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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: Preferences vs. Requirements

Julia writes:
We have three boys and are expecting our fourth child, a girl, in early March. My name is Julia, my husband is Greg, and our surname is Holloway.

Our boys are Leo Sebastian (7), Asher Hugo (5), and Simon Frederick (2). We consider ourselves pros at naming boys. My husband and I are equal partners in the naming process and really enjoyed it with our sons. We absolutely adore their names and think we did a pretty damn good job with them. But we're starting to doubt our naming prowess with our daughter.

The problem is that we suck at naming girls. This is our first girl, and probably our last (we aren't sure if we want another child after this one), so we want her name to be absolutely perfect. If this baby was a boy he would have been Jude Atticus or Felix Alasdair, depending on what he looked like. Done deal, give me the birth certificate so I can sign it already. But this wee lass is a giant pain as we are absolutely stumped on her name.

I suppose the problem is that we're very conscientious about names. Like, we really like Ivy (it's honestly the only one we've found that we like), but discarded it because of the long "i" sound it shares with Simon's name. We don't want her name to begin or end the same as any of our sons' names and we don't want any of the same dominant sounds. And this rules out a lot of names.

We also don't want a name with an easy nickname, nor a name above two syllables.

Also we would like her name to end in a vowel, though it's not mandatory.

We know that we want her name to be feminine but not frilly, soft but strong, elegant yet playful. Does it even exist? Are we being way too picky?

We did look at the meanings for our sons' names when choosing them (Leo means "lion", Asher means "lucky/happy one", and Simon means "the listener") and while it's not TERRIBLY important we would like the meaning to be at least nice, if not wonderful.

Thank you, Swistle!

You are just as good at naming girls as you are at naming boys. The problem you're encountering is that you're setting up unnecessary requirements. "Not sharing a vowel sound with any siblings" is too strict when combined with "no more than two syllables," "no nicknames," "no sharing either beginning or ending sounds with a sibling," and "having four children."

It's important when choosing a baby's name to note the differences between requirements and preferences. A requirement might be something like "not creating a silly phrase with our surname." A preference might be something like "not starting with the same initial as a sibling name." Of course it will vary from situation to situation: in some families, different initials might be the requirement and making a silly phrase might be a goal. The main difference is that requirements must be VERY FEW, or else they create a logic puzzle that not one single name in the universe can satisfy. Preferences, on the other hand, may come in the form of long lists, because it is understood that any of them can be abandoned if a name meets most of them, or if a name is wonderful enough to be worth ditching them.

The first step, then, is to divide your long list of requirements into two lists, one of actual requirements, and one of preferences. With two or three children, I think it might be reasonable to want not to share any beginning sounds, any ending sounds, any dominant sounds, or any vowel sounds. With four children, I think it's time to re-evaluate that for actual importance. A family of Leo, Asher, Simon, and Ivy does not make me think "OMG, they repeated the long-I sound!! Don't they realize their children are INDIVIDUALS??" On the contrary, I'd think what a good job the family had done finding such completely different names that nevertheless went together well.

One way to separate out the requirements from the preferences is to ask yourself whether you think the rule is more important than the name---that is, whether you should dismiss a name you agree on and love, just because you've made an arbitrary rule and now the name doesn't meet it. Which is more important, the name or the rule you made? If you reluctantly say that the rule is more important (as you might if your surname were Dover and your favorite name were Ben), then what you have is a requirement. If you think, "Wait. No, that would be silly: if the name of our dreams, the name we can't bear not to use, is a name that has three syllables even though we said it couldn't have more than two, we don't actually have to let that rule boss us around," then what you have is a preference.

Preferences can be a helpful tool for sorting through enormous piles of names. And it's very satisfying to find a name that meets most or all of the preferences, which you might still do. But when preferences start running the show or making you feel frantic, or when every name you like is at the mercy of the preferences, that means the preference list is now the unreasonable boss rather than the helpful tool. You're the one setting the standards for what qualifies as perfection, so you are also the ones who can re-set those standards.

It sounds to me like the name you're looking for is Ivy. It doesn't have more than two syllables. It doesn't have an easy nickname. It ends in a vowel. It's feminine but not frilly. It's soft but strong. It's elegant but playful. It's wonderful with your surname, and with the sibling names. Eliminating it because it shares a single sound with a brother's name is not conscientiousness, it's pickiness. (And the name Felix would have repeated not only the long-E but also the only consonant sound of Leo.)

Now, if you don't love the name Ivy, that's a different story. In that case, we still need the section about requirements vs. preferences, but you also need name suggestions.

My first suggestion is Clara. It doesn't share the first or last sounds of any brother names. It's feminine, non-frilly, soft, strong, elegant, playful. It's not as good with your surname as Ivy, but it's still good: Clara Holloway. I suggest Felicity as the middle name, unless that would eliminate Felix for a future baby. Clara Felicity Holloway.

My second suggestion is Rose. It's gotten common as a middle name, but is still surprising and fresh as a first name, while also sounding classic and traditional: a very nice combination. Rose Holloway is wonderful. Leo, Asher, Simon, and Rose. I suggest Eliza as the middle name to emphasize the Z sound of both names: Rose Eliza Holloway.

My third suggestion is Phoebe. Elegant but playful. Two syllables. Ends in a vowel. Great with the brother names. Etc. I suggest the middle name Louise: Phoebe Louise Holloway.

My fourth suggestion is Beatrix. It has three syllables, or maybe more like 2.5, and it doesn't end in a vowel---but I reject those preferences in favor of this name. Talk about elegant but playful! Talk about feminine but non-frilly! BEATRIX, baby. It's similar to your boy name choice Felix, but without being as similar to Leo. I suggest the middle name Philippa: Beatrix Philippa Holloway.

My fifth suggestion is Greta. Look at how gorgeous it is with your surname. (I like Margaret even better, but that has tons of established nicknames.) I suggest Magnolia as the middle name: Greta Magnolia Holloway.

I think I'll stop counting my suggestions. Next up is Meredith. Three syllables, true; if that turns out to be one of the truly important requirements, then never mind. But man, what a great name with your surname and with the brother names. Leo, Asher, Simon, and Meredith! Meredith Holloway! Maybe put Ivy as the middle name, if it turns out not to work as a first name: Meredith Ivy Holloway.

Next is Ruth. Ruthie springs to mind as a nickname, but I love it with the brother names. Leo, Asher, Simon, and Ruth. A much more serious spin on the group than something like Phoebe, though. I'd put something light and feminine as the middle name; maybe Clarissa. Ruth Clarissa Holloway.

To maintain a lighter touch, maybe Ruby: Leo, Asher, Simon, and Ruby.

Ruby would make me think of Lucy, but I suspect that won't fly with Leo. But Lucy makes me think of Darcy, which I think fits better anyway: Leo, Asher, Simon, and Darcy.

Name update! Julia writes:
So um I just had the baby eight hours ago but I'm so excited about her name I just had to give you an update!

We went to the hospital with three names: Phoebe Juniper, Clara Beatrix, and Eloise Ivy (which was a miracle in itself seeing that when I first begged you for help we had absolutely nothing). We loved them all equally and had no idea how we were going to pick. Like, I was expecting the decision of her name to be harder than actually giving birth to her.

But. When I held her the first thing I noticed is that she had this little scrunched-up look on her face and when our son Leo held her for the first time she punched him in the nose; our three-year-old Simon didn't want to hold her after she pinned him with a tough glare. So her personality helped us narrow down the names. She wasn't a sunny, sweet Phoebe. She wasn't a soft, playful Eloise. This baby was a no-nonsense, I-may-be-a-only-a-few-hours-old-but-I-am-already-the-boss-of-all-of-you Clara Beatrix.

We're all doing great and HOLY MOTHER we named our daughter a name we actually adore to pieces. Thank you, Swistle! It was your suggestions of Clara and Beatrix that made the names click with us. And the preferences vs requirements post for us was extremely helpful. So thanks again!

Anyway, I'm sorry if I'm insensible. I just needed to share my happiness about Clara's name and couldn't wait!


gail said...

Love Swistle's reasoning on preferences vs. requirements. Also love her encouragement/suggestion of Ivy, Rose, and Ruby.

Others that fit your naming style (with something more traditional/quirky such as Agnes in the middle):


Let us know, it's always fascinating to read the updates!

Laura said...

Wow, Swistle! Excellent job on this post! I love your name suggestions, as well. Ivy is still my top choice, but Clara Felicity is stunning!

StephLove said...

I think Ivy is the best choice for you. You agree on it and it meets nearly all your requirements. I also like most of Swistle's suggestions, esp. Beatrix, Phoebe, Rose, Ruby and Ruth.

Finally...<> That's just how I feel about my daughter's name-- June.

StephLove said...

What was supposed to appear between the brackets was the quote that starts feminine but not frilly... and ends elegant but playful.

Lauren said...

Ivy is a beautiful name and I would never have noticed the repeated vowel sound. No matter what name you choose your daughter will be unique in your family of all boys.

If you are still looking for other names, how about Mira or Maeve? No nicknames, both feminine and not too common.

Marjorie said...

I think the problem may be that you're getting too picky. We had 2 sons and then a girl. The boys seemed so easy, but when we had a girl we wanted the name to be perfect. I think it's the pressure of it being the first and possibly last time to name a particular gender. Sounds like you know her name is Ivy, but you're second guessing yourself. Ivy is lovely, it fits. I don't think anyone is going to think it similar to Simon. Different first letter, different syllables. Feel confident with what you like! :)

Anonymous said...

Swistle I ADORE you and your blog but what is with all of the Clara and Eliza suggestions?! You love those names :)

Anonymous said...

If Jude fits all of your requirements (for a boy), what about using June or Jane for a girl?

Anonymous said...

Eva? Mila?

Anonymous said...

What about Una? Or Uma?

(But I love Ivy and think it makes a great sibset with your other names. I also would not worry for one second about it being too similar to Simon.)

Anonymous said...

Ivy is beautiful. The 'u' names are nice too, because each sibling would have his or her own vowel.

E/O - Leo
A - Asher
I - Simon
U - Ruby or Luna or Trudy

KWILY said...

Rose is THE perfect name for your daughter! I thought of that as soon as I read your boy names. I do like Ivy almost as much though. Use it and LOVE it!

Anonymous said...

I love Celeste, Cara, Dana, Maisie, Elsa, Maya and Vera (repeating e..)

Good luck!

Julia said...

Julia here. I don't think my problem with Ivy came across accurately. We do love Ivy, a LOT, but we call Simon "Si" about half the time, and so having a Si and an Ivy is too much "i" for me. It's not about them sharing a single sound: it's how the two very dominant strong "i" sounds are RIGHT next to each other. Maybe I'm being irrational, but the repeating sounds just BOTHER me too much to use Ivy.

BUT I love Clara! A lot! And it's now on our list! We have a name on our list!

And SWISTLE! Such a great, helpful blog post, not just for me, but for any namer. I know I'm being picky, probably too picky, and I'll take your requirement vs. preference advice when looking for names.

Thank you so much for the wonderful advice and the help!


Laura said...

I thought of Naomi when I read your sons' names. It falls out of the "2 or fewer syllables" preference but wanted to throw it out there. I love the suggestion of Ruby as well...your little precious jewel. Best wishes to you...and send an update when your daughter arrives!!

bryony_e said...

What about Hazel? It's got the sort of botanical charm of Ivy, and the two syllables, and that quirky, unexpected "z" in the middle.

Swistle said...

Anonymous 1:07 p.m.- I've explained it, but if you missed it: It's that both of those names are on my own favorites list as well as on my own Names That Got Away list, and also that they're both names that fit in beautifully with all the current styles---and yet somehow aren't being used as much, even though they're classic names with long histories.

Melissa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crafty Beth said...

Julia, I have to admit, I thought you were being overly picky about the 'I' sounds in Simon and Ivy, but after seeing your explanation that makes total sense. I have an Iris and we call her "I" or even "I-I", and with a "Si" in the house that would bug me too. Also, I love the suggestion someone had of Hazel (if you don't mind alliteration with your last name) and Willa was one of my names I couldn't convince the hubby on (although I guess that's a lot of w and l with Holloway). I love Elsa and Jane, and my only addition that I didn't see above would be Cora.

Melissa said...

Your son's names are terrific! I like the name Ivy.

I LOVE the suggestion of Phoebe with Simon, Leo and Asher. Perfection! Phoebe has a great meaning too! Beatrix is my second favorite.

other ideas -

Willa Francis Holloway
Carys Francesca Holloway
Penny Meredith Holloway or Penelope Jane Holloway
Frances Violet Holloway
Betsy Louise Holloway
Nora Beatrix Holloway
Gemma Charlotte Holloway

Anonymous said...

What about Aria?

dreadybetty said...

Swistle, you just made me want to have a houseful of girls just so I could use all those gorgeous names!

The Mrs. said...

Part of the glorious fun of so many requirements is finding names that might actually work! (Not to negate anything Swistle wrote because she is genius at this business).
So after doing some spread-sheet-like action, this is what I have to humbly suggest:

No J,G,L,A, or S names. No same dominant sounds (especially vowel). No nicknames. No 3 or more syllable names. Vowel ending. Feminine, soft, strong, elegant, playful. WHEW!

Nellie (or Nelle, pronounced like Nell)

These are missing one requirement each:

Gemma (shared inital)
Ingrid (ends with a consanant)

All the best to you and your growing family. The right name is out there, and we are excited to hear what it is!

Kelly said...

Ivy makes me think of Eve. It matches your firstborn Leo with the two vowels and a consonant.

Anonymous said...

OOOHHH! Hazel!

Sally! said...

Thea! I love the "goddess" meaning, and it's the very definition of soft but strong, elegant yet playful. (And no nick name!) Although I could see that it might sound too smiliar to Leo, depending on how you pronounce it.

Natalia said...

Hi Julia! These are my suggestions for your girl's name. I searched for two syllables names ending with a vocal and I combined them with very classic names, because it seems to me that you have that preference. These are my favorite combinations:

Emma Charlotte Holloway

Molly Elizabeth Holloway

Nora Abigail Holloway

Rosie Margaret Holloway

Other 2 syllables names ending with a vocal that you may like: Heidi, Macie, Marlee, Maura, Mae,
Eva, Bella, Tessa, Vera.

I want to share with you some other names that I like for your daughter although they don't meet your requirements/preferences, I just really like them:

Eden Scarlett Holloway

Harper Amelia Holloway --> my absolute favorite

Charlotte Ivy Holloway

Vivian Margaret Holloway

Please, keep sharing with us your thoughts and the evolution of your names list!! You'll find a beautiful and perfect name, I'm sure!

Angie said...

While reading your letter, I was thinking that too many requirements (i.e. restrictions) might take away from the fun of picking a name for your first and possibly last daughter.

And then I read The Mrs. comment about the fun of the logic puzzle.

Both approaches have merit. But I say if the requirements are causing stress, it's time to loosen up some of them, and determine what your priorities are (for example, perhaps no repeating vowels takes precedence over no nicknames).

I was thinking you didn't have to look further than Ivy, and then I read your comment about the repeating i with Simon and that makes perfect sense.

I also thought of Rose. It doesn't meet your no nickname preference, but I find it elegant and fitting with your tastes.

Like Swistle likes to suggest Clara and Eliza often, I seem to like the Cecilia family of names.

I think Celia or Cecily would be good for you. I try not to suggest the same names over and over, but I really feel these names would fit your style.

I think Cecilia would make a good middle name option. Rose Cecilia is very pretty.

The first name suggestions seem to be well covered so I'm going to give more middle name suggestions:

Adelaide with Rose
Eleanor w/ Clara or Rose
Rosaline or Rosalind w/ Clara
Rosemary ditto
Susanna w/ Rose

namelover said...

What about Laura?

vanessa said...

I was thinking you were too stringent with Ivy and Simon, but with Ivy and Si it makes sense.
So...let's see!
I love the name Rose as a first name: I know one actual child with the name, and it feels very fresh each time I hear it. Rosey is such a cute nickname. I know you don't want a nickname and I think it would be impossible NOT to call a Rose Rosey some of the time, though. But I think that would be like Simon/Si--natural sometimes, but you'd still introduce her as Rose.
Pheobe is my favorite of Swistle's suggestions, though. Phoebe! So great with the brother names.
I love the name Helen for you, but don't love the repeating ending with Simon. So Helena? Helena Rose Holloway is a pretty kick ass name. this is my top choice for you, I think.
Cora Rose (this would be great, you could call her both names)
Nora Rose
Nadia June
you could use Jude as a middle name for a girl. Cora Jude, Naomi Jude, Molly Jude

the fact that you have one child with a name that begins with a vowel makes me wnt to find you another vowel name, because of my OCD. So:
Emma Jude (OMG I LOVE THIS. you could use both names and it would make Emma seem more special. This is my new top choice).
Isadora Rose
Ellery Rose
Isla Jude

please let us know!

Anonymous said...

It's been mentioned a few times already, but I just want to say again, Jane! I think it's beautiful and so underused and fits with many of your requirements.

Joanne said...

I like a lot of the suggested names, especially Rose, which is my mom's name and no one calls her Rosie. What about Daphne? Daphne Jane Holloway. Tessa? Tessa Jane Holloway.

Holly Waterfall said...

The suggestions you've been given already are great. I like the evaluation of requirements vs. preferences. If it were me I'd be a bit more lenient on the syllables or the ending sound. I agree that Ivy is too much long I sound. I like the suggestion of Ruby. I also like things like Caroline and Elizabeth. So a few combos for you:
Caroline Ivy
Elizabeth Marie
Beatrice Ruth
Ruby Louise
Natalie Renee

Hermia said...

First of all, your kids' names are lovely.
I agree with a lot of the suggestions listed above, especially Hazel and Elsa and Clara and Mira. At first, I thought of Cleo, which would have been PERFECT if it weren't for Leo.
I did think of:
Clea (maybe still too similar to Leo)
Alice (share an initial with Asher)
Liesl (ends with a consonant)
Opal (same)
Fleur (same)
Dahlia (too frilly?)
Jane (shares an initial with you, but so what?)
Lyra (a bit frilly, maybe, and starts with an L)
Nona (I love this!)
Sybil (share an initial with Simon AND ends with a consonant, but so lovely)
Luna (starts with and L)

Good luck!

vanessa said...

ELSA JUDE. Instead of Emma Jude. I love this even more.

Emjay said...

Grace Ivy Holloway. First name strong, feminine, suits a woman of any profession, can be nicknamed to Gracie as a little girl if you choose. Middle name - the name you love. No worries about sharing the long "i" with Simon, you can call her her full name "Grace Ivy" when introducing or when she's in trouble!, Doesn't take up too much space on formal documents with limited spaces, full name or nickname does not clash with any brothers' vowel sounds. And it rolls so well "Grace Ivy Holloway".

Patricia said...

What a perfect name for your baby and sibling set. Congratulations on your baby girl and her lovely name!

And congratulations to Swistle for coming up with yet another winning name.

Clara Beatrix is an amazing name. Love it!

vanessa said...

Congratulations! Clara Beatrix is great. Leo, Asher, Simon and Clara--terrific. and that is the best naming story I've heard in quite awhile.