This blog has moved! Please join us over at!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Baby Name Survey

Thanks, Madeline, for sending this on! It's a baby name survey by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. It took me 5-10 minutes to complete. It asks you first how likely you'd be to use a whole bunch of names, then how likely you think they are to become trendy, and then how trendy you think they already are. Then it'll ask you your sex and age and household income and state and country and race, and how many children you have and what their names are.

Take the survey.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Baby Boy ___ J. Dillier

Jamie writes:
We are expecting our second son in June. Our 2.5 year old is named Alex Richard Dillier. My problem is that my husband is ridiculously picky about names, in fact, he has a whole list of his own naming rules which has effectively vetoed each and every name I've ever suggested. We have managed to find one name we both like, Max James Dillier, but I'd really like to have a few more choices to consider. We'd like to use the middle name James, but also considering John for a middle name as well.

Here are my husband's naming rules:
  1. No presidential names (like Kennedy, Regan or Clinton)
  2. No biblical names
  3. The name has to be "American". Meaning we can't use names that are obviously from a different culture or country (e.g., Paco, Sven, Pierre or Kumar)
  4. The name can't mean anything in English (even with different spelling). Most names mean something in some language somewhere, but he doesn't want our child to be named something like Paige (like a page in a book) or Brooke (as in a stream) or Cole (like a lump of coal)
  5. No cars (Mercedes, Porche, Astin, Cooper or Bentley are all out. Also Harley, even though it's not a car, but a motorcycle)
  6. No names that are also names of a widely known company (Unfortunately, my very favorite name, Avery, is a paper company)
  7. No names that have multiple different spellings. Like my name Jamie or Jaime. This is a problem because there is a trend where people give their children a common name then spell it in a unique way. For example, instead of naming your child Ashley, you name her Ashleigh. Essentially, if John has to ask how we would spell it, it is vetoed.
  8. No geographical names (e.g., Austin, Dakota, Paris...)
  9. No androgynous names. The name has to be distinctly male or female. Unfortunately this vetoes Avery again, also Afton, Peyton and Delaney.
  10. Cannot contract into a common nickname. No Nicholas (Nick), Benjamin (Ben) or Abigail (Abby). We can, however, name our child just the nickname (which is why we have an Alex instead of an Alexander).
  11. The name can't be a common last name. (e.g., Conner, Sullivan, Anderson, etc.)
  12. The initials can not spell a word or common acronym. Like Max Alan Dillier (MAD) or Benjamin James (BJ)
HELP! And, good luck!

HAHA HA HA HAHAHA HA HA HA HAHA HA! *wipes tears* HA HA HA! *gasp* HA HA HAHA HA! Oh, Jamie! This is wonderful! HA HA HA HA HA!

I'm reminded of an old Saturday Night Live skit in which the husband (played by Nicolas Cage) completely vetoes every single name his wife (played by Julia Sweeney) suggests. I wonder in your husband's case if a lifetime of having a name which is a also a slang word for (1) a toilet and (2) a prostitute's client, is the sort of thing that takes its toll on a man?

Well! Let's get started, shall we? We only have until June to sift through all the baby names and see if any slip through that net of rules.

The Baby Name Wizard suggests these brother names for Alex: Jake, Cole, Evan, Drew, Luke. We can eliminate Cole (word name) and Drew (word name) right off the bat, which leaves us with Jake, Evan, and Luke. Considering the huge popularity of the name Jacob (#1 most popular boy name in the U.S. since 1999, according to Social Security Administration), I'd avoid the name Jake. A lot of those Jacobs are already using it.

Evan and Luke are both good candidates. They're both good with Alex, they're both boyish, they're spelled only that way. Neither one is a common brand name, an initials problem, a presidential name, a nickname hazard, etc. One little hitch is that Luke could be considered a biblical name---but it's become so mainstream, I don't think it's any more biblical than Matthew, Mark, or John.

Evan James Dillier (EJD)
Evan John Dillier (EJD)
Luke James Dillier (LJD)
Luke John Dillier (LJD)

A second hitch with Luke is that it's not great with either of your middle name possibilities: too choppy with two 1-syllable names in a row. In fact, let's scrap Luke. But let's keep Evan.

You mention you both like the name Max. The Baby Name Wizard suggests these brother names for Max: Leo, Oliver, Felix, Theo, Sam. And will you look at that: four of those names meet all of your husband's rules. The only one that doesn't fit is Oliver, which would give you the meaningful initials O.D. This time I'm going to try the names only with the middle name James:

Leo James Dillier (LJD)
Felix James Dillier (FJD)
Theo James Dillier (TJD)
Sam James Dillier (SJD)

I continue to prefer the sound of the 2-syllable first names. Here are a few more 2-syllable choices, several of them chosen because they were the "FINALLY! A name we can agree on!" for families I know.

Aaron James Dillier (AJD)
Eric James Dillier (EJD)
Henry James Dillier (HJD)
Jared James Dillier (JJD)
Simon James Dillier (SJD)

Let's see if Mairzy has some more ideas:
This one was like a puzzle. You pick out a name, go through the list, and get a rush of accomplishment if it passes all 12 levels. Not all of my suggestions are that perfect, and some are decidedly odd. I admit that I and my mother (whom I just introduced to The Baby Name Wizard) had fun with this challenge. Bonus if it turns out to be helpful as well.


Note: My mother found the "Porch Sitters" section of TBNW and pointed out how many of them fit the rules: Clem, Cletus, Floyd, Elbert, Elmer, Grover, Homer, Lester, Milton, Waldo. Maybe you could spring these on your husband, and while he's still sputtering objections, slip in one like Wyatt or Kyle. You just might get in past his guard.

I can almost hear your husband saying Casey is androgynous, Sterling and Will are words, and Dexter makes shoes. Are we sure it wouldn't be more efficient to have him make a list of the few names he's willing to consider, and then you get to choose from his list?

Well, let's have a vote! Vote in the poll to the right [poll closed; see below], and/or leave your suggestions/choices in the comment section.

[Poll results:
Max: 10 votes, roughly 9%
Evan: 56 votes, roughly 50%
Leo: 2 votes, roughly 2%
Theo: 7 votes, roughly 6%
Aaron: 8 votes, roughly 7%
Eric: 6 votes, roughly 5%
Henry: 16 votes, roughly 14%
Simon: 7 votes, roughly 6%
Kyle: 1 vote, roughly 1%]

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Naming Etiquette: Who Has Dibs on a Family Name?

Elizabeth writes:
Hi! I have more of a naming etiquette question. I am currently pregnant with my first child. This will be the first grandchild on my side of the family. We don't know the sex, so are picking two names to have ready. We are pretty settled on our boy name (and aren't sharing with the world, much to everyone's dismay).

The problem lies in the girl name. Me and my sisters all want to name a child after a beloved grandmother. Since I am the first to have a child, do I get first dibs? I have a feeling my one sister will go ahead and name her child the same thing and that kind of bothers me. Does it bother you? Is it strange to have first cousins with the same name? There are two possible nicknames for this name and we both want the same one.

Let's also mention that neither of my sisters have a boyfriend or are anywhere close to being married, let alone having a child. My husband and I both love this name and want to honor my grandmother, but also don't want to have to deal with my sister naming her child the same thing, or even worse, the first thing out of her mouth being, but I am naming my little girl that. Decisions, decisions.

I have a very, very, very, very strong opinion on this subject. VERY. Here it is: NO ONE has exclusive dibs on ANY name. NO ONE.

Basic human consideration should show us situations in which people might voluntarily give up their right to use a name. For example, if your best friend has always liked the name Amelia and always talked about using it for her daughter, you might want to voluntarily choose to avoid using it because you know she wouldn't like you to. Or, some families have naming traditions such as that the first son of the first son is named Robert. If you are not the first son, you may of course still use the name Robert for your child, but may want to voluntarily refrain from doing so because you know it would make the extended family unhappy.

In the situation you describe, you are free to use the name: unless you're leaving out important information in your letter, there is no reason for you to voluntarily give up the name. BUT! Neither is there any reason for your sisters to voluntarily give up the name. It sounds as if all of you have equal claim to it.

If you choose to use this name for your daughter, you are claiming the privilege of using it first, and I think it would be particularly sweet for it to be the name of the first grandchild. As you've already realized, though, using it first doesn't mean other people can't still use it. If it bothers you to think of cousins with the same name, you may want to reconsider. BUT! Perhaps it would bother you even more to NOT use the name: imagine if you gave up on using it, and your sisters went ahead and used it. Or imagine if you gave up on using it, and your sisters didn't use it after all.

I think it's fine for cousins to have the same name. I even think it has a charm, particularly when it is the name of an adored grandmother: it pays her such an enormous tribute to have several namesakes. In your case, since you are sisters, if you are using your married surnames the girls will automatically have different names. You could also call them by first name and middle name, or first name and middle initial, or first name and surname initial.

If I were you, I would use the name. Even if your sisters use it too, you would still be the first---and it is a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. And it's possible your sisters won't want to use it, or will not have children, or will only have boys.

Best not to try to make any rules about who has the most right to use the name: you might have a boy this time, and one of your sisters may unexpectedly take the lead for First Girl. Best to leave your options open, in case you're the one who later wants to use the same name your sister used.

In the meantime, rehearse what you'll say if your sister's first reaction to your baby's name is a complaint. You could say graciously, "Oh, silly! No one has dibs on a name! You can use it too!" Or you can just say, "I'm so glad you like it!" as you celebrate in your secret heart that you got to use it first.

[Name update! Elizabeth writes: "It turns out the baby was a girl, so the question did actually apply. We used my grandmother's name (the sacred name), Genevieve, for the middle name. So her name is Margaret Genevieve and we call her Greta."]

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Baby Girl ___ ___ J.

Erica writes:
My husband and I are expecting our first child (a girl) next month and we cannot decide on a name. The only name that we could really agree that we both love is Hannah, but we have both decided that it's popularity bothers us. I like Lucy (he doesn't), he likes Catherine (I don't).

The two names that we have it narrowed down to are Harper Eve or Mary ___. I don't think either of us love these names and we can't think of a middle name for Mary (we aren't Catholic and I don't want the name to sound too Catholic, no offense). I wish that we had a family name that we loved, but we don't. Our grandmothers names are Merlyn, Doris, Levora, and Dianne, none of which we care for. Our great grandmothers names are Ila, Maude, Sarah, Laura, Mary Ellen, Elise, Ernastine, and Ellis, but we're not sold on any of these. I like Ila (or Ayla or Isla), but my husband hates it.

All of my sisters have names that start with a K sound and that is confusing enough that I don't want to introduce another K (or hard C) name into the mix.

Our last name starts with J and is two syllables. We would like a name that isn't weird, that is easy to spell and easy to pronounce, but that isn't too popular. We tend to like classic names, although Harper has been one of my favorites for a long time so there are exceptions to this. We have nieces named Mia Rose, Sydney Anne, Emma May, and Hailey Elizabeth, so all of these are off limits.

Thanks so much :)

I like the name Harper VERY MUCH, and since you've liked it a long time, it's tempting to just say, "Yes! Harper!," make a poll with one choice on it, and dust off my hands after a job well done. Mairzy and I are both huge fans of Eve, too---although I think a different middle name would be better with Harper. (Oh, you want suggestions? Um, LOOK OVER THERE! *runs off*)

There was a little girl named Mary in my son's kindergarten class, and I was surprised at how fresh and uncommon it sounded. I think of it as a Very Common Name, but of course it ISN'T common in the current crop of babies. I like the family tie-in if you use Mary Ellen, but what about Mary Harper? (I considered Mary Hannah, but when I said it out loud I added "little lamb": "Mary Hannah little lamb, its fleece was white as snow.")

A name that catches my eye in your family name list is Laura. I think it's beautiful. Laura Harper. Laura Eve. It's easy to spell and pronounce, it's classic, and it was only #172 in 2006. For comparison, that's LESS COMMON than the names Genesis (#169) and Alondra (#170). (Source: Social Security Administration.)

If you both love the name Hannah, and you agree on it, I think you should reconsider using it. It's a beautiful, classic name with long roots. But if its popularity continues to bother you, I'd go with Laura. That's my top choice: Laura Harper J____ (LHJ). Family connection. Classic. Easy to pronounce and spell. Not too common and not too weird. And it incorporates the name Harper, which you've liked for a long time.

Let's ask Mairzy!
As I sat down to work on this dilemma, I felt like Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Those who have read the books remember how Miss Marple always solves her cases: she spends the whole book saying, "Oh, dear, that does remind me of the niece of a cook I had once..." and whatever the niece did gives her the key to the mystery. As I went over these name options, I found myself saying, "Oh, this is a family name," or "There was that girl who went by both these names." Whether it gave me the key to solving the problem is for the parents to decide.

Although I don't gravitate to androgynous names in general, I love Harper. It's a pretty word, a pretty name, and there's always, of course, Harper Lee. You also could incorporate your other top name by using Harper Mary. (I like Eve better, though.)

I know a family with an impossible last name -- German, I think -- who chose Mary for their daughter because it was simple. They used Danae, a form of the dad's name Daniel, for her middle name. It's an attractive name and doesn't seem plain on her. Here are some middle name suggestions for Mary... none of them very original, I'm afraid (especially if Swistle has already covered this territory):

Mary Evelyn
Mary Grace
Mary Anna
Mary Hope (I knew this as a double name)
Mary Isabella
Mary Jane (sort of a retro feel)
Mary Beth (or Maribeth)
Mary Rose (knew this as a double name)

Other suggestions, some of the "Mary" theme and a couple... just because:

Mariel (I knew a lovely little girl by this name)
Rosemary ("Rosemary" is to me as "June" is to Swistle: we like one and think the other one is still slightly dowdy.)

You have two very good name options in Harper and Mary. The only problem seems to be that you aren't wildly excited about either one. But I don't think you actually have to "fall in love with" the name you give your child -- just as long as it's a name that she can be happy with as she grows up. Once you get to know your baby, the name will become special whether or not it inspired passion before.

Oh, man, do I ever agree with Mairzy's last point. She and I have both stood strong against the current feeling that if you don't feel CRAZY ANIMAL LOVE for the name, it's THE WRONG NAME. I've fallen head over silly heels for some names and merely formed a satisfying long-term commitment with others, and all of them have been good solid choices.

I like Mairzy's suggestion of Meredith: that's a name consistently on my girl list. I like Mariel, too. But as I told Mairzy the last time she tried to sell me on the name Cecelia, I CAN'T hear it without singing "Ce-CEEEEEEEEL-ya! You're breaking my heart! You're shaking my confidence BAY-bee!"

Vote in the poll to the right [poll closed; see below], and/or leave your suggestions and opinions in the comment section. It would be helpful to have middle name choices for any selection, but especially for the name Mary.

[Poll results:
Harper: 51 votes, 51 percent
Mary: 12 votes, 12 percent
Laura: 11 votes, 11 percent
Hannah: 8 votes, 8 percent
Mariel: 6 votes, 6 percent
Meredith: 12 votes, 12 percent]

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Emergency Baby-Naming Session!

PEOPLE! We have an EMERGENCY here! Look at this letter! Kate writes:
I just heard about your website and really need some advice! I am being induced in 24 hours and still haven't decided on a name. My first son is Owen Keats and our last name sounds like this: are-naw-dee. We are thinking about these names:

Alec Whitman
Callum Jack

However, my husband is British and there is a chance we could move to the UK at some point. Apparently, Callum is really popular in the UK and I am worried he will be one of several Callums. (It is #13 overall in the UK and #3 and #5 in Ireland and Scotland respectively). Ironically, it is the opposite problem in the US in that whenever I mention this name people give me funny looks! Alec is a much "safer" choice but because it is less unique I have a harder time getting as excited about it. A friend suggested that we name him Alistair Jack and then call him Alec as a nickname but I wasn't sure if that was a bit of a stretch for a nickname. Also as an American, the name Alistair sounds a little pretentious to me for some reason.

Please help! Thank you---

And it is more than twelve hours since that landed in my inbox last night, so TODAY IS THE DAY. This baby is coming TODAY. We need name opinions, and we need them fast. Here are mine:

1) I like the name Alec a lot. It's been on our boy name list throughout our naming years. I know what you mean about finding it difficult to get excited about, but I think the name would sit well with time. I think Owen and Alec are good together.

2) I think Alec is not a nickname for Alistair. But then, I am a conservative old bag about nicknames. The Baby Name Wizard DOES list it as a nickname, and I defer to the author's expertise.

3) It's too bad that Alistair sounds pretentious in the U.S., because it's a GREAT name. Think of Allison, and then say Alistair. I think it's a great name, and I think everyone would get used to it. And if they didn't get used to it, they'd just say, "Well, the father is British." I don't think it's as good with Owen as your other choices, though. Owen and Alistair.

4) I like the name Callum even better than Alec and Alistair, and I think it's TERRIFIC with Owen: Owen and Callum. I think it WILL get more familiar in the U.S., and for me it would be a selling point that it was popular in the country you might move to some day. "Thirteenth most popular" sounds scary, but the thirteenth most popular boy name in the U.S. for 2000 was Ryan (source: Social Security Administration), and neither my 1999 baby nor my 2001 baby have ever had a single Ryan in any of their preschool/kindergarten/elementary school classes---let alone several. It won't be strictly comparable, of course, but still: thirteenth is okay.

5) The Baby Name Wizard mentions that Callum can be a nickname for Malcolm. I consider this Cheating, but it gives me the idea of the name Malcolm, which I love. Owen and Malcolm.

6) Jack in the middle name position makes the first name sound like an adjective to me: Fightin' Jack, Alligator Jack, Jumpin' Jack.

In short, I think the names you came up with are terrific, and I don't think you're going to go wrong whatever you choose. I lean more toward Callum for the first name; I would change the middle name, but I don't think it would be wrong to leave it the way you've got it. BE SURE TO LET US KNOW WHAT YOU CHOOSE!

Okay, everybody! Time is of the essence here, so vote fast in the poll over to the right [poll closed: see below]---but feel free to leave more possibilities in the comment section if you think of a good one.

[Poll results:
Alec: 20 votes, roughly 24%
Alistair: 10 votes, roughly 12%
Callum: 43 votes, roughly 51%
Malcolm: 11 votes, roughly 13%]

[Edited to add a follow-up from Kate: Thanks for your blog. We decided on the name Callum Jack and really appreciated everyone's feedback. It was such a hard decision. Jack is a family name my husband wanted to use so that is the reaon for it as the middle name. We have had some funny looks from my American friends and family who aren't sure how to pronounce it (so far, a few people saying Column). But hopefully they will get used to it. I still like the name Alec and think it goes great with our last name but just before going to the hospital my husband's assistant weighed in on the decision and she said "you mean, Alex?" and I was worried I would spend a lifetime of having to say "no, it's Alec with a 'c'" Anyway, thanks again!]

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Baby Boy Werkmen

Devan writes:
This is our 3rd boy and we're having a hard time coming up with names that we love and that sound good with our other boys' names.

We prefer shorter first names, and pick a middle name that is a Saint's name, since we're Catholic.

Our last name is something similar to Werkmen. Our current top two are Colby Blaise and Cole Alexander.

While I like Cole Alexander, it's almost too preppy for me. Our other kids are Dane Patrick and Owen Zachary and they seem a tad more "hip" than a Cole. I also have a "thing" about choosing names in the SS lists top 50, though Owen was very close to the top 50 last year. Cole is around 70 I think, but I get antsy in the top 100. (not that that's all that important...)

We're up for suggestions as well.

Okay! *clap clap* We're on it!

The Baby Name Wizard suggests these names as brothers for Dane: Brice, Drew, Derrick, Colt, Cale. It suggests these names as brothers for Owen: Gavin, Carter, Eli, Mason, Julian.

Eli's good. I like it. But it may be in a Danger Zone: it's been steadily rising for YEARS. Still, by 2006 is was only up to #139, so it's not exactly Jacob (#1 since 1999). I also like Derrick/Derek (#256/#159).

Let's look at those two newcomers with your middle names:

Eli Blaise Werkmen (EBW)
Eli Alexander Werkmen (EAW)
Derrick Blaise Werkmen (DBW)
Derek Alexander Werkmen (DAW)

I think all of those are fine, although "Eli Alexander" is a tongue-strengthener.

You like short names. Here are some more short-'n'-sweeties, with their 2006 SSA popularity rankings (the month of May cannot come soon enough for those of us wanting the 2007 figures) and the way they'd sound with the other boys' names:

Cade Werkmen (#288) (Dane, Owen, Cade)
Gage Werkmen (#156) (Dane, Owen, Gage)
Grant Werkmen (#155) (Dane, Owen, Grant)
Heath Werkmen (#786) (Dane, Owen, Heath)
Leo Werkmen (#236) (Dane, Owen, Leo)
Milo Werkmen (#679) (Dane, Owen, Milo)
Reid Werkmen (#422) (Dane, Owen, Reid)

My sibling-group favorites from that list are Cade, Gage, and Reid, but I give Reid the edge for having a different sound: Cade and Gage have the same long-A sound as Dane, and might be too similar.

Reid doesn't work with the middle name Alexander if you're avoiding monogram words: the initials would be RAW. I went to for more saint names (and it is very funny indeed to see ads like "Who's Got a Crush on YOU??? Click here to find out!!!" on a religious website). The list of saints is way, way, WAY too long to browse through, but if you can search to see if a name is a saint's name or not. I like Reid Elias Werkmen (REW), Reid Matthias Werkmen (RMW), Reid Sebastian Werkman (RSW), and Reid Xavier Werkmen (RXW).

But Reid is kind of...preppy, right? So I'm going back to the list to re-choose favorites. This time I choose Heath, Leo, and Milo. They're different enough from your current children's names; they're more hip than prep; and I had two of the three on the finalist list for my own baby. The name Heath has extra poignancy because of Heath Ledger's recent death.

I like Heath Elias Werkmen (HEW), Leo Sebastian Werkmen (LSW), and Milo Xavier Werkmen (MXW).

I asked Jess of Du Wax Loolu to give me a hand. Here's what Jess says:
Some names that stand out to me as potential sibling names, and I'm not using the Baby Name Wizard here, are:
  • Chase
  • Blake
  • Cooper
  • Miles
  • Clay
  • Reed
  • Grant
  • Cole
I had a bunch more on that list that I eliminated based on a bad match with the last name. It was also important to me that the names not sound too much like the names of the brothers--partly for aesthetic reasons but also because, for example, if the baby was Colton and there's already Owen and you're calling one of them from the other room, things could get confusing. I've also put Cole back on the list to see if we can find a middle name that makes the name less preppy than Cole Alexander.

Okay, not being Catholic, I know very little about saints. So I used this website for a list of male saints.

I'm a fan of rhythm/balance between first and middle names. Since these names are all short (only one has more than one syllable), I looked for a two- or three-syllable middle name. Some options that stood out:
  • Adrian
  • Alan
  • Francis
  • Oliver
  • Sebastien
Now for the combos! I did not include every possible combo because the list was just too long. I allowed each first name two possible middle names.
  • Chase Alan
  • Chase Sebastien
  • Blake Francis
  • Blake Sebastien
  • Cooper Adrian
  • Cooper Alan
  • Miles Adrian
  • Miles Francis
  • Clay Francis
  • Clay Oliver
  • Reed Adrian
  • Reed Oliver
  • Grant Alan
  • Grant Oliver
  • Cole Alan
  • Cole Oliver
Okay! Well, that list looks a lot longer than I was expecting it to. Let's try to narrow it down to a top five, shall we? By which I mean, I'll make a list of my favorite five names from above.
  • Cooper Adrian
  • Cole Oliver
  • Clay Francis
  • Chase Sebastien
  • Grant Oliver
There we go! Nice and digestible.

Thanks, Jess!

Now it's your turn. There are way too many possibilities here for a poll, so leave your first-and-middle combination choice in the comment section.

[Update! Devan writes: "We went with Cade Alexander. :) Thanks!"]

Monday, March 10, 2008

Baby Boy John: Nickname Trouble

Kate writes:
Help! I need nickname advice!

I'm adopting a baby this Spring, and if it's a boy, I'd like to follow a family tradition and name him John after my father, my brother, my grandfather, you get the picture. The problem is that my father (Jack) and my brother (John) both live within a mile or so, and that's a lot of people running around with the same name (since I'm single, it will be the same first and last names).

So what I'm looking for is a good nickname for John that isn't Jack. I'm a big fan of traditional names - it's important that it's a name that will work for an adult as well as a kid.

If the baby's a girl, I'm going with Elizabeth, another family name. I'm leaning toward Bess or Lily as a nickname.

Any brilliant suggestions?

Help me, Swistle!

Tough one, Kate! The usual nicknames are Johnny and Jack and that's ALL, so we're really going to need to call upon The Powers of the Internet for this one.

Option the First: Go with the initial and call him J.---I had a friend in high school who did this. To the ear, it's "Jay."

Option the Second: Call him by first and middle names together: John William, for example. My brother was called by his first and middle names together when he was a child---and not just when he was in trouble, but all the time. At first it feels a little awkward, but then it blends into one name.

Option the Third: First and middle initials: J.W., for example.

Option the Fourth: Call him by his middle name outright. I'm pretty sure my friend Mairzy disapproves of this idea, but I think it's a good work-around when you are highly motivated to use a particular name but run into problems such as the one you're encountering. I went to school with several guys who went by their middle names, and other than the annual "roll call correction" ("John Abrams?" "Actually, I go by Will"), it wasn't a problem.

Option the Fifth: As I understand it from novels about rich people, people with a long-running family name used to turn to nicknames such as Trey and Trip for the youngest of three people with the same name. I think that's cute and appealing.

Let's ask Mairzy!
In this corner we have Good Idea: Name son the family name to give him an immediate sense of family identity.

In this corner we have Bad Setup: His grandfather and uncle, who live in the same area, will have exactly the same name.

Possible solution: Come up with a nickname.

The trouble with this solution, of course, is that traditional nickname for John is already in use. (I remember getting very indignant with a first-grade classmate, Johnny, who claimed that he and his father had the same name. I knew very well his dad's name was Jack. Who was he kidding?) If you do use the name John, he'll get called Johnny or Little John just to distinguish him from his uncle. If you call him Jack, he'll be Little Jack or (not at all appealing to me) Jackie. And he might just get called Junior, a nickname that makes me want to curl up and cry.

Possible solution: Use a variant of the name John.

This way, you honor the family name, but avoid the confusion and headaches that come with repeating names. You're lucky to be working with the name that shows up in practically every European language. You can choose from Jonathan, Sean, Evan, Ian, Giovanni, Ivan, Jaques, Johann, Jonas, Shane, Sion, and Yancey. (List courtesy of, which includes a whole lot more options.) Obviously a few of the names are heavily ethnic, which may not fit with the surname. I just included them because, well, I like names. I'd love to use the name Jaques, for instance. But my surname is in the same category as Johnson. Jaques Johnson! The world laughs. Anway, getting back to the matter at hand.

You could consider naming him Jake and calling it a variant of Jack/John. It's not traditional, but you could squeeze by with it.

(For Elizabeth, which you mention briefly at the end of your question: I think Bess is cute, and I'm ready to see it come back again. Lily is not a name I think of as being a nickname for Elizabeth, so I probably wouldn't go that route: if I wanted Lily, I'd go with Lilian/Lillian or just flat-out Lily.)

Help Kate out: What would YOU do if you were using the name John in this situation? Would you name him John and use one of Swistle's solutions? Or would you name him one of Mairzy's variations? Vote in the poll to the right [poll closed; see below], and leave your ideas in the comment section.

[Poll results:
John; call him J.: 11 votes, roughly 14%
John; call him first + middle names: 8 votes, roughly 10%
John; call him first + middle initials: 17 votes, roughly 21%
John; call him by his middle name: 13 votes, roughly 16%
Use a variation such as Jonathan or Ian: 20 votes, roughly 25%
Jake, and pretend it's a variation of John: 3 votes, roughly 4%]

Thursday, March 6, 2008


Barbara writes:
Hi Swistle- I'm super psyched about your new baby names blog! I'm OBSESSED with baby names (I guess names in general) and have been for as long as I can remember. As a little girl, I was always "changing" my name and always wanted a name with a fun nickname. As an adult, I make baby name lists at least weekly. I love the meaning behind names, the sentimental or family connection associated with names, initials and monograms, and especially nicknames.

Here's my question: What names do you love but had to give up on because they just didn't work with your last name (aka unfortunate nicknames, initials or puns)? I know you're not keen on making your real name public, so you may or may not be able to reveal this info without giving away major clues to your true identity, but maybe your readers can?

I always loved the name Rose or Rosie for a girl, but with the (new) last name of Thornton, I just thought the pun was too mean. Another example, my sister-in-law was almost named Rachel Anne but her initials would have been RAT.

Looking forward to reading more about our favorite subject!


Paul and I have an ethnic and difficult surname, so we've avoided ethnic or difficult first names. And our surname is so surnamey, we think "surname names" (Miller, Sawyer, Carson) sound bad with it.

When Matt Lauer named his son Thijs (pronounced "Tice"), I instantly loved the name---but we weren't willing to take on the challenge of a totally unfamiliar (in the U.S.) name that follows the pronunciation rules of another language. We messed around with the spelling (Tyce, for example), but we only liked it with the Dutch spelling. So we gave it up.

The most Limiting Factor for me has been Previous Children. If you have children named Robert and William (to use their pseudonyms as an example), it's tough to suddenly add a Devereaux or a Thijs. Sibling names don't have to be matchy-matchy, but I prefer them to sound like they're in the same family: Robert and William, yes; Robert and Rocco, no. I would bend this for a name I really, really loved---but in general, it strongly affects my naming decisions.

Barbara and I are VERY EAGER to hear about the names you had to give up, and the things that most limit your choices. Initial problems? Surname problems? Sibling problems?

Monday, March 3, 2008

Family Names

L. writes:
How do you feel about people who name their children -- ALL their children -- after someone else? I have a cousin who has three kids and a fourth on the way. So far each of her kids has a name that already belongs to someone in the family: an aunt, a grandparent, or even one of the parents' names themselves (example: If the father were called "Paul," for instance, one of the girls' middle names might be "Paula").

I think it's lovely to name a baby after a relative, to honor that relative, to carry on a tradition, etc... but every child? I just don't know. I'm wondering what this mom is going to do when she "runs out" of family names -- and also, MEOW, why can't she think of anything original?

(I am rude. Forgive me. Perhaps you, yourself, have done this, and I don't mean to offend if you have.)

I had to give this some thought: I realized I don't actually know ANYONE who does all family names like that. I know a lot of people who do namesake names in the middle name position, which I think is charming.

And, after thinking it over, I think namesake names are charming in the first-name position, too. As with every "all the names the same" theme (such as starting with the same letter), the parents should think VERY CAREFULLY beforehand about whether they have enough naming material even if they end up having more children than they think they'll have. It's especially sensitive with family names, because if you use three family names and then you switch to non-family names, the remaining non-named-after family members may wonder what the heck is wrong with THEIR names.

Family names come with an automatic side of confusion, of course: if you name your son after your father, your mother is going to have to specify which John she's talking about every time she's chatting with her friends. This may be minor, depending on which family name you're using (your spouse's vs. your cousin's), but it's nice to have thought it out beforehand rather than being surprised by it.

An additional issue with family names is that most of the ones available to choose from will not be generationally timely. Parents are eager to use the names of the great-grandparents they've never even met, because that's where the Emmas and Violets and Maxes and Jacks are. The family members whose names have actual significance to the namer tend to have names like Ruth and Robert, Barbara and Jerry. (These things go in cycles, so all these baby Emmas and Jacks will be naming THEIR babies "after great-grandma Ruth.")

Something that doesn't bother me is the originality issue. Almost all names have been used and used and used, so that I think words like "original" or "unique" are useless in naming discussions. (People usually mean "unusual," anyway.) Naming the baby Madison is not more original than naming her after the namer's Aunt Joanne or after the baby's Aunt Kimberly.

Use the comment section below and the poll to the right [poll closed; see below] to weigh in: What do you think of using family names? Have you done it? Are you glad, or are you sorry? What do you like--or not like--about it?

[Poll results:
Like the idea of family names and did it or plan to do it: 60 votes, roughly 77%
Like the idea, but not for us: 8 votes, roughly 10%
Don't like the idea: 10 votes, roughly 13%]