How I Named My Baby: Hollis Benjamin Ash
Mandy and Courtney, who work in legal marketing, live in Athens, Pennsylvania with Courtney's daughter Mackenzi and their three sons — Magnus William Linden, Abbott Ivan Hawthorne, and Hollis Benjamin Ash.
Their latest addition, Hollis, was born on June 17, 2021. Here, Mandy tells us about nicknames, her and Courtney's special naming formula, and how they named their son Hollis Benjamin Ash.
Tell me how you named Hollis!
Hollis was a surprise. So we kind of were stuck! My husband's name is Courtney. He's six foot six — a huge burly dude. And he gets picked on all the time for having a girl name, which is funny because he's physically very intimidating.
Our first son Magnus is the same way. When I was pregnant with Magnus, I wanted to name him Magnolia if he was a girl, because I liked the nickname Maggie. And then he was a boy, so we went with Magnus with the nickname Maggie. The amount of pushback that I got on that was unbelievable. Little old ladies would ask him what his name was and be like, “Maggie? That’s a girls’ name!”
Family members were like, “You need to stop calling him that.” I'm gonna call him that harder now! We decided that if we had more sons, we would try to find names that had girl nicknames.
With Hollis, we didn't have a nickname in mind. And then my husband blurted it out: “What about Hollis? And we can call him Holly.” And that is how that came about.
How often do you call them by their nicknames?
All the time. Magnus is 11 now, so he's kind of too cool for Maggie, but around the house, I still do slip into it. We also call him Mags. That is more what I tend to go to now for a nickname, just because I know that he is kind of weird about Maggie. But he's my baby!
Abbott goes by whatever you like to call him. He’s very proud of his nickname, Abby.
The people that gave me grief the first time around with Maggie know that we don't care about their opinion, or maybe they've evolved a little.
When they would do that with Magnus, I would respond, “Well, that's his name — I don’t know what you mean.” Now I'm a lot more confident. I would just be like, “Stop with the bullshit. Let’s not do that here. Get over it.”
When did you know that Hollis was The One?
It was right around Christmas. My husband was upstairs getting ready and he shouted at me, “Hey, what about Hollis?” I was like, yeah, that's it, just out of the blue.
My only concern was Rachel Hollis, from Girl Wash Your Face. I can't stand her. And I was like, “I hope people don't think I named him after her!”
Our first child was named Juniper and she died at birth. We never had another girl, but I had all these nature names planned for future daughters. So I did like that nature connection with Hollis too.
Tell me about the middle names.
They each have two middle names. One is just a regular name. For Hollis, it's Benjamin, I’ve always liked that.
The second middle name is the tree, to honor Juniper. Hollis is Ash, Magnus is Linden, and Abbott is Hawthorne. With Magnus, we chose Linden because we took a trip right before he was born to Niagara Falls. We were walking through the botanic gardens and there was this grove of linden trees. We were having a moment together and were like, “That's the name!” It all just came together.
For the other boys, we thought of other trees that were name worthy.
What other names were you throwing around for Hollis?
If he had been a girl, he was going to be Maple. Although we got a dog, and her name is Mabel. That would have been confusing!
As as for boy names, it was just Hollis. There are tons of names that I like — agreeing with my husband is the hard part.
What are the trendy names in your social circle?
A couple of people that I know have had some really good names lately. A Wilder was just born. There’s a Walker.
I live in rural Pennsylvania, so there are a lot of country names, tending more towards the cowboy names. There are a lot of Colts, some Remingtons, named after guns. And then there's always a lot of there are a lot of Madisons still. Sophia, Isabella, Ava — pretty vanilla stuff.
What would your younger self have liked to name a baby?
When I was a little girl, I wanted to name my daughter Oceana. It just sounded so beautiful to me. When I was a little older, I liked Benjamin a lot. It's too plain for me now. I still would use it, but I like it better as a middle. I don't have a connection to it. There are better names to me. James as well — I liked those classics. I liked Ava a lot too when I was a teenager.
If you could have named the baby on your own, what would you have chosen?
Now he’s just Hollis!
One of my favorite names is Gideon. I liked Dashiell. I have a friend who has a son named Dashiell though, so it's always been a no-no.
I had more girl names — I really like Ophelia. I like Persephone a lot, a lot, a lot. Ezra for a girl. And then I love all the tree names and flower names. I've always liked the name, Lavender, which is a tree name.
How do you feel about your own name and did that influence your choice in any way?
I'm Amanda Nicole, which is peak 1987.
It's funny. When I would go to my OB appointments, I was an older mother this time around, which makes me feel ancient. But they would call out Amanda and two other people would stand up. It was like high school all over again
I was always one of several Amandas. I go by Mandy, but even with that, there were four others. I did not want my kids to have popular, common names.
Courtney is ten years older than me. My mother-in-law is not a creative type — it's kind of surprising that she named him that. She swears it's a boy name and it was on the boy side of the book. His middle name is Brooke, with an E.
He likes it. He still gets a lot of flak for it, but he's a huge guy and that probably helps. The feminine nicknames honored him because we didn't want to do Courtney Junior or anything. But I don’t know if I would have continued the pattern if people hadn’t given me grief about it.
If you were naming a baby tomorrow, what would you choose?
For a girl, I really like Maple or Ophelia. But it's kind of hard, like when you're a name person — I think “Ophelia, ooh, it's getting kind of popular,” but there are no Ophelias anywhere around where I live.
I probably would do Ophelia. Or Maple Ophelia — I like a really girly middle name.
It's so narrow now for a boy. I can't even think of another name that would generate a cute girly nickname! If I had to do it again, I would probably think of the nickname first and then work backwards. I’ve always liked Annie, but that might be too close to Abby. Some of the others that I like are almost too cute, like Mamie.
My mother's family is from Sweden, and I really like Swedish and Scandinavian names. We had Soren on our list, and Stellan. But Stella isn’t really a nickname. My mom’s maiden name is Kjellander, so I’ve always like Kjell (pronounced like “shell”), but that would be like torture for their whole life because nobody would ever pronounce it correctly.
Did your older sons have any suggestions for baby names?
Magnus wanted to name him Jamie, for some reason. I don't know why he really liked the name Jamie. And if it was a girl, he liked Crystal — pretty dated name! Maybe they sound old-fashioned to him?
And then Abbott would name him Garbage Truck or something.
Between you and Courtney, did one of you have more fun with the process?
I thought about it a lot more because I enjoy it. For him, it's just a reaction, like, “Ooh, no,” or “Oh yes.” Courtney likes some really weird names. He wanted to name Magnus, Kodiak. And I was like “No, no, no — that's the other end of the spectrum.” Magnus is a very strong name, but I'm not naming a kid who is going to be seven feet tall after a bear.
Courtney always liked the names Dresden and Quickening for a girl. And Desmond for a boy.
When we first met, we were having that hypothetical talk about what we would name our kids. We both liked Star Wars a lot, and he loved the name Kenobi. I suggested the combo Violet Kenobi, thinking that we're not going to get married and actually have kids. But he was into it.
When we were pregnant with Juniper, I told him, “I don't know about Kenobi anymore. It might be too much.” And he was like, “You said you liked that name!” We still kind of joke about that, but I don't know if I'd want to go that into Star Wars fandom.
What was the most surprising part of the baby name process?
How many people offer their opinion on your very personal decision. Even after explaining that we put a lot of thought into it. They’ll still say they don’t like it! It's bizarre, some of the things that people think that they should say.
What advice would you give someone who's just starting the baby name process?
Don't be afraid to choose something that is a little different if you love it. When I named Juniper, she really named herself. I was driving into work, pulling into the parking lot and the name just hit me like, like a lightning bolt. I had never heard anyone with that name before. I just loved it.
I asked some of my friends at work and there were mixed opinions. Some people thought it was weird, but a lot of people liked it. Now I wouldn’t bother to take a poll. Just do what you want and don't worry about other people.
Thank you so much, Mandy!