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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: If You Promised Not to Use an Honor Name, Do You Have to Keep That Promise?

Melanie writes:
I have a name question, which, while having no urgency at all, has been driving me crazy for years. I am only trying to get pregnant (unsuccessfully), and therefore have no impending infant to name. However, if I am lucky enough to have a child, I am very set on family names or variations thereof. My grandmother was very important to me and she died when I was young. She always made me promise to never ever name a child after her, as she hated her name - Constance L@vonia. Now L@vonia is truly awful but Constance is something I would consider, at least as a middle name. I just can't though - I promised. Can you think of an alternative? Some way to honor my grandmother AND her wishes? Thanks!

PS - Id consider HER mother's name except its a) not really my style and b) has already been used in my generation as an honor name. Other names on that side of the family were names my great great grandmother found in books and then altered to make then unique...and therefore are atrocious. (M3rle, P@lma, Aud@...)

This is a very, very interesting question to me, and it's going to be an all-over-the-spectrum comments section, I can tell!

Here are the questions/issues, as I see them:

1. Who owns a name?

2. Who is allowed to name a child?

3. Do people really mean it when they say not to use their names?

4. Once the person has died, should their wishes on "not wanting to hear their own name on a baby" still matter? If so: why? (And at which point do their wishes trump your wishes?---see #s 1 and 2.)

5. Should anyone force a child to promise something like that?

6. If a child promises something like that, are they bound to it as an adult?

Let's start with numbers 5 and 6. I'm reminded of my high school boyfriend, whose deathbed-residing grandfather made him promise to name a son after him. My boyfriend promised, and felt bound by that promise. My feeling on the subject: "YOU WERE SEVEN YEARS OLD AT THE TIME. That was incredibly emotionally manipulative, and totally out of bounds, and completely arrogant and inappropriate of him to demand a namesake, and also it seems pretty chauvinistic because WHAT ABOUT THE FUTURE MOTHER OF YOUR CHILD?? Doesn't HER opinion count for anything?? 'THE MAN' gets to promise for both of them?? I THINK NOT!!"

Ahem. I might still be a bit steamed about it.

I think also of my mom's grandmother, who, enthusiastically involved with the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and who made all her young grandchildren promise never to touch alcohol---and in fact made them SIGN A CONTRACT to that effect. Is my mother bound by that promise? Certainly not. She was not able to make a promise like that at her age (or to say no to making a promise like that), and my great-grandmother should not have asked her to.

Next I would like to turn attention to numbers 1 and 2, about who owns a name and about who is authorized to make the decision about what to name a baby. We've discussed name ownership before, mostly in the context of "Can you re-use a name a friend already used for her baby?," and in general the idea is that names are many-time-use items (the friend wasn't the first person to use it EITHER) (unless they actually WERE, but let's keep this simple), but that we still might want to choose to go with other people's preferences in the matter because the relationships (and the other people's feelings) are important to us. But it's also important to remember that this is because we are being LOVING AND CONSIDERATE PEOPLE (or because we fear conflict), not because we're "not allowed" to "steal" a name. And what it boils down to is that there is no one who is designated caretaker of a particular name (not the parent of a child with that name, not someone who is named that name) who is allowed to decide who may and who may not use it. The name is available to any parent who wants to use it.

And I think we agree that the people who get to name the baby are that baby's parents. Other people might give input or ideas, or might hope their family traditions are followed, or might even make the mistake of volunteering names they dislike---but the parents can completely ignore all of these suggestions. So although your grandmother could certainly have mentioned her preferences, she's not actually allowed to name your future babies---or to tell you what NOT to name them, either.

To review where we are so far:
  • adults should not extract these sorts of promises from children
  • any such extracted promises are not binding
  • your grandmother is not in charge of how her name is used
  • your grandmother may not choose or forbid names for your baby

This all sounds rather harsh and anti-grandmother, doesn't it? I don't mean it to sound that way, or as if I think she was trying to do any of these things on purpose; however, I do think it's important to separate things out so that we can move on to what your actual choices are.

This brings us to #3: Do people really mean it when they say not to use their names?

The thing is, people say stuff they don't mean ALL THE TIME. We did a post recently that shows what I'm talking about: a woman wrote to us very distressed because she'd planned to name her baby after her dad---and then her dad (not knowing her plan) mentioned that he would "never forgive her" if she named a son after him. NEVER FORGIVE HER! That's strong language! If her dad had then died before she named the baby, many many people would have said they felt very very strongly that his wishes should be respected. And yet: she talked to him about it and he was embarrassed about what he'd said, and he was surprised and flattered and very pleased when she said they wanted to name the baby after him. And so they did, and everyone was happy.


That is, of course, not always going to be the situation. But my GUESS, my GUT FEELING, is that MOST of the time when people say they don't want children named after them, they don't actually mean that. Maybe they've just enjoyed many years of complaining about their name and this is another way to complain about it enjoyably, or maybe what they're saying is "I hope you won't feel like you have to use my name for a child"---but they're thinking of their name in a different way than we would be. Someone named Henry in the last generation or two might have grown up thinking they had such a dorky, ugly, old-man name---please don't name any babies after me! But now look: the name Henry is back in style and considered adorable and classic! The descendent doesn't feel OBLIGATED to use it: they genuinely love the name and WANT to use it! They're DISAPPOINTED that they have to "respect someone's wishes"!

Meanwhile, if they went ahead and used it, the always-hated-the-name ancestor would likely suddenly discover they didn't hate the name at all, and that they were intensely pleased and flattered to have it used. It might turn out that all those mentions of how much they hated their name were like when someone says "Excuse my house" or "I know I should dress more fashionably": they don't ACTUALLY feel bad about their house or their clothes, but they fear OTHERS are critical of them. Or they might be fishing for you to say you don't think their name is so bad, or they might mean "Go ahead, twist my arm!"

So usually my suggestion would be to TALK to the person saying things about their name: be earnest, and say you'd actually really LIKE to use their name---would they truly hate that? Would it OFFEND them somehow, or is it just that they can't believe anyone would want to use it?

But in your case, and in many similar cases, it isn't possible to ask. Which brings us to our last point, point #4: Once a person has died, should their wishes on "not wanting to hear their own name on a baby" still matter? If so: why? Either those wishes are now as gone as the person who had them, or else it seems highly unlikely that such things are important in the person's new eternal point of view.

Even if we imagine a person's living earthly wishes persisting into eternity, at which point do another person's wishes trump yours? I think the wish-trumping point comes down to this: Who was in charge of the decision/possession? My mother is in charge of her private journals; if she asks me to make sure they're burned after she dies, I will do that: her wishes continue to matter after she dies. My grandmother is in charge of her earrings; I wouldn't have fussed if she'd chosen to leave them to my cousin: her wishes continue to matter after she dies. I respect their wishes to do what they want with their own things, even after their lives are over.

But you are in charge of choosing your babies' names, and so your love and respect for your grandmother aren't affected by you going with your own wishes rather than following her wishes---any more than your love and respect for her would be changed by you choosing a different spouse, career, hobby, house, or piercing than she wished you to have. In this case, she would need to respect your wishes to do what you want with your own things.

To review where we are so far:
  • adults should not extract these sorts of promises from children
  • any such extracted promises are not binding
  • your grandmother is not in charge of how her name is used
  • your grandmother may not choose or forbid names for your baby
  • people don't always mean what they say about not using their names
  • people's wishes should be respected for their own decisions/possessions

So to me, what we have so far is pretty clear: you can name your baby whatever you want, including the name that your grandmother was named. And since she has died, this makes things both more difficult (because you can't ask her if she really meant it, and likely find out to your happiness that she didn't) and simpler (because she is not going to be angry and upset that you went against what she wanted).

It is, however, true that you can't honor both your grandmother AND the wishes she said she had. It would honor her if you used her name (even if she truly didn't want you to use it), but it would not honor her stated wishes. You will need to decide which is more important to you: honoring her through your child's name as you'd like to do, according to your own wishes; or doing what your grandmother used to say she wanted you to do, when she was alive and had wishes.

For me, it would not be difficult: I would be using the name for my own sake, because I wanted to think fondly of my grandmother every time I thought of my daughter's name, and because I wanted to say "You were named for my grandmother; I was very close to her." And because in our culture, using someone's name for a child is a way to show honor and love for someone, and I would want to do that. And because I would think it was unlikely that my grandmother would truly have been upset if I'd used her name for her dear great-granddaughter. I might feel glad that I wouldn't have to be stressed about whether or not I was right about that---but I think I would also feel confident that if my grandmother could know what I had done, that she would at this stage of her existence be pleased by it.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Baby Twin Boys Brown, Brothers to Catherine and Nora

T. writes:
I’m due with twin boys in 2 weeks, and we still aren’t settled on names.  Our last name is like Brown, but with different vowels- which works well with a lot of names.  Our daughters names are Catherine and Nora- both old family names and sum up my style- classic, vintage, a little Irish, not over-popular, easy to recognize and spell.  The twin names we are considering are Doyle (family name) and Daniel (solid timeless name, and I like the nickname Danny for a kid, and Dan for an adult).  What do you think?  I don’t love either one like I loved my girls names and neither does my husband, but there are none that we like better.  Some names that we both really liked, but can’t use because they are totally overused in both our families are Patrick, William, James, Thomas- they will be our selections for middle names depending on which first names we choose.  I feel like we are overlooking some great names that we just haven’t thought of yet.  We don’t want to do “B” names, but are otherwise open.  We don’t want to be matchy matchy, but want names that sound right together. 

I guess our first concern is “Doyle” too strange for a first name?  I like that it’s unique and it has lots of family meaning to me , but don’t want to sound weird.  Then, is Daniel way too common?  To give you an idea of other names we liked:  I liked Cormac, Colin, Bennet, Theodore (Teddy), but hubby hated all.  Hubby liked Christian, Jonah, Andrew, Peter, but I hated all.  Help.

The first thing that catches my attention is how different in popularity Daniel and Doyle are: according to the Social Security Administration, Daniel was #10 in 2011, and Doyle hasn't been in the Top 1000 since it dropped out in 1982.  (For comparison, Catherine was #161, Katherine was #61, Nora was #137, and Norah was #263.) In 2011, there were 15,138 new baby boys named Daniel and 10 new baby boys named Doyle.

The second thing I notice is that the name Daniel has a couple of natural nicknames, and the name Doyle doesn't have any at all.

The third thing I notice is that as a twin set, Daniel and Doyle will please the public's taste for a twin-name gimmick: in general, people will react favorably to the matching rhythms and matching D and Y and L sounds. But they are QUITE sound-alike:

d + an + yul
d + oy + yul

The different letters help make them visually dissimilar, and the familiarity of one and the unfamiliarity of the other help as well, and those matching rhythms/sounds will help tie the name Doyle in with the style of his three siblings' names---but even with all this, I'm hesitant about the names sharing too many sounds.

One exercise I used when trying to name my own twins was to pretend they were being born separately: I'd think, "Okay, what if I were just having a girl now, what would I name her? And then let's pretend she's here and named, and now I'm expecting just a boy---what would I name him?" It may help to think about what you might name a boy if you were expecting only one---and then what you might name another if you had a fourth child later on, if you found you were having another boy.

Another exercise I used was to find a name I really wanted, and then see if I could find a name I liked that went with it. (This failed me, but was still useful: it helped me conclude that I wasn't going to be able to find the gimmick I was hoping for. I'd wanted at least matching initials or same number of letters/syllables or SOMETHING.)

I'd thought I might suggest names based on the other names you'd considered, but I'm having trouble getting a feel for what each of you loves/hates. Instead, I am going to indulge in a little Fantasy Twin Naming, pairing up some of my own favorite boy names that are even within spitting distance of the style of Catherine and Nora:

Frederick and George
Edmund and Henry
Simon and Frederick
Simon and Isaac
Isaac and Frederick
John and Daniel
Elliot and Malcolm
Louis and George
Milo and Emmett
Milo and Malcolm
Oliver and Benjamin
Oliver and Henry
Daniel and Jonathan
Ian and Rhys
Ian and Leo
Davis and Harris
Ruben and Rhys
Rufus and Ruben
Rhys and Aidric
Felix and Aidric
Calvin and Sullivan
Calvin and Malcolm
Anderson and Sullivan
Anderson and Harrison
Keegan and Declan
Daniel and Declan
Simon and Oliver
Milo and Felix
Wesley and Henry

Since you have two D names you like, one idea is to use Daniel as one baby's first name, and Doyle as the other baby's middle name---or the other way around, with Doyle as one baby's first name, and Daniel as the other baby's middle name. Then find another pair of common/uncommon names that also share an initial, so that the twins have swapped initials and matching commonness/uncommonness of names. ...I'm not explaining this well; I'll do an example. If you liked Felix and Frederick, for example, you could have Daniel Felix (D. F.) and Frederick Doyle (F. D.), or Felix Daniel (F. D.) and Doyle Frederick (D. F.). Or if you like Henry and Hugo, you could have Daniel Hugo (D. H.) and Henry Doyle (H. D.), or Hugo Daniel (H. D.) and Doyle Henry (D. H.).

Or, since Doyle is a family name, maybe you can use it as Baby A's middle name and find another family name you can use as a middle name for Baby B, and then you can find a first name for Baby B that starts with the same letter as the new family name. Urg, it is hard to explain these things! I mean if you find another family name, and let's say it's Murphy, you can have M____ Doyle and D____ Murphy.

Name Updates!

Update (and photo, and surprise!) on Baby Naming Issues: Margaret Atwood and Maisie!
Update on Baby Girl Miles, Sister to Gillian (Gigi)!
Update on Middle Name Challenge: Rhys _____ Kelly or Olive _____ Kelly!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Baby Girl or Boy Dwyer, Sibling to Florence

Leonie writes:
Our second baby is due on July 14 (not sure of it's a boy or girl). We have the girls name more or less sorted but we are stuck on a boys name. Our surname rhymes with Dwyer.

Our daughter is called Florence Elizabeth Grace, which we both love. It was chosen from a short list the day she was born and if this baby is another girl it will be a similar combination of beautiful classical names - Eleanor, Marguerite, Loretta, Mathilda, Rosalie, Pearl etc....we'll figure it out on the day!

We have a few of boys names in mind but we are not as confident about using them... We have both started to doubt them at the last minute (is that normal?) Here they are...

Menzies Franklin Huw
Menzies Alexander Felix
Menzies Alexander Owen
Menzies Amos Alexander

I should point out that my husband is Welsh and so we would like a Welsh name in the mix. Also, the name Menzies has a nice family significance. While it would be nice to include these elements it's not a essential.

We also like
and most recently my hubby has thrown Marvin into the mix...I was unsure but it's growing on me (and it's Welsh)

We are open to brand new suggestions at this stage too - nothing is set in stone yet! Also, if you can think of some middle names for Marvin that would be great...


The first thing that sprang to my mind when I said the name Menzies aloud was "menses." I have gone around and around about this since I got your letter, wondering if I should even mention it: it seems like there is always someone who has a peculiar association with a name (Paul and I still quote this SNL skit to each other), so maybe this is me saying "Hey, Benjamin, IS MONTANA A STATE YET?" Or maybe not, and so I mention it anyway but with hesitation (and with Julia Sweeney giving me a perplexed look).

I'm looking at the Welsh section of The Best Baby Names in the World From Around the World, and I'm seeing a ton of nice options: Bevan, Bowen, Brice, Cai, Calder, Colwyn, Davis, Dylan, Evan, Gavin, Griffith, Kent, Maddock, Price, Rhys, Tristan, Vaughn. Since you've mentioned Edwin and Selwin, Colwyn and Bowen stand out to me from that list. Maybe something like Colwyn Alexander Felix or Bowen Amos Alexander. Or Menzies would work well in a middle name position: something like Colwyn Alexander Menzies or Bowen Felix Menzies.

With Florence, my favorites are Calder, Colwyn, Davis, Price, and Rhys. Of those, Rhys is probably my top favorite. Rhys Alexander Felix, Rhys Franklin Menzies, Rhys Alexander Menzies, etc.

Marvin is not in the Welsh list of The Best Baby Names in the World or in the Welsh list of The Oxford Dictionary of First Names, so I think I would use a Welsh middle name as well. I like many of the middle names you've already chosen for Menzies, or names from the Welsh list above: Marvin Alexander Felix, Marvin Franklin Menzies, Marvin Rhys Menzies, Marvin Davis Menzies, and so on.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Baby Name to Consider: Percy (but for a girl)

Kate writes:
I've been thinking about the name Percy recently, but for a girl.  To me it's a perfect little girl name- feminine but spunky.  But I'm not sure the world is ready for Percy to cross over yet and I'd be interested in what you and your readers think. Are the Thomas the Tank Engine and Percy Weasley associations too strong?

I would like to see it used as a nickname (maybe spelled Persy or Persey or Persie) for the name Persephone, which, now that Penelope and Hermione and Phoebe are familiar, I see no reason we can't bring into fashion. PERSEPHONE. It's time.

I think Percy would also work well as a given name. Tracy, Stacy, Lacy, Macy, Lucy, Gracie, Marcy, Mercy, Darcy, Percy. And the boys seem to be done with all the -cy names for now.

What do you think of Percy as a girl name? Let's have a poll over to the right! [Poll closed; see results below.]

Poll results for "What do you think of the name Percy for a girl?" (421 votes total):

I love it! I'd want to use it! - 16 votes (4%)
I like it! I'd want to consider it! - 41 votes (10%)
I like it for someone else's baby - 142 votes (34%)
No particular opinion - 20 votes (5%)
Slight dislike - 94 votes (22%)
Strong dislike - 108 votes (26%)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Baby Girl A., Sister to Aden, Evan, and Evelyn

Angie writes:
I need help with naming my 4th child & second daughter; I am due at the end of September.  My two boys are Aden and Evan, and my girl's name is Evelyn.  I like the name Avery; does it go well with Evelyn for a sister's name?  I am a little hesitant on the name Avery because of its meaning, elf ruler.  My husband has the name Annika in mind but I do not like it.:-)  I would like to stay with names starting with letter A.  My boys' initials are A & E, so I like the girls' initials to be E & A. :-)  Isn't that corny?!!! :-)  I would love to hear your suggestions.

I think Evelyn and Avery have two things working against them as sister names: they're (1) too similar and (2) too different. The sounds are so similar I immediately start getting tangled and saying Avelyn and Every and Everly and Averlyn, but the styles are quite different. And since you already have an Evan and an Evelyn, I wouldn't add a third vowel/V combination like Avery.

I think Abigail would work well. Aden and Evan, Evelyn and Abigail. Both boys have two syllables, both girls have three.

Or Amelia would be nice, and gives the girls both 6 letters and the boys both 4: Aden and Evan, Evelyn and Amelia.

Or Alice would be my favorite, I think: Aden and Evan, Evelyn and Alice.

I'm slightly tempted to work with the Ev/Ev you already have, and go with an Ad/Ad to coordinate. Something like Adeline or Adelaide or Adrienne. Aden and Evan, Evelyn and Adeline.

Or I like both Aubrey and Audrey. Aden and Evan, Evelyn and Aubrey. Aden and Evan, Evelyn and Audrey. Audrey would give a hint of the Ev/Ev/Ad/Ad idea, if you wanted it.

Anneliese/Annalise has some of the sound of Annika. Aden and Evan, Evelyn and Annalise.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Baby Girl T@ylor: Looking for a Name with Sass

S. writes:
Hey there, Swistle!
I'm in need of help!!
I'm due on LABOR DAY (good one, right?!) with my first born baby girl.

My boyfriend and I are having trouble selecting a name despite a long list we've managed to narrow down. We love Shakespeare and intially were looking to tie in names with a meaning in some way. We also anticipate a spunky, fiery daughter so we want her name to have some sass!

FYI: Last name T@ylor.

These are the names we've been stuck on for quite a while, though my dear beau has his favorite that I've been leaning towards but still cant commit to...I still have other favorites in this mix.

Jaqueline Elise T@ylor
Juliet Elena T@ylor
Penelope Corinne T@ylor
Fiona Wren T@ylor
Cecelia Pearl T@ylor
Camryn Kay T@ylor
Elliot Reese T@ylor
Marlowe Maeve T@ylor
Gwendolyn Elena T@ylor

We did, for the most part, nix Jacqueline. Mostly because he's always pronounced the name like "Jaclyn" and I've always loved it as a 3 syllable name with the "que" pronounced smoothly as in "question" and I'd hate going through life hearing it pronounced incorrectly (in my opinion - ha!). His sister begged us to avoid Jacqueline due to horrid nicknames, which I don't mind as much - kids will be kids. But there's also the potential of us having another child in the future and my dear partner has always favored "Jack" for a boy.

The middle name Elena stems from "Helena" in Midsummer. Obviously there are a number of other names related to Shakespeare on the list as well I won't single out. Marlowe is from the playwright Christopher Marlowe - a very interesting man with ties to Shakespeare. We like nicknames for a child - but do prefer an adult-sounding adult name, if you will, which causes me to feel slightly hung up about Penelope - though I do love that name. Might be too cutesy, I don't know...
I also have some reservations about Elliott, as I'm fearful the nickname will be Ellie which is nearly identical to my own name (lacking a few consonants) and that's far too rhymey for me.

(I'll also mention we've gone through a number of boyish names for our girl in addition to Elliott/Camryn we've considered Dylan, Dru, Charlie, Griffin and a variety of others I can't recall at this moment...)

Marlowe has been in the top for me since the beginning - I'm open to alternate spellings - but don't know how I feel about people calling her Marley, given the dog and/or the Bob reference. I do favor Cecelia Pearl and Fiona Wren as well.

The boyfriend has been partial to Gwendolyn Elena (he enjoys the lyrical flow) for quite some time now and I've nearly convinced myself of OFFICIALLY selecting this as her name. But I worry that it's quite a refined name for what I hope will be a quirky chickadee. Also, if everyone ALWAYS calls her Gwen - why name her Gwendolyn? As it's such a wonderfully lovely name...

I'm all torn up as you can see!

Anyway - that's far too much information, I am sure. Maybe you can steer me in a clear direction or offer up some alternatives? I'd love to hear some thoughts from your commenters as well.

Thank you so much!

Gwendolyn is my favorite from the list as well. I don't think everyone will always call her Gwen unless you establish it that way (nicknames are much less common/assumed than they used to be), and I think the full name has the drama you're looking for. It sounds refined/dignified to me, but also fiery/quirky and also sweet/gentle---a very nice range of options for a child whose personality remains to be seen.

I'd also suggest Genevieve and Georgia. Both have that same range of options, sweet to fiery, plus good nicknames for even more flexibility. I especially recommend Georgia because of your possible interest in boyish names for girls: Georgia lets you use Georgie and George as nicknames, while still giving an official name that is unmistakably girl. Georgia also has the ultra-sass nickname Gigi. But Genevieve has good ones too: Genna, Genny, Evie, Vee.

My next choice from your list is Fiona. Tons of sass and spirit and energy, and yet I can also picture it on a quiet bookish girl.
And I suggest Francesca. Frannie and Chess are both great nicknames, and the name is full of personality and flair.

I think a decade ago, Penelope might have been more whimsical than what you were looking for. But its recent rapid rise in popularity should help considerably with that: according to the Social Security Administration, it appeared in the Top 1000 in 2001 at #946; just ten years later in 2011, it was already at #169. It still has an appealing whimsy, but I don't think it'll sound cutesy by the time all those Penelopes hit the workforce.

Two of my own Shakespearean favorites are Bianca and Imogen.

If you like boyish names for girls, I suggest putting one in the middle name slot. It gives your girl the option of using it if it suits her, without giving as much trouble with future sibling names. Gwendolyn Elliot, Georgia Dylan, Cecelia Grey, Francesca Quinn, Fiona Wesley, Bianca Riley, Imogen Sterling, Penelope August.

If initials are important to you, I'll point out that Jacqueline/Juliet E. T@ylor both spell JET, and Gwendolyn/Genevieve/Georgia E. T@ylor gives you GET.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Baby Boy or Girl Mall-with-an-H

Emily writes:
First, I'd like to butter you up a bit by saying I really love your blog.  Well before we found out we were pregnant I read every word you wrote and have thought of your advice as the most objective and thorough naming advice on the internet.  Which is precisely why we're turning to you and your readers.

My name is Emily and my husband goes by William (it is his middle name).   Our last name rhymes with 'Mall", starts with an H, and we've had to nix the use of "Carnegie" as a name, for obvious reasons.  We do plan on having more children but our "number" is four.  If we have less than that... splendid, but certainly no more than that.  We're having a baby of our own (due in October) and she has no name.  

If we have a boy his name will be William Bradley and he will go by "Liam" as opposed to "Bill/Billy" or "Will/Willy".  He'll be named after my husband and my father.  We love honor names and plan to give our little girl the middle name "Mae".  It is her great-grandmother's middle name just as I have my great-grandma's middle name and so does my mother and hers.  (I know it's a mistake to choose a middle name first but with a tradition like that how could I not?)  We have girl's names that we like, but they all have reasons why we can't (or won't) use them.  The other issue we've considered is that we'll never know where our children will be growing up and so we can't gauge name popularity in a particular region.  We currently are in Doha, Qatar but who knows where we'll be stationed next!  I wish I could say "Avery is really popular in California... luckily, we'll never go there.  Let's use it!"

Rather than prattle on about the agonizing I've been doing I'll simply give you our list of can't/won't.

Reagan - this was the first name we loved and my husband decided it is a little sister name.  So he vetoed it for use on our first girl.  While I think he's a bit odd, I won't question his logic as long as we can use it in the future.

Avery Mae - I love this name.  I think its a lovely name that pairs well with Reagan and Liam.  I like the sound symmetry with my name but I just cannot get over how very popular it is.  I don't want her to be one of four Avery's in her class.  And even though I've heard the "If you love it, use it.  Who cares how popular it gets?" advice... I can't move past it.

Everly Mae - I love this name like I love Avery.  The sounds, how gentle it is, and how unusual without being weird.  We would call her "Evie" if we chose this name but I cringe when I think of our daughter spending her whole life going, "It's Beverly, without the B".  It's so feminine though and I do like the way it pairs with Liam.

Evelyn Mae - This name was a compromise after Everly.  I like it, but I don't love it. And really, just can't imagine using it.  

But that's it.  Those are all the girls names that we can come up with that we like and each one has a reason not to use it. Why on earth was a boy's name so easy?  Any advice or recommendations you could give would be sincerely appreciated.  I am certain you and your brilliant readers can get us out of this mess.  As you can see we are up a certain creek without any means of propulsion.

So if this baby is a girl, we are looking for a big-sister name for a Reagan or a Liam or both. It is fun to be looking for a name for an older member of a sibling group for a change!

I agree that Evelyn doesn't seem right with Reagan. I suggest Avelyn instead. Avelyn Mae.

Instead of Avery, I suggest Averil. Far less common than Avery, and so pretty. It is maybe a little jokey with Mae (April May), but I don't THINK that would bother me. I'd have to think it over more. It is a lot of L with the surname, and that WITH the April/May issue might together rule it out for me.

Waverly has a similar sound to both Avery and Everly. Waverly Mae.

My favorite, though, is Everly from your list. It's quite feminine, but it's also a surname name and goes well with Reagan. I don't think I'd use the helper phrase "like Beverly but without the B." I MIGHT say "like the Everly Brothers," but I think the most likely is that I would just say it more clearly and/or spell it, as I would with a name that didn't have a "like this, but that" helper.

If you decide against Everly, there's Ellery. Ellery Mae. Is it too much L with the surname? It isn't to me, but these things are subjective.

Or there's Ellis, or Ellison. Ellis and Regan, Ellison and Reagan---those work as sister names, I think.

To move from El- to Em-, there's Emery and Emerson.

Or Brinley, or Finley.

Or Delaney. Delaney, Liam, Reagan---I like those all together.

Name update! Emily writes:
Last night we named our little Halloween baby, and first son, William "Liam" Bradley Hall.  He is absolutely perfect (and has the Apgar score to prove it).  Thank you for your girl name recommendations; had Liam been a girl he would have been Eleanor Delaney Hall.  Thank you so much for your help!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Baby Girl Ketler, Sister to Sloane Elinor

J. writes:
Hi Swistle,

We are expecting our second baby girl in October and would love your help with her name. Her big sister is Sloane Elinor (her middle name is after my mother), and our last name is similar to Ketler.
We tend to like shorter names that are not overly feminine. "Brisk and breezy," one might say. =) We also like Celtic names, but that's not a must. One of my top priorities is to pick a name that's not too preppy or unusual. We chose Sloane's name because of its Celtic heritage and "female warrior" meaning (and because we love the sound of it!), but I know that to some people, it reads a bit preppy.

Our top names right now (with faves at the top) are:

Tess (love this name, but does it work with the repeating hard "e" sound in our last name?)
Nina (love this name, but does it work with Sloane?)

For middle names, we have a bit of a conundrum. Since we used my mother's name for Sloane's middle name, we'd love to use my husband's mother's name for our second daughter's middle name. She is deceased, and we agree this would be a nice tribute. But (and it's a big BUT) her name was Barbara, which neither of us love. Neither her middle name nor maiden name would work, and we can't think of any other tribute other than Barbara... other than using a "B" name, but my husband feels like this is a stretch so we shouldn't try to force it. In fact, he's fine with not using Barbara since we don't love the name; I am just trying to make it work since it'd be nice to honor both grandmothers in this way.

For some reason, the only names that seem to sound somewhat ok with Barbara to me are first names that end in "a," like Nina or Stella. Somehow they roll off the tongue a bit more. For that reason we'd maybe consider Tessa as a full name, even though we both prefer Tess.
Our other middle name options (also after family members) are:


To give you an even better idea of our naming style, if we had a boy, we would name him Grant, Reid, Davis, Roman, or Ronan, with the middle name Benjamin. That's probably moot, though, as we're pretty sure this is our last little one. (But you never know...)

I'd love to hear your feedback, and the thoughts of other readers. Thanks so much!

I agree it would be such a nice honor to use your husband's mother's name---but I also think if you don't like the name and it's messing with your first name options, that there are other nice ways to honor someone without using their name. I think in your shoes I would give up on the name Barbara, and maybe put up a photo of her in the nursery.

From your list, my favorites with Sloane are Brynn, Maeve, Paige, and Teagan. Paige emphasizes the prep factor, so that one might be out; Maeve most emphasizes the Celtic connection. I keep trying to choose a favorite from the non-Paige three, but I'm stuck. Sloane and Brynn. Sloane and Maeve. Sloane and Teagan. I like all three in different but equal ways.

Tess and Nina are the two you specifically draw attention to, so let's turn to those next. Neither of them are ones I would have pulled from the list: both are great names, but seem so different from the style of Sloane.

Sloane and Nina seems a little N-heavy, but not as I say it more often I wonder if the N sounds may in fact help them coordinate better. Sloane Elinor and Nina Veronica is growing on me.

I'm trying out saying Tess Ketler, and I can't decide about the short-E issue. I think for me it isn't the short-E, but more the short-E combined with the shortness of the name and the S-ending. I don't like the sound of it in my own mouth, and I don't like the way the names run together (Tess Sketler, Tessket)---but these things can be so subjective, with the very next person saying that's what makes the name so great. I think Tessa Ketler helps to resolve both problems, while still letting you call her Tess. And if using Tessa also makes Barbara more pleasing as the middle name, then it might be the perfect solution: Tessa Barbara Ketler. But I also love Tessa Diane and Tessa Veronica.

Just yesterday we discussed the name Louise (with the middle name Marion, even!), so it's fresh in my mind. Like Sloane, it has a war-related meaning, and I think the names are an interesting combination. Louise Ketler; Sloane and Louise.

When I was looking up Louise, my eye fell on the name Quinn. For me it has some of the sound of a name like Tess, but with a style more compatible with Sloane. Quinn Ketler; Sloane and Quinn. Quinn Victoria would give the name a meaning compatible with Sloane's (something like "leader in victory") but unfortunately sounds like Queen Victoria. Quinn Marion or Quinn Barbara are probably my favorites.

So my favorites are Maeve, Teagan, and Brynn (plus Louise). What does everyone else like from the list?

Name update! J. writes:
Thanks to you and your readers for the help in our baby naming process. We went into the hospital with a few front-runner names and ended up deciding Eve Marion fit our new daughter best. We like how it sounds with our last name, we like it next to big sis Sloane Elinor, and we like the meaning (life). Marion was my great grandmother, who was a warm, spirited woman, and my husband and I are happy to give Eve, like Sloane, a middle name from their mom's side of the family.

After a lot of name brainstorming, deliberation, and second-guessing, it took us a long time to arrive at Eve Marion... but we're really happy we did.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Baby Girl Whittaker

Catherine writes:

I recently found your blog, and love the idea of impartial naming help!  My husband (Jeff) and I (Catherine) are expecting our first – a baby girl on July 14.  We started discussing baby names before we were even pregnant.  The only issue?  We had no baby girl names… Baby boy name?  Definitely checked off the list – Zeke Myers Whittaker (after my husband’s grandfather), which we still plan to use if we have a little boy at some point.

We went through a list of 4,000 girl names from the US Census – and in the end decided on the same two names we liked before going through all those names!  Our long list included Clare, Maris, Meryl, Adele, Lucy, and Penelope.  My husband really liked Kate (I thought it was too close to my name) and Caroline (I thought it was too popular).  I really liked Evelyn (Evie for short) and Hazel, but he vetoed both.

In the end, we really just keep going back-and-forth between these two…

Alice Marion Whittaker
Louise Marion Whittaker

Marion is our frontrunner for the middle name, as it was my great grandmother’s name and I love the family significance.  But what do you think about the first names?  We like them because they’re different and a little quirky without being too unusual.  Growing up as a ‘Catherine,’ it’s important to me to give our daughter a name where she won’t end up being one of 10 in her class.  I also like that both names still feel classic.

Alice means ‘noble one’ and Louise means ‘famous warrior’ (a meaning that I love).  I have liked the name Alice for years (and it is my family’s favorite between the two), but recently my husband suggested Louise.  I love that we could call her Lou or Lulu (maybe even Louie?) – all adorable nicknames.  

My main concerns:  I’m just not sure if Alice is overplayed?  I feel like there has been a lot of buzz around Alice recently, and I don’t know if it has become too popular.  For Louise, I’m not sure if it is too quirky?  Maybe a little old-lady-ish? (which I originally really liked about it, but have gotten a lukewarm to negative reaction from family about).  One of my sisters even told me that Louise sounds like an ugly old lady.

We briefly considered Louisa and Eloise as similar sounding but more ‘modern’ versions of Louise – but we both decided that we couldn’t picture ourselves with a daughter named either one of those (maybe they’re just a little too modern/trendy for us?) 

Lastly, I'm starting to worry that the answer isn't either name? I keep waiting to be totally sure and have that a-ha moment, but I just feel so indecisive about naming her!

Any help would be so appreciated!  I’d love to get your thoughts. Thanks so much for your help!
Sorry for another email, but we are almost 4 weeks away from our due date – and still without a name!  We were pretty settled on Alice, but now know someone who recently (in May) named their baby Alice.  It’s definitely not off the table, but it did cause us to reconsider.

We have recently revisited Lucy, Penelope (it’s my great grandmother’s name – but we’d call her Penny) and Jane. 

We’ve also been seriously thinking of Hazel Grace.  My maiden name is Hazle****t, so I thought it might be a fun nod to that?  Or is that too far removed, since it’s just a part of my maiden name?  We’ve been ‘testing out’ Hazel, but I’m just not 100% on it yet.  Plus some family members have made it known that they really don’t like the name (although this is not a deal breaker for us, because I think they’ll get over it once she’s born).

We’ve also considered naming her Myers – a family name that was our middle name choice, if we were having a boy.  My husband feels okay about that one, but he worries that it’s a little too different.  We also have a large neighborhood in our city (and the school that she’ll most likely go to) with the name Myers in it. 

Lastly, we’re no longer sold on a middle name – and considered using the previous middle name contender, Marion, as her first name?  We’ve also been thinking of Grace or Elizabeth as possible middle names.  

I’m starting to get worried about not having a name at all by her arrival – and even more worried about ending up with baby name regret because we couldn’t find one that we loved!

Any advice would be so appreciated!!

From your first letter, it sounds as if you had it narrowed down to Alice and Louise, and no amount of research was adding any further serious candidates. Then Alice was taken out of the running for you. So it sounds to me as if this brings you to Louise, but that last-minute jitters are setting in.

I think Louise Marion Whittaker is a wonderful name. It has long roots, it's fun to say, it's great with your chosen boy name, you love the meaning, you love the nicknames, and you've liked it consistently throughout this process. Your sister's reaction tells me only that it's time to stop asking for family input; it sounds like family input so far has made things more difficult for you, and I think you're right they'll come around to what you choose.

Hazel would also work well; it would give you a repeating Z if you had a Zeke later on, which can be a plus or a minus depending on your style. But it sounds like Hazel falls into the category of names you like but that don't make it to the finalist list.

Marion seems like another good choice, if it feels like a finalist to you. But again, I'm getting the impression that this is more like anxious last-minute reshuffling/reconsidering, rather than a candidate.

Myers seems like an outlier name for you: a name you like that is not your usual style. Choosing it would make future name choices significantly more difficult (the other girl names on your lists wouldn't work very well as sister names for a Myers), and may also later make you wish you hadn't ruled out your perfect boy name.

If you weren't particularly close to your great-grandmother (i.e., if you're choosing her name from the family tree but not because you specifically want to honor her), I might like Hazle****t for the middle name instead, or Hazel. Or you could use any of the other considered names: Alice, Penelope, Caroline, etc.

Name update! Catharine writes:
Many belated thanks to you and your readers!  Hazel Marion was born on 7/14, weighing 7 lbs and 14 oz.

Your input was incredibly helpful – although, she did end up being almost 12 hours old before she had an official name!  We absolutely adore our sweet Hazel and her name – it just took some encouragement for us to tune out others!  And, much as you said, our family has come around to loving her name also.

We definitely plan to use Zeke and Louise for future siblings.  Thank you again – and hope this Christmas picture makes up for the overdue update!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Baby Girl Blackbird, Sister to C@mpbell Marie

Candace writes:
We have just passed the 33 week mark with our second baby girl, and we are having a TOUGH time with names!  We are Cris and Candace, and last name sounds like blackbird.  Our daughter (2 1/2 years old) is C@mpbell.  When we named C@mpbell (middle name Marie), we really didn't intend to create a family of all "C" names...we just really liked the name C@mpbell.  But, now that we are having our second, we're facing a dilema.  On one hand, people keep commenting to me that we "have" to choose another "C" name because anything else will sound awkward.  On the other hand, I feel like it might be a little cheesy for us to all have the same first initial - it is definitely not something I would have set out to accomplish!  We're not sure if we will try to have a third child, but it is still a possibility.

So, my first question is...should we focus only on "C" names??  And, either way, we just need help!  Since C@mpbell is not an overtly feminine name, we aren't sure which way to go for the second girl.  Also, we live in the Northeast, but I'm from the deep South, so I tend to like names that sound a little southern (but this is not an absolute requirement).

Some of our current favorites...

Quinn (we both really like this name, but we're stumped on a middle name)
Charlotte (we're kind of 50/50 on this one)
Sara Kate (to be used as a double name...and if so, should we name her Sara Katherine and call her Sara Kate?)
Lila Kate (same comments as Sara Kate)

We are very open to suggestions, so please help!! 

Thanks so much!

I would not restrict yourselves to C names unless you decide you like the idea, especially since you might have a third child. Right now, the three C's are noticeable---but generally parents' names are not included in the sibling group of their children. If your next child is not a C-name, anyone who asks why you didn't stick with C's can be given a blank look and then told "...Oh, no, we didn't choose a C name on purpose the first time. That was just the name we liked best."

Quinn seems like a very good fit with C@mpbell, and the hard-C-sound beginning helps her to seem like she fits even better with all the other hard-C names in the family. We did a middle name challenge for the name Quinn awhile back; maybe some of those names will work. I like Quinn Elise or Quinn Louise or Quinn Simone.

Quincy would also work, and that would go nicely with the middle name Kate.

Marley also works well. Marley Kate would be nice.

Charlotte, Sara Kate, Lila Kate, and Claire/Clara all seem too traditional and feminine to pair with C@mpbell. I think I'd look at options more like:


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: A Name Like Jane, But Not Jane

Anna writes:
I am looking for a name like Jane, that isn't Jane. Our last name starts with a J, and I dislike the alteration. Another name I like is Paige, but that won't do, because of the "juh" sound. It doesn't necessarily have to be one syllable, though I'm drawn to those. My three year old son's name is Clark, and I find myself looking for the girl equivalent. Old-timey, sturdy, perhaps even a little dull the first time you hear it, but the coolness sneaks up on you?

It's not a requirement, but I prefer names that don't end in an "a" or an "ie" sound.  

A name we've kicked around is Rose. But can a Rose be a tomboy? Can a Rose be a badass, superjock cop like her auntie? Could a Rose be a Senator? I'm interested on how you and the comment-ers read Rose.

Her middle name would be Gail or Louise after my mom, but for the perfect name, I would sacrifice this idea. Maybe my mother's mother's name, Gloria? 

Thank you so much!

I think Rosie the Riveter did the name Rose a huge favor: now the name contains not only the associations of sweetness but also associations with strength and capability. I definitely think of it as a name with backbone, and it seems perfect for your idea of a name that is old-timey, sturdy, AND cool. Its familiarity as a middle name makes people overlook it, I think, but it's much rarer as a first name. I love Rose Louise, and I love "Clark and Rose." I am holding back my impulse to get PUSHY about it.

Another possibility is Eve. Ava is in fashion, and Eva is following---but there Eve sits on its own. Eve Louise; Clark and Eve.

A few years ago I encountered a baby girl named Ruth, and it has completely revolutionized the way I felt about the name. Before meeting the baby, my eyes would have skipped over the name completely (old-timey! sturdy! dull!); after meeting the baby, I felt actually STUNNED by my oversight. Ruth! Ruth Louise; Clark and Ruth.

I overheard a child at the store being called Faye, and I thought it really worked. Faye Dunaway gives the name the kind of glamor generally referred to as "Old Hollywood." Faye Louise; Clark and Faye. Mae and Kaye are similar options.

Leigh is a name I'd like to see more often. It's not great with the middle names (and in fact it seems like a challenging name to find middle names for), but I love it with Clark.

I've been starting to see Pearl on baby name lists, and I see it has just crossed into the Top 1000 as of 2007. Pearl Louise; Clark and Pearl.

Nell has the right current sound (Elle, Ella, Isabel), but is not being used. Nell Louise; Clark and Nell.

This will depend on your own community, but you know what name has shock value in my area? Mary. One of my children had a Mary in his class, and I was startled by it the entire year. I had thought if it like the name "John": so generic as to be invisible. But as with the name John, on a CHILD it's startling and fresh. Mary Louise; Clark and Mary.

Another possibility is Rosemary. My eye passes right over it---but then I think "Botanical! Lovely!" Clark and Rosemary.

I think Mabel would work. After the Mad About You couple named their baby Mabel, I would have expected a jump in popularity---but the name didn't even get into the Top 1000. Mabel Louise; Clark and Mabel.

Just the other day I was thinking how the name Lynn is a name I'd place money on for a good solid comeback after it's had a rest. The look of it makes people dismiss it, I think, but the sound is so pretty. Lynn Louise is so fun to say, and Clark and Lynn is unexpected and fresh.

Sally is one I think is nearly ready now. Sally Louise; Clark and Sally.

Many people say it was their love of the book Charlotte's Web that led them to the name Charlotte, which makes me wonder why there has not been a similar popularity surge for the name Fern. It was on my name list, and was a name I would have liked to use for my daughter's middle name (I sometimes go ahead and call her Elizabeth Fern anyway). I love it so much as I'm typing this, it's pushing Rose out of the way. Fern Louise (*faint*)! Clark and Fern (*faint*)!

I think using Louise in the first-name position could have the effect you're looking for. And Louise is one of my favorite names to say. Clark and Louise. Too close to Superman-reference Lois, though, or to explorers Lewis and Clark?

Name update! Anna writes:

She arrived September 18th and we decided to call her Margot Louise! It was down to Rose or Margot, and we loved both, but I found I felt sadder about not getting to use Margot than Rose, so that helped me decide. My husband liked Rose better all along, but came around when we came up with GoGo for a nickname.
Here she is!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Choosing a Surname

Kacie writes:
I recently came upon your blog, and I love it!! I'm not a mother yet, but I'm already obsessed with finding the perfect names for future spawn. :-) My fiance and I have a long list of future names we might use, but I'm starting to find that I have a more pressing name problem. I REALLY hope you can help us!!
Since we got engaged, I've been internally debating the surname issue. It's a little complicated. My fiance loves his last name, Ba$$, because he believes it links him to his Italian heritage. He also finds it easy to dictate to other people when anyone asks for his name. It is short, sweet, and easy to spell.
I don't really like the name because the only other living relative with the same name is his mother, and we both have a strong distaste for her (we won't get into that whole thing, but she has many issues and did not provide a good childhood for my fiance). I would definitely prefer not to have a link to her.
My last name, Mi$chler, is German, longer, and a little trickier to spell, but it has fantastic associations to my large family, who have pretty much adopted my fiance as one of them (my father is the dad he never had). We are much much closer to my family than his 1-person family.
But he doesn't want to take my name, mostly due to social conformities, and I don't want to take his because of his mom (also: really, a fish?). But I want us to have the same last name.
I actually really love the idea of mashing/creating something new, but we've tried to mash our surnames together and it always sounds similar to a swear word: Ba$ler (ba$tard), Bi$ch (b!itch), etc.
Is there anything we haven't thought of? I really don't know what to do. Please help if you can!

There's hyphenating (with both spouses taking the hyphenated name), which I assume you've thought of, and it works nicely with the two names: I'd probably go with Ba$$-Mi$chler because I prefer that sound, but both ways work.

I think my favorite mash-together name would be Baschler. It sounds like Bachelor, which isn't too bad.

If being connected to his heritage is important to him, are there other family surnames further up the tree that he could switch to, or did the Italian heritage only come down through the Ba$$ males?

But if your fiance loves his surname and wants to follow social norms, I think any of these other options will be a tough sell.

I had a similar situation when I married Paul: I loved my surname/family and disliked his. He wasn't fond of his family either, and was open to other ideas. His favorite idea was choosing an entirely different surname, not connected to either family. We tried out a number of them when giving our name to restaurant hosts. We also considered both taking my name, me hyphenating, both hyphenating, various mash-together options, keeping our own surnames and matching the girls/boys to mine/his, etc.

In the end, I took his name. I was resentful of the social norms, but also found I wanted to follow them and didn't want to explain an alternate choice. I liked that if someone heard my surname and said, "Oh, is that Dutch?" or "Oh, are you related to the Minnesota branch of the family?," I didn't have to say, "Oh, no, not really---we just sort of picked a name." I liked the idea of being able to say to the kids things like "The Thistle side of the family" and "The Paulsurname side of the family." I knew we could have more than one surname in our household and it wouldn't be a huge deal, but I didn't want to. And I didn't mind so much having a different surname than my husband, but I didn't want to have a different surname than my children, or to be the only one in our household with a different name.

It boiled down to ranking the various elements of the choice and choosing the ones that were the highest priority to me---while realizing that every choice had downsides.

I put my own surname in the second-middle-name position (but I use it as the default on any document that allows only one middle name), and we gave it to all the children as their second middle name. I have it spelled out on my license and on my bank accounts: I'm Swistle N. Thistle Paulsurname. If I needed to use a name for a writing column or something, I'd use my maiden name. I also periodically mention how resentful I am of the social norms, which can be soothing.


I think it would be interesting to hear everyone's stories. Did you give up your name, or keep it, or both take something new? Did you struggle with the decision, or was it easy? Have you regretted the choice, or are you happy with it? If you went non-social-norm, has it been a big hassle or no big deal or somewhere in between? If you each kept your own names and then had children, whose name did you give to the children? If you're not married, what do you predict you'd want to do?

Name Updates!

Update on Baby Girl or Boy Randall, Sibling to Lola Vaughn!
Update (and photo!) on Middle Name Challenge and Spelling Option: Aldous/Aldus ____ Wren!
Update (and photo!) on Baby Naming Issue: Is Maxwell Still Usable?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: Levi, LEE, and Eu-JEAN

Annie writes:
Hi Swistle! Long-time reader, first time question-asker :)
My husband and I are due with our first child in late November/early December. We had names picked out for a boy and a girl two days after we found out I was pregnant - Miriam Georgianna for a girl, and Levi Eugene for a boy. The first names are ones that we both just really like, and the middle names are family honor names that are important to each of us that we use. Actually, the middle names were decided upon before we were even married. Our last name sounds like UR-lick, but starts with an E.
Early ultrasounds have shown that there's a high probability that this little one is a boy. We know that  it's still early and not set in stone, but our sonographer said he'd give us a 90% certainty that it's a boy (but typically only gives it a 70% certainty at this stage). So the possibility of us having a little Levi Eugene is becoming more of a reality. When we picked the name Levi, we knew that there would be a connotation with jeans but it didn't bother us. However, I realized a few days ago that his initials will be LEE, another brand of jeans. Also, Eugene sounds like "you-jean"....yet another jeans connection. So I guess what I'm asking is: is this name too...denim-y?  My husband isn't bothered by it, but he has a tendency to sweep concerns under the rug when he's got his mind set on something, only to be bothered by it later (which he fully admits). I can't decide how I feel about it. One moment I think it's unusable, and the next I'm laughing at myself for overthinking it.
I know it's still really early, and we have plenty of time to decide, but I'm afraid that if it turns out that we decide the whole denim thing is too wacky for us once we get closer to our due date, we'll end up getting really stressed out about something that should be an enjoyable process. With the last two initials being -EE, we realized right away that we'd be challenged finding a first name that didn't result in initials that spelled something silly-sounding or just downright mean. Some outside perspective would be really helpful, especially since we're not planning on sharing the name with family or friends until after he's born.
Thanks so much!

Oh dear: now that I've seen it, I can't un-see it! Levi eu-JEAN! The initials LEE bother me less, but along with the other two things the initials do give the whole package a sort of final-blow feeling.

It sounds to me like the decision is going to be about what is more important to you for the first baby boy: using the name Levi, or using the honor name Eugene. The way you've written about it makes me fairly certain the middle name wins this round. (I would take some comfort in being possibly able to use Levi for a second boy.)

I would suggest Eli instead, but I'm not sure Eli Urlick feels nice to say, and the initials EEE are so distinctive I can't figure out if they're a plus (cool! fun! interesting!) or a minus (EEEEEEEEEEE!!).

Liam might be nice, and the LEE and Eugene together aren't a problem to me without the Levi.

Milo keeps coming to mind, but I'm not sure it fits with the style you're looking for, and it may not work with Miriam. Milo Eugene Urlick; MEE. Or Miles? Miles Urlick. I think that works better with Miriam than Milo does.

Louis has some of the gentleness of Levi. Louis Urlick.

Or Leo? Leo Urlick.

Or Jacoby. Jacoby Urlick; JEE.

Well, or you may not really need suggestions at this point. Many people wait to find out the sex of the baby before starting the name search, and there is still time to look for another name you like. From us I think what is needed is a poll, for the group perspective/feedback you can't get from friends/family. Let's have one over to the right. [Poll closed; see results below.]

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: The Pronunciation of Vivienne

Megan writes:
I am 37, almost 38 weeks, pregnant with our second (and final) babe- a little girl. We are 90% settled on calling her Vivienne, nn: Viv or Vivie, but I am feeling nervous about which spelling we should choose. My dilemma is husband, bless him, feels very strongly that we should not share our name choice or even finalists with anyone we know- a combination of not wanting to be judged, wanting to give people a surpise (since we've shared everything else about the pregnancy to date)  and just wanting to make sure that this is "her name" when we meet her. I am more or less on board with this plan, but it makes it hard to get feedback along the lines of...does this work? is this weird? etc. Which is why I'm coming to you and your readers...
My question is, do people generally percieve a disctinct difference between the pronouciation of Vivienne and Vivian? I prefer the first spelling, but would want to pronouce it: "VI-vee-uhn", which I think may be more associated with the spelling Vivian? I guess what I'm wondering is, is the French spelling only associated with the French pronouciation, or can it go both ways (as I hope). I prefer the French spelling for a number of reasons: I studied and speak French, I think it's prettier/more feminine and I feel like that spelling is potentially more versatile/recognized in other cultures. I worry though that, since she's growing up in the US, she will spend lots of time explaining the spelling/pronouciation difference, "Yes, with an E-N-N-E, but it's pronouced VI-vee-uhn not  vi-ve-EHN"  Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? My first name is Megan, and I frequently have to specify that it is spelled without and H or other extra vowels...and it really doesn't bother me. Anyhow, I would love to hear what other folks think. Maybe a poll?
Thanks much!

Oh! I have wondered this TOO! I see Vivienne and I hear it in my mind "viv-vee-EN"---but I am aware that people are using both pronunciations, so if I encountered a Vivienne out and about, I'd expect it to be pronounced either like that or like Vivian (VIV-vee-en). The Baby Name Wizard's listing for Vivienne shows both pronunciations.

So yes, I agree with you that you could use the spelling you prefer combined with the pronunciation you prefer, and that the hassle level would be comparable to your experience with the name Megan or mine with the name Kristen: not a huge deal, just something we've gotten accustomed to dealing with when it's a name with more than one spelling/pronunciation. If the name Vivienne continues to increase in popularity, that will help her out as well.

Let's have a poll, too, because I'm still interested to know how many people would think of Vivienne as being pronounced only the French way, and how many think of it like the name Madeline (i.e., aware of two possible pronunciations, as in the middle three poll options). (Sorry the poll options are so LONG! It proved challenging to put those concepts succinctly!) [Poll closed; see results below.]

Poll results for "The Pronunciation of Vivienne:" (508 votes total):

I would say it French and be surprised if it were like Vivian - 144 votes (28%)
I would first guess French, but wouldn't be surprised if it were like Vivian - 163 votes (32%)
I would expect either pronunciation - 79 votes (16%)
I would first guess like Vivian, but wouldn't be surprised if French - 87 votes (17%)
I would say it like Vivian and be surprised if French - 35 votes (7%)

Name update! Megan writes:
Many belated thanks to you and your readers for weighing in on our spelling/pronunciation conundrum...hopefully this extra cute fall photo makes up for the belated update! Born on the 4th of July, it's hard to believe our Vivenne Leymah is 5 months old already. We decided to stick with our guns on the spelling of Vivienne, but are surprised to find ourselves pronouncing it more like the spelling (vi-vee-ehn), though usually, we just call her Vivie.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Baby Girl Wreath-with-a-C, Sister to Tr!ll!@n; Are the Sibling Names Too Close?

A. writes:
Hi Swistle! I've been reading your name blog ever since I found out I was pregnant with #2. Our baby girl is due in October and we've narrowed it down to 2 first names we like. So far so good, right? We're ahead of the game.

However, the name we love is very similar to our first daughter's name and I'm wondering if it's *too* similar, or too close to rhyming.

Our last name rhymes with Wreath and starts with a C sound. Our daughter's name is Tr!ll!@n M!r@ (replace ! with i and @ with a, of course).

The name we love for the new baby is Mer!d!@n. We don't have a middle name yet, but it'll be something Indian, to honor my side of the family. I'm not worried about finding a suitable name that "matches" with the first name - that part is easier for us.

The name we like, but not as much is Winter. Hubby and I don't agree on many names, so the fact that we both like this one is already a big deal. But it doesn't have the WOW factor that the other one did for us.

My question is whether Mer!d!@n is just too similar to Tr!ll!@n? They're both 8 letters and have the same ending. But I like that they "go together" without being exactly rhyming, or the same first letter, etc. I'd love to know what the readers think?

We're still open to other choices but want a name where we're both thinking "WOW, that's IT!" which is what we did with our first daughter's name, and also feel about Mer!d!@n.

Our preferences are:
1. No question about pronunciation when you see it written
2. Nothing ending in a C, K, or X sound
3. Not on the SSN Top 1000 list, or very, very low :)
Thanks for your help!

My first reaction was that they were too close, and that the rhythm of the two names together made the problem even more noticeable: it called to mind the "Finnegan (begin again)" part of the song Michael Finnegan.

But there are tons of sibling-name sets out there that I would put in a similar category on first hearing them (too close! too far! rhyming! a sibling noticeably different from the others! oh no, a STYLE CLASH!)---and yet, with the exception of, at most, a fresh explanation each time the sibling names come up to a new audience ("Yes, Faith, Hope, and Kayla---I guess my parents didn't want to use Charity"), it doesn't seem like the kind of issue that will be a terrible ordeal for anyone.

Not only does it not have to be a deal-breaker, many parents do it ON PURPOSE---and many other people love it when they encounter it. While many parents with a daughter named Lily are saying, "Well, pooh: now that rules out Rose and Ivy and Violet," many others are saying "I want to continue the floral/botanical theme---how about Rose or Ivy or Violet?" While some people will be startled at hearing siblings named Chloe and Zoe, others will be saying, "That is SO CUTE, I LOVE it!"

After looking at these examples for awhile (as well as at the twin-name section of the Social Security site: so many Jada/Jaden pairings!), and then looking back at Tr!ll!@n and Mer!d!@n, I feel like they aren't too close at all. Yes, they share ending sounds, and saying them together may draw people's attention to that. But that doesn't seem like such a bad thing. It seems like a tiny thing compared with finding a name that is exactly what you want.

Name update! A. writes:
Our October baby was born on Monday and is healthy, happy, and awesome.  (Newborns are so much less nervewracking the second time!)

Her name is Meridi@n Rayn@.  Thanks so much to you and your commenters for all the great input!


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Baby Girl Sowder; Narrowing Down a List

Nicolette writes:
Our first baby is due in September & baby naming has turned into a full-blown obsession for me! We found out it's a girl so at least that narrows it down. I am driving my husband crazy, so I thought it was time to get some professional help :) A few things - Sowder is my husband's last name & will be the baby's also. Antoinette is my mother's name and we would love to use it as the middle name if possible, but we're flexible. Also, we tend to like names that are unique, or a little older sounding & potentially inspired by nature (but that's not a must). 

Here are some of my rejected names or at least names I have moved away from somewhat:

Scarlett Louise Sowder (my husband's favorite)
Nickname: LettieLou 

Magnolia June Sowder 
Nickname: Lia or Maggie

Here is my current list:

Etta June Sowder

Cora Antoinette Sowder (one of my favorites)

Ophelia Antoinette Sowder
Nickname: Lia

Juniper Marie Sowder (also like this one a lot)
Nickname: Juni 
Ellamae Sowder
Nickname: Ella

Thanks so so much - we're not closed off to anything (even a completely new name not on the list) and welcome any guidance from you and the community.

I think this is one of the hardest stages of baby-naming: the list has been made, but nothing is leaping out as the obvious favorite. This is the stage where I like to do little naming exercises and games, to see if I can narrow in on what I really want. I also find it helpful to go into it remembering that no matter WHAT name I choose, it means not-choosing all the others: there will be a sad, letting-go feeling even if we choose the name that is the best one; it's not an indication that we're making the wrong choice.

One of my favorite exercises/games is Sibling Names. If you choose an unusual name with a literary tie-in, like Ophelia, are there sibling names you can picture using, or will you run into trouble? If Ella and Etta are too similar for you to want to use them for sisters, and so using one of the names will rule out the other name, which name do you prefer? If you want to use Lia as a nickname for Ophelia, would that rule out using Magnolia (Lia) for a future daughter? Things like that.

In a related game, I like to pair up similar names from the list and see which ones sound most like Our Family. Even if we might not use other names from the list for future children, or even if we might never have another girl, or even if we're not planning more children---it can still help to focus things. Which sounds more like Your Family: sisters named Magnolia and Juniper? sisters named Etta and Cora? sisters named Juniper and Scarlett?

And there are the tricks in the post Choosing Between Two Finalists, which also work for more than two finalists. Some of these will require participation from the other parent, but some of them can be done on your own if one of you has a greater interest than the other in such exercises.

When Paul and I got down to seven candidates for Henry's name, we each ranked the seven names to see if there were any we both had at the bottom of the list. But we didn't do a plain 1-7 ranking: we could assign the same ranking to as many names as we wanted. So for example, one of you might have this:

1. Scarlett
2. Etta, Ellamae
3. Juniper
4. Cora
5. Ophelia, Magnolia

And the other one might have this:

1. Cora, Juniper
2. Etta, Ellamae
3. Ophelia
4. Scarlett, Magnolia

Looking at the two sets of rankings side by side, you might think, "Well, we both have Ophelia and Magnolia below the top three, so let's try striking those two. And if one of us has Scarlett first and the other of us has it last, it's not likely to be The Name. But we both have Etta and Ellamae and Juniper in our top three, so let's see if it makes us happy to make those the three finalists now." It is important to remind less-enthusiastic baby namers such as Paul that this does not mean the others are ACTUALLY eliminated. They MIGHT be eliminated, but it's more of a practice elimination to see how you feel about those names no longer being candidates. It can happen that as soon as one gets knocked out, you realize you like it better than you thought. Or it can happen that as soon as a name is in the top three, you realize you're not really willing to use it. But it can also actually narrow things down: we found we had several names that we both liked, but that neither of us liked better than the other names on the list, and it was a relief to cross those out and have fewer names to consider. Getting down to the top three made me feel like we now had a solvable problem instead of an impossible math equation.

Imagine announcing the name to others: friends, family, internet. Do you feel particularly glad to imagine any of the options? particularly uncertain about any of the options? Do any of the names feel like a name you'd love if someone else used, but the name doesn't actually fit with your family?

Imagine having each of the names as your own name; picture introducing yourself to someone else. Are there any where you wouldn't really want to have the name? Any you'd particularly love to have?

Imagine the names on a backpack, on a school desk, being told to a parent/child on the playground who asks. When you're out in public, look at a variety of different people (well, female people!) and imagine the names on each one. Imagine arriving for an appointment at the pediatrician, saying "This is ______, she has a 9:30 appointment." Imagine the names on a receptionist, a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, a check-out clerk, a landscaper. Imagine them on someone plain and plump with glasses. Imagine them on someone in math club, in drama club, in cheerleading, on the soccer team. Imagine them on your various relatives. Do any names seem like a better/worse fit than any others?

Say the names in different ways. A middle name can make the first name and last name sound great together---but most of the time the name will be just first-last, and does it also sound good like that?

Deliberately taking a break can also help. If you say to yourselves, "We will put this topic on a shelf for two weeks," you may find that during that time one of the finalists will float to the top on its own. Perhaps you'll catch yourselves thinking of the baby by a certain name, or having a slightly negative reaction to one of the names.

It can also help to see how you react to other people's opinions. When people in the comments section say which names they like best, do you find yourself rooting for certain names? feeling disappointed when other names seem to take the lead? feeling extra-protective of certain names? If I say that I like Magnolia best, and that I particularly like the rhythm of Magnolia Sowder, does that have an effect either way? (I would use Antoinette as the middle name: I love family names, I love long names, etc.) All these feelings can help.

Let's have a poll over to the right, too, to see which names you're hoping will win! [Poll closed; see results below.]

Friday, June 8, 2012

Baby Girl or Boy Fable, Sibling to Sawyer Benjamin

Jocelyn writes:
After perusing dozens of baby names websites, I have officially decided that yours is THE ONE source for thoughtful, genuine feedback.  I would really appreciate any help you can offer with naming my second child due this winter (boy or girl TBD!)

My name is Jocelyn and my husband's name is Brian (last name sounds like Fable).  We currently have an adorable two year old boy named Sawyer Benjamin.  It took forever to finally agree upon a name for him, mostly because my husband kept throwing out ridiculous names, perhaps trying to make me laugh more so than trying to name our baby! When he found the name Sawyer, I immediately loved it (plus the fact that my husband actually suggested a real name). Despite constantly being asked if we watched the show Lost or if it was a family name, neither applied to us.  I just love how it is an unusual name but easy to pronounce.  Now, the work begins all over in trying to find a sibling's name...

Girl names:  I'm open to suggestions, but have always loved the name Madeline for a girl. My husband quickly agreed on this one, so the trick would be just to find a middle name.  I don't want it to sound too Southern (like Maddie Sue) but I do want it to flow. Possible Madeline Leigh?  The spelling of this name has also caused me some concern- should be pronounced like Madelyn, but that spelling looks too close to my name, and Madeleine suddenly looks like too many letters to me (and this was supposed to be the easy name!)

Boy names: now the fun begins.  I do like surnames, but not ones that are too common, such as Jackson.  That brings me to my surname, Reed, which I could totally live with if I could just convince my husband... Another name that caught my eye was Ryland, but it would take some getting used to and I'm wondering if it's too close to Brian (as is Brennan, another favorite of mine).  Bennett seemed like a really nice name to me, but I just get the feeling that it has a little bit of femininity to it.  I somewhat like Hudson, but not sure if I could really get used to that one, either.  In a nutshell, we're looking for a name just as uncommon as Sawyer but not too "out there".  Please help!! :)

I suggest using the Madelyn spelling. I think it's fine (nice, even) that it shares an ending with your name, and it's the best spelling for making your pronunciation clear. We had a cat named Madeline for a few months, and it was eye-opening to me that no one at the shelter or vet's office was ever sure how to pronounce it. I was grateful that it was a cat and so we could easily make the decision not to care or correct pronunciation---but typically, each person would ASK each time: "Let's see, today...Madda-lynn, Madda-lyne? getting two shots." "Let's schedule the next appointment for...Madda-lynn, Madda-lyne?"

For middle names, I think a lot of names would work well: Madelyn June, Madelyn Grace, Madelyn Ruth, Madelyn Rose, Madelyn Joy. To tone down the "Maddie Sue" flavor, I'd go with something multi-syllable: Madelyn Sophia, Madelyn Elizabeth, Madelyn Julia, Madelyn Olivia, Madelyn Rebecca. It would be a good place for a name that you wanted to use for the first name, but couldn't because of some reason that wouldn't matter for a middle name (problem with initials, too similar to a family member's name, didn't go well with Sawyer, not your usual style, etc.).

I wish I could pressure your husband to accept Reed for a boy. Not only is "mother's surname as child's first name" one of my top favorite naming ideas, but it works out so exceptionally well in this case! Sawyer and Reed! Perfect!

If not, here are some more possibilities (I basically went treasure-hunting in the "Last Names First" section of The Baby Name Wizard):


Perhaps your surname could be the middle name: Wilson Reed Fable, or Anderson Reed Fable, or Everett Reed Fable.

Or you could use one of the names you liked but didn't quite want to use in the first name slot: Archer Brennan Fable, or Lawson Bennett Fable.

Or you could match the style of Sawyer's middle name and use something like Davis Christopher Fable or Turner Jonathan Fable.

Name update! Jocelyn writes:
Thank you again for your input.  We recently welcomed little brother Reed Wheeler to our family!  (Reed being my maiden name and Wheeler my husband's father's middle name- a family name going back for centuries).  Sawyer loves his new baby brother!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Name to Consider: Bevin

B. writes:
I heard this name again recently (I once knew a girl by the name who was born in the early 1980s), and a quick search revealed you've never discussed it on the blog.  Bevin (or Bevan?), as a girl's name.  I'd assume its pronounced BEV-in or BEV-an. Preliminary research tells me its an Anglicization of the Celtic name Beibhinn (BAY-vin), meaning white or fair.  It has a lot to recommend it for popularity:  there is a young actress by the name (Bevin Prince); it has Celtic roots but is easy to spell and pronounce; it has a pleasing familiar quality (similar to popular male names like Kevin and Evan); its also a surname.  Yet it has never gained traction.  Social Security database says it has not been in the top 1000 in the past 100 years, although it has been given to between 15 and 25 girls in each year between 2008 and 2011 (all I had time to search). 

My husband (a high school teacher) tried it out on his students (a very scientific sample, to be sure), and none reacted positively.  They thought it looked like "bovine" or was too similar to Devin or that it looked invented.

I'd be interested in your/ your reader's thoughts.

Starting with the Social Security database, I find this info for 2011 babies:

6 boys and 7 girls named Bevan
15 girls named Bevin

The spellings Bevyn and Beven seem to be unused (or at least, they're not in the database, so there were 4 or fewer of each in 2011).

The Oxford Dictionary of First Names has Bevan listed as a surname name meaning "son of Evan." Bevin is listed as the Anglicized version of the Irish name BÊibhinn, as you mention.

For me, it calls to mind The Name Game song. Evan Evan bo-bevan, banana-fana fo-fevan. I don't know why it would do so, when Devan and Kevin don't, but it does.

I think I'm also getting a little bit of a Beavis feeling about it.

I also think of the word bevy.

I wonder if the similar names Bethan and Beverly (neither currently in style) and the dropping popularity of Devan and Kevin affect its popularity as well: the sounds of it may be out of style right now, but it may come bursting in when those sounds come back around.

Let's have a poll over to the right to see what we think of the name overall. [Poll closed; see results below.]

Poll results for "What do you think of the name Bevin?" (448 votes total):

I love it! I'd want to use it! - 4 votes (1%)
I like it! I'd want to consider it! - 27 votes (6%)
I like it for someone else's baby - 64 votes (14%)
No particular opinion either way - 43 votes (10%)
Slight dislike - 177 votes (40%)
Strong dislike - 133 votes (30%)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: Using One Side's Naming Tradition or the Other Side's Honor Name?

Rachel writes:
I’ve been a daily reader of your blog, even before pregnancy, and would be honored to receive some advice from you (and your readers)!  Ever since I asked for a baby name book for my birthday in junior high, I’ve been in love with names—but naming my own child has been trickier than I thought!

My name is Rachel and my husband is Steve and we’re expecting our first baby, a boy, August 1st.  Our last name is Trude11e.

When we found out we’re having a boy, I knew I’d get stuck on the middle name.  My husband’s middle name is Joseph, and it has been a tradition for many generations to give Joseph as a middle name to the first-born son in the family.  However, I lost my dad when I was 19 and have hoped to use one of his names, Eric or Stewart, in the middle name spot.  My husband knows that this is important to me, and his family has even said that we can drop the Joseph tradition if we want to.  I feel bad doing this though, and wonder if I should just wait to honor my dad in a future baby’s name somehow.  Another option is giving this baby two middle names, but I am not sure how Joseph Eric, Eric Joseph, Joseph Stewart, or Stewart Joseph sound together.  I’ve even considered trying part of my maiden name (Erland), which I feel would also honor my father and my grandfather. But again, I’m just not sure about the flow (Joseph Erland isn’t really the cutest).  Or, I would feel better dropping Joseph if we used another family name from my husband’s side.  For example, my dad’s name and my father in law’s would make the middle name combo Eric Paul.  My husband has said he doesn’t really like two middle names, and I go back and forth on it.

I wish I weren’t so consumed with the middle name/tradition/honor issue because it totally takes some of the fun away from picking a first name (your advice to first-time parents about trying not to choose a middle name first is so true!).  When it comes to first names, we seem to have two different naming styles that we like: Timeless and Antique Charm. We had many girls names we liked, including Claire, Clara, Eliza, Lucy…but of course we’ll have to wait and see if we can ever use them!  Here’s what we’ve come up with for our favorites, but are still looking out for others we love.

Thomas: We like the nickname Tom, and even the alliteration of Tom Trude11e

Henry:  I went through a streak of loving Henry and the nickname Hank, but now we’re just ok with it.

August: Both of us like this name and the nickname possibilities (Augie and Gus) but we’ve received negative feedback from family (everything from it sounds “feminine” to “what if he’s born in July?”).  I’m also not sure if the blending of August with the T last name is a problem.

Miles:  Also a favorite for both of us.  I actually like Milo as a nickname, even though I know it’s a stand-alone choice.  We’re both runners and met on the cross-country team (so miles has that meaning for us too), but we’ve received some eye rolls for this.  Is that an annoying connection?

Felix:  Probably our favorite choice at the moment.  Felix is a family name (Felix Joseph was one of my husband’s ancestors) and my husband really loves it.  I like it too, even though my family members aren’t fans (they all say “like the cat??”). 

Do any of these seem to flow nicely with our middle name or names?  What do you think about dropping a family tradition in order to honor someone?  I’d love any advice!

Thanks so much,

It's so pleasing and refreshing to read how considerate both sides are being: your in-laws don't want to force you to use their naming tradition, and you feel bad about the idea of abandoning it. It sounds like everyone is being very understanding, and that there won't be hard feelings no matter what you decide. In some ways this makes things more difficult, because it makes me want to make everyone happy, instead of making me want to say, "Traditions are not requirements!! Everyone gets to name their own baby!!" Instead I find myself thinking, "Gosh, it would be a shame to lose that tradition..."

The solution that leaps out at me is to use your dad's name in the first-name slot. This lets you honor him and also meet the naming tradition of your husband's side of the family. Eric Joseph Trude11e is my top choice. It takes away some of the fun of choosing the name, since in a sense both names are chosen for you---but I think it trades a good level of satisfaction and honor and problem-solving for the fun it extracts. As a long-term investment, I think it's a good one---and for your NEXT baby you can choose both the names and that will be even more fun to have that new experience.

I'm not sure what my second choice would be. Two middle names doesn't quite please: it seems to diminish both honors too much. On the other hand, it does make sure you'll get to use both. Using a different name from your husband's side seems like the worst of both worlds: a double middle name AND not using their tradition. I'd rather use two middle names that didn't go beautifully together, but have one of them be Joseph.

Using your dad's name for a second boy works better than trying to bend the first-son naming tradition to use it for a second boy (the next generation would be a little stuck: would the secondborn boy use Joseph for his firstborn son, or would the not-named-Joseph firstborn pick up the tradition again for his son?), so that would argue for the Joseph-then-dad order of turn-taking---but the possibility of then not having a second boy makes me very nervous. It would help so much if we could just KNOW what selection of children we would need to find names for, so we could PLAN!

I guess that my second choice would be to gamble on having a second boy (or plan on using Erica for a daughter's middle name), especially if you're planning more than one additional child. It IS a gamble, but I think if you don't want to use your dad's name in the first-name slot for this child, it's my favorite second-best option. (Though I could also get behind the plan to use your dad's name as the middle name and abandon the Joseph tradition.) I might then increase the honor by giving a second son two middle names: your dad's first and last. If Eric is your dad's first name, then, I'd name a second son ______ Eric Erland Trude11e. (That does create a lot of possible initial-spellings, though: FEET, MEET, etc.)

If you instead choose to go with two middle names, I'd use Joseph and whichever name is your dad's first name, and choose the order based on the sound with the first and last names. I don't think the sound/flow matters overly much: two middle names is going to make things a bit bulky, so I'd just go for the best you can do. The middle names are likely to all but vanish after the birth announcements go out.

I think the Miles/miles connection is a nice meaning for the two of you, but something I'd keep private to avoid the pun-related eye-rolling and subsequent inevitable jokes ("What will you name your next child, 'Kilometers'? Har har har!").

Felix is one of my own current favorites, and I think the cartoon-cat association will fade as the name becomes more popular (and will fade for your family as soon as they see their own little Felix). Considering the cat has been out of production/style since the silent movie era, I'm a little surprised the association lingers as much as it has; it would be like having people say "Like CHAPLIN??" for every baby named Charlie. I have a stronger association with the 35-year-old TV show The Odd Couple, but neither association seems deal-breaking to me. The answer to "Oh, like the cat??" or "Oh, like Felix Unger??" is a smiling, puzzled "...No. It's a family name." But it seems like using a first name, middle name, AND surname from your husband's side is getting too uneven. Perhaps the first son could be Eric Joseph, and the second could be Felix Erland.

August doesn't seem feminine to me, though it's less boys-only than the other names on your list: 116 girls and 705 boys in 2011, according to the Social Security Administration.

And Thomas and Henry are both good solid choices too. I really think you have a good list to choose from.

What does everyone else think they should do about the two honor names?

Name update! Rachel writes:
We appreciated all of your advice and the comments from your readers!  We finally decided on baby Trude11e's name the day after his birthday (August 6th).  Although a big part of me really wanted to honor my dad by using his name (Eric) in the middle name slot, we decided to stick with tradition and use the middle name that my husband's side has been using for multiple generations (Joseph).  We'll use my dad's name, or a variation of it, for a future child--it's a special honor that we'll save just for him or her. :)
Here is our little Miles Joseph Trude11e.  We like to call him "Milo," and are in love with this little guy.  Thank you again for your help!