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Monday, April 30, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: What to Do About the Initials BRA?

Emily writes:
I am pregnant with my 5th and last child, a girl, due at the end of July. We have a name we LOVE, beginning with a ‘B’. We also have a middle name we love beginning with the letter ‘R’. We would be all set to go if our last name did not begin with an ‘A’, which makes her initials BRA! My mom suggested switching the first and last names and then going by her middle name which would make her initials RBA. I sort of like the idea, but I don’t like the idea of a lifetime of correcting people and the headache of official documents confusion. What would you do? Should I pick a brand new middle Name? Are the BRA initials really that terrible? My other daughter’s initials are GAA ,which is kind of funny, but we have never monogrammed anything nor thought about it much. Help!

I would not want those initials myself (I'd be fine with GAA). But I also wouldn't want to switch the names only to solve the initials problem. I can see why you're stuck!

I think it boils down to what part of the name is most important to you. One of these three things will have to happen: (1) You will give her the BRA initials, OR (2) You will swap the two names, OR (3) You will choose a new middle name to avoid both #1 and #2. Each possibility has a downside, and so it's a matter of choosing the downside you mind least---which probably is a question of how important this particular middle name is to you.

Since none of your first four children have swapped first/middle names, my sense of order rebels at the idea of suddenly switching them for this child, and I would vote for option #3. Another possibility is to give her two middle names (I'd make the R-name the second of the two middle names, since many forms default to the first of two middle initials); this still bothers my sense of order, but not as much, and I think it might be possible to come up with an excuse that explains it ("She's our last, and we still had more names we couldn't bear not to use!" or "She's the last one, but we still had two important women to honor!"). I guess that counts as a fourth option, then, but it's also kind of a subset of option #3.

Let's have a poll over to the right to see what everyone else would do. [Poll closed; see results below.] It's a little bit of a tricky thing to have a poll on, though, since it depends on strength of preference. For example, if you're okay switching the middle name, I vote for doing that---but if you are completely set on using the middle name, then I vote for adding a second middle name. Perhaps in the comments section we can clarify our votes if necessary.

Poll results for "What would you do about the initials BRA?" (419 votes total):

Go ahead and use them - 123 votes (29%)
Switch first and middle names and call by middle name - 24 votes (6%)
Choose a different middle name - 177 votes (42%)
Add a second middle name - 89 votes (21%)
I can't decide -  6 votes (1%)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Baby T______r, Ideally Incorporating New Orleans

Rachel writes:
I was wondering if you could help my husband and I with a baby naming dilemma we are having. We are expecting our first baby at the end of the June and do not know if it is a boy or girl.

The dilemma is that we are very reluctant transplants to the Midwest from our beloved hometown of New Orleans (husband and I met at college in New Orleans - he never left after his freshman year; I have lived there my entire life until now- didn't even leave for college!) So, given the significance of New Orleans for us, we would love for the baby's name to reflect our NOLA love. We have more or less decided on first names of Walker for a boy and Catherine for a girl.

My husband has decided that he is so hurt over the Saints bounty scandal (aren't we all?) that no Saints related names will be allowed, so WhoDat is definitely out, as well as Sean, Pa(e)yton and Drew. Ideally, I would like something with a little more NOLA flavor than those names anyway. We have come up with short lists for each -

Girl - Delphine (Google Delphine LaLaurie - I love the name but don't know if I can get past the story)
Coralie (I'm not sure how I feel about Catherine Coralie though)

Boy - Carrollton
Eli (this is my husband more than me)
George (there are a bunch of New Orleans artists named George)

Our last name is 2 syllables, starts with T and ends with R. We would love any thoughts on which one of these names works best or any other ideas you might have.

Thank you so much!!!

The names that sprang immediately to my mind were Louis, Louise, Louisa, and even using Louisiana or Orleans. (Louisiana, incidentally, is one of those names I'm surprised more parents who like the "long feminine name with lots of nicknames" style aren't using: nicknames Lou, Louie, Louise, Lulu, Annie, etc.) If you weren't set on using Catherine as the first name, you could also go a bit clever with something like Louise Anna.

Nola, of course, would work for a girl. Or Nouvelle, for La Nouvelle-Orléans.

Catherine Louisa
Catherine Louise
Catherine Louisiana
Catherine Nola
Catherine Nouvelle
Catherine Orleans

Walker Louis
Walker Orleans

I am a bit worried about the initials of some of the girl options allllmost spelling naughty words, but I tend to be cranked up a bit high on Initials Sensitivity. Spelling Catherine with a K may help. Along those lines, I would want to have considered ahead of time that Eli would give the initials WET, and Adelaide gives the initials CAT, and Orleans with Catherine gives the initials COT, and Faulkner gives initials of WFT but a monogram of WTF.

I love the name Delphine, but the very first line in her Wikipedia entry is "...a Louisiana-born socialite, known for her involvement in the torture of black slaves." It's not just that this is one of many things she's known for, as with a famous author or politician who later was discovered to have a skeleton in the closet---it's the ONLY reason she's famous. And since you're specifically considering the name for the New Orleans tie-in, and her brutal torture of slaves IS the New Orleans tie-in, I regretfully vote no.

Wikipedia has a whole page for people from New Orleans. Those and the other options on your list probably depend on how strongly they bring New Orleans to your mind.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Baby Girl Perez, Sister to Maggie and Oscar

Joy writes:
I am back for more of your fabulous baby naming advice! I wrote you when we were expecting our son and now we expecting our third baby in about 7 weeks. We have a daughter (Maggie Suzanne) and a son (Oscar Alexander) so this will make our second little girl. My husband and I both thought it would be so easy to name this little one because she is a girl, but for some reason it has been just as hard as naming Oscar. Part of the issue is that I feel such a pressure because this is probably our last baby so I want to "get it right" and the other part is that Maggie is such a feminine yet cute name it is (in my mind) hard to match.

So, a couple of things about us: My husband is Hispanic and I am Caucasian so we need a name that would work well for a blended family. The other thing is that we love older classic names, but I really want it to be unique. My name is Joy so I grew up with a name that no one else had and I loved that! I also have a rule that I want to name my kids what I will call them instead of naming them something and using a nickname all of the time. Last, I am not as much worried about the names being matchy matchy like I was when I had my son, but rather I want her to have a beautiful and unique name that fits with the others names (if that makes sense).

Here are some names we like:
Charlie (I love, but have a hard time naming a girl a name that is typically for a boy).
Kamie (lifelong favorite but my husband hates it)

Macie (it sounds a lot like Maggie though)

Olivia (I love this only if we call her Olivia Jane as if that were her first name, but I am unsure of how I feel about two name first names and my husband only wants to call her Olivia. I think this name is too long and doesn't fit great with the other kids. Plus, it is very popular)

Middle names we have considered:
Olivia (matched with Pennie)

So there you have it! I am looking forward to reading what you come up with for us!!

Thanks in advance for your help!!

I suggest Sadie. It's similar in style to Maggie, without being at all matchy. Sadie Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Sadie.

Or Annie. Annie Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Annie.

Or Libby. Libby Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Libby.

Or Livvy, which is similar to Olivia. Livvy Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Livvy.

Or Polly, which is similar to Molly without sharing so many sounds with Maggie. Polly Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Polly.

Or Lacey, which is similar to Macie but without sharing so many sounds with Maggie. Lacey Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Lacey.

Or Betsy, which is making a subtle comeback just as all the Betsys finally got everyone to call them Elizabeth or Liz. Betsy Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Betsy.

Or Ginny. Ginny Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Ginny.

I think Pennie from your list also works well, but I would suggest spelling it Penny to avoid the continual hassle of spelling issues. (And because I know, I KNOW this is silly, but my mind saw it as "Peenie" at first, and I know that's probably not something to even consider but STILL. I'd go with Penny.)

I agree that Charlie is too boyish a name for a girl in this sibling group, but I wonder if you'd like Arlie, Karli, or Marli?

I was about to recommend Emmie, and then realized that an Oscar and an Emmy together is probably not a good idea!

Evie would work better. Evie Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Evie.

Lily would be pretty. Lily Perez; Maggie, Oscar, and Lily.

If you love Kamie, I wonder if you'd like Cassie or Cammie or Callie.

Name update! Joy writes:
I was going about my business today and it hit me that I never updated you! I am SO sorry!! Life with 3 under 4 years old has been crazy to say the least. So, although very late I wanted to update you anyway. I was all set to name her Penny Jane, but when she was born I looked at her and just knew that was not the perfect match. We welcomed Olivia Jane into the world on June 22. She was 3 weeks early and weighed a whopping 9lbs 4oz! She is absolutely beautiful both inside and out!!! Thank you for your wonderful blog and help with choosing a name. We loved all of your (and your helpers) ideas!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Baby Girl Brown

C. writes:
I'm panicking... our baby girl is due in less than 4 weeks and we can't come up with a name!

She is our first (and probably only). Her last name will be Brown. A few key points have come up through our name-search:

1. Meaning/history is incredibly important! My partner even vetoed my favorite name "Ophelia" because the character didn't fare so well in Hamlet... despite it having a great meaning ("helper").

2. We have been drawn to Greek names (though we are not Greek) particularly those ending in "-ia". Though this has made it hard to think of paring first and middle names since they all end up having the same sounds (Thalia, Ophelia, Philia (now vetoed completely as well), Thea...).

3. We are both bookish-academics and thus literary sources have been influential.

4. In addition to -ia Greek names, we've considered a few gender-neutral last names taken from various authors on our bookshelves: Morrison, Ellison, Beckett...

5. The name itself does need to be relatively unique/unpopular (and no spelling a name oddly to add to it's uniqueness). My partner's name has been in the top ten for decades and thus grew up going by his last name, whereas I was the only one in my school with my name and I always loved that.

6. I would like if the name (or middle name) had some form of "Ann/Anna" in it, because it would call out to several female family members but it's not necessary.

Several we still have on the list: Thalia, Thea (I LOVE this as a nickname!), Amalia, Hadiya, Safiya (afraid it will be confused with Sophia which we love but is just too popular), Zaphira, Atiya, Eos (would only consider it for a middle name)... None of them sound like "the one" though. I honestly don't expect to have one chosen when she arrives anymore... but if we could at least have some solid choices that would help! Otherwise I'm afraid she'll be 2 before we come up with something.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Name Updates!

Update (and photo!) on Baby Boy Harris, Brother to Abig@il Elizabeth!
Update (and photo!) on Baby Girl Francis, Sister to Edward Russell!
Update (and photo!) on Baby Girl Garnet, Sister to Brendan and Bridget!

Baby Boy Wilson, Brother to Emery; Can They Use Meyer (Same Letters)?

C. writes:
My husband and I have a 19 month old daughter named Emery Michael. We always loved the name Emery and used the name Michael to honor my dad. (Growing up, I knew a girl named Michael, so it didn't seem odd to me to use it for her middle name). I fleetingly had namer's remorse over Michael, but the joy my dad got from it quickly remedied that.

I am now expecting a boy in August. My husband and I can never agree on boy names...which is why we were relieved to have a daughter first, and were secretly hoping for another one!

So, Baby Boy Wilson is on the way! After my husband shot down dozens of names, I threw out the name Meyer. To my surprise, he loved it! Here's our problem: M-E-Y-E-R = E-M-E-R-Y. They have the SAME letters! I'm trying hard to convince myself that this is not a deal breaker, but I'm wondering if it should be? We do plan on having one more child, and I don't see how we can use the same letters to form yet another name.

I guess I'm just wondering what your opinion is on the situation. Should we keep on hunting? If so, we are so very open to suggestions. We would like to use the name Owen, Jacob, or Lee for the middle name as they have family significance. We would prefer to not use Owen for a first name because of it's current popularity in our area. Jacob is my husband's name, but he doesn't want a Junior. Lee is a family name my husband would like to use. I don't love it, but would compromise on using it as a middle name. Please help us!

Ooo, I think you have stumbled on an excellent set of twin names! Emery and Meyer is pretty genius!

If you were having only two children, I would say no, it's not a deal-breaker, and also it's pretty cool. If, however, it'll make you feel weird when naming a third child, then probably it won't work out.

Do you like the name Miller? I think of it as very similar to Meyer, but it takes away that rearranged-letters issue. I don't think it's quite as good with Wilson, however, which is disappointing. Well, and making that comparison made me notice how really nice Meyer is with Wilson, and now I'm reconsidering the third-child issue. Do you think it's something you'd be able to go with? That the first two children happen to have re-arranged letters of each other's names, not on purpose but just by coincidence, and that the third child won't? It's the sort of issue that can seem like a huge deal during the naming process, and not a deal at all later on. I suspect children care about these things less often than we do---or at least that they can have it explained to them, if they do turn out to care. It seems like a cheerful "I know! Isn't that a funny coincidence? We almost didn't use it, but then we decided the most important thing was to use a name we loved for each child!" could go a long way to reducing feelings of exclusion. And perhaps you could find another way to tie a third name in, such as making sure it had an "er" in it like the first two, or a Y in it like the first two, or something like that. (Or both, like Sawyer or Cameryn. Emery, Meyer, and Sawyer; Emery, Meyer, and Cameryn.) Another option would be to gamble and save Meyer for a possible boy next time, but I think that could make things even more complicated by giving the potential excluded feeling to the classically-feeling-excluded middle child.

Well. It's a tricky issue. I'm not sure what I'd do. Let's have a poll over to the right to see what everyone else would do. [Poll closed; see results below.]

To find new candidates, I think I'd look in the Last Names First section of The Baby Name Wizard:


Owen could be a little tricky as a middle name: BOW, COW, DOW, HOW, LOW, MOW, NOW, POW, ROW, SOW, TOW, VOW, WOW, YOW, ZOW. But those are pretty innocuous, and may even be fun. Jacob and Lee both work without spelling anything, though L could be cute with a monogram where the surname initial goes in the center: with a name like Oliver Lee Wilson, you could have the monogram OWL---a little secret cuteness, maybe a cute family nickname, and a fun excuse for buying owl things.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Baby Name to Consider: Salem

A. writes:
I'm due with my first - a boy - on August 29th. My maiden name is Salem, and my married last name is Ceder.

What do you think about Salem Ceder for a boy? Too much alliteration? Is "Salem" too odd for a first name? Yes, I know about the associations with the witch trials and cigarettes :)

Thanks for any help!

Using the mother's maiden name as a first name is one of my top favorite baby name ideas. It's rare for it to work out: most surnames don't work as first names---and even among the ones that do work, many then don't work with the baby's surname, or aren't to one or both parents' tastes.

My opinion of Salem is that there are two reasons it doesn't work: (1) the negative associations you mention, and (2) the way it fits with the surname.

The Salem witch trials were a horrifying time in U.S. history. Terms like "witch hunt" are still used to instantly remind us of how people can become evil themselves in their efforts to find evil in others. The cigarette association pales in comparison with that, though it's also an issue. (And I think with this particular surname it can sound like a new kind of cigarette: Salem Slim, Salem Menthol, and Salem Cedar.)

Nevertheless, the name is being used, so the associations are clearly not as overwhelming as they are with, say, a name like Adolf: according to the Social Security Administration, in 2010 there were 67 new baby boys and 66 new baby girls named Salem. The unisex nature of the name is another issue, either positive or negative depending on what sorts of names you'd want to use for future siblings.

Salem Ceder might be okay alliteration-wise; I don't like the way the name sounds when I say it aloud, but such things are almost completely subjective and the next person could love the way it sounds. I think a bigger issue is that both Salem and Ceder are strong word names. The sudden double mental imagery (witch trials, then cedar chests; or cigarettes, and then cedar trees) is a lot of imagery for one name. Or the word-like surname can turn the first name into an adjective: Atlas Cedar, White Cedar, Salem Cedar.

I think all these issues are hugely reduced (if not eliminated entirely) if the name is instead put in the middle name slot. Then you get the mother's-maiden-name tradition, which is a great one, AND you get to use a name that would be a great name without the association problems and surname conflicts.

Let's have a poll over to the right. [Poll closed; see results below.]

Poll results for "What do you think of the name Salem?" (476 votes total):

I love it! I'd want to use it! - 20 votes (4%)
I like it! I'd want to consider it! - 44 votes (9%)
I like it for someone else's baby - 122 votes (26%)
No particular opinion - 28 votes (6%)
Slight dislike - 148 votes (31%)
Strong dislike - 114 votes (24%)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Does Skye Samantha Work?

Ms. B. writes:
Hi, I came across your blog in a desperate search for help in determining whether our name pick "flows". You seem like an expert on baby names so I thought I'd send you an email to see what you think!

My husband and I already have a three year old named Matthew, and we're expecting a baby girl in May. We've agreed on the name Skye Samantha, but I'm having doubts. I love the name, but originally we planned to call her Samantha Sky which I *know* flows well and I absolutely love.

It was just recently we decided we really like "Skye" and might prefer it as a first name. (I don't think we want to name our child with the intention of using her middle name... my sister-in-law and father-in-law have both taken that route and paperwork is always a nuissance.) Our last name is three syllables, starts with B and ends with "let."

As much as I still LOVE "Samantha" I do wonder if a different middle name might work better. My husband suggested "Abigail" but I just think Skye+Abby = scabby...

The problem is that Skye and Samantha were the only names we really agreed on. Other names I suggested were: Sarah, Sierra, Sienna, Eliza, Jessica, Isabelle. We'd also consider Elizabeth for her middle name since that's mine, but I wasn't sure if ending Skye with an "e" and starting a middle name with an "e" made sense. My husband also likes the name Dakota, but I'm not feeling it. He also likes "Skylar" but I feel that "Skye" is more original and I like the way it looks.

We want to avoid ending up with the intials SOB.

I think this will be our last child, though having a third isn't out of the question. For a boy, I love the name Noah Emmanual, but I don't think my husband is sold (even though Noah was a name we considered when we were expecting our first). If we had another girl I don't think we'd be able to find another name we could agree on!

Please help! Maybe you can reassure me that Skye Samantha flows just fine, or maybe you can come up with a suggestion we haven't thought of. I feel like baby girl will arrive and we'll still be "debating" the name issue.

One-syllable first names can be challenging to find good middle names for. I think Skye Samantha is great. In fact, I think I prefer it to Samantha Skye, though I think both work well. If you had written this as a middle name challenge, saying her name would be Skye _____ Bernadet [not the real surname, just showing the rhythm], I'd be first looking for a name with a da-DA-da sound: Skye da-DA-da DA-da-da. Samantha fits perfectly.

Skye Abigail is also pretty. Name rhythm/flow is very subjective, but my vote is that I prefer Skye Samantha. But I also don't think "scabby" is an issue, since people rarely get nicknames for their middle name.

I also don't see anything wrong with having Skye end in E and Elizabeth start with E, if you like Skye Elizabeth better---but again, I don't think it particularly helps the flow, so again would advise sticking with your favorite.

It can be reassuring to consider how often you think the first and middle names will be said together. In some families, the parents routinely call their children by first-middles, in which case it would be worth questing to find a combination you liked. In most situations, however, the middle name all but vanishes after the birth announcements are sent out, and it seems more important to choose a name you love than a rhythm you love.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Name Ownership vs. Name Associations

A. writes:
I know that several times on your blog I've read about people worrying that they can't use 'someone else's' baby name. You often say that names don't belong to any specific person, and I'm wondering if there is an exception to this!

There is a name that we love, but it is the name of my husband's deceased sibling, and since his parents and I have a shaky relationship and this is the sort of thing that could 'rock the boat' we've opted to not use the name. Even though we love it. Even though it's our favourite and has been for years and we had decided on it since we got together for our hypothetical child.

So I'm wondering, although we've made our minds up for this baby, (love the name so much we've even shelved it under 'maybe there is a possibility of using this sometime in the future?' in our list of names) is there ever a time when a name really DOES belong to someone else?

There are two different issues here: one is whether someone can own the rights to a name, and the other is whether a name's association is too strong/difficult.

When people tell me that, for example, they named their baby Braden and now can I please keep a pregnant friend from stealing it, or if someone says they can't use a name because it's a distant family member's middle name, or if someone is complaining that they've wanted to use the name Charlotte since childhood but now a friend stole it for her baby so they can't use it anymore, or if two people in a family are fighting about who gets to name their baby after grandpa---all those are situations when I bring out the idea that no one owns a name. People who have used a name (or have planned to use it) don't get to say that now that they've used the name, no one else may now use it; people who want to use a name don't need to cross it off their list if they find that anyone else in their lives has used it or has known someone who used it. Certainly there are situations where we might CHOOSE not to re-use a name out of consideration for the other person (maybe we know they'd be upset, and we don't want to upset them), or because we have our own reasons (maybe we COULD duplicate our cousin's daughter's name but we'd prefer not to), but it's not because we are not allowed to use the name. Names, as I am fond of saying until everyone is sick of me saying it, are not one-time-use items.

So! We've covered that pretty thoroughly and regularly. However, what you're talking about here is a different kind of issue, and it's the Strong Association issue. Can someone name a child Cher, or Madonna, or Adolf, or Apple? Sure, but there is an instant association, and it's too strong for most people to want to deal with. It's not that Madonna's parents "own" the name; it's that the name is now so strongly associated with the famous Madonna, it's nearly impossible to separate them. Similar issues crop up when someone's favorite name from childhood turns out to be the name of the other parent's previous fiancée, or the other parent's family dog. Or when someone would like to use the name of the family black sheep, or of their sister-in-law's first husband who was abusive, or of someone who has recently become famous for a terrible crime. Or when someone wants to name a child a name that has since been used for a well-known product. Again, it's not that anyone is claiming those other name-holders (or the name-holders' parents) OWN the name or the rights to use the name; it's just that those names come with significant associations that mean most people voluntarily choose not to use them.

In this case, it's clearly an association issue. The concern is not that your in-laws will feel that they used the name first for their baby and so now no one else is allowed to; the concern is that the name will make them think of their child who died, and this is presumably a very strong and complicated association for them.

However, using the name of someone who was loved and then died is generally considered a very pleasing and sentimental and meaningful tribute in our culture. I don't have enough of the details for this case, so I don't know where the hard feelings might come into it, but it seems like the simplest solution would be for your husband to go to his parents and say that he'd like to name a child after his brother/sister, and ask if that would be too painful for them.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Baby Boy Skipper, Brother to Ayla Rheann

Nara writes:
We are expecting our second child in August and have had a very difficult time agreeing on a name. Our daughter's name is Ayla Rheann. This time we are having a boy. Our last name is Skipper. We'd like a strong name with the possibility of a nickname. We also want to stay out of the top 100. The middle name will be Jeffrey, Louis or Dean depending on what first name we chose. We are avoiding names that end in "er" because it just sounds funny with Skipper and we do not want a gender neutral name.

My husband absolutely loves the name Lincoln with the nn Linc. I was just about on board with it until I started saying it combined with Ayla. Does Ayla and Lincoln sound too much like Abraham Lincoln? He will be devastated to not use the name, but I don't want our two children to turn into a school joke. Do people always put the oldest child first when saying their names?

If we have to ditch the name Lincoln, our other favorites include-

Everette, nn Rhett
Paxton, nn Pax
Pierson, nn Pierce
Lawson, nn Laz or Law
Sullivan, nn Sully

I realize 5 of our names end with the 'en' sound and I'm not sure how that flows with our last name. Please help!!

It's not too close for me. And even though some of the sounds of the phrase "Ayla and Lincoln" might bring the connection to mind, I don't think anyone would think it was because the name Ayla was too similar to Abe or Abraham: the sound combination is a coincidence, and much of it comes from the "and" sound in between the names. If your husband will be devastated not to use the name, the possibility of some particularly clever and well-educated playground children noticing the sound connection between the names of two children in different grades (particularly when the connection is to someone who is generally considered in a very positive light) wouldn't rule the name out for me.

Let's have a poll over to the right to see what everyone else thinks. [Poll closed; see results below.]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Name Updates!

Update on Baby Girl-Boy Twins Morgan, Siblings to Elsbeth, Cole, and Alessandra!
Update on Baby Naming Emergency: Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and _____?"
Update on Baby Boy-Girl Twins Oliver: How to Get the Nickname "Scout"!

Baby Boy Slemko, Brother to John (Jack), Georgia, and Elizabeth

Kristi writes:
I stumbled on your blog today as I continued to work on a name for our baby boy. He's expected in the next 3 to 4 weeks and we've always had a name locked down by now, so I'm getting antsy!

Our first child is also a boy, and his name is John Fred Slemko, but we usually call him Jack. (I often call him John, but he's 4 and he typically associates it with being in trouble!). John and Fred were my husband's grandfathers. His uncle, and a very close family friend, were also named John. We elected to call him Jack in day-to-day life because my husband's sister was also married to a John (they've since divorced) and I liked that Jack was still a strong sounding name.

Our daughter is Georgia Adelaide Maria. I'm not big on giving three names, but she's named for my grandmothers (Georgia and Adelaide) and also for my husband's grandmother who passed away 5 days before she was born. I was very close to my Gramma Georgia and that name has been on my list since I was 16 years old; I realize it is becoming more popular now but it was chosen for long ago to honor her.

Our third child is also a girl and we found it more difficult to name her. (I really believed we'd only have 2 children, so we used up all the names we loved that also had family significance, on the first 2 children!). After a long debate, we chose Elizabeth (it was my favorite name as a child, always given to my dolls; and it was the middle name of my best friend in high school who died just before graduation). For a middle name, we chose Alice (which was my husband's grandmother's name, as well as the name of my dad's sister who passed away at birth). We wrestled with naming her Elizabeth because we don't like any of the shortened forms like Liz, Lizzy, Beth, etc and wondered how we'd do when people tried to call her by a nickname. My dad has tested us from the beginning, calling her pretty much every possible nickname until my brother told him off one day and said it was disrespectful.

Now we're completing our family and have learned "it's a boy!". With the traditional names of our other three children, I don't think we can throw in a Scout, Skylar, etc. (Not that we want to, but I'm just saying that I think the baby's name should "fit" with his siblings). But more than that, we'd like a name with some family significance since the other three's names are steeped in it. I was content to put significance on the middle name only (my maiden name is Palmer, so we agreed to use it as the middle name) but the names we like for first names are not resonating with me now the way they originally did. For instance - we've always liked William (but intended to call him William or Will, not Billy, Willy, etc). Now I wonder if it sounds strange to say "Jack and Will" together (sounds like Jack and Jill). For example, "oh, Jack and Will are at the rink with their Dad". We also like Eric, but it rhymes with my husband's name (Derek) and it doesn't feel as "strong" or traditional as John/Jack. Another one we both agree on is Henry, but it's relatively new to our lists and I'm not sure I like the "John - Henry" combination. There are lots of other names I like, including Nicholas, Robert, Edward, Benjamin - but I like the full name better than the short forms, and with the battles we've faced with Elizabeth's name, I'm not sure I'm up for doing that again!

So, suddenly I'm wondering if naming him Palmer as a FIRST name is our best choice? I know it's not common (I consider that a good thing) but it sounds strong to me, and definitely reflects our penchant for choosing names that honor our family heritage.

Thanks in advance!

To me, there are two issues involved with the name Palmer. The first hadn't occurred to me until we had a post that generated some interesting thoughts in the comments section about the name Palmer---among them that some find the name to have a bit of a suggestive sound.

The second issue is that it is a break with the style of the names of your first three children: three traditional names with long roots, and then a surname name. Those two styles are not as incompatible as some (for example, it would be harder to go from traditional names to noun names such as Storm), but it's something I'd want to think out ahead of time and make sure I was fine with it. I do think that as the number of children grows, issues of style compatibility get a little looser---but it's too bad that it would be just one child with the different style. The fact that it's your maiden name makes it tie in with traditional names much, much better than if it were a surname name chosen with no family connection---but it's still similar to adding a Skylar. But one of my very favorite family name ideas is to use the mother's maiden name as a first name. In short: I'm torn.

If I were you, since I too like sibling names to go together, I'd choose a nice strong traditional-name family name for the first name, and I'd use Palmer as the middle name. The John Henry issue wouldn't have occurred to me at all (especially if you mostly use Jack), and Henry is my favorite from the list. Henry Palmer Slemko; John/Jack, Georgia, Elizabeth, and Henry.

I can't tell if I would have noticed "Jack and Will" or not, but I THINK not; if it bugged me with time, I think I'd get in the habit of saying "Jack and William" or "Will and Jack." That's my second favorite, mostly because I'm not sure if the L and M sounds in all three of his names is a plus or a minus. William Palmer Slemko; John/Jack, Georgia, Elizabeth, and William.

I agree that Eric sounds less traditional/rooted than John/Jack, though I think it does work if it's a family name; with the second complication of rhyming with his dad's name, that would probably be enough for me to be inclined to cross it off the list.

Name update! Kristi writes:
Just a quick note to let you know our son William Palmer $lemko arrived on May 19!

We went back and forth between William and Henry as first names after receiving your thoughts and the blog comments... ultimately we decided based on which nickname was acceptable to us.  "Will" was ok for us, but "Harry" was not. 

John/Jack, Georgia and Elizabeth are smitten with their baby brother.  Many people have commented on what a classic, coordinated set of names we've chosen.  Thanks again for your help!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Baby Girl Miles, Sister to Gillian (Gigi)

M. writes:
Our second daughter will be arriving at the beginning of June - my problem is I don’t like any names. I scour baby-name lists for some unseen gem that will scream “this is the one”. I read TV credits looking for something perfect. If I happen to be on a new blog with a baby or young girl, I’ll search for her name. Until this point, I’ve come up empty handed and with nine weeks left, I’m starting to get concerned.

Naming our first daughter was hard, we only really decided (from a short-list) the night before she arrived. We named her Gillian Leah (nn, Gigi) - which of course, now I adore. I’m a bit of a type A personality, who is looking for perfection (hah!) the second time around as well.

The only name I find myself coming back to is Emma - by all accounts, Emma is extremely high on all current popular name lists, and quite frankly that’s what’s holding me back. I want something strong and feminine, yet not so widely used.

My husband is not sold on Emma, because with our last name (Miles), he says there are too many m’s happening. With that said, as a whole he is sort of ambivalent towards names and I’m sure I’ll be able to convince him once I get my heart set on something.

So my questions are:

1. Should I throw my rule of no-top-100-names out the window and call her Emma? Or should I concentrate on something else?

2. If we call her something as popular as Emma, what perfect, non-expected but not completely unusual, middle name could I use?

Here are alternate names I’ve jotted down as potentials over the last 20 weeks:

Lauren Whitney
Ivy Jane
Hannah Lily
Chloe Willow
Ellie Georgia (Georgia is a family name)
Sidney (my husband’s only suggestion)
Plum (for a middle name)

Please help!!

If I'm reading correctly, the name Gillian didn't seem like the clear perfect choice before you chose it, but only afterward. This can be good news or bad news for a Type A personality trying to repeat a success: on the one hand, a name that just seems like "the best of the short list" (as opposed to clearly the perfect choice) ended up being perfect last time, and may end up being perfect a second time; on the other hand, it means the name that will end up feeling perfect later might not pop out at you, and you may have to narrow it down to one and hope for the best.

As you know, I'm in favor of allowing other considerations to trump concerns about popularity. If one name DOES stand out to you, and if you consistently like it better than the others, and if you go into the choice braced for the popularity of the name, I think you're likely to be happy with it.

One thing going for Emma is that there's only one spelling: a name such as Chloe can hang out on the Social Security charts looking like a #9, but by the time you add in all the girls named Khloe, Cloe, Kloe, Cloey, etc., it's much more common than expected.

There is, though, the issue of people looking for other ways to get to Emma, and so names that SOUND like Emma may be more common than expected. There could be an Emery, an Emmeline, an Emerson, an Emilia, an Emlyn, and maybe even an Emerald, all going by Emma or Emmie. And in fact, that's one of my first suggestions: to go for a less common name that gives you the nickname Emma or Emmie. Emmeline is one of my own favorites. Gillian and Emmeline; Gigi and Emmie.

Or you could give her a double first name, to reduce the commonness of her name. Emma June, for example (for her birth month---or Emma May if she's early, although that adds even more M-sound).

If you decide not to go with Emma, I suggest Gemma. It's similar to Emma, but the Social Security Administration has it at #449 in 2010. It may, however, have too many sounds in common with Miles, Gillian, and Gigi.

This is more of a long shot, but do you like the name Imogen? It has some sounds in common with Emma, but it's much less common and I love the interesting mix of sophisticated and whimsical. For me, it shares that category with Gillian. Gillian and Imogen; Gigi and Immy/Midge. But again, there may be too many sounds in common: the soft G, the N ending, the short-I sound; it's almost a rearranged version of Gillian.

Another of that category is Beatrix. Gillian and Beatrix; Gigi and Bee/Trixie.

I have Emma and Anna filed together in my mind: they're similar-type palindromes, and they're both sweet and simple. Anna would be great, but/and I think Annabel would go particularly well with Gillian. Gillian and Annabel; Gigi and Annie.

Elodie is so surprisingly underused---though maybe that will change as more and more people look for ways to get Ellie. Gillian and Elodie; Gigi and Ellie.

If you do go with Emma, I love the idea of choosing a really fun middle name.

Emma Anastasia Miles
Emma Calliope Miles
Emma Carrington Miles
Emma Clementine Miles
Emma Francesca Miles
Emma Hermione Miles
Emma Lavender Miles (initials spell ELM)
Emma Lissandra Miles (initials spell ELM)
Emma Lorelei Miles (initials spell ELM)
Emma Minerva Miles
Emma Paisley Miles
Emma Penelope Miles
Emma Peregrine Miles
Emma Persephone Miles
Emma Rosabelle Miles
Emma Serenity Miles
Emma Sterling Miles
Emma Waverly Miles
Emma Yeardley Miles

Or do you have a cool family name to put in the middle, or a name of a favorite author/actor/poet, or a name of a city of significance to you, or any names you love but can't use for some other reason? Or if she's born in June, she could be Emma June, or Emma Pearl for her birthstone.

From your list, I also really like Ivy Jane and Ellie Georgia (I'd like Ella Georgia even better, but I kind of like the repeating-A ending and I know not everyone does), and also I'd put together Lucy Willow.

Name update! M. writes:
Forty weeks of pregnancy and my husband and I still couldn’t make a final decision on the name until the day before our girl’s arrival.  And with that, we were thrilled to welcome our Ellie Georgia into the world on June 5th.

A huge thanks for the in-depth review and to your readers as well.  Considering we chose not to share any name options with family and friends during pregnancy, all of your input was especially invaluable!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Name Updates!

Update (and photo!) on Baby Naming Issue: Ivy vs. Ivee!
Update on Baby Boy or Girl Carlos, Sibling to Clayton and Chloe!
Update on Baby Girl or Boy Rhymes-with-Bones, Sibling to Silas!

Baby Naming Emergency: Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and ______?

Meisje writes:
I am in hospital with my new baby girl born 14th April. She is my second girl and last of five. Problem is that I was 100% convinced she would be a boy and didn't prepare properly for girls names, and in the shock and emotion of the moment(I am absolutely overjoyed she is a girl but it's a big surprise!) I can't think of a name that fits her. She is so tiny.

She will have blonde hair and blue eyes like her siblings. Their names are Jack, Eve, Grant and Flynn. My partner was an actor and the kids names all trace to actors from bygone eras, although that isn't essential. Our surname starts with H, with a long 'a' sound in it.

My name is foreign, so I like that the children have Anglicised, easy to recognise and spell names. I like the meaning of names too, although this also isn't really as essential as I used to think it is, but I don't like names with negative meanings, for example, Claudia means 'lame' and Mary means 'bitter'.

My partner is also pushing me to name her Celeste, which was what we named a baby we lost during pregnancy a few years ago. We named her that after she died, as it means from the stars, or Heavenly, and is the colour blue like her eyes, so we sent her to Heaven with that name,but i dont think it would be her name if she had stayed with us. I like the name, but not in first spot. It is too close. And very different to the others. And doesn't have a nickname or shorter version.
Middle spot would be a nice honour position, I think. But unless you can help choose the perfect first name, he may get his way!

Names I have considered:

But he doesn't like any of them for various reasons. But he did say this final baby should be my choice as the only name I have chosen so far was my other daughter's.
Today he says that if I don't pick one today, he will tell people it is Celeste,
as he cant stand her not having a name. Help!

Hi again Swistle. I wrote earlier today about my quandry I have convinced my partner to give me an extra day's grace for our baby's name as I told him I had written in asking for help. He is doubtful, but if you can give me any feedback that would be great.
I don't really want her first name to be Celeste, but I am tired and emotional and don't seem to be able to do this on my own.....

I hope we can agree on the first point I am going to make, which is that your partner is not the boss of the name. It's not his right to force you to choose a name quickly to make him more comfortable---or, if you fail to work quickly enough for him, his right to choose the name himself and announce it. I can see how it would be an unsettled feeling to not have the name chosen yet, but many parents have gone days or even weeks before choosing, and no one has chosen a name for them or forced them to use a default name. Give a casual little laugh to the eagerly-waiting friends and family and say, "I know! We're just having a lot of trouble deciding! We were so sure we were having a boy!," and it will be nothing but a fun story about her birth. Allow your partner to threaten you with time limits and choose a name you don't like, and it may become a story that overshadows the joy and surprise of her arrival.

It is neither your job nor my job to race to find your partner a name he likes better than Celeste or else he gets to go ahead and use Celeste despite your wishes. If you don't want to name your daughter Celeste, the name Celeste is off the table (just as the names you like that he doesn't like seem to be off the table), and it is his job as well as yours to find other good options from the names that remain.

If the decision has already been made that the choice of this child's name is up to you, and if your partner will not back up on the pressuring/threatening, give him your favorite name from your own list to use as the default instead of his favorite name. Perhaps he can calm his impatience if he knows the hurry-up default name will be one he won't like, instead of one you won't like.

The name of a daughter who died seems like a poor choice for this daughter. Normally when two people share the same name, there is a happy connection, and also an easy way to distinguish the two when necessary for clarity: James and Jimmy, for example, or Big Jim and Little Jim, or "our Jim" and "my grandpa Jim." In this case, it is hard to think of either a happy connection or an easy way to distinguish them. I'm imagining needing to refer to the first Celeste as "Celeste---I mean the Celeste who died." Or, I see my automatic categorization as I wrote was "the first Celeste" and "the second Celeste," which is also unpleasant. Perhaps it would work as a middle name, although if I picture myself in her shoes, I don't think I'd want that. I think I'd want my own name, just as the other children have their own names.

Since the other children have short, film-related names, could another such name be found for this child? Kate comes to mind: Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and Kate.

Or Mae. Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and Mae.

Or Jane. Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and Jane.

Or Lucy. Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and Lucy.

Or from this list of Old Hollywood baby names:

Grace (maybe too close to Grant)
Greer (maybe too close to Grant)
Greta (maybe too close to Grant)

Rose would be wonderful too. Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and Rose.

Or Nora. Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and Nora.

Or Claire. Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and Claire.

Or Leigh. Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn, and Leigh.

Name update! Meisje writes:
She has a name and I love it! And I love you, Swistle, and all your beautiful commenters (although to be honest, I love absolutely everybody now as I am sooooo happy!)

So here's how it went- after sadly putting aside all the long -a- names that are too similar sounding to our surname (Grace, Kate, Jane, Mae - and I LOVED Mae!) the names which really stuck were Stella, Rose and one last minute suggestion, Ingrid.

The baby's birth date is the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which is a sad thing, but the main character of the movie is Rose, who SURVIVED, which is a GOOD thing, So I knew I had to use it but......couldn't get past the Rose and Jack thing. For me it would be like I I had named one of my sons Adam after having my daughter Eve. So I pushed it to middle.

Then I really had to decide between Stella and Ingrid so I put each of them next to the sibling names and, while Stella is 'prettier', I felt Jack, Eve, Grant, Flynn and Ingrid made a better Old Hollywood set- and Ingrid is a little nod to my European background as well! The two syllables is ok, as my daughter is often called Evie anyway.

But I wanted to give a little tribute to Celeste, so it became Ingrid Stella Rose. But I had no nickname. Then one of my boys was holding her and I hadn't told anyone the names I was almost decided upon, and he said "Mummy, she's such a little flower. Can't I just call her my little rose?"

So that was that. My baby girl is Ingrid Stella Rose H-, and her nickname (which we will probably call her most of the time) shall be Rosie. Which is perfect! (sister set Evie and Rosie is so sweet, and for her formal name, Ingrid Bergman is so iconic in the Eve Arden, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn and Jack Lemmon/Palance category.)

Thank you again for all your help!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Baby Girl Finch-Fisher, Sister to Felix, Lucy, Basil, Titus, and Jane

Kay writes:
My sister sent me the link to your blog and what a great job you do! My husband and I are really hoping you can help us.
We are Kathryn Dana Fisher and Ethan James Finch, and we go by Kay and EJ.
We are expecting a baby girl in mid-May. My husband and I both had children already when we married. I have 2 girls, 6 and 3: Lucy Emalyn and Jane Allaire (middles are family names). My husband has three boys (7,5,4) named Felix Augustus, Basil Sebastian, and Titus Erastus. So...he likes very old fashioned, unusual, ancient Rome-y sounding names, and I like very common, simple, classic names.
You can probably see the issue here! What name brings together Lucy, Jane, Felix, Basil and Titus? There isn't one! the boys names all tie together really nicely and so do the girls names, and I guess if they weren't going to be stepsibs we might be inclined to find a name that just matches Lucy and Jane (so many options!) but as it happens they ARE stepsibs, and this poor girl--who with five other kids is going to be our only baby together--is probably already going to feel left out. And her last name will be different too--Lucy and Jane are Fisher, and Felix, Basil and Titus are Finch, and the baby will be Finch-Fisher. and we literally have NO IDEAS. We both have extensive lists, but there is no overlap.
So we need to find a name that we both like AND a name that sounds like it might possibly be at least a little bit part of this sibset AND it has to go with the last name Finch-Fisher AND we need a middle name. We probably won't try to use family names--my family is mostly taken care of and the tradition in EJ's family is that there ARE no traditions. (if we were to use a family name it might be Samantha or Ramona, or maybe Rosabel).FWIW I LIKE my stepsons names, but I don't love them, and I want to love my baby's name...and EJ feels the same way. are our lists, in no particular order, if this helps:

Lily (couldnt use because of Lucy, obviously)
(for some reason I really love short girl names!)

Sidonia's hoping you can help, Swistle!

I strongly suggest matching this baby girl's name to her sisters' names. It's not unusual for a family to have different tastes in boy names than in girl names, and so a style divide there is familiar and unsurprising. If you have Felix, Basil, and Titus, and Lucy, Jane, and Emma, everyone fits together very nicely and no one could tell from the first names who came from which parent pairing. But if you instead blend this baby girl's name with her brothers' names, we have an odd jarring style mis-match that makes her stand out: Felix, Basil, and Titus; Lucy, Jane, and Sidonia.

When there is no overlap, sometimes there IS no name that both parents will love, and it works better to divide up the name slots and try to make it balance as best you can. I suggest giving her a first name from your list and a middle name from your husband's list. Your husband could choose his favorite from your list and you could choose your favorite from his; or, maybe it would be more pleasing for him to choose his favorite for the middle name, since he wouldn't be getting his first name choice. He could have more/full sway in the first name (but from your list), and maybe full say in the middle name, to balance your getting your style for the first name.

A possible area for finding overlap is to find a name that IS Ancient Rome-y, but doesn't SOUND quite so Ancient Rome-y. I'm looking in The Baby Name Wizard's Classical section, and I see Aemilia (Amelia or Emily), Lydia, Julia, Cassia, and Livia. Or on Behind the Name, I see Claudia, Camilla, Cecilia, Priscilla, and Virginia. I think Aida from your husband's list could work beautifully: Lucy, Jane, and Aida is not too jarring---especially if it were spelled Ada.

Another possible area for finding overlap would be to find an Ancient Rome type name that has a nickname that's more your style. If you didn't have a Lucy already, Luciana with the nickname Lucy would be a perfect example of this. Or Aemilia with the nickname Emmie. Cassia with the nickname Cass. Aurelia with the nickname Lia or Milly. Cordelia with the nickname Cora or Delia. Letitia with the nickname Lettie. Liviana with the nickname Livvy or Anna/Annie. Serena with the nickname Sara.

And finally, you could toss out both of your preferred styles and see if you can find a style you have in common. The Baby Name Wizard is a great book for this: you'd toss out Antique Charm and Classical, and you'd see if there was any category that had names you both liked.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Baby Girl Brannan

Sara writes:
Hi, my name is Sara and my husband and I are expecting our first baby, a girl!
So I thought baby naming would be easy especially for a girl. Boy was I wrong! Here is our problem, I want to name our baby girl Campbell Elizabeth. Campbell has been a name on my side of the family for generations, but my DH HATES it. He wants to name her Sophia or Paige. I like those names but I love Campbell. One of our friends suggested using the name Sophia Campbell Brannan, but I wasn't to fond of that. We need your help! Thanks!

Normally I think I'd want to start by finding out more about the naming tradition you'd like to follow. In what way has the name Campbell has been in the family? As a girl name? As a boy name? As a surname? Given in a specific pattern (to firstborn daughters, for example), or given sporadically? And so on.

But in this case, your husband hates the name Campbell, and a naming tradition doesn't trump the other parent's right to participate in naming the child, so the specifics of the tradition may be moot. Would he be willing to use the name anyway, perhaps with one of the workarounds other families have used with naming traditions, such as going by a nickname (Cammie is sweet, or Bella) or going by the middle name (maybe a middle name of his choice)? If not, I think it would be nice if he would agree to use Campbell as a middle name, if the tradition is important to you, and if his family's surname will be the child's surname: then the child will have a family name from each side of her family. Or perhaps he would feel differently about the name Campbell used for a possible future son?

Because this is your first child, and because the names Campbell and Sophia and Paige are very different in style, I'm linking here to Naming Advice for First-Time Parents. If you plan on having more children, and if you'd like the sibling names to coordinate in style, it would be good to spend some time discussing what your joint naming style is. Do you both prefer names more like Sophia, or more like Paige? Do you like names that are more feminine or more unisex? Names that are more common, or less common? Longer, or shorter? Nicknames or no? (Do you want to leave room for him to change his mind on Campbell for a later daughter? Then I would probably go for a name more like Paige rather than a name like Sophia.)

A few names that seem similar to Sophia to me (either in sound or style):


And a few names that seem similar to Paige to me (either in sound or style):


Name update! Sara writes:
Hi, I just wanted to let you know that our baby girl Campbell Paige Brannan was born on May 5 and weighed in at 5 pounds 8 ounces. We went into the hospital without a name chosen. When my husband saw her for the first time he immediately said to me "she looks like a Campbell". So when he agreed on naming her Campbell I decided we could use one of his names and we thought Paige sounded the best! We also loved the idea if the nn Cammie, so we decided to call her that. Thank you for your help! Her name is perfect and so is she. 

Name Updates!

Update on Baby Girl F-urn!
Update (and photo!) on Baby Girl 1-ord, Sister to Nathaniel and Zachary!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Baby Girl El______, Sister to Fielding

C. writes:
I just love your blog and can't resist sending in my quandary any longer! I have four weeks to go and we're still looking for a name for our baby girl. Our last name is a bit of a mouthful, three syllables starting with "El." My only concern with matching first/last is that the first name also doesn't end in an "el" sound, nor do I want a name that also starts with E. Big brother's name is Fielding, so I want to avoid F names too. My own name is unique but easily spelled and pronounced, and I have always loved the fact that I have never met another person with my name. I want the same for my children --- an unusual name that makes them feel unique, but without the burden of having to constantly tell people how to spell it or feeling too "weird." I feel like we got that with Fielding (we also call him Field), but we're having trouble with a girl! Some names we have thought of:

Names I liked but vetoed for being too popular/trendy:
Violet (love the pretty, old-fashioned girly names)
Pearl (this has a similar theme to the meaning of my own name)

Other names we have talked about:
Lark (Not too sure about the meaning, like the idea of a bird name but not the actual harsh sound of "ark")
Sonnet (pretty... but weird?)
Lavender (love it.... but is the nickname "Lavvie" too close to lavatory? What other nicknames could you use?)
Tamsin (also interesting but how do you avoid the dated nickname Tammy?)
Dulcet (husband thinks that's waaaay too out there, but I like the nickname Dulcie)
Marigold (again... what nickname do you use here?)
Amoret (not sure people could spell this or figure out what you were saying)
Leora (maybe a bit too dated)
Lilac (like the idea, but not the pronunciation that rhymes with "sack")
Araminta (so interesting but just too much of a mouthful!)

I think we'll probably go with a one-syllable middle like Pearl or Leigh (family name) to balance everything else out.... but any thoughts are appreciated! Help please, thank you!

The name that immediately springs to mind (but that unfortunately has an equally immediate, probably deal-breaking issue) is Starling. Reasonably familiar; easy to spell and pronounce; the bird association you like with Lark but without the -ark sound; pretty and distinctive. The immediate, probably deal-breaking issue: ends in -ing just like Fielding. Fielding and Starling. I am afraid that doesn't quite fly.

There's Wren. Fielding and Wren.

A Linnet is another kind of bird, and reminds me of Sonnet and Linnea from your list. The nickname Linnie is adorable. The main issue, I think, is that it would get tiresome to have people pronouncing it lin-NET instead of LIN-net. With any difficult spelling/pronunciation issue, I find it a hundred times easier if there's a quick, easy, friendly way to correct people, and this does have one: "It's Linnet. Like 'minute'." (Of course, as soon as I write that I notice it looks like the word for tiny, with the emphasis on the second syllable: my-NOOT. But it works as a SPOKEN explanation.)

All this talk of minutes makes me think of Minuet, a little like Amoret and Araminta from your list. Very pretty and feminine, very unusual, excellent easy nickname of Minnie. Fielding and Minuet.

Or Silhouette, but really challenging spelling and no good nickname. Etta is a possibility, I guess, but it doesn't feel connected. Sil is nice, but seems like it would go quickly to Silly (do Sylvias have this problem, I wonder?).

Or Silver. I like that with Fielding: Fielding and Silver.

Or Linden is the name of a tree and would take away the emphasis issue of Linnet. Fielding and Linden.

Rosemary might be more familiar than you'd like; it used to be a bit of an exotic herb name (like using Lavender), but it's become somewhat disconnected from those herbal associations and now sounds more like Rose + Mary. Rosie is an adorable nickname. Fielding and Rosemary.

Autumn and Summer are common girl names, and even Winter gets some use, but Spring just sits there, virtually unused. It has the -ing ending that I think rules out Starling, but the one-syllable way it blends with the Spr- makes it not sound like the -ing of Fielding to me. Fielding and Spring.

If you weren't trying to avoid E- names, I'd suggest Emerald. Unusual but familiar, with the easy nickname Emmmie.

When I worked in a plant nursery, I wondered why Zinnia wasn't a more common girl name. It doesn't have a natural nickname, but Z/Zee would be cute. Fielding and Zinnia.

Primrose is another good one. It's been used as a girl name, but not much recently. Fielding and Primrose.

But probably my favorite almost-unused flower name is Hyacinth. Violets and Roses and Daisys run around everywhere, but almost no Hyacinths! Someone who wrote to us mentioned that that was her name, and that her nickname was Heidi.

My favorite from your list is Marigold. Familiar and easy to say and spell, but hardly ever used as a name (in 2010, according to the Social Security Administration, there were 9 new baby boys named Fielding, and 13 new baby girls named Marigold); and I'd go with the nickname Mari.

Or there's Magnolia, which has Maggie.

I also really like Clover.

And I would suggest reconsidering Pearl from your "too popular/trendy" list. Only 263 girls were named Pearl in 2010, which puts it in league with names such as Kai (for girls), Arya, and Lizeth. It's quite uncommon, yet still completely familiar, and the tie-in with your own name is appealing.

I agree that Lavvy seems a little too bathroomy a nickname for Lavender. I am always reluctant to create nicknames, but I can't resist a puzzle; maybe Livvy?

For Tamsin, she could go by Tams or Tamsie. I'm not sure if that would go directly to Tammy or not. (See also: Sil going to Silly.)

Name update! C. writes:
Thank you for all of the great advice and responses to our email!  We were a little overwhelmed with name choices right up until (and past!) our due date.  Our sweet baby girl was born in early May.  We arrived at the hospital with our huge list of names not narrowed down at all - even with so many we liked, we still just didn't know which of the names really felt like OUR baby!  After spending a few hours with our little one, my husband and I both fell in love with the name Linne@ Pe@rl.  It's funny because while that name was on our list, it was never one either of us considered a front-runner until we saw her.  We think it's a really lovely name for our pink little jewel.  (I also love that Linne@ means a little pink Swedish flower -- the twinflower.  So cute!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: Okay to Use Henry Potter?

Carole writes:
I was wondering if you could help us with our baby naming dilemma. I am due at the end of April with our first baby. We do not know if it is a boy or a girl.

My husband and I both LOVE the name Henry. But our last name is Potter. Will I be subjecting the baby to a lifetime of being called Harry Potter? I am really nervous of this. My husband thinks the child will be called Harry Potter no matter how opposite of Harry we choose and really wants to use it. The middle name has been picked. Richard. After my husbands father. So Henry Richard Potter? Can we do it?

Other boy names we like are:
Ryan - we also both like but I have a cousin who just named her boy Ryan last year.
Jack - but it is quite popular and how does Jack Potter sound?

I loved Andrew but it had to be tossed out because my sister chose it for my 3mo nephew. As you can tell I am having a hard time with coming up with something unique to pair with such a common last name.

Swistle, please help. Should we give up on Henry Potter? Will everyone forget the hype of J.K. Rowling and her very popular series of books in the next 5 years and we can use the name? With your experience are there any other boy names that you suggest?

We are not having as much as a dilemma with girl names. We both really like most of our choices. Katherine/Kate), Mallory, Camille, Anna (Annie), Marie.

Thank you and I really appreciate your help.

I vote no: I wouldn't use Henry Potter. I don't think the Harry Potter thing is going to blow over soon: it's been 15 years and it's still going strong. Perhaps the fervor will die down a bit now that there will not be new books/movies coming out? But I wouldn't count on it, and in any case the name Harry Potter has been fully established as a cultural reference.

Certainly your surname will provoke comment no matter what first name you use, but the level of comments provoked by the name Henry Potter would be in a completely different league. I don't think you'd be subjecting him to a lifetime of being called Harry Potter; I think you'd be subjecting him to a lifetime of startled reactions and incredulous double-takes. I'm picturing myself having to introduce myself as Hillary Clinton or Julia Roberts, and I would not want that for myself.

I'm afraid that for you Henry falls onto that sad list most of us have: Names We Really Really Love And Want To Use, But Can't Use. Sometimes we can't use a name because of a bad association, or because our spouse hates the name, or because the name clashes/rhymes with our surname or with a sibling name, or because someone close to us used the name, or because we're not having any more children. In your case, you also have a highly recognizable surname with a very strong cultural association. (In fact, more than one: Beatrix would also be on your Sad Can't Use list, if you loved it.)

All three names on your back-up list are great, and a cousin's son seems far enough removed even if your family is close. Jack is common, but no more common than either Ryan or Benjamin. [Edit: Maria in the comments mentions Jack Potter brings "jackpot" to mind. That would probably make me rule it out.] Other possibilities:

Daniel Potter
Davis Potter
Elias Potter
Elliot Potter
Evan Potter
Everett Potter
Milo Potter
Nathan Potter
Nolan Potter
Owen Potter
Samuel Potter
William Potter

(I avoided the initials I.P.; if those initials don't bother you, I'd add Ian and Isaac.)

Let's have a poll over to the right, to see what everyone else thinks about the usability of the name Henry Potter. [Poll closed; see results below.]

Name update! Carole writes:
Sorry it has taken me awhile to get our naming update in. Turns out we had a girl. Mallory Katherine Potter weighing in at 5lb 10oz. My husband felt her petite but strong/spunky personality felt more like a Mallory than a Katherine.

Thank you for the help on deciding if Henry Potter was usable. I really enjoyed reading everyone comments and if we ever have a boy we know it is out of the question! I guess we can save it for our first animal?

Thanks again for all your help.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Baby Boy Mayberry

Anna writes:
We are expecting our first child, a boy, in early June. Of course, we had a girl's name chosen, Emmaline Virginia, after my late grandmother. We will probably use this name if we have a girl in the future. Choosing our son's name has proven to be more difficult!

My husband and I are at least on the same page when it comes to style, so that's a start. We tend to like traditional, classic names. Most of the names in our list have a family connection as well.

Our last name is Mayberry, which has a positive connotation for most people, but of course, we don't want to burden our child with any names related to the fictional town (Andrew,Barney, etc..).

Here are some of the names we've considered. We would possibly combine these as a first and middle name.

Henry--this is my favorite! I somehow feel an attachment to this name for our baby. My reservation is with the "Y" ending in both the first and last name. Is it too much of a rhyme?

Thomas--I think this has a nice flowing sound with our last name.

William--not sure about the double "m" sound.

Benjamin--one of my husband's favorites

James--my father's name

Michael--my FIL's name

Additional names which may be a middle name:

We don't like surnames as a first name. Also, we want to call our son by his first name, not his middle name.

Here are a few combinations we've considered. We would love your input on these and any other names we may have overlooked.

Henry Thomas
Henry James--is the literary connection a turn-off? My sister says so, but she is an English teacher. Surely, it's not as recognizable as Edgar Allen. What do you think?
Henry Benjamin
James Michael
James Calvert
William Henry

Thanks for your help, Swistle. We are so grateful!

I feel like you just CAN'T make a mistake here. All these names are so classic and traditional and go so well together, you could almost pick any two out of a hat and have a success. This can make things harder, as we look for one combination that rises above the others---but it can also make things more relaxed, because they're ALL good.

If I had to start narrowing it down, I'd probably start by crossing off James and William and Thomas. The -am- of James and the May- of Mayberry give me a slight tongue-stumbly feeling, and I think the problem intensifies with nicknames: Jamie Mayberry gives a mee-may transition my mouth doesn't like to say, and Jim Mayberry blends too easily into Jimayberry. I feel the same about the way the final M of William blends into the beginning M of Mayberry, and the way Will Mayberry slides together. I like Thomas Mayberry, but not Tommy Mayberry or Tom Mayberry. I still like all three names as middle name candidates.

One of my top favorites is Benjamin Mayberry. I think that has a wonderful sound. (Though maybe too many sounds in common with Emmaline? I can't tell.) The initials bother me, but I know from previous discussions that they aren't an issue for everyone.

But I'm very influenced by the way you talk about the name Henry. It sounds like that's the name you're most drawn to for this baby. I see the issue with Henry Mayberry, but I think it still works. It helps that the -ry of Henry has that strong N-sound right before it (Harry Mayberry would be more of a problem), and also that Mayberry has three syllables (Henry Berry would be more of a problem).

Henry James definitely makes me think of the author---but both names are so common (and the surname James is so familiar as a given name), I'd assume there was no connection. If your surname were James, I think I'd suggest avoiding Henry, but as a first/middle I think the author connection just makes the names sound even more natural together. Your example of Edgar Allen is a good one: those names are so much less common, which makes the association much stronger.

I also love Henry Michael Mayberry. I think the repeating M gives it a slightly whimsical sound that goes well with Mayberry. But if Mayberry is your husband's family name, I'm inclined toward using a name from your family for the middle name.

Henry Benjamin has the rhyming Hen/Ben, and I can't tell if that's an issue or if it's the very thing that makes the two names work together.

Henry Calvert Mayberry is so distinguished.

Henry Thomas Mayberry, YES. That's a great one.

If you use Henry, are there any names on the list you'd particularly like as brother names? I'd set those aside, and be less likely to consider them for the middle name. Are there any names on the list you'd rule out as brother names for Henry? I'd give those extra middle-name consideration, since they wouldn't otherwise be used. (Or if you don't choose Henry, I'd do this same exercise with whatever first name you do choose.)

I think my top favorite combination is Henry Thomas. What does everyone else think? What are your favorite combinations?

Name update! Anna writes:
We welcomed our precious baby boy on May 31st. We named him Henry Calvert Mayberry. Calvert is a family name, so we were happy to honor my dad in this way! Thanks to all for helping us narrow down the choices, and for some very positive feedback!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Name Update!

Update on Baby Naming Issue: Can Ella Work as a Middle Name?

Baby Boy or Girl Mayduh, Sibling to Avery

Sara writes:
Okay so I keep thinking we'll figure this out, unassisted, but we need help!!

We're due with baby #2 right at the beginning of August. The gender is a surprise! Last name is pronounced "May-duh."

We have a 17 month old girl Avery Hughes. Her middle name is my middle name, which is my mother's maiden name. We both just loved the name Avery and it fits her to a tee.

If this child is a boy we think we have the name....
Carson Fisher (Fisher is another family name)

For getting a feel for our taste other boy names we like include Levi, Corey, and Owen.

For a girl here are our top two picks, slightly ranked, though lots of disagreements between us exist!

Caroline (husband's all time fave. I think I could like it, but then I feel we would never use Carson for a boy. And I hear it pronounced Carolyn all of the time. AND I'm a big nickname person and I dislike Carol. Can Callie be used as a nick name?)

Margaret (both of our dear grandma's were Margarets. We don't care for we're way on the fence with this one.)

Others in the mix that cause disagreements one way or the other include: Blair, Katherine, Hannah, Paige

As for middle names we are thinking of using Grace, because we both like it.

For Margaret would an option be to name her "Margaret Elizabeth" and call her M.E. (as in Emmy?) We both kind of like that idea, but aren't sure about how silly that is, sounds, and will be carried out.

Why was naming our first so easy!?!?!

Thanks a ton for your help!!

Avery is a unisex surname name, and so is the boy-name candidate Carson. Caroline and Margaret are both in another category---more of a timeless, traditional, British royalty category. So if we were talking about this over coffee, the first question I'd ask is if you'd like the sibling names to coordinate: some people like them to, and some people don't mind either way. I think it matters more if there's one single stand-out name than if there's a happy jumble---so if you have a girl this time but might have a Carson later, I'd be more inclined to urge you to find a girl name in the Avery/Carson style category.

As I look, I'm finding that many names go TOO well with Avery. Ellery, for example, gets me singing "Avery and Ellery / Live together in perfect harmony." And although I don't want to be overly influenced by the idea of a possible Carson later on (you might not even be planning more children, or you might have all girls, or you might change your mind on the name by then), names like Teagan and Peyton seem to take sides with Carson instead of with Avery; it's not of utmost importance, but it did motivate me to find a softer ending for a girl name. Names like Darcy and Callan and Carys would likely rule out Carson later, so I tried to avoid those too. And Brinley would be really great (especially if you had a Carson next: A, B, C), unless the initials bother you; they do bother me, so I ended up skipping over some possibly very good names from the B section (Bailey, Berkeley, Briony, Braelyn).

Finley is my first choice. It's another unisex surname name, currently used more often for girls than for boys. Finley Mayduh; Avery and Finley. I like the idea of giving her a family middle name like her sister has, and I love the sound of Finley Margaret.

Another possibility is Hollis, a unisex name used more often for boys (47 girls and 86 boys in 2010, according to the Social Security Administration), but it strikes me as more feminine because of the nickname Holly. Hollis Mayduh; Avery and Hollis.

Or Shelby. Shelby Mayduh; Avery and Shelby.

Delaney Mayduh; Avery and Delaney.

Skylar Mayduh; Avery and Skylar.

Sydney Mayduh; Avery and Sydney.

Ryleigh Mayduh; Avery and Ryleigh.

Rory is probably too similar, but I do like it and it reminds me of Corey from your list. Rory Maydah; Avery and Rory.

Owen makes me think of Rowan. I love it with Avery, but might not use it now if I wanted to use Carson later. Rowan Mayduh; Avery and Rowan.

If Paige isn't quite right, maybe Padgett. Padgett Mayduh; Avery and Padgett.

But I like Finley much more than any of these, and in fact I'm feeling like pressuring you to use it. Avery Hughes and Finley Margaret!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Baby Boy Gr____ik, Brother to Braeden, Ellery, and Holland

Lindsley writes:
I am due with our 4th child in June. I have spent LOTS of time carefully and lovingly selecting each of my children's names and this last one is no different.

We have a son and two daughters and are expecting our second son. Yay for two and two! Each of the kids have been given first names that we love and thought to be less than common and middle names that honor a family member that we love. :) . My name is Lindsley and my husband is Dole-not too common.

At the time we named our oldest, we had no idea how popular Braeden was or would become. However, we adore our Braeden Michael and his name suits him.

As for the girls, we have Ellery Kate and Holland Ray.

This little boy's middle name is going to be Mason, my mom's maiden name (We are running out of family names. I stipulate that the family name can't just come from far back on the tree. I enjoy having a personal connection to the person we honor). I also seem to be set on a singular syllable name this time around and the front runner is Grey. Grey Mason Gr****ik. So this name is an alliteration with the Gr Gr sounds. I think it sounds strong. I am wanting some confirmation that it is in fact a strong sounding name.

Initially I had hesitation with Grey Mason. I do not know if it flows as well as I think my other first and middle name combinations do (for the other kids). I tend to use the kids first and middle names all the time (not just when they are in trouble).

Other names that have graced my list a some point or another?

Bowen (ruled out for the similarity to Braeden)
Brooks (what is it with me and the B names?)
Latham (doesn't lend to an obvious nickname)
Jensen (learned it was more popular than I thought)

I am in love with the notion of a sweet little baby Grey. It conjures up thoughts of soft, sweetness as a baby, mischievous fun as a boy, and strength and sophistication as a man.

So, Braeden, Ellery Holland & Grey?? :)

Thanks, Swistle!

I think it's great. Here are some of the things I like about it:

1. The way it sounds in the line-up of sibling names: 2-3-2-1. Very nice. If you were inclined to write rhyming stories about them, you would be all set. "Braeden, Ellery, Holland, and Grey / Went outside on a sunny day."

2. The way the two girls have a double-L in common, and the two boys have a strong long-A sound in common.

3. They way you've spelled it. Gray makes me think of Gary and of gravy; Grey makes me think of cozy flannel and distinguished handsome men---a very pleasing combination.

Does Grey Gr____ik sound good without Mason in between? People are usually known by first and last only, and a middle name can act as a false bridge, tying two names together that won't work without it. Color names in particular sometimes make the first/last name combination sound like the name of a rare bird.

If you call the kids by first-middles, Grey Mason is not quite as good as, say, Braeden Michael. But it's not bad, either: it doesn't blend to make an undesirable sound or girl's name or anything. And I think loving the first name and having a personal family connection to the middle name are more important in the long run.

It sounds to me like the baby is named and that you're having normal last-minute uncertainties before committing. But if it's fun to think about it more, I also like Reeve from your list. That's my favorite if the middle name is set: Pace Mason and Latham Mason and Jensen Mason don't sound as good to me.

I think of Jensen as a surname name that tips more feminine (even though it's currently used more often for boys), because of the potential Jen/Jenny nickname---very similar to Holland (Holly) and Ellery (Ellie). A similar name that tips more masculine is Lawson. Not so good with Mason, though.

Or Lennox, which is better with Mason. We've heard that one mentioned on the blog a couple of times recently for girls, but it's still mostly used for boys (22 girls and 214 boys in 2010, according to the Social Security Administration; I'm looking forward to the 2011 data coming out next month).

Or Redford, also nice with Mason.

If you like Bowen, I wonder if you'd like Rohan? Again, not great with Mason.

Pace makes me think of Tyce. Tyce Mason. I can't tell if that works or not.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Baby Girl Persson or Spears, Sister to Sonya, Alexander, and Kennedy

Jessica writes:
I need your help desperately!

My boyfriend (Weston) and I (Jessica) are expecting our first child, a daughter, in May. It will be my second girl and his third child (1 girl, 1 boy). We have completely opposite naming styles. My daughter’s name is Kennedy Anja (3), his kids are Sonya Ray (6) and Alexander Weston (4). To come up with a name that fits well with her step/half siblings and that we both agree on has been nearly impossible. At this point we are left with a very (!) short list of names that I think we’re both not really in love with, but meh, they’ll do. How unfair to this poor girl! I really hope you can help!

Our list of agreed upon names:


Names I like:

Jacqueline (although not with Kennedy, lol)

Names he likes:


(He’s nearly impossible. I think this is his entire list. Everything is a potential nickname to him. I mean, Claudia was nixed due to Claude. Wth?)

We both want something less common, that won’t make people question how to pronounce it.

To confuse matters even further, we aren’t yet sure what her last name will be. Either Persson or Spears. More likely Persson. But we can put that aside and just pick a name and hope it flows well with whatever we choose.

Please help us (if it’s even possible)!


I am very fond of coordinated sibling names, but a blended family group presents its own interesting challenge. One way to approach it is to think of it as a math equation: we cancel out the input of the parents who helped named the earlier children but will not be helping to name this one, and we combine the remaining elements. Ideally the styles will mesh similarly to the way the genes mesh: the new child will share some genes and some name-style with all three of her half-siblings.

Another option is to choose a name from yet another style, for a charming assortment. The name Stevie would do this. But I find that when I run that through my mind, it doesn't sit well: that particular name makes such a bold statement, and it seems like that's harder to pull off in an assortment set. Something like Lucy might work better: it has its own style, but at an intensity similar to the other two girls' names. Sonya, Kennedy, and Lucy seems to me like it hits the "charming assortment" mark---and all three names have a Y.

Megan seems like it would work well to meet the "blending" option: it's Celtic-sounding like Kennedy, but completely feminine like Sonya.

Or Maura, which is Celtic like Kennedy but has more the sound of Sonya.

Or Molly.

I suggest Silvie. It's similar in sound to Stevie, but more similar in style to Sonya. Sonya, Alexander, Kennedy, and Silvie.

Evie would also give a similar sound to Stevie, but in a version that fits better with the group.

If he would prefer to avoid nicknames, Isabel is tricky: it has both Izzy and Bella. Ella might work, though: Stevie made me think of Stella, but Stella seems to have too many sounds in common with Sonya; Ella takes one sound-match away, and also resists nicknaming. Sonya, Alexander, Kennedy, and Ella.

Your idea of Jacqueline makes me think of Jocelyn. I like the way it goes with Alexander and has a vowel sound in common with Sonya, while having a similar rhythm to Kennedy. Sonya, Alexander, Kennedy, and Jocelyn. But maybe that's too close to Jacqueline, coming right after the name Kennedy like that.

Are the other children old enough to participate in the naming process? They might enjoy giving input---and may stumble on a great name for her. And if it still wasn't one you LOVE-loved, it would still have a good loving story attached to it.

Name update! Jessica writes:
Thank you so much for posting my naming issues! It was amazing to read the your response and all the comments. It was funny to see how readers picked up on the Russian/Scandanavian connection in our girl names, even funnier to see they suggested Weston's ex-wife's name! In the end we went into labor with a short list that hardly included any of the original list. Our number one choice seemed to be Collette... and then we met her and she was no Collette. And so Marlee Danielle Persson was born! Thanks again for choosing my email, it really did help! Sonya, Kennedy, and Marlee sounds like a good charming assortment to me :)


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Middle Name Challenge and Spelling Option: Aldous/Aldus ____ Wren

T. writes:
We are 6 weeks away from my first baby. He's a boy. Our last name is Wren, and both of our first names start with T (so we are avoiding names that start with T or an R sound).

We've pretty much got a favourite first name (Aldous), though the Very Short List also includes Mortimer, Malcolm and Kieran. What we really like about Aldous is that it doesn't show up on any 'popular name' lists (I'm keeping an eye on the American list and also the British Columbia, Canada list). While he's not in my top ten writers of all time, I like Aldous Huxley the writer (I'm an English teacher) and we both very much like the printer Aldus Manutius (for whom the totally decent font, Aldus, is named), who basically invented the idea of cheap books and the modern use of the semi-colon (I live for stylish semi-colon use). This brings us to question 1: Which spelling? Does it matter? I feel like they'll be pronounced a little differently.

Question 2: We have no ideas for a middle name. We have spent months and months and months on the first name, and now we only have 6 weeks to figure out a whole other name! Our Short List for first names also included: Douglas, Lloyd, Milo, Merlin, Casius, Xavier, Quincey. We are tempted to just use one of them for the middle name (well, except Aldous Douglas - that seems like a bit much). But we're open to any suggestions on this, as we aren't really attached to any of the non-Aldous names, we just think they sound nice. We're also thinking we'd like to avoid a one-syllable middle name as 2-1-1 seems choppy to us. We don't have any family or city names we'd like to use for the middle name. We've searched for sibling names for Aldous to give us ideas, but it's so not popular that it's hard to find suggestions! (Though, with regard to potential actual siblings, we personally think it goes with lots of names, and names we like, so we're not fretting that one.)

Thank you for your blog! Just reading through your comments and suggestions, even for names we wouldn't want to consider, is really helpful in pointing out possible pitfalls or things to think about.

I started by looking up how to pronounce Aldous, just to make sure. Even after looking it up (Howjsay Aldous) (Howjsay Aldous Huxley), I can see how pronunciation would vary by region and by individual: some would go more for a call-me-Al pronunciation, and some would go for more of an all-out-in-free pronunciation; some would go for more of a dust-without-the-D, and some would blend that with more of an "ooo" sound. The Oxford Dictionary of First Names says it's like awl-dus. I think I'd say Aldous with a slightly longer second syllable than Aldus---though with repetition and familiarity, I suspect I'd say both the same.

For spelling, if I had no personal preference between the two (I might prefer Aldous, because the Aldus spelling brings Albus Dumbledore to my mind), I'd be inclined to choose based the association I preferred. It sounds to me like you prefer Aldus Manutius to Aldous Huxley, but that both spellings have nice tie-ins to your lives and would work well.

(I was discussing the question with my mother this morning, and she wondered if you might be interested in the name Huxley. Huxley Wren. Huck Wren has a bit of a Huck Finn sound!)

For the middle name, I think you're on the right track to look at your finalist/short lists. I suggest seeing if there are any names on the list that you wouldn't want to use for future children if Aldus were selected for the first child. Kieran, for example, is a different style and is also a little awkward with the surname (almost keer-ren-ren); if choosing Aldus would kick it out of the future runnings, it would make a very nice middle name: Aldus Kieran Wren. (I would also see if there were any names MORE likely to be used for future siblings if Aldus were chosen, and put them protectively aside.)

I like the 2-1-1 rhythm; I always admire it on Robin Wright Penn, for example. (I even like 1-1-1, like Frank Lloyd Wright.) So Aldous Lloyd Wren looks good to me. But such things are highly subjective: I also like 2-2-2 rhythms, and I've heard others say they avoid them at all costs. So if we're avoiding 2-1-1, I particularly like Aldous Malcolm Wren, Aldous Xavier Wren, and Aldous Quincy Wren.

Or are there any names you considered during the naming process but had to reject for reasons that wouldn't matter in the middle name slot? For example, were there T-names or R-names you loved but had to cross off the list because you were avoiding them? Those might be good middle-name candidates. (Though perhaps not Theodore because of Albus Dumbledore again.)

Let's have a poll over to the right to choose a spelling (this can be helpful no matter which way it comes out, since hopes/disappointments can show you which one was your own preference), and then in the comments section let's have more talk of middle names (as well as reasons for choosing a particular spelling). [Poll closed; see results below.]

Name update! T. writes:

Thank you so much for your help, and to all of the commenters for theirs!

We decided to go with Aldus, because of our greater excitement over Aldus Manutius. We'll risk the Albus confusion - he's a nice reference, too.

And for the middle name, we talked a lot about a 'T' name. When I first mentioned it, my partners eyes lit up, and he exclaimed "Tiberious!" Now, obviously this presented a rhyming issue, it didn't work with our new criteria that the middle name be plain and common (in case he hates his unusual first name), but the real reason I vetoed was that it's a Star Trek reference. And that's just a step too far (for me, anyway). We ended up abandoning the 'T' and revisited our finalists for the first name. My favourite was Douglas, but I also felt it was a bit rhymey with Aldus. So I suggested Doug (thank you all for your 2-1-1 support!). My partner objected at first, saying it sounded like a friendly guy sitting in the middle of his name... as in Aldus Doug 'hi there!' Wren. Aldus Doug 'that's me!' Wren. I'm not sure how that was supposed to discourage me. Suffice to say, we went with Doug.

I love his name so much! Thank you for all the suggestions and guidance.