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Monday, February 11, 2013

Baby Naming Issue: Y Spellings and Honor Names

Modessa writes:
First, some background, which you are free to edit out if you choose to publish my question:

Long-time reader, first-time writer because....I'm not actually pregnant yet.  My husband and I are, however, planning to start trying to conceive at the end of this year and I'm already enjoying mulling over potential names.

I'm particularly sensitive to the significance of names because I have never met anyone with my name (although I am named for my paternal grandmother) and I've never found my name in a baby name book.  While I was mildly frustrated as a kid that I couldn't ever buy personalized pencils or those license plates they sell at gift shops, I quickly grew out of that and now love having a unique name with a family history.  I do not, however, tend to like names with "creative" spellings.

If we have a daughter, my husband and I are are strongly inclined to name her after my eldest sister, Catey Lynn.  Catey is pronounced like Katie; my mother chose this spelling so that Catey would have the same initials as her grandfather.

Here's the dilemma (finally):

I would like to use the name Caitlin to honor my sister and I prefer that spelling.  I'm torn, though, because I agree with the point you have made that the honor of a namesake decreases the further away you get from the actual name of the honoree.

Spelling the name Catelyn would be truer to my sister's name, but I don't want people to look at the name and assume it is "creative."  Many of the negative reactions to names with y's that are perceived as "creative" are summed up in this past post:

Then again, the "creative" phenomenon is popular, so presumably many people would react positively to the name?  I looked up the spelling Catelyn on the SSA database, and it isn't in the top 1000 names for the past 13 years.  When I looked up Caitlin, I was surprised to see that the spelling Kaitlyn is significantly more popular.

Similar female names for births in 2011
I would love to get your and your readers' input on my dilemma and promise to send an update if/when I have a daughter.  Also, if this makes a difference, the middle name would be Jane (my mother's middle name) and she would be given my husband's last name, which is similar to Pristorius, so the choice is between:

Caitlin Jane Pristorius
Catelyn Jane Pristorius

All the best,

PS:  Even more detail, but I can't help myself!  Part of my preference for the spelling Caitlin is that I perceive it as being more traditional, and I have always appreciated having one unusual name and a traditionally spelled last name (which is why I kept my maiden name).  My husband and I have already decided to give our children his name, which is unusual and frequently misspelled.  Would I be setting my daughter up for endless frustration if I gave her two unusual names?  Given that the spelling Kaitlyn is more popular than Caitlin now, it seems like she is going to have to spell her first name out for people regardless of whether we choose Caitlin or Catelyn.  I could go back and forth forever, which is why I need feedback from someone with a neutral perspective.

There are two broad categories of names spelled with the letter Y: those that happen to be spelled with a Y, and those where a Y has been put in place of the usual letter in order to change the appearance/style of the name. An easy example is Emily: clearly that's name spelled with a Y, not a Y spelling. A slightly more difficult example is Evelyn---but again, that's not a Y-spelling, it's just a name with a Y in it. Same with Peyton, Layla, Lydia, and Taylor: not Y-spellings. Emylie and Evylyn, on the other hand, are Y spellings.

The line between the two categories can get blurry. Is Mikayla a Y spelling, or not? Michaela is the original spelling, and yet Mikayla FEELS like an alternate spelling to me, not like a Y-spelling. Sometimes a spelling starts out as a Y-spelling but then becomes a standard alternate spelling, losing its connotation of Y-for-creativity. To be "a Y-spelling," there needs to be the feeling that the name was spelled with a Y on purpose to make it special in some way: more unusual, or more feminine. Madisynne, for example, or Kamryn.

All this is to say that although Caitlin is the original spelling, I think of pretty much all -lyn names as alternate spellings, not Y spellings. It doesn't look creative to me to use Caitlyn or Katelyn instead: perhaps those seemed Y-spellingish when they first emerged, but now they just seem like other ways to spell the name. There is even room to argue that the -lyn is more appropriate, since the original spelling Caitlin was pronounced more like Cat-leen or Cath-leen. Or it could be argued that there are two sound-alike names here: that Caitlin is Irish, but that Katelyn is Kate + Lynn (like Maryanne or Marybeth) and can be spelled a variety of ways (like Marianne and Maribeth).

So that's my first point: I think you can spell Caitlin with a -lyn and not come across as someone who would use Madysyn. Many spellings of Katelyn/Caitlin are currently accepted as natural, non-creative spellings; you'd probably have to go to something like Kaytelinn before you'd activate the sensors. If anyone's eyebrows did twitch, the explanation of the reasons behind the spelling ought to take care of that.

My second point has to do with the honor factor. I agree that Catelyn seems like the most honor-y choice---but I'd say that going with Caitlin wouldn't make a huge difference. When someone wants to name a daughter Madison after Grandma Mildred, I wonder if they've considered how honored they'd feel by that if they were Grandma Mildred. But if someone names a daughter Catherine after Grandma Cathryn, it seems like a much smaller step away. And since you're already going from Catey Lynn to Caitlin/Catelyn, the spelling difference feels like it's tied to the name change rather than being a second step away.

In short, I feel like both choices are good choices for different reasons. You're a bit stuck here: you don't like creative spellings, but you want to honor someone with a creatively spelled name; neither option is going to fully satisfy both preferences. I think if I were you, it would come down to weighing the things that make the spellings different, to see which feels closer to what you want: the stronger connection to your sister's name on one hand, the original/traditional spelling on the other hand. I'm not sure which way I'd go if it were me. I might use Catey Lynn!

As for having two names she'll have to spell, I'm afraid she's stuck with that no matter what: there are just so many ways to spell Caitlin. But I don't think of it as a huge deal: I think it's so common now for people to have to spell both.


Anonymous said...

I've known a Katelyn all my life so to me that feels the most intuitive to me, despite being not the traditional spelling at all! But I've also been around Kaitlins, a Caitlin and a Catelyn and those spellings didn't strike me as odd by comparison. It's just such a variable name I don't think it falls into the category of a soundalike, creative spelling. If you were considering Paytlin or Faithlyn or something I would probably raise an eyebrow. But any Cate name feels established to me. I prefer the look of Caitlin to Catelyn, but that's personal preference. I think shared sounds, as long as they match exactly, qualify as an honor name.
Good luck! :)

oiseaurobyn said...

As a double-name speller, I would caution against using alternate spellings. When I was younger, it drove me up the wall that no one could spell my name correctly. Now, it still bothers me, but I just let them spell it with an I and then move on with life.

But that experience has certainly led me to want to choose standard spellings for any kids.

lucky said...

I stongly prefer Caitlin Jane, but I'm certain your sister will feel honored whatever decision you make!

Anonymous said...

Depending on how attached you are to Caitlin at this point...have you considered going in the other direction, and naming your daughter Catherine or Catherine Lynn? She could be called Catey, after her aunt, but then would have the flexibility to decide how traditional or unique she wants to be as an adult.

Anonymous said...

Catelyn is the spelling of one of the main characters in the TV series Game of Thrones (the book series called A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin)
Normally I think that spelling would raise my eyebrows a bit, but having read the books and loved the character, I like it nearly as much as Caitlin, now!

Anonymous said...

Normally I would agree with oiseaurobyn that it was better to go with the standard spelling, but in this case, what would that be?

I like the idea of using Catey Lynn!

Wendy said...

I have to vote for the spelling of Catelyn.

I think it stays closer to the honor name, and also if she shortens it to Cate or Catey, it flows nicer with her given name.

But either way you spell it, it's a lovely name. Best wishes to you on your future baby!

StephLove said...

I prefer Caitlin, but as with the commenter who suggested Catherine (nn Catey), if you're planning on using a nickname, I might go with the spelling Catey (though it's my experience that the spelling of nicknames can more easily morph away from what you intended than the spellings of given names).

Fran said...

This is one of those names that has so many different ways to spell it, no matter which you choose, there will be misspellings her whole life! I personally know girls with the name spelled each of these ways:
So, in my opinion, spell it however you want and don't get frustrated by the misspellings. They are a part of life

Anonymous said...

I do not think Caitlin reduces the honor for Catey Lynn because it still retains the sound of Catey Lynn so well.

I agree that the difference between Caitlin vs. Catelyn seems minor. Kind of like Catherine vs. Katherine, neither are "wrong" or "creative" it is just a matter of what spelling you like and/or are most used to.

With so many spelling variation of Caitlin, I think she'll have to spell it for people no matter what you choose. Just like Katherines will always need to specify "with a K". I don't think it's a big deal

Personally, I like Caitlin better because I have seen it used more often than Catelyn (I also like Katherine with a K better because it's the spelling used in my family). Just go with the spelling you like best.

Jenny Grace said...

I think both spellings are fine. This is only tangentially related, but my family has a strong 'names with y' generational history, going back many generations. Gladys, Evelyn, Kathryn, Jocelyn, Bronwyn, Sylvia, Marilyn, and then my grandmother Caryl, who I feel like, clearly they were just reaching on that one to keep up with traditions, and I would probably reject this name with an eyeroll now, but my grandmother was born in the 20s after all, and she's my beloved grandmoather, so Caryl is like, the REQUIRED spelling for me, were I to use that name. So you might go with the non-traditional for the sake of honoring the non-traditional spelling of your sister's name.

Jenny Grace said...

I used the word generation twice. That was an accident.

Brigid said...

I love Catherine Lynn. Catherine Lynn Pristorius.

I like Catherine Jane even better. Catherine Jane Pristorius.
Catey Jane. Catey Jane Pristorius. Definitely a favorite.

Catherine Lynn Jane Pristorius. That works too.

Emily said...

Another fan of Game of Thrones here, Catelyn seemed like a totally normal spelling when I first read it.

I agree with many of the previous comments. Names like Kayley, and Caitlin are spelled so many different ways, many people don't know the traditional spelling, and it's almost always safer to ask. I don't think it will matter which spelling you give her! She'll likely have to clarify most of the time anyways!

Kaitlin (runforsushi) said...

I HAD to comment on this because my name is actually 'Kaitlin Jane' !

And personally, as a Kaitlin with a K, I prefer the spellings with the i, although I have run into a million other Kaitlin's spelled Caitlin, Kaitlyn, Katelynn (the worst) etc. I think that especially for your concern, Caitlin works well-- it's the same as Catelyn but less weird.

And no matter what, your girl will always have to spell out 'Caitlin' as there are a million ways to spell it. HOWEVER, in my 23 years of experience, at doctors offices or whatever, they usually just ask me "C or K?" and then generally fill in the -aitlin on their own.

good luck! and great name choice ;)

Anonymous said...

So, as someone whose name is frequently misspelled (I'm a Kerry) I would suggest that you might want to feel out your sister's feelings on her name...and right now when you're not pregnant yet might be the perfect time if you want to avoid letting on why. For me, being mistaken for a Carrie or a Keri has kind of left me with a completely irrational bias against those names, and a secret love of seeing MY name, spelled correctly, in print. It happened on a Starbucks cup for the first time this week, and pretty much made my morning. So I would probably feel more honored by a Kerala or a Kerrigan, nickname Kerry...even if the nickname was only used with me. (But different people are your sister might love the idea of Caitlin and be put off by the idea of Catherine nickname Catey, because Catherine is fusty and old and everything her name is not.)

Manday said...

The days of not having to spell out your first name is GONE. I get asked how to spell my son's name - Benjamin.

Jessica said...

I agree I wouldn't bat an eye at the -lyn of Caitlyn or Katelyn. The y does seem like a common variation.

As well, the name Cate on it's own doesn't seem strange, because it reads (to me) as a makes-sense variation of Kate, maybe for someone named Catherine.

But in Catelyn you have BOTH of these variations and having two does put it over the top into the 'we're trying to be super creative' category for me. It doesn't make it unusable, especially since it's the same spelling as your sister, which is a nice honor, but it does read 'different' to me.

Anonymous said...

What about Catalina?

Modessa said...

Thanks so much for posting/answering my question, Swistle and thank you, readers, for your thoughtful insight.

Regarding using Catherine instead of Caitlin/Catelyn, that is an option we've considered, but I had already given Swistle a long question, so I did not go into that. My husband's late mother was named Mary Catherine, so Catherine does have a family connection as well, but she passed before I got to meet her, whereas my husband is also close to my sister, so we're more inclined to pick a name that more closely honors my sister.

I have to spell my name every single time someone needs to write it down because it's a name that people have typically never heard before. I have gotten completely used to saying "like Odessa with an M, and luckily for me, people compliment the name quite often, so then I get to say "it's my paternal grandmother's name," and think about her. So I think I'm inclined to go with Catelyn because it is much closer to my sister's name, and if anyone is confused about the spelling, she can say that she was named for her aunt.

I'm sure I will go back and forth before the time ultimately comes but I'm so excited to have this post and comments to refer back to then. And if we do have a daughter and name her Catelyn, I can show her this post and she can see that I was thinking about her before she was even born. Thanks again!

Modessa said...

Oh, and I just realized that my sister must have liked having a unique/creatively spelled name because she named her daughter Raechel Sylver. The Sylver is in honor of our mother, Sylvia.

So it looks like creatively spelled honor names might be a theme in our family tree. I think she would get a big kick out of a niece named Catelyn.

Anonymous said...

I love both Caitlin Jane and Catelyn Jane and think either would work for you. However, since you want to name your daughter for your sister, I'd probably go with Catelyn.

Caitlin first entered the USA Top 1000 names in 1976. Five years later in 1981 the first alternative spelling to join her in the Top 1000 was Katelyn. Kaitlyn and Caitlyn followed in 1983. Catelyn has never been in the Top 1000, although 85 girls were given the name in 2011. Because Kate and Cate are both accepted forms of the name Cate, I think Catelyn is fine.

We had a similar spelling dilemma in my family. My daughter Catherine decided to name her second daughter a form of her name: Katrina -- or Catrina?. Katrina is the more usual spelling and at first Catherine leaned towards that, but then decided she wanted the name spelled with a C like her name. And so she named her Catrina Jane, called Catie and later mostly "Cate". Both Catherine and Catrina (grown up now) like it that way.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the Caitlin over Catelyn spelling, but I think either one nicely honors your sister. Love Caitlin Jane.

I also really like the idea of Catherine Jane, nn Catey. So pretty.

Allyson said...

My first thought was Game of Thrones, like the other commenters mentioned. However, on the show her name is pronounced cat-lynn and they call her "Cat" for short. Since you're going for the Catey (pronounced Katie) nickname, you might want to consider the alternate pronunciation. But all that being said, I think Catelyn is a very pretty way to spell it, and if I came acrossed it (even being a GoT fan), i'd pronounce it just like Caitlin. I think Catelyn is unique but not too out-there of a spelling. Good luck!

Butterflyfish said...

As noted by many, Catelyn/Caitlin is a name she will always have to spell, no matter which one you choose, because of the several accepted variations in addition to the unique (Keightlynne?) variations.

Catelyn (or Cate) will look fine on a resume someday. And Catelyn will have a great family story to back up the spelling, and a great nn in Cate.

The Catherine option works too.

Best wishes!

Anonymous said...

im a Caitlyn, and i found this blog by googling why its so hard for people to spell my name! everybody wants to just assume its with a K or -Lin, and having to spell it multiple times gets annoying sometimes, because you only really have to do it when your already doing something annoying like talking to the DMV or a doctors office or registering for school.

but its kind of cool that out of all the caitlins, kaitlyns, kaitlins etc that ive known in my life, im the ony one who spelled it that way. and i think Caitlyn Jane would look pretty spelled out in script, very flowy!

good luck!