When my brother’s wife went into labor earlier this month, they didn’t know if they’d be welcoming a girl or boy into the world. But Jennifer and Brian Kelly did have a name ready to greet their second child.
At a time when there are more baby name options than ever, and in an era when the pressure to pick the right one can feel greater than before, I was curious to learn how they had settled on these names—and how their process might be instructive for others making this exciting, yet exacting, decision. “You’re actually naming somebody for the rest of their life,” Brian sized up the task when I spoke to him about their experience. “It’s momentous.”
“It’s a process,” Jennifer added. Theirs began several months before their due date, using a number of “filters,” as they called them, to help narrow down the field. Each would independently come up with names they liked or take note of interesting ones they encountered —“like an author noodling over a new story idea,” Brian described it. Then, they would informally suggest them to each other throughout the day, say, via a text message or while prepping dinner in the kitchen.
Spousal reaction quickly sorted out which names made it onto their shortlist—and which went straight to the cutting room floor. Jennifer loved Miles, but it had no legs for Brian. Brian loved Holden, but no matter how many times he offered it up for consideration, Holden had no hold on Jennifer. Though each had to sacrifice their darlings, “the months of noodling casually without pressure was helpful,” according to Jennifer.
Another major filter was the personal associations they had with particular names. Jennifer liked Logan. But for Brian, Logan was a city right outside Athens, and he was unable to disconnect the name from a small town near his alma mater. Sebastian charmed them both, but it was shackled to a bad boss Brian once had. Scarlet was too closely tied to the school colors of Ohio State, whose athletics are practically religion in their neck of the woods. Lucas appealed to them, but so too had it to several friends and neighbors; too great recent popularity deterred that option. Same went for Charlotte.
They both admired Jack and John Michael, but felt that those names competed with other family members’ names. Brian and Jennifer had previously honored their fathers, who both happened to be James, with the middle name of their firstborn, Oliver. With their second, they wanted to avoid namesakes, not wanting to favor one family member over another.
Associations ruled out many boys’ names for the Kellys. For girls, it was sound. “The sound of the name led to the decision,” Jennifer said. “For a girl, I wanted something strong, no y-sound or anything too vowel-y.”
Their surname, Kelly, already seemed feminine to her, and she felt certain names—such as Hannah and Anna, as much as they liked them—would be too soft. So, too, for a name like Emily or Katherine: Emily or Katie Kelly just lacked a certain moxie, a certain contrast, for Jennifer. Nicknames also nixed several other candidates. They quite liked H names, as with Holden and Hannah, and Henry would have been a heavy hitter, except for its pet name, Hank. William was a winner, but for Will and Bill.
Brian and Jennifer also combined their contenders with their toddler’s name. “Oliver and Dax or Atlas?” Jennifer tried. “Oliver and Nash?” offered Brian. “We didn’t want them to be audibly incongruous.” Plus, those candidates seemed a bit unusual for their taste. “We didn’t want a super common name or a super obscure name.”
But Oliver and Reagan Kelly did have that ring they were listening for. “We came upon the girl name quickly. It was random. I said ‘Reagan’ and Jen added ‘Rose’ and that was the eureka moment,” Brian added in a follow-up message to me. And Reagan had just the kind of strength Jennifer was seeking for a daughter when they stumbled upon the name.
The boy name was harder. After months of “noodling” around, they turned to the Internet’s ample baby-name resources—including Nameberry, of course. “We each wrote a list,” Brian said. “Two months out, we started crossing out names neither one would go for.”
But for Brian, it was more than just on the list. He had cycled through a variety of Top 100 lists. “I was into the 400th most popular names,” he admitted. “You have to dig and dig and eventually it will jump out to you.” For me, you really need to have that ‘ah-ha’ moment, the ‘that’s it!’” And just as with Reagan, they shouted it for Lachlan.
Despite their last name, it was an accident that the parents settled on two Celtic names. Starting as a surname possibly meaning “little king,” Reagan climbed to the 97th most popular girl name in the US for 2016. Lachlan, “from the land of lakes,” is Scottish. While at #700 for boys in 2016 for the US, it is much more popular abroad: #92 in its homeland, #24 in New Zealand, and #11 in Australia for 2016.
“Coming up with an extra set of names was more effort,” Jennifer observed of their decision to wait to learn their baby’s gender. And Brian was “bummed that we don’t get to use the name Lachlan Grey.”