Family Name Drain: They’ve Used Them All!

August 9, 2016 Abby Sandel

They’ve used up all of the family names! Should they call their new son Melvin? Or is there a better way to find a meaningful name for Eva’s twin brother?

Meredith writes:

My husband and I are expecting boy/girl twins in September, and I am starting to worry that we will be calling our little guy “Baby B” for the rest of his life!

Our son, who is almost two, is named Julian James, both family names. We like the fact that it is classic and not too common while avoiding hipster territory.

We also decided on the name of our baby girl fairly quickly. She will be named Eva, which honors my grandmother. My only hesitation was the popularity of Ava, but we decided that that wasn’t a deal breaker.

On to our twin boy: we are stuck! We don’t even have a good list going. We came to the other two names almost effortlessly, so we are starting to panic a bit. I am obviously partial to family names, but we have a lot of names in the family that are tough to work with. (On my side, Edwin, Harry, and Melvin; on my husband’s side, everyone is named James.) We also have a lot of cousins’ names to avoid, including two we would have considered: Sebastian and Simon.

I do like two family names: Frederick, but we are not on board with Fred. Same with Edward and Ed. So at this point, we have decided that our second son’s middle name will most likely be either Frederick or Edward, depending on which goes better.

I like Nicholas/Nico, but unfortunately this is the name of our cat. I also like Alexander, but my husband has vetoed it.

Our last name is two syllables and starts and ends with L. I feel like it rules out L names.

Where do we go from here?

The Name Sage replies:

Keeping it all in the family simples up naming our children, doesn’t it? There’s an instant shortlist, layers of meaning, and chances are that your nearest and dearest will be thrilled with the decision.

But family trees have only so many branches and leaves. And no matter how beloved your Uncle Melvin, it is tough to imagine a child inheriting that name in 2016.

When you’ve run out of obvious choices, there are a few alternatives:

  • Keep looking for a family name. Thanks to online archives, you might find a great-great-grandfather or another relative to inspire.
  • Reinvent a family name. More on that in a minute.
  • Move on. Choose something in the style that appeals to you, even if it isn’t a heritage choice.

Assuming the first approach isn’t working, let’s look at some reinvention possibilities.

First, Harry is traditionally short for Henry. Julian, Eva, and Henry sound perfect together. It’s not exactly a family name, but the connection is there.

Edwin makes me think of Owen. There’s no linguistic link between the two names, and yet, the sounds are similar.

Maybe a different nickname could liven up a family name. Edward is usually Eddie or Ed, but Ned is another option, and I’ve heard Teddy and Ted used, too.

Or you might consider another form of a family name. James is cousin to Jacob. The original Greek was Iakobus; it eventually became Iacomus in Latin. Jacob or Jake could be another way of honoring all those men named James on your husband’s side. Of course, Jacob is a long-time Number One pick in the US, so you might already know a few.

If none of these feel like The Name, there’s no reason you can’t move on. Your son will still have a family name in the middle spot. Happily, there are dozens of possibilities that are traditional, but not too buttoned-down.

Leo – It’s always tempting to link twins’ names. And yet, the best connections are usually subtle. Eva and Leo are both short, complete choices that are connected by their letter count. Since you like Nico, I wonder if other o-ending boy names would appeal.

Theo, TheodoreSpeaking of o-ending names, Theodore nicknamed Theo could be a great option. It’s classic and cool, but not too out there, just like Julian.

Gus, August – Ancient Julian always makes me think of August. August needs no nickname, but Gus and even Auggie are options. August means venerable, and comes from a title given to the first Roman Emperor, Octavian.

Felix Felix shares Alexander’s x factor. Like Julian, it’s an old name, with history galore.

Silas – The same is true for New Testament name Silas. It shares sounds with Simon, too. Julian, Eva, and Silas work nicely together.

Miles Miles brings to mind Mayflower passenger and Plymouth Colony leader Myles Standish, jazz great Miles Davis, and a handful of literary characters, too. Another option might be related name Milo.

Overall, my favorite is Henry. It’s very nearly a family name, and works beautifully with Julian and Eva. But if it feels like time to move beyond the family tree, then Miles gets my vote. A bonus? Miles Edward L. spells Mel, as in Melvin – a very subtle nod to another family name.

Readers, what would you suggest to Meredith and her family for their son?

About the author


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

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