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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Baby Girl or Boy Polanco: Finding the Perfect Name; Is Emerson a Boy Name?

Bonnie writes:
As I searched the internet today, in tears, mind you, (probably thanks to all of these insane pregnancy hormones my doctor keeps talking about), I came across your blog. I felt a wave of relief reading questions from parents-to-be about the dilemmas of naming their children. I always thought I'd pick the perfect name for my child, girl or boy, but now that I am 21 weeks pregnant and have been thinking about names since my husband and I started talking about children.. I'm not sure there IS a perfect name for us. I have always had trouble making decisions, however, this may be one of the hardest. I feel as though I am back in the dress boutique in Manhattan almost three years ago where I was standing in a white dress, in tears, not because I had found the perfect wedding dress, but because NONE of the dresses brought me that "ohmygoodness, this is the one!" feeling, as they are "supposed to". After countless hours of dress shopping I could not make a decision and my mother and bridesmaids were more frustrated than me. The worst part of this anecdote is that, although I did find a dress that I loved, I still, to this day, question if I should have waited, looked around more, spent more time....

Will that happen to me with our child's name? 

My husband and I are not going to find out the sex of the baby so, even better, I need to find TWO perfect names. I'm focusing on girl's names right now only because I can't handle thinking of both! If we have a boy we are considering the name Hudson Gray but it's very up in the air... in case that helps. Our last name is Polanco.

I love the name Emersyn or Emerson for a girl and we almost had settled on Emersyn Grace until someone in my family mentioned that it is horrible and too masculine and my daughter would always resent me for giving her a "boy's name". I have a very short name and no middle name which I have always hated so I want my child to have something longer that comes with a variety of adorable nicknames. 

I love Grace as a first name and read many of your posts about possible middle names for it. One of your readers ended up naming her baby Grace McKinley, which I absolutely love. I think calling the baby "Gracie - something" using her middle name would be too cute. However, I am Jewish and by tradition we name according to the first letter of a relation who passed away. I have an E and a B. The E is really the one I wanted to use though, as my grandmother's name was Elayne and we were very close. Unfortunately, I was never fond of the name Elayne, otherwise that would have been one problem solved. I love names like Adeline, Adelaide, and Hannah. I am also partial to Averie although my husband is not. In our families we also have the names Emmaline and Isadore (my great-grandfather). I love Isadora but I am afraid that children will be mean and call her "Dora the Explorer". I also have a niece named Isabella, is Isadora too close to her name?

Perhaps I am too all over the place to even ask for help at this point. I've spent so much time online and read so many baby name books.. I'm worried the baby will be born and there will be no name to be had. 

If you can help, it would be most appreciated!

Thank you!


Let's start with whether or not Emerson/Emersyn is "a boy name." Short answer: no.

Long answer: while the suffix "-son" does indicate "son of" in some languages (as do the prefixes Mc- and Mac- and B-), it doesn't do so in United States English: we instead use the suffix "Junior" to indicate a son named for his father. The name Alison/Allison is not "a boy name," and neither is the name Madison, even though the ending of the names happen to include an S, an O, and an N, in that order. And now that the -en/-an/-on/-in ending is so popular, many new names have a -son ending--- not because they mean "son of," but because an -en/-an/-on was added to another segment that happened to end in an S, such as Case + -on = Cason.

Other names did come from another language's father-to-son naming system, but that origin is as relevant as knowing that a name means "oak tree": interesting, but doesn't mean the name can't be used for a child who isn't a boy named for his father (can the name Jackson only be used for sons of men named Jack, or can others use it as well?), or for a child who isn't an oak tree.

Even if we wanted to claim that in United States English the ending -son still meant male/"son of," and even if we were going to try to say that that extended to endings such as -sen and -syn and -synn, we'd need to work with the reality of actual usage. In 2011, according to the Social Security Administration, the name Emerson was given to 730 male babies and 1142 female babies. The name Emersyn was given to 6 male babies and 390 female babies. The name Emmerson was given to 21 male babies and 106 female babies. The name Emersen was given to 57 female babies. The name Emmersyn was given to 51 female babies. The name Emmersen was given to 12 female babies. The name Emersynn was given to 10 female babies.

It becomes increasingly difficult to call a name "a boy name" when it is given to more female babies than male babies. Clearly names are not black and white in that way, and insisting that they SHOULD BE or ARE that way doesn't change anything. We could also claim that Ashley and Evelyn and Lesley are "BOY names!!"---but where would that get us, now that they are used mostly for girls? Names, like colors and toys, are given to male/female babies according to fashion, not according to stone tablets.

There. That's the end of the long answer.

You could consider Emerson (with that spelling) as your boy name: it IS still used for boys as well as for girls. Or you could consider Ellison, or Edison, or Emmett, or Elliot, or Everett.


There may indeed not be a perfect name for your baby. The concept of a perfect name existing out there somewhere, FATED specifically for a particular baby but ONLY IF YOU CAN FIND IT, as if the universe itself has selected a name that you must now frantically quest for before time runs out, is a damaging and stressful and upsetting concept for most parents---especially when you're trying to find it for someone you've never even met. Would it have changed the course of your marriage to have found The Perfect Dress? Would you now be happier, more in love, more compatible with your husband? Will finding The Perfect Name change the course of your parenting experience, or change your mother-child relationship?

I find it's happier and more relaxing to think of the goal as finding a name you like just fine, a name that fits and serves your baby just fine. If you like, you can add the idea that it's nice to find a name that makes the naming of future siblings easier, by being a name that goes well with other names you usually like. And then, if you DO find a name you think of as perfect after all, what a happy bonus!


One hard lesson of baby-naming is this: No matter what name you choose, someone else is going to hate it. REALLY hate it. And a whole lot of people are going to think it's lame or boring or weird. You will not find a name that will make every single person, upon hearing it, think, "Wow! That is THE perfect name!" We all have different tastes in baby names---and there tend to be particularly large rifts between generations. Discussing names with a few trusted friends or relatives can be helpful; discussing them with someone who would call a name "horrible" is unhelpful, and I think it would be safe to exclude that family member from future discussions.

I would take comfort in this: if I had any concerns that my child might actually, literally, seriously have his or her life changed by her or his hatred of her or his name, I would decide ahead of time to make my attitude one that welcomed and encouraged the child to change her or his name if he or she wanted to. I'd keep this reaction ready: "Oh, you hate your name? I always hated mine, too! Well, if you ever want to change it when you were an adult, it's no big deal---probably a matter of a $100 court fee or something like that. What do you think you might like to go by instead? I used to wish my name were Megan!"


And in the meantime, look for a nice name to give the baby as a placeholder. If you'd like to use an E initial, and if you like names like Emersyn and Adeline and Adelaide, I recommend Emmeline/Emmaline. Emmeline Grace is lovely, and you have Emmaline in your family tree! How wonderful!

If you like Averie and Emersyn, I suggest Emery and Everly.

Elayne does have a bit of a dated sound, but I think Elena is beautiful and current. Elena Grace.

I don't think Isadora will lead to "Dora the Exporer"---and if it does, it's difficult to stretch that to a negative association. "Nyah, nyah, you're adventurous and successful!" (Though I guess I might get tired of hearing them sing "D-d-d-d-d-Dora!") I think Isabella and Isadora are fine for cousins---even better if Isabella goes by Bella and Isadora goes by Izzy. If Isabella goes by Izzy, however, I might look for a different name. Or I might use Isadora as a middle name, where it wouldn't be an issue. Everly Isadora, Emery Isadora, Elena Isadora.

Beatrice has some sounds and style in common with Grace. Beatrice Isadora is elegant.

More similar to Emersyn, I'd suggest Brinley. Brinley Grace, Brinley Isadora.


Name update! Bonnie writes:
I wanted to update you and your awesome readers on the birth of our new baby! We had a little girl on November 2nd and we decided to name her Emmerson Grace. We were able to come to this decision because of your help and the thoughtful and sincere comments from everyone who read about our naming troubles. I love Emmerson's name and we have taken to calling her Emmie Grace which I also love.
I will admit, though, it wasn't one of those "oh she's here and I KNOW her name is Emmerson". She didn't have a name until we were alone with her for a few hours in the hospital, we were deciding between Violet and Emmerson and in the end and it was really a tough call.

In the end I do love her name and I'm glad we went with Emmerson. We get a ton of compliments and she looks like an Emmerson to me! :) Thank you again for all of your help. 

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

funny enough, I know a real life sib set of Hudson and Emerson. She is mostly called Emmy though, but her name is Emerson. The other sibs in that family are Colton and Peyton (girl). I say go for it!

Anonymous said...

I have a sister who didn't like a baby name I chose, but my baby is now three and adorable and if you love her, you love the name. I think the same is true for all babies. Babies are adorable so their names become adorable right along with them.

I love the name Emerson, and I think of it as a girl name, if you're worried that is is too masculine, then how about giving her an extremely feminine middle name. I love Emerson Rose.

And I never had an aha moment with my wedding dress either. And I have never had THE name picked out before going to the hospital. Most of my children were named after they were a couple days old, that being said, I am crazy about all of my children's names. This is a problem that will inevitably work itself out.

Heidi J said...

Reading the title, my immediate thought was that Emerson is not a boy's name. Not anymore. To older generations, Emerson may sound like a boy's name, but to your child's generation it is mostly a girl's name. If you were to name your son Emerson it would be far more likely for him to be told he has a girl's name by his peers than for a daughter named Emerson to be told she has a boy's name. People from older generations tend to dislike younger generations names, so I'd just not discuss this with them. They'll just wonder why you don't pick a nice name like Brenda or Heather.

Anonymous said...

Good thoughts Swistle - I suspect this post will be very helpful to the mother.

I think some of us are much less prone to have "Aha! The PERFECT dress/name/husband/career" moments. I am one such person. I've been very happy with the decisions I ended up making but never have I been struck by lightening and the certain knowledge that I've found THE ONE. The world tells us a wonderful myth about continuing on the quest to find our one and only destiny but I'm not so sure.

When it comes to baby names, I think many, many parents go with a name they like well enough and it grows on them (and importantly, on the rest of the family) and in a few years no one can imagine the cute little toddler being called anything else.

If the mom does have a boy I think Hudson Gray is wonderful and there are lots of nice sibling matches for Hudson.

All the best with this decision - I'm sure you'll end up with a beautiful name.

Beth said...

oops -didn't mean to be anonymous...Beth here

Anonymous said...

Can I suggest Emerald? With Emmy or Emma for nickname. Emerald Grace is different but elegant.

EP said...

I can really relate to your preference for names that lend themselves to lots of nicknames because that is my own style too. To me, the quintessential name with lots of nicknames is Elizabeth. And it starts with an E! I know that it has always been very popular, but I think you should at least consider it since there are so many choices for cute nicknames such as Elise, Betsy or Ellie. I also really love Emmaline and I think that Emery is a great choice since it is similar to Emerson but seems a bit more feminine. And also, as one indecisive person to another, I want to tell you that it will be ok! You have a lot of good choices already, I know you'll pick a great name.

Anonymous said...

Emerson is a girls name. No doubt about it. Emmaline is another good suggest that will give you the same nicknames, but if you love Emerson then go for it.
I agree that sharing your names with limited people is best. Older generations especially should just be kept out of the loop. When I had my children, I found that my friends who had young children were especially helpful as they were more in tune to names currently being used.
Also, at 21 weeks, you have plenty of time. My kids weren't named until after they were born and it was no big deal. Maybe if you focused more on a list of names you liked, and less on finding just one "perfect" name you'd find it less stressful. There is nothing wrong with going in with a top 5 list and then choosing from that list after you meet the baby.

Anonymous said...

Emerson is lovely and definitely considered to be a girl's name now.

One of my favorite names at the moment is Emilia with the nn of either Emmy or Millie.

Emilia Grace Polanco. Gorgeous!

Good luck!

Martha said...

My husband and I have always preferred to keep name thoughts private--in my experience, when you are pregnant people seem to feel the name is "up for discussion" but once the baby has arrived, they are a person with that name and people keep their unwanted opinions to themselves. I think Emerson would be a great girl's name but I definitely like the traditional spelling. When picking a name, think less about finding "the one" and think of a name that you can imagine on a newborn, a five year old, an 18 year old, and a 40 year old. Many people pick names that don't age well, I find.

Carolyn said...

I think you've got some great choices already. Emerson is so versatile, because she can go by Emmie as a young girl, then Em or Emerson as an adult.

Some other ideas:
Ever
Emilia/Emmilia
Evangeline
Embry

Anonymous said...

I think Emerson is a great name for a little girl. I know a 2 year old girl named Emerson and goes by Em or Emery at times. It's such a versatile name with lots of nickname options.

Isadora is also very cute with the nickname option of Izzy or Sadie to avoid Dora.

Kaela said...

Emerson is probably more a girl's name than a boy's name at this point-- it's kind of like this decade's Madison. Like Madison, part of what pulls it into the girl camp is its first syllable. The "Em" is similar to Emily, Emma, etc. , just like Madison tied in nicely with Madeline.

One tip if you do pick Emerson for a girl: consider spelling it Emerson. With 1200 female Emersons born last year, there's no need to peg it 'girl' with a -yn ending. And more importantly, the 'o' matches up nicely with your surname. Emerson Polanco matches a bit more and looks more grown-up than Emersyn Polanco in my opinion. Also, as someone who went through life with an uncommon spelling of a trendy 90s name...I promise you that your daughter will thank you for all the time you will save her from having to spell it out again and again. :)

I do like Swistle's suggestion of Emmaline-- I think it sounds really great with Polanco. It has a really nice rhythm. Emerson is a bit choppier/takes longer to say even though it's the same number of syllables total.

For a boy, if you are concerned about Emerson being too feminine-- definitely consider Everett, Emmett, Elliott (sounds great with your surname!), Easton.

Also, I love Isadora! Isadora Polanco is such a great name. It sounds like the name of an actress or an artist or musician, but it could also work for a doctor. Really distinct but not "weird". Great!

Anonymous said...

I agree that Emerson Grace is a lovely, feminine name and a good sister name for Hudson. Here are a couple more ideas for you...

If you're naming after your grandmother Elayne in the Jewish tradition, it seems that one option is to translate the name into Hebrew. This could lead you to two really beautiful names.

If you take Elayne to mean "light" (from Helen), you can honor your grandmother with the name Orli/Orly. Orli Grace!

If you translate Elayne to the closest Hebrew name, you can honor your grandmother with the beautiful, exotic name Ilana! (ilana) This name also has a lovely meaning (tree, sapling). Ilana Grace! Lana! Lani! Lani-Grace! Ilana Emerson is also quite nice.

If you like Adeline and Adelaide, I wonder if you would like Elodie. Elodie Grace is lovely.

One more thought--for a boy, I really like Eric Lane Polanco. Eric Lane = E. Lane! Eric Gray or Eric Grayson are also strong options.

Best of luck to you!

StephLove said...

I like Emmaline better than Emerson. Isadora's nice, too. If you can use the E for a middle name, how about Grace Eleanor. Or would you like Esme?

Anonymous said...

Our daughter is Ellasyn (pr. like Ellison). I love her name and the it fits in with popular names is also not over used. I feel like Emerson is the same way. SO cute!!

Anonymous said...

Ember would be a pretty alternative; I also like stephlove's suggestion of Eleanor.

Another variation of Elaine is the Greek version: Eleni.

The New Girl said...

Oh Bonnie, you may never find the "perfect" name and that's okay, because you'll find a name that works out well for you and for your baby, whoever (s)he ends up being. I'm a person who will also look at a wedding dress, couch or paint color and think, huh, what if I had chosen differently...it doesn't happen often, but it happens.

Everyone has already indicated that Emerson works out just fine for a girl, and I agree. Your name choices are fine and lovely and you like them. At the end of the day, if you and your husband like a name enough - then it's all that matters.
Sending lots of good wishes!

Anonymous said...

According to SSA Names there were 1142 girl Emersons born in 2011 and 730 boy Emersons. It probably depends on location whether people would say it is a girl or boy name but I would say it is one of the true unisex names around right now. I think it is a wonderful name and sounds great with your last name I just wouldn't call it uber-feminine. And you might want to read up on your Ralph Waldo Emerson!!

Julie said...

I agree that Emerson is not a boy's name and I think it's lovely.


In lieu of a long(er) reply, here's a link my lovely (and helpful) Swistle post: http://swistlebabynames.blogspot.com/2010/11/baby-boy-or-girl-sl.html

Needless to say, I can absolutely relate to some of your anxiety and all of your constraints.

For our living children, we chose English names for relatives and Hebrew names that we liked based on sound and meaning (Chanina Adi {gracious jewel} and Orli S'gal {I have light; treasure}). For our baby who was too premature to survive, we named solely on meaning w/{according to tradition} no Hebrew name. We did not discuss names with anyone in advance, and found that to be a good choice for us.

Best of luck - no matter what, your baby will be a treasure!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I just love all the names in this post! Yours and Swistle's both...and most of the comments (all? I can't think of one I didn't like). I do think the Eric Lane (E. Lane) suggestion was so clever for a boy! Or one of the other boy E names. But I really liked your Emerson Grace idea for a girl! I guess I don't really have much to offer, other than best wishes and I am so happy for you! Can't wait to hear what you name your little one. :)

Anonymous said...

Love Emerson. I think of it as a girls name. I think it works for all ages.

Anonymous said...

...One more idea for you:

Grace Lane or Grace Elayne, nickname Gracie-Lane (sounds like "Grace Elayne") could be a cute way to honor your grandma. Lane or Laney or even Layne might be another first-name option for you, a fun twist on the custom.

Sandy said...

Love Emerson for a girl! Two other E names to consider: Ellington and Everly

Lisa Allely said...

I am American, and live and teach primary school music in Australia. I have over 500 students, and my brain is swimming with names! One of my grade 1 girls is named Emmerson, and she is lovely.

Something about the double-m makes it seem more feminine to my eyes, and it allows you the option of using Emma or Emmie as a nickname.

I agree with everyone who has made any comments about names not having a gender. For what it's worth, living here has given me a new and fun perspective on names. Lot's of male Ashley's here, many of whom go by Ash. So you never know.

Go with Emmerson Grace. I think it's beautiful.

All the best!

Anonymous said...

I love the name Emerson! Any spelling of it, actually. I think of it solely as a girl's name. Also love Emrie (or Emery). If you like Adelaide, what about Adelaine? Also love Hudson for a boy!

Anonymous said...

I have a friend with a 4-yr-old son name Emerson. Since then, every Emerson I've met under 4 is a girl. I think our current adoration of all things "Em" for girls has this name in the "gone to the girls" camp! I wouldn't hesitate to use it because some think it's a boy's name, but rather because I think it may be the new Peyton, Harper, etc...

I love the suggestion of Elena Grace. To me it's more classic and elegant than Emersyn Grace and can be shortened to Lena or Lainey (depending on pronunciation).

Bonnie said...

I cannot thank Swistle and everyone who posted in response enough for being so helpful and encouraging! I love all of the names you posted and continue to lean toward Emerson for a girl. I do have to say that I LOVE the name Emmaline and my husband likes it as well. Brinley is beautiful and the B would be nice because my grandfather's name was Bernard. Thankfully we still have time (I've been saying names out loud to see how they sound!) What I truly appreciate though is the advice about not finding the "perfect" baby name but rather a name we both really like. I do love the name Emerson Grace and I think Emmie is a cute nickname and perhaps that is all that matters. THANK YOU, Swistle for your help and your awesome blog. I will be sure to update in November when we meet little boy or girl Polanco!