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Boy Names: The new traditionals

November 7, 2017 Abby Sandel

He says “strong traditional.” She says “unique.” Where’s the middle ground for naming a son?

Kelly writes:

My husband and I can’t agree on boy names. Our daughters are Mischa and Nova. He wants a “strong traditional” boy name, but I like unique and I don’t think any traditional names work with our girls’ names.

We originally liked Theodore and calling him Theo, but now they are popping up everywhere. Another idea we had was Wellington and calling him Wells. However, a recent Bachelorette contestant was Wells, so my husband says that’s out. We also liked Lincoln and calling him Link, but his cousin just named his son that.

Any ideas? Maybe a traditional long name with a non-traditional short name?

The Name Sage replies:

Oh, the challenges of naming a boy! Even the boldest namer will often play it safe when it comes to sons. Our definition of acceptable boy names continues to broaden – and that’s a good thing. Yet the impulse remains to find something slightly more conservative for a boy.

The good news: you’re both open to compromise.

It also sounds like your husband has a generous and flexible definition of “strong traditional.” If he were limiting his suggestions to the most classic of names – the JohnJosephWilliams – this might be difficult.

But names like Wells and Lincoln occupy a middle ground. Call them new traditionals. They aren’t recent inventions – they’ve got history galore! And yet, they weren’t regularly used as given names until the last decade or two.

Today they’re often more popular than you might guess. Lincoln ranks in the current US Top 50, more popular than Robert or Timothy.

New traditionals don’t sound like the names you heard growing up – which makes this style a good match for Mischa and Nova. Let’s consider some classic picks with unexpected nicknames, too. Between the two options, there must be a name you both love!

Beckett, called Beck Beckett sounds thoroughly masculine, thanks to that hard ‘k’ sound. It works in full, but also shortens to friendly nickname Beck.

Brooks Wells makes me think of Brooks. They’re both water-related names, with distinctive sounds and an ‘s’ ending. But Brooks brings to mind buttoned-down Brooks Brothers and country music. It’s an appealing mix of associations with plenty of strength.

Cassius called Cash Cash is flat-out cool, thanks to music legend Johnny Cash. Muhammed Ali was born Cassius Clay; it’s an old form of a Roman family name. It’s edgy and current, but with a formal side, too.

Charles called Chase – Sure, most boys named Charles answer to Charlie. But possibilities abound. Chase ranks in the current US Top 100, so it’s possible you might meet one or two. But Charles-called-Chase feels distinctive.

Jonathan called Jack – When it comes to traditional names that feel strong and current, it’s tough to beat Jack. Every action hero answers to Jack, from Pirates’ Sparrow to 24’s Bauer. The list goes on! It’s friendly, and if it’s a touch too short, pairing it with Jonathan works.

Knox – The letter X makes nearly any name stand out. And yet, they can still feel at least slightly traditional. That’s why long-time surnames like Knox have become rising choices for first names. I like the sound of Mischa, Nova, and Knox quite a bit.

Lennox – Or maybe Lennox? It shares the same characteristics of Knox, but comes in at two syllables. Mischa, Nova, and Lennox seem like siblings. Plus, Lennox ranks inside the current Top 500, but remains relatively underused.

Nicholas called Nico – In the 1990s, Nick felt like the coolest of the classic names. Nicholas has faded since then, but remains a Top 100 staple. Nico, on the other hand, is very much a cool, modern pick, a logical alternative to Theo.

Wilder Wilder counts as a traditional surname, but it feels edgy and strong. A little bit outdoorsy, a little bit buttoned-down, kind of rock’n’roll, Wilder appeals to plenty of parents.

If you’re after a rock-solid traditional with an unexpected nickname, I’d put Charles-called-Chase at the top of the list.

But since Wells and Link were your almost names, I suspect choices like Lennox and Wilder and Brooks might hit the right note. They’re all strong choices, with a traditional feel – even though they’re good matches for the modern, bold sounds of their sisters’ names.

Readers, what would you suggest as a brother for Mischa and Nova? Are there other traditional-name/unexpected-nickname combinations I’ve overlooked?

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.

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