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How Close is Too Close? 10 Factors to Consider

posted by: Abby View all posts by this author

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?

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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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22 Responses to “How Close is Too Close? 10 Factors to Consider”

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peacebird10 Says:

November 12th, 2014 at 6:44 am

Love it! I see so many forum posts on ‘Is it too close?’ that it’s nice to have a set of rules to refer to! I generally say, if you think the names are too close, they’re too close.

I wish people would just take time to consider name pairings, not just for sibling names, but for first and middle combos too. I’ve seen a few announcements for Isabella Elizabeth and it makes me want to tear my hair out!

geeknamezyo Says:

November 12th, 2014 at 10:23 am

People who break these rules and end up with too-close sibling names drive me insane…but then, my parents did the same thing. My name is Gwendolyn/Gwen and I have a little brother Benjamin/Ben. It works ok in our family because Benjamin only goes by Ben at school and mostly uses the full Benjamin, while I am Gwen 24/7 to the point where I sometimes forget to respond to Gwendolyn.

The bigger problem is with our other siblings, Abigail/Abby and Adam, who our mother likes to call “Addy” to everyone’s confusion.

gwensmom Says:

November 12th, 2014 at 2:27 pm

I had to eliminate Penelope as a little sister to Gwendolyn because I didn’t want to have a Gwen/Gwennie and a Penn/Penny.

ElsaAnne Says:

November 12th, 2014 at 4:14 pm

I personally don’t even like names with vaguely similar endings, like Oliver, Joshua and Hannah (all -a’s) or Henry, Naomi and Phoebe (all -ee sounds). How names flow with others is important to me.

britley Says:

November 12th, 2014 at 4:47 pm

Expecting my 4th boy, this has been a big problem for me. My boys are Jacob, Colin, and Maxwell (nn Max). I’ve eliminated Owen (feels to similar to Colin), Caleb (just switch around the letters of Jacob and Colin), Oliver (Colin is often Collie, so Ollie is a problem), any name ending in -lin sound (way too many), and any name starting with J, C, and M.

Emeyula Says:

November 12th, 2014 at 5:15 pm

I know siblings named Carlos and Carla. Eek.

Pam Says:

November 12th, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Gwensmom, you did a better job thinking ahead than I did. I failed to foresee that Rory, Joseph, and Owen would become Ro, Joe, and O!!!

JossieChris Says:

November 12th, 2014 at 7:57 pm

I ended up using an anagram for my mother’s name Lynda and found a real winner in the name Dylan whom we loving call Dylie. So now that #2 another girl is on the way I am struggling. We tossed Madeline out there and had a really good laugh when we realized that we were basically saying,”Mad Dylan”!

SeaZuno86 Says:

November 12th, 2014 at 8:53 pm

I don’t have children so this is all hypothetical but right now my favorite girls name is Jane- that eliminates my top two boys names Jude and Oren (same initial and Oren sounds too similar). Also I go back and forth on whether Fiona and Naomi are great or horrible for sisters (contain almost all the same letters but totally different sounds)!

Lo Says:

November 13th, 2014 at 2:59 pm

I think about this dilemma all of the time. We have six kids and I think it’s likely we’ll have another but so many of our favorites seem too close to a name we’ve already used. We have Paul, Clare, Mark, Katharine, James, and Andrew. Some lovely names are so close they are easy to rule out – Jane, Anne, and Matthew. Others I go back and forth on. Are Sarah and clare too close? Would I call them Clara and Sare? Mary seems too close to Mark at least visually but the first syllable is pronounced differently even though spelled the same. Caroline may be too close to Clare but I’ve run into sisters with these names. Grace usually seems safe but it’s crossed my mind that it’s pretty similar to James. Those are basically my four favorite girls names.

indiefendi Says:

November 13th, 2014 at 5:14 pm

I love this! Everything you said is what I was thinking about this a couple days ago. I was thinking that if there’s a John dad or grandpa then girls could be Johanna, Gianna, and/or Zanna. I think Elizabeth and Isabella would be very cute for twins. But Catherine and Caitlin would be off the table for me because there’d have to share a nickname. Elizabeth could be anything from Ellie to Beth and Isabella has her Isa, Bella etc.

If you want to be cute and rhyme it could go two ways, either it’s “too close” or it cute like Leah and Sophia. Hailey and Brady. Cara and Sarah would probably be too close for me.
A girl named Hannah Santana I wouldn’t really like that name because Hannah and Santana have the same origins essentially.

In film I’ve seen Scarlett and Margaret as a mother-daughter duo and the nicknames were Scar (which was touchy to the character) and Maggie.

I thinks it nice when sibsets have the same ending whether it’s -son, -n, -er, -bel, -ey/ie, etc.

At the end of the day, if you’re upstairs and your kids are downstairs and you’re yelling their name or nickname the sound might get muddled and the kids might get confused about whose name you’re calling. That’s the test I use.

mill1020 Says:

November 13th, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Sadly, I’ve had to eliminate Jane because we have a James (who goes only by James, at least at this point).

SoDallas3 Says:

November 15th, 2014 at 7:44 am

I’ll be honest, I agree with most of these, except I don’t mind if my kids all have nicknames ending -ie for example. My family nicknamed me “Jessie,” my brother Brock was often called “Brockie” or the quirky “Froggy.” It truly wasn’t a big deal and I think it’s even more executable if you have longer formal names for your children.

marisarose Says:

November 19th, 2014 at 10:03 am

I am Marisa and my brother is Matthew, so while we start with the same letter, the names are very different.
My cousins on the other hand are Alivia and Alayna, which I think is too close.

Knelli Says:

January 12th, 2015 at 1:49 pm

I know someone who has daughters a year apart named Alia and Malia. WAY too close. I dont have any children yet, but I know my first daughter will be named Zelda. However, that rules out my favorite boys name Ezekiel nn. Zeke. I think Zelda and Zeke are too close.

gmdx Says:

January 31st, 2015 at 11:27 pm

I love the name Beatrice and Ramona. Unfortunately for Ramona, I like Beatrice more, and though I ADORE Nathaniel, Nathalie is on my short list.
What would you think of Ramona and Leo in the same sibset? Would you make the connection to Mona Lisa and DaVinci? I really like to push the envelope of Rule #7. To any Whovian, Amelia and River are too obvious, but what about Amelia and Rose? Melody and William?
What about classic names? Would siblings Henry, Catherine, Anne and Jane raise any questions?

hannahmd Says:

March 13th, 2015 at 2:20 pm

I know a pair of sisters named Amela and Anela. I can’t stand sib sets like that

sanguine_sparrow Says:

March 14th, 2015 at 4:31 pm

I came across sisters named Emma and Ella and thought they were really similar. But ultimately I don’t think sibling names need to be given as much consideration as they do on nameberry. Who cares if your name doesn’t sound good next to your brother’s? It’s so insignificant. I would never pick my second favorite name over my favorite because there is some imaginary rule that says you can’t have two children with names that end in “a”. I would still pick my favorite, unless they actually rhymed.

Abby Says:

March 14th, 2015 at 8:50 pm

Well … they’re factors to consider, not rules. And almost anything goes for two kids. But it gets tougher when you’re planning on a big family and find yourself with an accidental pattern. Imagine you name you first three sons Carter, Hunter, and Parker, and now you’re expecting twin boys. Can you skip the -r endings? Of course! But if you decide you want to stick to the style, the list is short! I love hearing Michelle Duggar talk about how they just sort of chose J names for their first three kids, and then thought they’d better stick with it, or else future children would feel left out. 19 kids later …

Angelicaecb Says:

March 27th, 2015 at 2:42 pm

I agree that they’re just considering factors to keep in mind rather then flat out rules. I think a lot of people don’t look at names for the meaning (just check that it isn’t awful) but more the sound and flow, so for example, Isabella Elizabeth or Isabella and Elizabeth wouldn’t be too much of a concern for them. I don’t like names sets like Susanna and Anna or Maile and Maila because they too close and confusing, but I think some names, twin names especially, used to have big rep for rhyming or having similar sounds/meanings/endings/starting letters because it was cute and made a matching pair, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing to still like. Sure, you might not want to go too corny and cliche in your choices like Blue and Red or Rain and Shine or whatever, or go with famous lovers/duos/name combos like Romeo and Juliet, Bonnie and Clyde, Grace Kelly. But I think similar endings in names from the er’s to the us’s and el’s (maybe not all bels, but el’s like Isabel and Laurel.) and even twins with same first letters can still be cute rather then getting an automatic X on the choices. I actually like Ella and Emma together, especially if they’re nn for longer names. Overall it all comes down to personal opinion. I think this list is a really good checkpoint of things to keep in mind, but I don’t think it’s mandatory to follow, like it says- if you have to think too hard on seeing the flaws and problems in your choices then it’s probably not a big deal to worry over.

Waverly123 Says:

April 15th, 2015 at 8:11 am

I know sisters Anna & Annika (prn. Anne-ih-ka). WAAAY too close for me, especially since the girls are only a year (maybe 2) apart. In school, sometimes their report cards would get messed up because people thought Anna was short for Annika and didn’t realize there were 2 of them.

actingfun Says:

October 22nd, 2015 at 2:50 pm

Maile is supposed to be pronounced MIE-leh. I don’t know why this bothered me so much, but it did. Anyway, I know siblings named Jordan (boy) and Jacqueline. When Jacqueline was little, she couldn’t pronounce Jordan, so she called him Jayden. At the same time, she goes by the nickname Jaycee because her parents didn’t like Jackie. So now they’re Jayden and Jaycee. This wouldn’t typically happen, especially with a name like Jacqueline that has such a common nickname. I would say that unless there is a clear nickname problem (i.e. Kathryn and Kaitlyn), it shouldn’t be something to worry about.

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