare your lists, perhaps you will see that both of you have the same couple of names marked very low on the list, too low to have any chance of being used over names higher on the list, and so it’s safe to take those out of the running. Or maybe both of you will have the same couple of names marked very high on the list. Or maybe your lists will be absolutely opposite, and you’ll know the choice might need to be from the overlap in the middle.

When Paul and I were naming Henry, I remember us finding it useful to say, “Is there any chance we’d use THIS name over these other names?” There were a ton of names we liked and COULD have used, but it helped to realize the name Alan wasn’t going to win over the names Henry and Charlie, and the name Daniel wasn’t going to win over the names Oliver and Milo. Before then, we kept getting caught up in thinking we didn’t want to remove any names from the list because we LIKED those names and there was no REASON to remove them; this let us take names off the list without feeling like it had to be because we didn’t like them anymore.

Another exercise is to start striking names off the list for various non-deal-breaker reasons, and then see what’s left at the end and how you feel about it. If it were my list, I think I would take Ethan off. Not only is it very popular (Top 10 since 2002, according to the Social Security Administration), but the repeating long-E sound draws attention to the “pee” sound in your surname. Then I might take off Kendrick because Kendrick Pippert is difficult for me to say—something about the repeating K’s and then the repeating P’s, I think. Then I might take off Jackson for being too popular, Graham for being too similar to your husband’s name, and Emerson and Finley for being currently more popular for girls.

Again, none of these are ACTUAL reasons a name SHOULD be removed from the list: the idea of the exercise is to see what’s left on the list, and how you feel about what’s left, and how you feel about losing some of the names. You might find, for example, that as soon as you remove Ethan and Jackson for popularity, you realize you don’t care about popularity as much as you care about those names. Or maybe you find you’re disappointed there’s no reason to cross off a particular name, and that will tell you it’s not a name you still want on the list.

A similar game is to pretend you have decided on each name in turn. Say to each other, “Okay: his name is Kendrick.” Measure your reactions. Do you feel glad? Does your heart rise up happily? Or do you feel disappointed, or unsettled? Try it again with the next name: “Okay: his name is Maddox.” Measure your reactions again; compare them to your husband’s reactions. Are any reactions matching? Those might be good names to bump up the list, or to remove.

It’s a good sign, I think, that your name list has stayed stable for quite awhile. This tells me that it’s likely you’d be happy with ANY of the names on the list, and the difficulty is picking your favorite out of many excellent choices.



Name update: Nyle Kendric

Baby Naming Issue: How Do You Let Go of Your Favorite Name?

Dear Swistle,

I have been reading your blog for several years now and have been dreaming about the day when I could ask you for your advice about my own baby naming issue. I am not actually pregnant yet, but my husband and I are going to start trying to get pregnant in the next year, so I thought I could finally send in my question.

Happily enough we are set to go on a boy’s name. He will be Dev Avigdor. I know that’s a mouthful, and may be a cross cultural explosion, but it is bound to happen because my husband is from Nepal and my family is Jewish. Dev is an Indian/Nepali name that bears a strong similarity to a lot of Hebrew names for boys. We both love it. Avigdor is the Hebrew version of Victor, which is my father’s name. Jews don’t normally name their babies after living relatives but I feel strongly about honoring my father and I wanted to buck that particular tradition.

Anyway, I digress. The issue is with a name for a girl. I have loved one girl’s name for as long as I can remember. I think it all started when I read the book Great Expectations as a child, and just fell in love with the name Estella. My family is very into books and theater, especially British literature and theater, so I was raised with the heroines of Austen, the Brontes, and Shakespeare in my head. Needless to say the names I am most attracted to for girls are very feminine, romantic, and a little mysterious. Estella fit that perfectly because she was a stunningly beautiful woman in the book and slightly mysterious and untouchable. Also completely randomly, I have had a serious obsession with stars for my whole life. I’m sure it’s a pretty common affinity, but I have spent countless hours as a child and an adult staring up at the night sky in utter amazement. That the name Estella had the star connotation too was just icing on the cake. I have always planned on naming a baby girl Estella and hadn’t even considered other names. It also fits my popularity criteria, which is that I want a name that people have heard of and is easy to spell, but is also as far down as possible on the top 1000. I NEVER want a child to have to go by their first name and last initial in a classroom.

I brought up Estella as soon as my husband and I starting talking about names………and he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t hate it, but he says it reminds him of beer because his favorite beer is Stella Artois. I gradually started looking around and thinking of other possible girl names. I actually read on your blog about a woman considering the name Marina for her daughter and was very drawn to it. I like the water theme, I like the sound, and it seems to meet my popularity requirement as well. I mentioned it to my husband and he was completely on board. So we settled on it. I think it’s a lovely name, and I really have tried to get behind it 100%, but the truth is that every time I think about it, and do all the tests you suggest (imagine calling the doctor to make an appointment for her, or talking to her teachers about her, or even introducing her to friends) I keep thinking, but it’s not Estella. I don’t know how to let go. I am worried I will never have the same pride in saying Marina as I do when I think about the name Estella. I don’t want to regret such an important decision but I also don’t think I can force my husband into a name he doesn’t like.

Any suggestions from you or your readers on how to let this name go and be happy with our new choice would be endlessly appreciated. In case it’s helpful, our last name is pronounced Tah-pa, just like the Spanish appetizer “tapa.”

Thank you so much for the help!


My first suggestion is to not give up yet. During my first pregnancy, Paul completely rejected a boy name I liked. During my second pregnancy, I put that name back on my boy name list—and when I showed Paul the list, he chose that name as his top favorite, and we used it. (I did not mention to him that he’d rejected it before.) Since you are not pregnant yet, and when/if you do get pregnant might not have a girl, it is not yet time to grieve over the name. If I were you, I would just keep that name in the air around your husband: don’t push it or he might set his mind more determinedly against it, but continue to keep it on your list and let his ear get used to the sound of it. (And maybe get him some new beers to try.)

It’s common for someone to reject a name initially and then have it grow on them. We’ve even had letters where the writer says her favorite name can’t be used because her husband hates it (HATES it), and then when we get the follow-up, they’ve used that name because he decided he loved it after all. Perhaps you will have your first child in two years, and it will be a boy, and then it will be another three years before you have a daughter, and then your husband will still reject your favorite name, and then three years after THAT you will have a SECOND daughter and by then he will have come around to it.

So there is hope. But let’s deal with the situation where there isn’t: where it turns out that your husband never agrees to use the name as the first name for a daughter.

My first suggestion is to push for it as a middle name. It can be tremendously comforting to get to use the name SOMEWHERE, even if it can’t be as the first name. Middle names can be as active as you want them to be: you can call her Marina Estella or even use Estella as a nickname; you can decorate her room in a sea-and-stars theme; all the meaning you attribute to the name can still be right there as part of her name. It may not be as good as having it as the first name, but it will be better than not having it at all. Perhaps it will happen that your husband’s first choice is your second choice, and you will be able to use it as a bargaining chip: “Well…all right. How about if we use your first choice as the first name, and my first choice as the middle name?”

My second suggestion is to see if you can find another name that you love in the same way you love the name Estella, but a name that your husband likes also. Celeste, for example. It sounds much less like his beer, but still has the celestial meaning. It loses the image of the Estella in the book, but stunning beauty and seductive untouchability may not be an expectation you want to set for your daughter anyway.

My third suggestion, if the first and second suggestions don’t work out, is to feel the comforting cloud of our full empathy. Everyone interested in baby names has a list of names they can’t use, either because the name doesn’t work with the surname, or because the baby’s other parent says NO WAY, or because coincidentally it’s the name of their husband’s ex-wife, or because they run out of children before they run out of names, or because they have all girls or all boys and never get to use their top choice for the other sex. It won’t fix the problem to know your misery has company, but it might be soothing.

It might also be soothing to hear other people’s experience of names clicking into place once the actual child is here. I can’t guarantee it, of course, but my strong prediction is that if you have a daughter and name her Marina (or whatever name you decide on between now and then), you will not permanently think “But it’s not Estella” every time you say her name. Soon, in fact, you might find it hard to believe that you considered any name other than Marina, even if you continue to love the name Estella. “Ah!,” you might think, “It’s not Estella because THIS IS NOT ESTELLA. This is Marina! Maybe Estella will come later, or maybe not, but this right here is MARINA.”

Baby Twin Boys Carmen-with-a-T, Brothers to Stella Claire

Dear Swistle-

I am currently 30 weeks pregnant with identical twin boys. My husband and I are having a very hard time agreeing on names for a few reasons.

1. My husband really wants to use family names either first or middle. ( we did not use family names for our daughter…Stella Claire) His reasoning is ” because that is what you do with boys”. Ok, so I am not opposed to family but I feel like it should be equal share from each side of the family since we are having TWO boys. The problem is some of the family names are usable and some are so not. For example, my FIL is Phillip Dean. I can work with that. My dad is Rick Donald. Not so easy because hubby doesn’t think it is ok to change the family name to say Frederick or Donavan. How do you honor one father and not the other? Going back a generation, my grandfather is Dominic (which is actually one name we agree on!) his is Marvin (can’t do it, just can’t). How do you honor one grandfather and not the other? We would use hubby’s first and middle but his middle name is his dad’s name. Am I being too picky? Is this something that you would worry about? Why do I feel guilty if it isn’t fair share?

2. It seems as though we have different naming styles. My husbands top picks are:
Oliver ( can’t decide if I like or really dislike)

Lewis ( ok for me, this is a family name as well)

Dean ( to reality TV with my daughter being Stella? And a family name)

Silas and Jasper ( I am really not a fan)

My picks

Graham ( husband likes but not his favorite)

Elias ( no go)

Bennett ( he doesn’t like nn Ben

Everett ( no go)

Nolan ( he says maybe)

3. My husband is WAY more opinionated about these boy names then our daughter ( Stella Claire).

Can you help so these babies aren’t A and B forever! Our lasts name sounds like Carmen with a T. Thank You!


Let’s start with the concept that family names are “what you do with boys.” It sounds as if this might be an idea your husband developed naturally (perhaps because that’s the way it’s done in his own family or because he’s familiar with how in our culture boys might be junior/III/IV but girls rarely are), without really thinking it through. This would be a good moment to really think it through.

I love family names, so I’m all for the idea of them. I also think it’s fully fine to give family names to some of the kids but not others: many parents run out of honor names, or only have girl honor names they like, or have a first name they want to use that doesn’t go with any family names, or have multiple traditions/preferences they’d like to follow, or whatever. Some of my own kids have family names while others don’t (and in fact we’ve honored one grandfather and not the other, two great-grandfathers and not the other two, etc.), and there’s been no fuss yet about that being better for one group or the other.

But I react negatively to the idea that boys get them and girls don’t. The cultural practice of giving boys family names (and making them juniors/IIIs/IVs) comes from some rather ugly ideas about worth. Those ideas may be long since squashed for this particular situation, but it seems like the symbolic expression of those ideas is something to think through before signing up for it. If you wanted to give your boys family names because you had two male honor names you wanted to use and didn’t have any female honor names you wanted to use for your daughter, I would go along with that without a peep. Or let’s say you had been too nervous about picking one side over the other side to choose an honor name for a singleton birth, but with twins you felt like this was a great chance to use honor names without offending anyone; again, no peeps from me. But in this situation, your daughter didn’t get a family name because she was a girl, and the boys are getting family names because they’re boys, and in fact trying to find two honor names is causing problems but you have to persist because your husband says “that’s what you do with boys.” Peep.

All right. Let’s say the two of you go over this subject as thoroughly as you like, and you would still like to take the fun opportunity of twins to honor both sides of the family at once. In that case, the next issue to address is whether it’s okay to honor one grandfather but not the other. Answer: Yes. And it’s true it can still feel awkward. The reason it’s okay, I think, is that there is no way to honor everyone. If you used your grandfather’s name and your husband’s grandfather’s name, would you then need to have two more sons to honor the other two grandfathers? And if you use both of your fathers’ names, would you have to have to make sure you used both of your mothers’ names too? Anyone giving the situation a moment’s thought is going to realize that there are fewer babies than family members. But as I say, this can still get awkward, and I do think it’s a good thing to think of people’s feelings. Many parents choose not to use family names for this very reason: they’d love to honor one family member, but not at the risk of hurting another family member. I could perhaps have given this a little more thought myself, when naming babies. On the other hand, I’m glad I didn’t, because I think I would have gotten paralyzed by it; as it is, I love the kids’ family names and I’m really glad we used them. (What we did was we up-played the honor names only to the honored person; to everyone else, we down-played them. “It’s Robert James AFTER YOU, GRANDPA!” to my grandpa, and “We’ve named him Robert James” to everyone else.)

In short, I would definitely go with your idea of making sure both sides of the family are honored, but I don’t think the names necessarily have to be parallel: both from the boys’ grandfathers, for example, or both from their great-grandfathers. It would be fun if it worked out that way, but it looks like it isn’t going to. Nor do I think that using a name from one generation of the family means that everyone from that generation needs to be honored. Spin can be your friend here: you can say cheerfully that with twins you wanted to honor both sides of the family at once, so you looked at both sides for names you liked that worked with other names you liked. It makes it seem less like the specific person is being specifically singled out (leaving others specifically unhonored), and more like each honor name is chosen to honor the whole side of the family. Which is in fact your goal, so it isn’t even spin.

I might look at family surnames, if first names aren’t working out: perhaps one boy could have your husband’s father’s name and the other boy could have your maiden name, or your mother’s maiden name.

On a more general topic, I want to pass along a naming tip from a friend of mine who has twin boys. She too has a husband who thinks boys get family names, and furthermore he wanted a junior. She felt this was especially awkward with twin boys: she had originally agreed to it assuming their first boy would be a singleton birth. So what they did was, they made the secondborn twin the junior, so that both boys had something special: one was firstborn, the other was the namesake. You’re not planning a junior, but I still like this general concept: that if one honor name is perceived to be more special than the other name, that that name could be given to the secondborn twin to balance things out (and to improve the perceived specialness of the less-special-seeming name). If, for example, you were going to use your husband’s first and middle names, I’d suggest giving his middle name to the firstborn twin and his first name to the secondborn twin.

Another way to balance the perceived specialness of names is placement. For example, if you were to use your husband’s father’s name and your grandfather’s name, you could use your husband’s father’s name as a middle name, and your grandfather’s name as a first name. The non-parallel placement can also help it seem like less of a slight to your father and more of a “These are the names we liked” issue.

(All of this assumes that it’s “better” to have the honor name and “better” to be born first, both of which are arbitrary as well as up for debate, though perhaps not here and now. But our culture does in general believe both of those things to be the case, which is why I take that into account.)

One idea is to use initials, giving one twin your father’s initials and the other your husband’s father’s initials. But this idea isn’t compatible with your husband’s preference of not altering the honor names (which is also my own preference).

However, all of this assumes the two grandfathers’ names won’t work out. I think Rick is very useable, particularly as a middle name. It could perhaps be a little choppy, but my guess is that in the long run you’d be happy with the choice and how it honors your dad; and middle names tend to nearly disappear after the birth announcements go out. I think my first choice would be to use Rick and Phillip as the middle names: it’s fun to get to honor both grandfathers like that, and it’s a very simple and non-feelings-hurting way to use honor names. Another idea I like is your father-in-law’s middle name as one boy’s first name, and your dad’s first name as the other boy’s middle name. Dean _____ and _______ Rick.

On to first names. I searched online for what the Stella and Dean connection could be, but found mostly hits for the model Stella Dean. The only other thing I can think of is that I think Tori Spelling has a husband Dean and a daughter Stella, but that wouldn’t occur to me or bother me if I encountered siblings named Stella and Dean.

Taking out the names each of you has vetoed, we’re left with this list:


If the two of you don’t find two names you both love, I think it would be nice if one twin had a name from your list and one from your husband’s list—perhaps each parent could choose a favorite from the other parent’s list. All of those names pair up nicely, I think. I like middle-name Rick best with first names of more than one syllable; I think it’s okay that the -r of Oliver blends into it, but I’d still prefer to avoid it.

If it is mostly your husband’s preference that the boys be given family names, and so you are doing a fair amount of compromising of your choices to achieve this goal, then for balance I would more heavily weigh your preferences on which names should be chosen.

If you like Bennett but your husband dislikes the nickname Ben, I wonder if either/both of you would like Beckett. The -t runs into your surname a bit, though; I wonder if that might make the first name sound like Becca.

Since he has Silas on his list and you have Elias on yours, it feels as if we must be very close to finding something there. But since you’ve both vetoed the other’s choice, perhaps not. Lucas, Tobias, Mattias, Marcus, Phineas, Simon, Levi, Cyrus, Elijah, Charles, Angus, Davis, Harris, Lyle?

Since he has Oliver on his list and you have Everett on yours, would you like the name Elliot?

If he doesn’t quite like your suggestion of Graham, would he like Grant?

Baby Girl Uhspike, Sister to Will, Kate, and Elizabeth: Royal Names

Hi Swistle,

We expecting our fourth (and probably last) baby in October. My husband Ben comes from an all boy family and I figured ours would follow suit but that hasn’t been the case! Our only son, William, is 7. At the time I considered naming him Nicholas or Jacob but William Scott (nn Will) won out. Then our almost 5 year old came along and without any question we went with our family girl name from the previous pregnancy- Kate Eleanor. I opted for that instead of Catherine because I wanted her called Kate and didn’t want that to change over time. A couple of years later there was the royal wedding and now people always comment on our Will and Kate and seem to like it. I didn’t mind continuing the theme when our number three came along last year and we named her Elizabeth Anne, Elizabeth having such a beautiful meaning and being my favorite name of my childhood. When we aren’t calling her the Queen, we also call her Bitty or Beth.

Now our surprise baby (and girl number 3) is coming in the Fall and we are OUT of royal names! I have a few funny rules I’m trying to follow and can’t seem to let go. Our two syllable Dutch last name rhymes with Spike and starts with an “uh” sound. I think “uh” names sound funny with the double “uhs” (like Emma Uh-spike, Amelia Uh-spike) although I quite like them. I’d also prefer not to duplicate first letters and sounds if possible, for ease in calling children and labeling their belongs (yes I know these are some OCD problems!)

If this baby had been a boy we would have named him James Benjamin. Right now I have only a few names left on my girl list that still fit into the royal theme.

A few I love but aren’t willing to use for the above reasons are Emma, Amelia, Alexandra, Emily. I also like Charlotte// nn Lottie but it’s ridiculously popular in our area. Despite the supposed frequency of my other children’s names, we’ve only run into one other Will and a few Katelyns but no Kates or Elizabeths at all! Maggie is a favorite of mine but we don’t love Margaret (and I’m not sure I’m creative enough to branch out to a Magnolia// nn Maggie with our other names).

My husband isn’t crazy about Grace. I love Caroline but would not want any nicknames for it, so I think it might be better in the middle name slot for Grace or Mary (it’s also a family name and that feels like a nice spot for the tribute name, as we have done with our other children). I also think Mary Caroline is beautiful but would likely be Mary in the long run and I wonder if Mary is too “old” to go with our other names. My brother and both like our old fashioned, classic names (Anne and John) that were never too popular but I don’t want to saddle her with a name that’s just too old for her generation. My reservation with Jane is that it rules out having a James just in case we had another. Also, I feel like we’ve gotten some really mixed reviews about the name and that it might be too old, too (and it’s only questionably royal as Lady Jane Grey was a contested Queen who only “reigned” a few days but we’re alright with that).

So my question is, do I need to let myself break out of our little theme? Do you think Mary is just too old for a little girl? What about Jane, does it fit comfortably with William, Kate, and Elizabeth, or is she bound to feel like the named-with-the-leftovers sister? How did I let myself get into this crazy theme? Do you have some other nice classics lying around that I’ve missed?

Thanks so much!

PS Yes we do love this theme, the kids dressed up exactly like Will and Kate for a Royal Wedding Halloween and we have a British decorated room. I just wish there were a few more British Royal names and still wish the Royal Baby had been a girl with four or five more names to choose from, although I’m sure she would have stuck with a classic like Alexandra anyways!


I think Jane is a great choice. My main hesitation is the same as yours: for me, it would rule out using James later on. My second hesitation is that it feels very similar to Kate. But I don’t see any reason anyone would think of it as a “leftover” name.

Grace seems like the perfect choice to me, so it’s unfortunate your husband doesn’t like it. Perhaps he will come around: we get many letters where a husband’s dislike of a name causes me to ignore it as an option, and then we get the name update and the name has been chosen after all.

Caroline seems excellent, too. I don’t think of it as having any natural nicknames (that is, there are nicknames people could use if they wanted a nickname, but it isn’t a Michael/Mike kind of situation), which increases the chances she’d go by the full form. But I agree that if you feel strongly about it not being nicknamed, that knocks it further down the list.

Mary doesn’t seem too old to me; in fact, it feels like a refreshing choice. I might not have thought so, except that I encountered a Mary in the kindergarten class of one of my older boys. My first reaction was something close to shock, as my brain rearranged what I thought of the name: my mind had always filtered it as Common Name, never even really hearing it as a name, and now suddenly I was hearing the sounds that made it such a long-loved choice. Sisters named Mary and Kate do briefly bring Mary-Kate and Ashley to my mind, but surely that is not an enduring association—and not much of an association at all when it’s Kate, Elizabeth, and Mary.

I’m hesitant to suggest any further options: it seems like you must have already combed through the list thoroughly and rejected all the other royal names. Still, this makes a better reference post if we include the others, and sometimes hearing other people remark positively on a name can put it back on the list. I used Wikipedia’s British Royal Family page to assist the search.

Beatrice and Eugenie are the first two names that come to mind, even before looking at Wikipedia. I especially like Beatrice for this sibling group, and I love the nickname Bea/Bee (I would buy everything in the world that had bees on it). Eugenie seems like a harder name to sell in the United States, and also repeats Elizabeth’s initial.

Next I think of Diana. Few names have such a royal association for me as that one does. William, Kate, Elizabeth, and Diana fairly BOILS with royal.

And although you specifically said you don’t much care for the name Margaret, I want to put in a good word for it: I love it, and I love all the nicknames, and it definitely sounds royal. We had a little girl named Margaret at our bus stop a few years ago, and it made me love the name even more. If you love the name Maggie, it may be a great choice for you.

I assume you’ve considered and rejected Victoria. For me the main downside of this name is that I don’t like any of the nicknames and only like the full form.

I think Philippa with the nickname Pippa would be a strong candidate if it weren’t for the -uh/Uh- issue: it brings to mind not only Kate’s sister but also Prince Philip. Does it help at all that Philippa is three syllables? To my ear, that third syllable gives a little natural pause. I do still hear the -uh/Uh-, but it seems less troublesome.

Camilla is another name of this sort.

It would be more a royal reference than a royal name, but Georgia would be sweet. The -uh/Uh- issue doesn’t hit my ear in this case, perhaps because it’s more of a -juh/Uh-, or perhaps the issue bothers me less overall.

Two more royal-reference names would be Henrietta and Harriet, for Prince Henry (called Harry).

Sophie and Louise are both possibilities. I particularly like Louise.

I also love Alice and Sarah, if either of those are royal enough.


If you find you’re just STUCK and none of the royal names work for this child, another option is to choose a name that COULD be royal. I remember there was a lot of talk during Kate’s pregnancy about what names they’d be likely to choose, and it’s possible they WILL have a girl later on. It’s a bit of a long shot, but that could work out in a fun way, with them choosing the same name you chose for your third daughter. It wouldn’t be something to count on, of course, but it could help ease the discomfort of breaking a theme.




Name update!

Dear Swistle,

After your wonderful response I decided to go ahead and name her Grace and practiced calling her that for a couple months. It just didn’t settle right (although It’s so pretty and I really wanted to sing her the U2 song by the same name). The last week of my pregnancy I realized she must be a Jane and the others just wouldn’t do.

Jane Caroline was born on October 10 and her name which means “God is Gracious” is the perfect fit. Caroline honors many of the “Car-” named people in our lives and means “Beautify Song” (as well as being a royal name). Thank you so much for your help and the lovely comments!



Baby Naming Issue: Does a Cool Name Set Expectations?

Dear Swistle

My name is Amanda Dale and my husband’s name is Niall Aidan. Our last name is Beg-lee. My husband is Irish and I am culturally Jewish. Although we are not currently expecting, I love name searching! Boy’s names come pretty easily to me, and for now my favorites include: Connor, Theo, Brenner (my mom’s maiden name), Miller, Owen, and Declan. Despite my ease at finding suitable boys names, I have found a lot of anxiety in my search for a wonderful girl’s name. A lot of this anxiety seems to stem from what expectations I am placing on my future daughter with the name I choose- let me explain:

The names that I am most drawn to seem to be unisex names, and the reason, I believe, is what I call the “cool” factor. Growing up, I knew girl’s named Brett and Sloane, and they just seemed so ridiculously cool to me! I was never a particularly cool kid, and having a very common name didn’t add to my confidence level. Those names always stood out and have continued to draw me in.

On my “cool” name list include:

Emerson, Brett, Sutton, Logan, Piper, Tristan, Spencer, Wren, Leighton, Rowan,

Despite my obvious preference, I have serious hesitations about using these names. Given that neither I nor my husband were cool kids, I worry that giving my daughter a cool kid name will set expectations she simply won’t meet. I feel that kids with slightly off beat names really need the confidence to own those names, and while we can definitely harbor those feelings in her through parenting, I still worry that it may be too much of a weight to bear. I worry that years of people not knowing her gender will cause her undue grief..

Given these concerns, I find myself searching through and enjoying some old fashioned and more feminine name choices as well, which I feel are more “cute”. Some “cute” names that I have considered include:

Evelyn, Penelope, Madeleine, Eloise, Fiona, Lena, Lila

Despite liking these, I’m not sure I love these choices. Moreover, I’m not sure being “cute” is better than being “cool”! Are there any names you can think of that can help me bridge the gap- the perfect blend of unisex cool with a feminine touch so my daughter can enjoy being whatever she wants to be?




Something I notice when I think back on the cool girls in high school is that their names were not necessarily cool: Stephanie, Monica, Lisa. Having a cool name might have further improved their coolness, it’s true—but their coolness seemed quite separate from their names. In some cases, a cool girl made her ordinary name cool by being cool herself: one example is Lynn, who had a Mom Name but forever changed the image of that name for me and probably many others at our school.

I remember some of them were given Cool Nicknames, based on in-jokes or surnames. One cool girl was called Shock (her actual name was Jennifer). A couple others were called by their surnames, which gave them the unisex/boyish/preppy sound. A girl whose name isn’t cool enough can increase the coolness if needed.

To look at the other side, I’m trying to think of the non-cool girls I knew who had cool names. I remember the first Mikayla I met: a new girl who came to the school mid-year. Her “weird name” (it’s hard to imagine it that way now!) was one more strike against her, and my guess is that she would have paid cash money to blend in a little more as a Melissa or a Nicole. The naming climate has changed considerably since then, though, and I wonder if that has considerably changed the way kids feel about other kids’ names. I do know my kids still report to me the “weird names” of other kids, and we’ve had to have discussions about that (“Kids don’t choose their own names; we don’t make fun of people’s names,” “That name is fairly common, it’s just the first time you’ve encountered someone with it,” etc.). It still seems based mostly on exposure: if they know someone with that name, they feel like it’s a normal name.

Another naming-climate issue is that unisex names are more common now. When I was a child, there was Erin/Aaron, some Jamie/Jaime and Cory/Corey; Tracy and Shannon were supposedly unisex but I knew only girls with those names (except for one male Tracy we felt sorry for). Girls who wanted something more unisex generally went the Andrea/Andy route: the feminine name with the boyish nickname. The recent naming situation is quite different: Jaden, Jordan, Avery, Cameron, Taylor, Riley—lots of names where I have to ask my kids if a particular classmate is male or female. A name that would have been startling on someone of the parent’s generation might be perfectly ordinary and non-expectation-setting on someone of the child’s generation.

In fact, we’re hindered in some ways by being The Parents: it’s hard to know which of the names we consider cool (or cute, or professional) will be considered cool by the children and their peers. It can help to imagine our own parents, and whether we think they’d be capable of choosing a name for us that our peers would consider cool.

One good solution might be to choose a name that is cool but also relatively common. Avery, for example, is unisex and strikes me as falling into the Cool category, but it was #12 for girls in 2013. This makes it familiar enough not to stand out in an uncomfortable way, and the number of Averys helps to dilute the associations people have with the name: if you know one cool Avery and one sporty Avery and one academic Avery, it’s harder to have expectations of other holders of the name. More possibilities of this sort: Harper, Taylor, Riley.

Another good solution might be to choose a name that’s cool and unisex but has a common and girlish nickname. Emerson from your list is a perfect example of this: she could easily go by Emmie or Emma if she preferred. Miller from your boy-name list would work well for this too, if you wanted something more daring: Milly/Millie is sweet.

Or you could do the opposite: give her a familiar/traditional girl name, but with a cool/unisex nickname. I recently encountered a Nicole my age who is going by Cole, which is a big change from all the Nickys. A Katherine could go by Kit; a Caroline could go by Rory; a Charlotte could go by Charlie or Chaz or Chip; a Juliette could go by Jet or Jules; an Alexandra could go by Al or Zan. I think this works particularly well with girl names that have boy versions, such as Charlotte/Charles and Alexandra/Alexander: it seems like any of the “boy” nicknames would be available for the girl version.

Another possibility is to use a very cool name, but use it as the middle name and then deliberately put it into rotation as one of her nicknames as she grows up. This gives her the option of using it if she wants to and/or it suits her, or hiding it if she doesn’t and/or it doesn’t.

Or I think it can be easier to pull off an unusual or cool name if there’s a good quick explanation for it. For example, if you used Brenner for a girl, she’d have “It was my grandmother’s maiden name.”

It may also reduce your concerns if you choose a unisex name that is used more often for girls: Emerson is now used mostly for girls, but Spencer and Tristan are used mostly for boys. Piper is used almost exclusively for girls. She’ll need to correct people less often with a name like Wren (48 new baby boys and 332 new baby girls in 2013) than with a name like Logan (12,270 new baby boys and 704 new baby girls in 2013).

When I think of names that seem “too cute,” I think of the ones that seem too lightweight: names chosen for a cute little baby girl that will feel silly or diminishing when she’s a grown woman. I feel nervous about giving examples for a category I just described so negatively, but perhaps it would help if I used one from my own generation: I know a Chrissy who would prefer to have something a little more solid to use now that she’s an adult, and I find it difficult to even use her name: it feels like I’m using an inappropriately affectionate nickname, and it also feels too babyish for her serious nature. Another of my peers has the given name Jenni: that’s another that seems too cute to me.

The names on your cute list don’t seem cute to me at all. Evelyn, Madeleine, Eloise, Lena—these are good solid traditional choices, nice vintage revivals. Penelope and Eloise and Fiona have a little more whimsy to them, but they’re still serious choices with good long histories. If your list were Maddi, Ellie, Evie, Fifi, and Pip, that would fit better with what I think of as “Maybe these might be too cute” list.

The big question here, though, is whether a cool name puts too much pressure on the child to be cool. I’ve been thinking about that since you wrote, and I find I can go either way on that. My first answer is yes: I do think it’s possible to burden a child with an overly cool name. I think a child can feel pressure from her name, and I think parents can inadvertently or deliberately put their own issues and expectations into a name. But if the parents like cool names, does that mean they shouldn’t use those names, just because it could be an issue? That’s where I start to come down on the other side of things.

I think my main advice is to see if you can figure out what style of name is your favorite, separate from the image of the names. That could be a nearly impossible task, since the image of a name is a huge part of whether it’s to our tastes or not. But what I mean is, see if you can separate “a cool name” from an image of “a cool high school girl.” See if it helps to do the same exercise I did: think of the cool girls you knew, and see if all of them had cool names or only some; think of the girls you knew with cool names, and see if all of them were cool or just some. Or when you’re out and about, mentally try the names on people of all ages and types to see how well you like the names with those people attached to them instead of to the cool girls from your memory. Picture various types of kids with various types of names; picture people your own age and your parents’ age with various types of names. Sit at the mall and watch people go by, and try the names on for size. Break the name from your image of the name as much as you can, and see if you still like the name.

But maybe you will do these exercises and realize that you like cool names because you like cool names: you DON’T feel like they’ll change your child’s temperament and you don’t even want them to, you DON’T mind if she doesn’t end up being cool, you’re NOT trying to correct for your own childhood experience—you just like cool names because you like them and they’re your preferred naming style. In that case, I would treat them as I’d treat any other name category: it’s considerate to build in some flexibility if possible (a middle name, a nickname, etc.), but as long as you’ve taken into account the things I can see you’re taking into account already (wondering how the names will fit on a variety of people, wondering how the child might feel about the name), it’s okay to go with the ones YOU like best. That’s what we all end up doing, whether our favorites are Margaret or Spencer or Chrissy. Then our children either like their names or don’t, just as we like our names or don’t, and they modify them if they need to—but most don’t need to.

I think the reason I had trouble deciding on this issue is that I feel one way up to a point, and then I feel a different way after that. I DO think it’s important to be aware of the seriousness of naming a child, and all the issues that can go along with choosing a name. I DO think it’s important to consider how the child might feel about the name, and what the consequences of each name might be. I DO think it’s important to separate names from our images and expectations of those names, so that we don’t accidentally feel as if giving a child a willowy, pretty, confident name will make her turn out willowy and pretty and confident. I DO think it’s important to imagine the names on plump plain receptionists as well as on popular pretty high school students.

But I ALSO think that we can only take this so far. We don’t know what the child will be like, and thinking about it a lot won’t tell us more. We don’t know how ANY name might fit the child, or how those names will be perceived as the child grows up. It would be silly to throw away a name we loved “in case it doesn’t fit,” and then have the child turn out to be a PERFECT fit for that name. And I think it’s possible to worry more than we need to: it is, in the end, just a name. For MANY names on the spectrum, the name is a stretchy garment that fits a great variety of wearers.

Baby Boy Reneau: Long Boy Names with Good Nicknames

Miriel writes:

Swistle! Help!

My husband John and I are expecting our first baby at the end of October and we just found out today that it’s a boy! This is very exciting, except that we have absolutely no idea what to name him. (We had a girl name all lined up and ready to go for this baby, whom I was convinced was a girl…of course.)

Our naming criteria are pretty straightforward:

1. My first name is very unusual and often misspelled or mispronounced, and our last name is also unusual (spelled Reneau, essentially pronounced reh-NO). I want the baby’s first name, at least, to be pronounceable when read and spellable when heard by the average person.

2. I tend to like longer boy names, but ones that have built-in nicknames if the child decides he WANTS a nickname. (My name has no natural nicknames. It is a great trial to me.)

3. We hope to have more children – we’re not sure how many, exactly, but somewhere between a few and a great big bunch – so I don’t want our first to set us on some sort of baby naming track that greatly restricts our options in the future. I think this means (a) nothing too trendy and (b) nothing too outlandish.

We tend to prefer names that are not gender-ambivalent, and I think our combined preferences tend toward the classic/old-fashioned end of the spectrum.

Here are some boy names that I really like, but can’t use for specific reasons (the baby has first cousins by that name, the name has negative personal associations, stuff like that):


And here are some of the names we are currently considering:


…and that’s pretty much it. Surely there are more options, right?

Of course we will also need a middle name, though I feel like that won’t be quite so difficult once we have a first name. And I can think of a few middle name options off the top of my head (Francis, as an honor name for my dad, or Thomas, which is my maiden name, or potentially one of the names listed above), and I just feel like a first name is more IMPORTANT.

Can you help?



There was a fun conversation about this on Twitter the other night, and after awhile I was thinking, “Okay, by now I think everything I would have suggested has been suggested”—so I am not sure I will be much help. But let’s try anyway, for the fun of it!

The category of “long boy names with good nicknames” is shorter than we’d like it to be, but there are SOME. A long boy name can be long in letters or long in syllables; I think of a true long boy name as being long in both, but I’m going to include names with three or more syllables even if they’re on the shorter side letter-wise. I’m also including Gabriel (which you can’t use) and Christopher and Gregory from your list. I’ve taken your tastes into account (though stretched them a bit if a name seemed like a good one to have on this list for reference later on), but I haven’t filtered for your surname.

Abraham (Abe, Bram)
Alexander (Al, Alex, Xan, Xander)
Alistair (Al)
Anderson (Andy, Anders)
Anthony (Tony)
Augustus (Auggie, Gus)
Benjamin (Ben)
Carleton (Carl)
Charlton (Charlie)
Christopher (Chris)
Davison (Dave)
Dominic (Dom)
Donovan (Don)
Elias (Eli)
Elijah (Eli)
Everett (Rett/Rhett)
Ezekiel (Zeke)
Finnegan (Finn)
Frederick (Fred, Rick)
Gabriel (Gabe)
Gregory (Greg)
Harrison (Harry)
Jameson (Jamie, James)
Jedidiah (Jed)
Jefferson (Jeff)
Jeremiah (Jem, Jerry)
Jeremy (Jem, Jerry)
Jonathan (Jon)
Joshua (Josh)
Josiah (Joe)
Leander (Lee)
Malachi (Mal, Kai)
Matthias (Matt)
Nathaniel (Nate)
Nicholas (Nick, Cole)
Nicholson (Nick, Cole)
Oliver (Ollie)
Phineas (Phin/Finn)
Raphael (Raph)
Robertson (Rob, Robby)
Sebastian (Seb, Bas)
Solomon (Sol)
Thaddeus (Thad)
Theodore (Theo, Teddy, Ted)
Tobias (Toby)
Zachariah (Zach)
Zachary (Zach)

If none of these are quite right, one way to get a longer name is to call the child by first and middle. If the child prefers, he can easily drop the middle name later on, making a “nickname” out of his first name. John Louis can later be just John, for example, or Paul Thomas can be just Paul, or Calvin Thomas can be just Calvin/Cal. This is the kind of idea that I wouldn’t have expected to work well, except that I’ve seen it work well. That is, when I’ve met a child named something like Paul Thomas, I’ve thought, “Hm, that doesn’t seem natural,” and then a couple of weeks later I’m calling him Paul Thomas without even thinking about it and it seems PERFECTLY natural.

Back to the list. At first I was thinking there were three main paths here:

1. the Jonathan/Christopher/Alexander path
2. the Ezekiel/Jedediah/Malachi path
3. the Theodore/Augustus/Sebastian path

But the more I tried to sort the names into these categories, the more I noticed overlap, and the more I realized that “long name with a good nickname” can be a theme of its own. That is, I still might not pair up Christopher and Jedediah as brother names—but on the other hand, if I picture a big sibling group that contains a Theodore/Teddy, an Ezekiel/Zeke, and a Christopher/Chris, the names go together better because of their name/nickname set-up than they would if they were, say, August and Judah and Evan. It’s kind of like a shared initial: a shared initial doesn’t fully unite the styles of, say, Josiah and Jayden, but it’s a STEP towards uniting them. In a group with Josiah, Jayden, Jeffery, and Jared, there’s a connection that cancels out some of the style difference. I think the name/nickname connection has a similar effect.

Also, I noticed in my own family that as the number of children increased, the expectation of name coordination decreased. When it’s harder for people to think of all the sibling names at once, style differences stand out less. On the other hand, in a larger group, one single name of a different style can stand out more: John and Maverick could be a family-tradition-requirement name and a name of the parents’ own style; John, Edward, Henry, and Maverick feels like someone is excluded from the group.

For a first child, when you’re not sure what your tastes will be or what the eventual sibling group will look like, I might encouraging erring toward the middle. That is, if you have three names you like equally, and one is very popular and familiar, and one is very unusual and distinctive, and one is both familiar and distinctive, I might go with option 3. This gives you more freedom to adjust either direction on the spectrum for subsequent children. But this is only if you like all the styles equally: if you find you have a strong preference for one of them, and also like names that feel like good sibling names for it, I’d go with that style even if it’s at one of the far ends of the spectrum.

I’m very drawn to your idea of Gregory. Gregory was in the Top 100 from 1945 until 1996—a nice long stage of popularity, not at all spikey. The few Gregorys I’ve known have all gone by Greg, so using the full form gives it a freshness similar to when kids started going by James and William instead of Jimmy and Billy.