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Girl Baby Names: Harlow, Cleo, or Willow?

They've narrowed their list to three great choices, but which is best?

a Name Sage post by: Abby View all Name Sage posts

They’ve narrowed their list to three great names for their new daughter: Cleo, Harlow, or Willow. But how do they decide which is best?

PennyMay writes:

I’d really appreciate your help with our name choice. We are in Australia, so name trends are different than in the US.

My husband and I are stuck between three very similar sounding baby names for our third child, and first daughter. Our sons are Angus and Oscar. For our daughter, we are discussing:

Harlow (my first pick, husband’s third pick)
Modern name but may be too much of a contrast to the classic tone of our boys’ names. I like this name because it feels fresh (recently cracking the top 100 names in Australia) but still has an Old World feel. However, I worry it will date.

Willow (husband’s first pick, my second)
Quite popular at the moment. I know a number of people with children (and pets) named this so it’s sort of lost its sparkle. But it’s very pretty and I do love nature names. I think this name will stick around for a while and not date quickly.

Cleo (my third pick, husbands second)
Cleo is an older name so fits beautifully with our boys’ names. Plus, it sounds fun and lively. Cleo however doesn’t have any nicknames (we like names with cute nicknames) and I’m not sure where it’s heading popularity wise. Is it on the rise and I’m ahead of the future name predictions? Or is it on the way out?

My biggest fear is name regret! What’s your opinion on what direction we should go? Which name sounds most beautiful, works as a sibset, and will stand the test of time?

The Name Sage replies:

You’re down to three great names for your daughter. The good news? You can’t go wrong with Harlow, Willow, or Cleo.

But that’s precisely why it’s so difficult to decide!

You’ve mentioned a few criteria: which is the most beautiful, which sounds best with brothers Angus and Oscar, and which will age well?

Most beautiful is a tough call. (Full disclosure: my daughter is called Clio.) I’m guessing that if you asked your family and friends, they’d all have different answers. So let’s move on.

The sibset question is a little more objective. Your sons’ names are traditional choices, with Irish and Scottish roots. I wouldn’t put any of your current girl names into exactly the same category. And yet, if I enter Angus and Oscar into our namehunter tool, suggestions for girls’ names include Edith, Poppy, Hazel, and Elspeth.

I’m not sure that gives us a clear favorite, but I notice that lots of nature names are suggested.

That brings us to names that endure. Oscar and Angus both have plenty of history throughout the English-speaking world. They’re traditional choices you might hear in nearly any decade. Oscar, in particular, is a global favorite, heard from Norway to Chile and most places in between.

The same isn’t true for Harlow, Willow, and Cleo. They all feel at least a little bit novel.

But I see one other factor: Oscar and Angus are Top 100 names. We sometimes dismiss popular choices as trendy, but that’s a mistake. Popular names catch on because they’re great choices that many families love.

If you’re satisfied with Oscar and Angus, I think you’d feel the same about Harlow or Willow, too. And so I’m inclined to drop Cleo. It’s a little bit out-there compared to your boys’ names. It’s also very close to the powerfully popular Chloe. They’re completely different names, but Cleo will almost certainly be misheard and confused with the more common choice.

That narrows the list to Harlow or Willow.

Forty years from now, a generation of children will have grown up with surname names and nature names, so I expect that choices like Harrison and Piper, Kai and Luna will all feel very tied to the earlier part of this century.

But nature names might fare a little better. After all, we’ve been naming our daughters Rose and Lily for ages. Twenty years ago, it was Holly and Jasmine. While Willow might fall in use, it’s part of a long custom of borrowing botanically-inspired names for our girls, and that gives it a little bit of staying power.

Lastly, Willow satisfies another concern: nicknames! It’s easier to shorten Willow, I think, than Harlow or Cleo.

It’s a close call, but my vote goes to Willow. It matches her brothers’ names in terms of popularity, it feels like a slightly more traditional choice, and it has plenty of nickname potential.

Let’s have a poll, because I’m curious to see if others agree.

What should they name a sister for Oscar and Angus?

  1. ACleo
  2. BHarlow
  3. CWillow
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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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24 Responses to “Girl Baby Names: Harlow, Cleo, or Willow?”

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vivi_simone Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 1:10 am

I agree with Abby’s reasons for leaning towards Willow. But it was the obvious pick from the beginning, as it lands in first and second place for you and your husband. Willow is beautiful with Angus and Oscar. However, if you want to branch out a little, you may also consider Meadow, Sparrow, or Clover. Good luck and congratulations!

ceruleanstardust Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 2:23 am

Leo, Cece and Coco could work as nicknames for Cleo.

Mrs_B_King Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 2:31 am

I like Abbys way of cuting down your choices. But when I read your words I feel like your heart to tend towards Cleo. Even if it is not your favorit choice.

Your thoughts in a nutshell:
Harlow – doesn’t fit with the boys name, but popular
Willow – too popular it lost it’s spark, but you like nature names
Cleo – has no obvious nicknames, but has no obvious nicknames

So I think Cleo would be your winner. Nickmanes come and go for different reasons. Maybe she loves Cherries or you go with Leo or Coco. 😉

EloiseT Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 5:38 am

Sorry if not at all helpful, but I *probably* wouldn’t go with any of them. Your boys’ names are spunky but in some ways ‘classic’ whereas those girls’ names are in a different category in my mind. I would go down a tangential path so same type of name : Hazel, Maeve, Imogen, Violet, Naomi, Eliza, Harriet, Bridget (Birdie!)…

But otherwise, I voted Willow as I think it has the staying power, it’s beautiful, and the closest type of name to the boys’.

dresdendoll Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 5:46 am

Cleo is the best! Nicknames: Lee or Cle.

Janie_Larkin70 Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 6:01 am

Harlow reminds me of “harlot.” I do not understand how this name is gaining so much traction.

I have come to think of Willow as a dog name, but that’s probably because a good friend has a little dog with this name.

Cleo is awesome! I think it sounds just right with Angus and Oscar. Such a pretty name.

beynotce Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 7:49 am

I agree with Abby’s reasons for suggestion Willow as your best choice, but also for this reason: if you give each name a score based on you and your husband’s preferences (1st pick=3 pts, 2nd pick=2 pts, 3rd pick=1 pt), the rankings are:

Willow – 5 pts
Harlow – 4 pts
Cleo – 3 pts

Willow’s the overall winner when you weigh both of your preferences together. Plus, it’s just my personal favorite of your options. 😀 I think it’s the best pick!

niteowl13 Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 8:48 am

I think Cleo fits in with Angus and Oscar
So cute! I like the old-fashioned feel of that sibset. Willow and Harlow are too modern. I’m surprised that your third option isn’t Marlo. That would be my choice over Willow and Harlow.

Selkit Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 9:26 am

If you’re definitely set on one of those three, then I’d say you can’t go wrong with any of them. I’d lean toward Willow or Cleo, myself. But if you’re still open to other possibilities, what about Margot? You seem to like names ending with an “o” sound, and Margot means “pearl,” which fits with your love of nature names. Margot also hits that sweet spot between being both classic yet up-and-coming (at least in the US, where it was #361 in 2017. Not sure about Australia!).

sbw Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 9:52 am

^^ I also came to the comments to suggest Margot — it’s got the “o” sound that appeals to you and is a great match with Angus and Oscar!

yogi.kiki Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 10:10 am

I also think Margot is an obvious choice, it has the “o” ending you are favouring and a more substantial name that holds up beside Angus and Oscar. I like Willow the least of the names above, I find it a bit boring and weightless. Although seems the least popular here, I think of the three names Harlow fits the best with Angus and Oscar, to me it has a similar feel and vibe.

Bobcat108 Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 12:44 pm

I agree w/Janie Larkin; the name Harlowe has always brought to mind the word harlot, at least for me. And Cleo is always the fish from Pinocchio for me.

As Willow is one of my favorite names, I have an obvious bias, & that’s what I voted for. But Willow does have a different “feel” from Angus & Oscar, & while Margot isn’t a name I’d choose myself, it does fit well w/Angus & Oscar IMO.

Good luck!

peach Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Cleo seems like it fits best with your boys names, as well as your style. Cleo is an ancient classic so it is less trendy compared to the others, but particularly compared to Harlow.

I don’t think names need nicknames but it’s still possible even with a short name. Coco seems like a natural one as others have said.

A longer option would be Calliope with the nickname Clio/Cleo. It has a lot of similar sounds as Willow and Harlow but is more timeless.

Aurora31 Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 3:39 pm

I always look forward to Name Sage posts!

I too was surprised that Abby dismissed Cleo. It doesn’t seem ‘out there’ to me at all, due to its ancient roots. For me, it sounds the best with the brother names. Despite that, I still casted my vote for Willow because it’s your husband’s favourite and your second favourite, so seems like the best compromise.

Harlow I really do think will date quickly, so if ‘standing the test of time’ is important, I would nix this one.

JH Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 10:13 pm

I agree that Margot is a great alternative that seems to fit the brothers’ names best.

Whatever name this family ends up picking will end up being the perfect choice. 🙂

Kara Says:

October 3rd, 2018 at 11:48 pm

I might be the outlier, but there is something about Harlow that I think works. I’d actually be more concerned about Willow aging. Nature names have been used through the ages, yes, but Willow is also very trendy. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it isn’t as evergreen as something like Rose. I think Willa, rather than Willow, might be a safer bet from that aspect.

If aging is the concern, I think Cleo would be the safest bet. Nicknames can just happen spontaneously so I don’t think that that should be the only obstacle. My dog is named Violet, but her nickname is Doodle, just because she’s my little Doodle. Likewise, my parents have nicknames for me that have nothing to do with my short, nickname-proof name.

I like the idea of Clementine nn Cleo. There’s still a nature connection, it’s old-fashioned, and it sounds good with Angus and Oscar.

ErinE Says:

October 4th, 2018 at 8:11 am

Margot is so perfect! Otherwise it seems like Willow fits the best with other names, followed by Cleo.

clairels Says:

October 4th, 2018 at 8:15 am

Cleo itself IS a nickname, so I don’t really understand the “no nicknames” objection. I think Cleo is the best choice, personally. I also like the Margot suggestion.

Sinclaiiir Says:

October 5th, 2018 at 7:26 pm

Based on the options given, I would choose Cleo. I find that Willow and Harlow don’t match Angus and Oscar at all. Willow and Harlow seem way too “out-there” and modern whereas Angus and Oscar are a lot more classic.

I agree that Margot would be a nice option or something along those lines. My list:

Alice
Audrey
Blythe
Camille
Clara
Eloise
Holly

I think names similar to those would be a perfect match

Erin Beth Says:

October 6th, 2018 at 5:54 am

To my ear, Cleo stands up the best to the strength of the brother names. I also really love the suggestion of Hazel for you.

WrenEloise Says:

October 6th, 2018 at 9:28 am

Hi, poster. I think Abby did a nice job of limiting your list. I personally think you could use any of the names on your list — it’s almost like a grab bag to me. Harlow doesn’t seem too trendy or young in my mind, nor does it remind me of harlot. Instead, I find it the most glamorous of your bunch. Willow is soft but sturdy, and I appreciate it’s elegant grace. Cleo is fun and perky, yet girly. Either one will work well. For what it’s worth, I did vote for Willow.

That said, as others have noted, none of them feel like natural siblings to Angus and Oscar…

I’d be inclined to name a sister of Angus and Oscar something like Posey, for a nature name with a lilt. I like the suggestion of Margo, too. I’d call her any of the Maggie nicknames, or Magpie! Bridget called Birdie was also a sweet suggestion. As Abby noted, her daughter is Clio, though I believe that’s short for Claire or Clare. You could use Clara, which is a beautiful fit with your boys, or Willa!

I also notice that Angus and Oscar are both vowel names, so I’m intrigued. Iris seems sweet with the boys’ names, though I’m sure it’s more common as well. I even thought of Io, because it’s a very fun ends-in-O option for you, yet I think I really love it for you as a nickname for Isobel. Esme is another.

So, all that said, I’d go with Willow from your list, but I really love these:

Isobel, called Io (or Izzy, Ibby, or Belle)
Esme
Willa
Margo (called Magpie)

morgantaylore Says:

October 7th, 2018 at 7:46 pm

Cleo!!!! Sounds great with your boys names.

I second Iris and Esme. What about Juno?

onomastodon Says:

October 17th, 2018 at 5:38 am

I’m a bit late to this discussion, but I wanted to add my perspective as a fellow Australian.
I appreciate Abby’s reasons for choosing Willow. They make a lot of sense. It’s also the most obvious compromise name between your preferences, as others have noted.

But I wonder whether I can help you come around on Cleo? I agree with some previous posters that it feels the most ‘classic’ choice, which makes it a great fit for Lachlan and Angus’s sister. I suspect part of the reason it has never fully taken off here is that it’s been quite closely tied to the women’s magazine of the same name, as Dolly or Marie-Claire would be.* The magazine folded here a few years ago, though. So, while your friends might still think ‘magazine’ or ‘bachelor of the year’, her friends won’t.
The upside of the magazine connection (and this is where I disagree with Abby), is that the adults in her life (at least while she’s young) will know how to spell and pronounce her name. I am very familiar with Classical mythology, but if I met an Australian ‘klee-oh’ who was not clearly of Greek heritage and I had to guess her name, I would guess ‘Cleo’.

On a separate note, I (born mid-80s, small town) grew up with a Juno, Margo, Marlowe, and Willow. None of them have had particular difficulty with their names.

* for those not familiar with the magazine, here’s the wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleo_(magazine)

Lisa-Renee Says:

October 22nd, 2018 at 5:43 am

Thankyou so much for your help with deciding what would be the perfect name for our little girl. I so wanted to pick the ‘right’ one and loved each of our shortlist equally yet differently which made the whole decision so much harder.

When our baby girl was born though it all became so much clearer because one name suited her more so and for that reason along with all the input from nameberry we decided to name her Cleo.

Cleo’s middle name is Alma which is the middle name of my late grandmother, who I adored more than anyone and wanted to honour.

So I’m thrilled to announce the arrival of our beautiful baby girl, Cleo Alma

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