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Friday, November 13, 2009

Baby Girl Kempt

Nathasa writes:
I’m writing you for baby advice! I’m due on November 26th (Thanksgiving baby!) with my third child and second daughter. My husband and I have two other children; Joanna Aisbet and Henry Fraser. We pretty much had our list of names narrowed down about four months ago, to either Catherine, Caroline, Rebecca, Grace, or Alice. But about a month ago I suddenly discovered Gaelic names, and I’m in love with them.

So now my number one choice is Niamh (pronounced “Neeve”), with Siobhan (“Shuh-von”) and Aoife (“Eef-uh”) close behind. My husband loves the name Niamh and is totally for it. So here are my issues.

First of all, neither my husband nor I have a drop of Irish blood in us. Is that totally weird to use an Irish name? My family certainly thinks so. Both of our mothers are campaigning for one of the original five, and neither my mother nor my mother in law, (or any of my other family for that matter) likes Niamh whatsoever. Both of our parents are very involved in our childrens lives, so this is a factor for me.

Secondly, of course, we live in Maryland, not Dublin. I know that if we choose Niamh, she will have to constantly be spelling and pronouncing her name for people. I had to do that all my life (My name is Nathasa, with no “h” after the “s”, and the first “h” silent), and it wasn’t much fun.

Third, I don’t know if it really works with Joanna and Henry. When I say it out loud, it sounds nice. “Joe-ann-uh, Hen-ree, and Neev”. But that’s just me. I really don’t know if it does. Also, our last name is one syllable: Kempt (Kem-t). It sounds fine with two syllabled Joanna and Henry, but I don’t know if it really flows with one syllabled Niamh.

It seems like there are way more strikes against Niamh than for it, and we should just go back to the other finalists we’d originally picked, but we keep coming back to Niamh. We both love it, and none of the other names seems just right.

But I’m worried, with so many things not going for the name. What do you think? I’d love people’s insight – I’m really stressing.

And if not Niamh, then any other suggestions? Also, we haven’t even begun to think of a middle name, and off the top of my head, nothing sounds good with Niamh (another strike, UGH!). We don’t want it to be an Irish name, but no American names really work, that I can think of.

Please help!

Thank you so, so much.

I think that if you both love Niamh, and if you keep coming back to it despite being aware of the various issues, and if no other name seems right, that you should use it. And definitely it seems as if your parents shouldn't make a peep after using the name Nathasa in their own baby-naming days.

Would you like the name as much if it were spelled differently? Because you could spell it Neeve or Nieve or Neve and take that issue off your list. It's common for a name from one country to be spelled or pronounced differently when used in another country: we say Wilhelmina with a W sound even though in German it's a V sound; the name Kieran is Irish, but in Ireland it's CiarĂ¡n; and we use Owen instead of Eoghan. It's a matter of translating a name from one alphabet/language to another, so that it can be spelled and pronounced.

If you do use it, several of your other options would make nice middle names: Neeve Caroline Kempt, Nieve Rebecca Kempt, Neve Catherine Kempt.

Another option is to use Niamh as the middle name, eliminating pretty much ALL the problems---well, except the one where you like the name Niamh better than all the other options. I like it best with Rebecca: Rebecca Niamh Kempt. It's good with Caroline and Catherine, too, except that the N sounds blur together a little---not a dealbreaker, I wouldn't think, considering how infrequently it would cause a problem.

What does everyone else think? Use Niamh or not? Spell it the Irish way or the English way? First name or middle name, and what combination?


Meggan said...

I immediately thought: middle name! Like Swistle, I like Rebecca Niamh Kempt best too.

I think Niamh sounds nice with your other children's names, but stylistically it seems totally different and it looks a lot different as well. So my vote is for one of the original names plus Niamh as the middle.

Jana said...

Just an alternate spelling for friend's mom is named Nieves (pronounced Neeve). She goes by Navy as a nickname, but I've always thought Nieves (Niamh, Neeve) was such a lovely name.

Jennifer said...

Use the name you love but give it a new spelling so you don't have to constantly defend your Non-Irish roots and your daughter won't constantly be correcting people her whole life.

Neeve. It's lovely.

amanda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I say go with Niamh if you love it, with the traditional spelling. It would be beautiful w/ a longer middle name.

To the previous poster re: Nieves as an alternative spelling, I would be cautious. Nieves is Spanish for "snow" and is both a word and a pretty common name in many Spanish-speaking countries. Using that spelling for the Irish name is probably not the greatest idea if you're looking to save your kid a whole lot of explanation!

Another traditional Irish name is Aine, pronounced "Anya". Love it!

Carolyn said...

I love Niamh as a middle name, since Joanna also has such a great unique middle name. Rebecca Niamh is my favorite.

Otherwise, if you both love Niamh as a first name, I say go for it. I personally prefer the spelling Neve, as it makes me think of actress Neve Campbell (love her!)

Karen L said...

If I were in your shoes, I would try to sell the DH on the Anglicised spelling, Neeve. If he's strongly against it, I'd take that as a "sign" that she's destined to be Niamh.

And then I would silently tsk about how RUDE some people can be in trying to unduly influence YOUR name choice. I had family lobbying me about my daughter's name and it is just NOT NICE. I'm glad I've bitten my tongue though. One way to placate your inlaws might be to choose a middle name from their family. Perhaps MIL's maiden name? I'm with Swistle in that your parents need only reminding that YOUR name has an unusual spelling, too.

If you're still ambivalent about Niamh, may I suggest Eve? “Joe-ann-uh, Hen-ree, and Eev” sounds great.

Eve Siobhan Kempt
Eve Catherine Kempt
Eve Caroline Kempt

Jen said...

I would definitely suggest an English spelling (even though I love the way the traditional spelling's just so difficult and not intuitive for English speakers). I would keep it as the first name if it is what you really both keep coming back too and love. It is stylistically different from the other two but that along with the grandparents not liking it haven't knocked it off the list so far so there's no reason for it to now. Have you asked the grandparents what they would think about Neve or Neeve or Nieve? They might be a little more on board with it that way.

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

I'm so confused on the pronunciation, because I say Neve as Nev (rhymes with first part of Kevin), but Neeve as "knee" at the start with a v-sound at the end (knee-v). Hrm.

I think that the alternate spelling of Neeve would make more sense for your family and location. Niamh is just so different from the pronounciation, I think it will be trouble her whole life. I have a friend named "Riali" (pronounced Riley), and she was "Ree-al-ee" her whole life to new teachers... it has driven her nuts. That's not even as different as Niamh (which I have to say as "Nye-am" as I type it).

I think there are lovely Gaelic names out there, but I just think that changing them to a more Americanized spelling so you get the prounciation you want would be for the best.

Siobhan, however, I have no trouble with (and kind of love), but I think that's because I've read it in a bunch of British novels, and worked with a woman named Siobhan, so I'm just personally more used to it as a name. Mind you if it's ever been brought up as a name amongst people I know, it's ALWAYS prefaced with, "You know, spelled like "sigh-oh-ban" ?). So uh, yeah.

If you put Niamh in the middle name slot, however, then I'd keep the traditional Gaelic spelling. I totally vote for Rebecca Niamh, it's beautiful.

Swistle said...

S the WW- I wonder if it's because of Neve Campbell, whose name is pronounced Nev? Her name is Dutch.

StephLove said...

I think since it's the one you love you should use it either as a first or a middle name. For reasons others have given, I'd anglicize the sp, though. I like Neeve Caroline best if you use a name from your old list as a middle. Rebecca Neeve is good, too, if you decide to push it back to the middle slot.

Me? A Mom? said...

Being pregnant with our third as well, I've been very aware of not creating a naming scenario where one child feels left out. I think if you use such an unusual name, she will forever feel different from her more traditionally named siblings. And maybe that's okay but I would worry about that.

Personally, I would use it as a middle name.

Hillary said...

I think Niamh flows well with your other children's names but the spelling doesn't. I was friends with a Siobhan all through school and she was constantly correcting people. Eventually she started spelling her name phonetically. I like the idea of using Niamh as a middle name. Caroline Niamh is my favourite.

Joceline said...

I personally would never use a very ethnic-sounding or spelled name if it is not my heritage. I do think Niamh is beautiful as a middle name with any of your original five choices, and I like the rhythm of a longer first name with your one-syllable last name.

My personal favorite is Alice Naimh. I think Alice is a sorely under-used, beautiful classic!

janet said...

To me, this is an important part of your question:

"She will have to constantly be spelling and pronouncing her name for people. I had to do that all my life...and it wasn’t much fun."

As lovely as the name is, I personally would choose from your original list. My favorite is Catherine or Alice.

Anonymous said...

I would love to know what folks think about using a name that is strongly identified w/ a particular heritage when it isn't one's own. I have no children yet, but have often thought that I would love to name a daughter Maeve someday - I love, love, LOVE the name, as does my SO. The kid would have a hyphenated last name, though: one swedish name and one german-jewish one. It's a clunky last name, and neither of us is the teensiest bit Irish. Is Maeve absolutely not an option for us? We have plenty of Swedish, English, Old-Testament, and other names on our lists that would be more in line with our respective heritages... but we do like Maeve an awful lot.


Susanica said...

Hmm...the pronounication is so different than the spelling I think it would be hard on your child. Just and idea, our friends decided to name their second child Callaghan as it's a family name. They'd have called a boy Cal, but they had a girl and her name is Callagh. It's just a gorgeous name and sounds like a "Calla" lilly. If you don't mind the double "C" sound of first with your last name, perhaps this could be a good Gaelic alternative for you. Callagh Kempt. Just a thought. -Monica

Donna said...

I know a family who had a similar problem - they loved a name that was unusual and didn't go over well with the family. They chose to use it as a middle name, but call the little girl by her middle name at home and allow the grandparents to make thier own choice what name to use!

F for Failure said...

I think Niamh is a gorgeous name, but since it's only one syllable, it sounds a bit truncated and harsh paired with the last name Kempt. I love it as a middle name, though. Alice Niamh Kempt would be my favorite option.

Anonymous said...

I personally don't get the whole "you need to be Irish/Spanish/Scottish/Italian" to use a name. Who cares? We all originated somewhere, and plenty of use technically have various countries represented in our family tree. Saying that you can't pair an Irish or Gaelic name with an ethnic-sounding last name from another country is odd to me. I would go with whatever you like.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't spell it Niamh, if only because there is never going to be a time where someone knows how to pronounce it. That will get old really, really fast. I'd do "Neeve" for a first name but spell it "Niamh" if you put it in the middle name slot.

Erin said...

I agree with anonymous - tracing back to your "roots" is a little overdone if its not within living generations. And so so so much of our history is lost via the take one name pass it on thing that most people have a ton of everything somewhere down the road (and lets be honest, there are going to be a lot of lies and discrepancies in those old family trees about who the daddy really is years ago - it happened a lot). So I think its totally fine to use an Irish name. I plan on using a very french name myself, and am mostly Irish and German, so there you go. Whats in a name is entirely up to you. It is interesting that many people born in Ireland have Italian names, and people born in Italy have french names, and so on and so forth - so I wouldn't worry about that.

Now that that soapbox is done, Niamh is very nice, and if its the only one you like, use it! I would also suggest Caoimhe and Aisling, love both. I also like the suggestion of Eve or Genevieve with Neeve as a nickname, or even Alice Niamh and call her Niamh. Then if it becomes too cumbersome for her, she can always use her first name.

If I had to choose from your first list, I love Alice. I love Caroline also, but not with Niamh as a middle because of the double n sound. Good luck!

d e v a n said...

I love Naimh but would STRONGLY suggest using the alternate spelling Neeve or something similar. As someone who has had her name mispronounced and spelled her entire life, I think it would make things much easier. (and my name isn't even that hard)

The Schwant Family said...

spell it Neeve! Brilliant, Swistle!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if your sudden love for Gaelic names and especially for Naimh will go away about as quickly as it came on and then you'll have two children named in your style and the third with a name that has no rhyme or reason as to why she has it except that you liked it at the time. I think traditional names like Catherine, Caroline, Rebecca, Alice and Grace may sometimes seem too ordinary compared to some name you've never heard or considered before. But one of your five previous favorites may be the best choice for YOUR family and certainly each goes well with Joanna and Henry, whereas Naimh does not. I'd name the baby one of the five, with Naimh in the middle, possibly calling her Naimh some of the time in your immediate family.

Giselle said...

First, so glad to finally know how Siobhan is pronounced...I've read countless novels with that name and I've NEVER figured out how to say it.

I think you should go with Neeve...solves the spelling issue without changing the sound of the name you like.

And my name is very different in style to my sisters (Kate and Andrea) never really bothered me. I still get a lot of comments when people find out my sister's names (What? Your sister isn't Solange or something? It's...Kate?)...but again, never really bothered me.

Anonymous said...

I vote for Alice Niamh too. I think the two names sound nice together, and Alice -- not having a usual nickname of its own -- lends itself to a double name "Alice Niamh" which could then be either "Alice" or "Niamh". Maybe if she's called "Alice Niamh" when she's small, the grandparents will easily except just "Niamh" as a shortening of that when she's older, if you prefer that. I think Alice Niamh is a rather stunning name.

Anonymous said...

Love the name Neeve, spelled that way. My name is Jaclyn but I have spent my whole life having to correct people because it is not the traditional spelling (everyone wants to spell it Jacqueline, Jacklyn, Jacquelyn, etc..). It was really important when naming my daughter to come up with a unique sounding name, but spell it the easy way to make her life easier! : ) You don't want her to dread the first day of school because NO teacher will know how to pronounce Niamh when they are calling roll.

Libby said...

I LOVE NIAMH. One of my all time favorite names so I might be a tad biased in telling you to use it but...USE IT. Personally I'd keep the spelling- I think that's part of what I love about it. And people will struggle but plently of people will know how to pronounce it too. If you are going to change the spelling though, I like Neeve.

Good Luck and I can't wait to hear what you decide!


Frazzled Mom said...

Even with the Anglicized spelling Neeve Kempt sounds a little abrupt to me. If it went better with the last name, I would be all on board with the Anglicized spelling Neeve or Neve, but I have to add my voice to the Niamh as a middle name crowd. If it's a middle name, I feel you can use the traditional spelling. Of your original list, I feel Rebecca or Alice sounds best with your last name. I think I like Alice the best of those two, but feel Rebecca goes a little better with Niamh in the middle.

Pocket said...

My husband's french and we're expecting in April. Our biggest factor in naming our baby has been choosing a name that both Americans and French family can pronounce, and I tell ya, it's not easy! I understand your predicament with trying to use a traditional spelling for a name you love but worrying that she'll have to explain herself all her life. As with most comments, I believe if you love it, use it. However, I personally don't think that spelling hassle is worth the trouble. I do love the pronunciation and think Nieve or any of the other alternative spellings are just beautiful. I also like it as a middle name.

As for your family, once that baby's born, they won't care what the heck you call it! And after a few minutes with that beautiful baby they'll realize that the name you gave them is THEIR NAME and that's the end of it! Good luck!

Stephanie said...

My first thought was to change the spelling, my second was go with Nina or something sort of similar sounding but more 'american' if you will. I like the middle name option too, but it is sometimes hard to let go of a name you love :) I like Catherine and Rebecca as firsts with Niamh, or Neeve, and Neva. Nov. 26 is my birthday, so happy Turkey baby :)

Barb @ getupandplay said...

I love the name but I, too, would use an Americanized spelling. I prefer Neve.

Tara said...

I love the name Niamh, but I would spell it the Americanized way, to eliminate the issues with pronunciation and any awkwardness that you feel for not being Irish. I like Nieve Caroline best, because it is a long name to balance out the one syllable first and last names.

Amber said...

I love the name, but prefer the Americanized spelling as well, for clarity sake. I agree with Swistle, if you both love it that much you should use it!

bellaf said...

Just change the spelling and you're good to go. The Irish spellings are nearly impossible for non-Irish folk to guess, really.

BTW, Neve is Portuguese for snow, but it's pronounced NEH-vee.

M.Amanda said...

There is absolutely nothing wrong with honoring the beauty of another culture if it's something you love. However, like others have said, it would be loads easier on the child (and you) if her name was spelled the way it is pronounced or somewhere close in English. If you are very much in love with the spelling as much as the sound of the name, move it to the middle and use it as her special name at home and let the rest of the world have a much easier name to figure out.

Kit said...

I would go with the Neeve spelling if it's the name you love. With the gaelic spelling, it's not only going to be confused teachers, but perhaps even confused potential employers who might not call, just because they have no idea how to pronounce the name. Trust me, it happens.

Patricia said...

I find the Irish name Niamh rather intriguing, but with a very problematic pronunciation and spelling outside of Ireland and Northern Ireland, where Niahm is the 18th most popular name for baby girls.

The name is also popular in Scotland (#25) and England and Wales (#70), where there are pronunciation problems just as there would be in the U.S.

Among the comments for Niamh on

"I am a Niamh living in England. The name Niamh is much more popular here now than it was, the pronunciation is still an issue in England. Many people still call me Nim-ah, or Nime or even Nimph!"

"I LOVE the name Niamh! However, I wouldn't name my daughter this unless I lived in Ireland where people actually pronounce it correctly. In America, this name would be a pronunciation nightmare and the kid would be sick of people getting her name wrong."

Baby Name Wizard: "'d best be prepared to spell and pronounce it over and over again." Nieve and Neve are given as variant spellings.

Baby Name Bible: "...Here [US] the phonetic Neve would undoubtedly prove simpler, if less intriguing." The authors recommend the spelling Neve as a "best bet" name: "Introduced by actress Neve Campbell - it was her Dutch-born mother's maiden name - Neve is an interesting and fresh new possibility..."

I think Neve would be the best spelling for an American baby girl. Neeve looks TOO phonetic.

Patricia said...

I noticed that the older daughter Joanna Aisbet has an unusual middle name. I think that Niamh would be a comparable unique middle name for the new baby. Looking at Irish Times online birth announcements, I came across Catherine Niamh. I think that would be a beautiful name for Joanna and Henry's little sister.

Joanna Aisbet
Henry Fraser
Catherine Niamh

Catherine said...

Personally, I don't think I'd use Niamh as a first name for lots of reasons (the contrast to the sibling names, the spelling / pronunciation issue being the primary issues for me). But as a middle name it's great. I liked Caroline from your original list the best, but any of them would work.

Anonymous said...

An observation: Neve looks similar to Nevaeh (heaven-spelled-backwards), which for me would be a detractor for using that spelling. Nevaeh ranks 34 in the SSA 2008 top baby girls' names.

This may be another reason to use Niamh as a middle name where its original spelling can be left as is.

I like each of the 5 names with Niamh in the middle. I think Rebecca would be a good pairing with Joanna.

Anonymous said...

PS Just looked at your list again: Grace Niamh would not work, but the other 4 would.

My favorites are
Rebecca Niamh (Joanna, Henry, Rebecca)
Catherine Niamh (Joanna, Henry, Catherine)

Zelig said...

I'm firmly in the "if you love it, use it" camp. My only reservation in your particular case is the abruptness of "Niamh Kempt," as others have mentioned. To my ear, this speaks in favor of Siobhan (which I have known how to spell/pronounce for years; maybe it's more common in the States than your other Irish-name candidates?).

Alternatively, I second Stephanie's suggestion of Neva, which is beautiful. (I first recall hearing it as the name of Russian model Natalia Vodianova's daughter.) It's true that it edges close to Nevaeh, but on the other hand, it takes care of your sound issue, your spelling issue, and your cultural-origins issue at one fell swoop (the Neva is a river in Russia, nieves is snow in Spanish--which is just to say, "Niamh" respelled has lots of non-Irish resonances, unlike Siobhan or Aoife).

Jenny said...

I love Niamh. I had to look up the pronunciation the first time a friend emailed me about his girlfriend Niamh - after that, it was totally a non-issue when I've encountered the name subsequently.

I think Siobhan is even more recognizable, and, for what it's worth, sounds just a tiny bit better with your last name.

I think the Anglicized spellings risk losing a great deal of the charm of the names. I find Neeve or Nieve to be much less exciting. If you can't justify the difficulty of spelling, I would head for middle name territory where you can use the original name you fell in love with!

What I personally would do - go for it and name your daughter Niamh (or Siobhan), and give her one of the other names on your 4-months-ago list as a middle name. Many people do go by their middle names, and if your daughter decides that the constant spelling is too much for her, she can be one of them.

I would not worry about the matchiness of the sibset. They are all traditional names, so I think they go together fine.

Anonymous said...

Love Niamh! I would probably spell it Neve or Neeve. Husband is also a fan of this name, and brought it to my attention in the first place. I think the Gaelic spelling is beautiful but I personally would Anglicize it.

I like Neeve/Neve/Niamh Rebecca the best, with Niamh Catherine a close second.

I don't find Neve Kempt to be too abrupt. It doesn't have the same flow as a name with two or more syllables would, but it wouldn't stop me if I loved the name.

Let us know what you decide in the end :)

Melio (MelissaInk) said...

I like the idea of spelling it Neeve. She won't have issues with people pronouncing and spelling it and it will flow with the other children's names better.

Meg said...

I LOVE Niamh!! I grew up in Maryland (Hagerstown and Frederick) and went to school with a Naimh and 2 Siobhan's and while there was a short explanation of how to pronounce and that was it. I remember being so jealous of the Naimh in my class because her name was so beautiful!!

I also don't think that naming her something Gaelic when you aren't is a big deal. I find that most of the people who name their daughters Kaitlyn aren't Irish, and those naming their child Chloe aren't Greek... it's a name that you love and that's what matters.

About the grandmothers... they may not be thrilled with the name now, but once they're holding sweet little Niamh in their arms, and associating "Neeve" with that darling baby they'll be head over heals in love.

In other words I say Go For It!!!

Megan said...

I like Siobhan! I have a friend named Siobhan and it works because it sounds familiar. The spelling is troublesome, but I think it is so pretty. Her name is Siobhan Laura. I love it. Nick name Sio.

brzeski said...

My two cents: Don't use Niamh as a first name. My name is hard to spell and hard to pronounce and it has been a pain my entire life. It's just a constant hassle - no one knows how to spell it, they can't get my email right, the waiter slaughters it for reservations, my important documents are constantly messed up, etc. etc. Then I married someone with a hard last name, and it got WORSE. Don't do that to a kid (I'm begging you, Mom!) I like the sound of it lots, though, so can you bring yourself to spell it phonetically? How about Neve or Naeve? Your child will thank you, I think. And, lots of the names we love are Anglicized spellings of other culture's names, so it's not like you'd be the first to change a name's spelling for easier reading and pronunciation in your native tongue.
Just another thought: My friend has a little girl named Neva, which everyone loves and can pronounce. And, I don't see it often at all. Perhaps that version appeals?

Amber said...


I thought of Neva too, but am hesitant to suggest it with the last name Kempt "Neva Kempt" Does it sound too much like "verklempt" from that skit from SNL?? I"m probably just hyperanalyzing. I think Neva is super cute!

Anonymous said...

Just to add to the mix, I have a very lovely friend named Niveen which is lovely too.

Anna said...

I like Alice Niamh or Catherine Niamh with Henry & Joanna :)

Good luck.

Christine said...

I like Neve or Neeve for a first name, if you love it: go for it. And Niamh for a middle name. I would just hate to have such a uncommon name with a pronounciation that few people would get as a first.

Cleo said...

Go for Niamh as a first name, don't let the Irish connection get in the way!

As for the spelling/pronounciation situation, having an interesting name is not only character building and has a lovely story and is a good conversation starter!

Here in England, I know a Neve but it just seems like a bit of a cop out. Niamh is beautiful.

Susan said...

In general, I would vote for using the original "authentic" spelling of a name, but Niamh, Aoife, Eoghan, and so on are spelled so oddly to English eyes that I think I come down on the side of spelling Niamh "Neeve." I've read many books with names like those, and no matter how many times I go to my computer and research how they are pronounced, I can never remember how, and spelling is no less a problem. Even now, this minute, I can't remember how "Aoife" is pronounced -- or even take a guess. Yet "Neeve" is a really cool and nice name. I say go with "Neeve," spelled "Neeve." Great name. Good spelling.