How Close is Too Close? 10 Factors to Consider

November 11, 2014 Abby Sandel

By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

When we decided to call our daughter Clio, we forever closed the door on another favorite name – Theodore, nickname Theo.

Or did we?

For every family that decides Maya and Milo are too similar, another embraces the sound-alike names. Or insists that Alicia and Alina have totally different sounds.

Perhaps it never even occurs to the parents that Joanna and Jackson are both related to John. Or maybe the first time you think of the famous actress is when you introduce your daughter Grace, little sister to Kelly and someone asks if you’re a fan.

Siblings’ names will be said together countless times. The names we like often have much in common. So how can you tell if your choices make for a compatible sibset, or if they’re much too close?

Here are ten factors to consider:

10. The names share the same meaning. This can be a subtle way to link siblings’ names. Think Lucy and Claire. One means light; the other, clear. Felix and Asher both mean happy.

Trouble comes when your family of two ends up a family of four or five or more. Your first two are the nicely paired Hazel and Ivy, but after using Olive and Jade, your choices for #5 narrow to Loden, Fern, and Moss.

9. The names share the same origins. Name aficionados know that Jacob and James are related. I’ve groused that naming your twin daughters Isabella and Elizabeth is like naming them Mary Anne and Marianne. Except that it’s not really so.

Origins aside, Jack and Sean make for a compatible pair of brothers’ names. And Charles and Caroline seem different enough to be worn without incident. Daniel and Danielle, however, don’t work.

8. You’ve neglected 25 letters of the alphabet. Sometimes this is unintentional. You’re naming your sons after their grandfathers – Michael and Matthew. Or you just happen to like the names Julia and Jason.

But let’s say you choose a letter with fewer options. I remember hearing about a family with four sons – Henry, Heath, Hugo and Hatrick. Are they hockey fans, or was Harvey not their style? And if you’re on the second generation sharing the same syllable, your options might be very limited.

7. The names are linked in history or pop culture. If the movie was a bust, or we’re talking minor comic book characters, this matters not at all. (You can safely ignore “But Sami named her twins John and Alice on Days of Our Lives.”)

Some references might appeal – think of daughters named for two Jane Austen heroines, as in Emma and Elinor.

Then there’s Gillian Anderson’s threesome – Piper, Oscar, and Felix. Her kids might not know The Odd Couple, but it is hard to imagine that it didn’t occur to mom. Or the truly unthinkable – siblings named Romeo and Juliet, or even, in our Twilight era, Edward and Bella. (Though it can happen after the fact – in which case, all you can do is laugh.)

6. Your choices can lead to same nickname. Sure, you never intend to call Kathryn or Katelyn by the nickname Katie. But it could easily happen. And how will their sister Annie feel about having an unrelated name?

This usually occurs because of #9 or #3. But not always – Amelia and Marianna could both shorten to Mia. Alexander and Natasha could both go by Sasha. The harder you have to think about it, the less it becomes a concern.

5. Your favorites share the same ending. If you like Isabel, you might also like Annabel. Ditto names like Parker, Carter, and Harper. But sharing the same ending is another sign that your favorites might be too close for comfort – especially if you’re hoping for a bigger family.

4. They nest like a Russian matryoshka. Does one name fit neatly inside the other? Annika and Julian share an “an” but it isn’t glaringly obvious.

But Ella and Kellen seem like too much of a set. And, in cases like Anna and Susanna, it feels as if one sibling’s name is just an elaboration, rather than an original choice.

3. They share the same first syllable. With #10 through #4, it is easy enough to come up with examples that work, despite being close in some ways.

But #3 takes us deep into the danger zone – can you imagine sisters called Madeline and Madison?  How ’bout Jordan and Georgia?

A Supernanny episode featured twin girls Maile and Maila – pronounced Miley and Myla.  That’s too close!

2. The names rhyme. Yes, there have surely been twin sisters called Cara and Tara. But most parents – and siblings – would find it a bit too matched.

And yet, this is trickier than it sounds. Timothy and James, Jeffrey and Stephanie and, of course, Benjamin and Jennifer, all end up rhyming if you use the most common diminutives.

1. A combination of the above. Jackson and Jonathan are close, but probably on the right side of the line, while Jack and John don’t pass the test.

Jeffrey and Stephanie seem less troubling than the rhyming nicknames/Hollywood power couple Benjamin and Jennifer.

Sarah and Laura are pretty close, but Laura and Maura would work only on fictional characters.

And so I’d love to know: what choices have you had to reject because they’re just too close to an older child’s name – or the name of another family member?

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

View all of Abby's articles


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