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Baby Naming Patterns: Can they be broken?

January 2, 2018 Abby Sandel

They’re naming daughter number three, and feeling backed into a corner. Is the pattern they’ve established unbreakable? Or do they have more options than they think?

Hanna writes:

I have a bit of a dilemma. My husband and I have backed ourselves into a corner with our older girls’ names, Emma and Bella – two names that have a double letter and end-in-a. If this baby is a boy we plan to name him after his father, but if it’s a girl, we don’t have a clue.

I’m not a fan of -enna or -anna names as they sound too much like Emma, and any Ella names are obviously out because of Bella.

DH has suggested Netta, which I am not a fan of, and Nessa has already been used by a friend. At this point, I don’t even know that there is a name that fits our criteria, but I don’t want the new baby to feel left out if her name doesn’t match her sisters.

Names we do like outside of our theme include Lily, Meredith, Hazel, Pia, and Kate. The middle name will be Guinevere.

The Name Sage replies:

Here’s the thing about patterns: you should maintain them only if they help you find a name you love.

In this case, it sounds like sticking with a double letter, ending-in-a name is leading you astray. Netta might fulfill the rules you’ve established – but does it sound like a name for your daughter?

Maybe it’s time to think about the other things that Emma and Bella have in common, and how those qualities can help you find some great options.

Both names feel traditionally feminine. They’re short, nickname-proof choices. And they’re current favorites, the kinds of names that feel right at home in 2018.

From your list, my pick is Lily. Lily has plenty in common with Emma and Bella, and sounds like a logical sister name without being too matched.

Let’s consider a few more possibilities:

Clara – A vintage choice quite current today, Clara has the same straightforward, feminine style as Emma and Bella. It ranks Number 99 in the US, slightly less popular than Number 78 Bella or Number 1 Emma, but still a familiar, well-liked option.

Eden Eden has only been in heavy use since the 1990s, but it feels traditional. After all, nearly everyone recognizes the Old Testament Garden of Eden. It shares the short, nickname-proof qualities of Emma and Bella, but sounds just a little different.

Isla – Ask me if I notice a pattern with Emma and Bella, and what stands out? The fact that both names are two syllables and end in a. That makes a choice like Isla feel like an obvious sister name, while still expanding your options.

Leah Leah makes the list for the same reasons as Isla. Bonus? It carries a very traditional feel, without seeming too buttoned-down. If Pia is not quite the right name, then maybe the slightly more conventional Leah works?

Lucy Lily makes me think of Lucy. It feels vintage and feminine, but still very much at home in 2018 – just like Bella and Emma.

Maya Maya has multiple possible origins, from Greek to Hebrew to Sanskrit. That makes it a culture-spanning choice that appeals to many families today. And yet, the two-syllable, ends-with-a style makes this a match for Emma and Bella.

Molly – Or maybe, instead of sticking with the double letter, ends in a pattern, you’d just keep the double letters? Dozens of great names would work in that case, from Molly to Millie to Callie and so on.

Nora – If Maya feels too modern, how about Nora? Like Emma, and to a lesser extent, Bella, it was popular back in the nineteenth century, too – which means Emma, Bella, and Nora could have been sisters in 1918 just as easily as 2018.

Tessa – Let’s say you like all of these names just fine, but still feel like the pattern matters. Then what? Tessa comes to mind as a logical sister name for Emma and Bella while following all the rules. A few other options in this category: Anna, Milla, Jessa, Brenna, or Hanna.

If maintaining the pattern feels important, I do like Tessa as a sister for Emma and Bella. It seems like the kind of name you might choose without considering the rules. It’s close to Nessa, which you mentioned a friend used – but is that a dealbreaker?

Should you decide to forgo the pattern, I think your answer is obvious: Lily. Lily Guinevere is downright gorgeous, and it sounds exactly like a sister for Emma and Bella.

As for whether your daughter will feel left out? I suspect that you and your husband notice the pattern far more than most others do. If you don’t mention it, I think there’s a very good chance that your Lily/Nora/Molly/Eden/Hazel might never feel like the odd one out.

Readers, do you think this pattern is important to maintain? Have you ever broken – or stuck with – a similar set of rules? What other names would you suggest?

About the author

Abby

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at namesage@nameberry.com.

View all of Abby's articles

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