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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Baby Naming Issue: Okay to Use Henry Potter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you and I really appreciate your help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again for all your help.


HereWeGoAJen said...

Angelina will always be on my can't use list because of my last name. I decided it wasn't quite a good enough reason to not marry my husband though.

Suzanne said...

I sort of feel like it doesn't matter WHAT you use, with Potter as a last name people are always going to say "You mean like Harry?" so if you really really love Henry you should use it.

But THEN I think Henry Potter is just different enough that people are going to forever be asking/wondering if you didn't REALIZE it sounded like Harry Potter and that would be very tiring.

Can you tell I am the "I can't decide" vote in the sidebar?

Anonymous said...

I think it's the difference between having the last name Kennedy and knowing everyone's going to comment on it, and naming the child Jack Kennedy.

Veronica Marcetti Dimick said...

I teach college classes, so supposedly "adults" and have had both Harry and Henry Potters in past classes, and the other students just could NOT get over it. They mentioned it all the time, brought the guys wands, etc. Now imagine young children! As soon as I spied the title, "Henry Potter," I actually said "Noooooo! Don't do it!!!" in my head.

I agree with anonymous above. There is a very big difference in having a last name that people will automatically associate with a certain first name and actually GIVING the kid a first name that is almost exactly like the famous name.

I am sorry though. There is nothing worse than having a perfect name and the not being able to use it.

Guinevere said...

I think the situation is moderately improved by the fact that most people (at least in the US) don't realize that Harry is a traditional nickname for Henry (e.g. Prince Harry is really a Henry on the birth certificate)... but YOU would know, and the names are close enough that even if people didn't know there'd be a lot of "OOooooh, I thought you said HARRY, ha ha ha" going on.

So, I am inclined to say "No, not useable". Full disclosure: I'm someone who is fully intending to give a future daughter the name Hermione, even with a G last name... so I suspect I might be in the more-forgiving-than-most category with embracing the fact that there will be inevitable Harry Potter related comments.

Life of a Doctor's Wife said...

I'm so sorry but I too am in the "don't use" camp. Would it soothe things at all if you put Henry in the middle? Jack Henry Potter, Ryan Henry Potter?

plantingoaks said...

I think the trickiest part is that the look very similar typed out. You're going to get a lot of people who innocently read the wrong thing off a list because that's where the mind jumps, even after he's outgrown the playground nicknames.

As for your other names - I don't see anything at all wrong with Jack Potter (or the others really, but you seemed to think Jack might be problematic)

jerilyn said...

Out of your list I like Benjamin and you didn't seem to have any reservations about it. Maybe Benjamin Henry Potter?

Anonymous said...

Harry is a nickname for Henry so your son could, quite feasibly, want to go by it in the future if he found Henry too formal. With a surname like Potter, that might not be recommended.

StephLove said...

Benjamin is my favorite from the list and I like the last commenter's idea of using Henry for a middle. I also think Ryan is usable unless you see your cousin all the time. Owen and Samuel were good suggestions, too.

How about


Anonymous said...

What about two middle names? I would absolutely not give Henry as a first name, but in a middle spot it will never be shortened to Harry. A sort, strong, punchy middle name like Jack stands alone well, as Jack Potter, but I think Jack Henry Richard Potter is also great.
Or Bennett Richard Potter which shortens to the same as the Benjamin that you like but retains similar sounds to Henry. -en- with 2 syllables. Bennett Richard Potter. Ben Potter. I like that a lot. Good luck with the countdown to bubby!

Anonymous said...

Henry Potter is also the name of the really evil old villain in the movie It's a Wonderful Life -- a less modern but still recognizable (and more negative than the boy wizard) association.

Maria said...

With Jack Potter, I think of jackpot. Not a bad association, but I'd probably avoid it.

Annika said...

I think you should use it. For nearly everyone on earth, it's a GOOD association, so even if half the people he meets think it, they're unlikely to feel negatively about it. Besides, as several other commenters have noted, your last name will still be Potter no matter what you name him, so a few people who think they're funnier than they are will probably make jokes about it.

Then again, I did cross Calvin off our baby name list because our last name is Klein--but I doubt that would have stopped me from using a name SIMILAR to Calvin.

Rhiannon said...

My baby is named Henry, so I'm quite partial to the name :-) I do like the idea of putting Henry in the middle. Jack Henry is very cute!

Allison said...

I got the startled/incredulous reaction, reading the title. I think if I saw it on paper somewhere, I might think it was a joke name, like if it was Paul Bunyan.

Anonymous said...

If you love it and want to use it, then do. It's not a negative association and the hype has died down some and his peers will never have been exposed to the initial hype anyway. It's a lovely name that just happens to be similar to a popular literary reference (and movie character) I don't see the problem. Also keep in mind Harry Potter is the hero.

He could always choose to go by his middle name, if the name gave him trouble. I say use it.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't use Henry, or Jack (jackpot was my first association too).

So that left Benjamin which I think sounds fine. You can always use Henry as a middle name? Benjamin Henry Potter.

phancymama said...

Count me also in the double take category, so I voted no. It is just too close, in both sound and spelling, and I don't think the popularity will fade or be forgotten. I have the same sad thing where I loved a name that just didn't work with my husband's last name (ours was a rhyming thing.) But it has become a fun story to tell people, "Well, we almost used the name *Matthew, until we realized he'd be Matt Flattman." (not the real name) Or such. Benjamin is wonderful, and I particularly like Owen and Nathan also.
It is a recognizable last name, but it is also a very nice one and will go very well with many many names. I hope you will update us!

Leslie said...

Normally I'm an advocate of parents using a name they love, despite any small hiccups. In this case, though, I'd regretfully recommend against Henry Potter. My first thought was that Harry is a nickname for Henry, so I wondered if you were deliberately going for the book reference (before I read the whole post). Also, as others have also pointed out, even if you don't make the nickname connection, Henry is still visually and audibly similar to Harry. I think it would be akin to naming a child Christopher Robin or Thomas Sawyer; the references aren't negative ones, but they are strong, and sadly, I do think they'd get a lot of comments (well-meaning or otherwise). Sorry.

Your other choices are great, though! Benjamin Potter is my favorite from your list, and is very handsome. Just in case, some other suggestions: Nicholas, Theodore, Samuel, August. Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

I would definitely not use Henry. Especially because on paper Henry looks A LOT like Harry. When I read the heading I though, Harry Potter??? Benjamin Henry, or Benjamin Richard is gorgeous, and there is always the option of doing two middle names.

What about;
Thomas Henry
Oliver Henry
Liam Richard
Graham Richard
Elliot Henry
Miles Richard
Lucas Henry
Charlie Richard
Jackson Henry (loses jackpot association)
Kenneth Richard

M.Amanda said...

It kills me, but I have to recommend against using both Henry and Jack. Henry being too close to Harry and Jack Potter making me think "DING! DING! DING! JACKPOT WINNER!" Like someone above said, it's not necessarily bad, but I can see it getting pretty annoying over time.

From your boy list, I like Ryan. Also, Daniel, Evan, Nathan, and Nolan from Swistle's list. Other possibilities:
Frederick (Freddie)
Theodore (Teddy, Theo)

I'd also suggest George, but I think the multi-syllable names flow better, so have you considered Georgia for a girl?

Anonymous said...

I like Nolan Richard Potter.

jen(melty) said...

I think you should use the name you love. And for me, harry potter is a positive connotation. People these days intentionally name their babies after celebrities (real and fictional) so so what if you did it on purpose? Own it! I cannot decide from what you've written if you really want to and are kind of waiting for a few someones to say "go for it!".. or if you're on the fence.. if it's the latter then you shouldn't.. but if it's the former then I say go for it.

Anonymous said...

Okay, let's talk about girls names. Anna Potter sounds too 'clippy' with the same sound at the end, but Anna-Marie Potter is lovely. Of the other names I also think Camille or Mallory are prettier and flow better with Potter than Kate, but then again Katherine Potter has a lovely sound. Strong but feminine. Enjoy playing around with middle names- : Mallory Anne Potter, Mallory Kate Potter (oooooh, I like that!) or if you chose Anna-Marie Potter you don't need a middle name at all.

Anonymous said...

With Anna-Marie you could use three of the names you like- Anna-Marie Kate Potter. It is charming and pretty. All great names.

Henry/Harry Potter- not negative associations, but I would advise against using it. The double middle name with single syllable first name and Henry Richard in the middle would work well. Sean is an Irish form of Jack - Sean Henry Richard Potter. Sean Potter. He is a very organised confident and cool kid! Good luck Carole!

Anonymous said...

I really want to tell you to use Henry Potter-but I think you really have to be a certain sort of fan to pull it off. If you aren't totally able/willing to embrace Harry Potter to that extent then I don't think you should use it. In fact, if I had the last name Potter, I think I'd hesitate to use many of the names strongly connected books, not just Harry (or Henry). I do like Henry in the middle name slot though and I think it would work well with all of your backup first names and flipping the names to Richard Henry would also work.

carole potter said...

Hello, Carole the writer here. Thank you all for your comments. I love reading through them. We were on the fence about Henry and I think this was very helpful for me to make a decision.

We do have to keep Richard as the middle name. My father in law passed away last year and it was my husbands one naming request (even before I was pregnant). Thankfully my husband is letting me keep it as the middle name since it is not my favorite.

Keep the suggestions coming! They are really helpful to add ideas. We were at a naming roadblock. I should have asked for more help with the girls name. We like classic and traditional. Of course, something to go with this extremely popular last name. Any new ideas are welcomed.

Thank you,

Suzanne said...

Oh dear, I just thought of something after reading all the comments and I'm not even sure I should say it but since the comments are already leaning towards "I'm sorry but no" I will.

Since Harry is the British nickname for Henry ANYWAYS and Richard has to be the middle name, I'm afraid some kid in school will shorten Richard to Dick and then...

I know it sounds a little far-fetched but my husband's middle name is Richard and assures me middle school kids NEVER forget it.

I'm sorry. SO SORRY.

p.s. Another comment above reminded me that I DO know a guy named Christopher Robin LastName and it actually worked in his favor. Women (myself included) thought it was adorable and definitely a POSITIVE association.

beyond said...

I'll comment about girl names. My favorites are Katherine and Camille.
I also suggest Alexandra, Iris, Helena, Juliet, Margot.
Good luck!

Caroline said...

Boys: Timothy Richard, Owen Richard or Benjamin Richard

Girls: Charlotte, Jane, Meredith, Isla (eye-lah), Claire, Lydia

Meggie said...

I think it will be associated, but it may not be a bad thing. If you really love Henry and are prepared for the association then go for it.

From the suggestions, I really like:
- Jack Potter
- Nolan Potter
- Ryan Henry Potter

I think Henry goes great for a middle name for any of those.

Good luck!

vanessa said...

I wouldn't use Henry under any circumstances. Sorry. But it's just SUCH a strong association. and I cannot imagine it's going to go away anytime soon. Even when your child is a teen I strongly suspect each new young adult or fantasy franchise is going to be inevitably compared to HP, if only like "will Swistle's new book will the next Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Games? STAY TUNED!"
However, Benjamin Richard Potter is really, really great. Ben Potter! I think that's just a terrific name.
I also like:
Jackson Richard Potter (gives you Jack but as a nn)
James Richard Potter (Jamie Potter! also cute!)
Simon Richard Potter
Charles Richard Potter (Charlie!)
Robert Richard Potter--I like the double R, and I think Rob is really cute.
Joseph Richard Potter (Joe!)
Matthew--a bit similar to Andrew?

Girls--I like your list and didn't see anything for middles, so I am combining names I think you'd like:
Mallory Katherine Potter
Anna Katherine Potter (LOVE THIS. Anna Kate!)
Camille Marie Potter
Juliet Marie Potter
Margaret Katherine Potter

let us know!

Anonymous said...

How about

Edwin Potter, Edwin Richard Potter

Great name I think!

liz said...

I agree with not using Henry. I read the title of this post as "Okay to use Harry Potter?"

I'm sorry to say that I think that James is also out (his dad), as are any of Harry's friends' names.

I wouldn't use Peter (especially with Richard) or Jack either.

I like Benjamin. What about Philip?

Mj said...

You are quite keen on Benjamin, and Benji Potter or Ben Potter are great nicknames. If you want to keep the name a bit shorter then Bennett Richard Potter or Bennett Richard Henry Potter are great and Ben or Benji can be the nickname. I like the double 't' in both first and last names.

I still fancy Anna-Maria Kate; Mallory Kate Potter is nice but what is her nickname? Katherine Potter with Maria or a flower name like Rose for a middle name would be swee(Katherine Rose Potter, Katherine Lily Potter, Katherine Iris Potter) , and seems to me Katie or Katey Potter flows better and sounds more feminine than Kate Potter with the hard 't' sounds in both names.

And I know it wasn't on your list but what about Theresa? Theresa Kate Potter? Nickname Tess or Tessa? It has a lovely melodic sound.

Please update us as soon as baby is named as we are dying to know what you decide!

Jack's Mum said...

We have a very similar dilemma! Our first baby is Jack Procter, I LOVE the name Harry but have ruled it out for our 2nd baby (due in 3 weeks) but am seriously considering Henry Procter - hoping its less obvious as a target for teasing? Comments welcome