How I Named My Baby: Leni Jean

How I Named My Baby: Leni Jean

Hannah Lily Williams, a digital creator and Matt Graber, a digital producer, live in Joshua Tree, California with their four children: Jackson Henry, Wyatt Packard, Henry John Aaron, and Leni Jean.

Leni was born on October 12, 2022. Here, we talk to Hannah about her daughter's name story.

Tell me Leni’s name story!

I really thought that I’d pick a super feminine name for my first girl. But I realized I wanted it to sound a little more unisex to fit in with her brothers. By default, she’s going to be a spunky girl.

Matt and I decided to narrow down the theme and letters we liked. We realized that the boys all have “rancher names” — Jackson, Wyatt, and Henry or Hank. We wanted to tie into that and use the initial L, because it’s so beautiful and fun to write in cursive.

Matt and I ended up changing her name several times throughout my pregnancy. First it was Quinn, then Winnie, then Lila. We’d agree on a name, I’d be like, “This is perfect!” and the next morning I’d say, “I hate it! We can’t use this — it’s terrible!”

As we continued to look at names, I realized I wanted something outside of the Top 1000. It ruled out so many names for us!

Matt was going through my chicken’s names and suggested Wilhelmina, with the nickname Willie. Willie was a better fit with the boys’ names than Wilhelmina, but it’s a slang word in England.

Then Matt suggested Lenny because we’re both big fans of Lenny and Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley. I liked it but wanted to explore the spelling — Lenny felt too much like an old cowboy! We thought of Lennie and Leni, and chose Leni because I love the four letters.

Many times throughout the rest of the pregnancy I tried to change her name because I get cold feet. I wanted to change it to Lolly! But we kept coming back to Leni, and that’s when I knew it was going to be her name.

For Leni, we knew her middle name was going to be Jean. It’s my grandma’s middle name, my sister’s middle name, and cousin’s middle name. All of our kids’ names have a family element.

Did you think of boy names at all?

I was convinced I was having a fourth boy. That’s all I know — it’s my comfort zone! We’d chosen River Jack — just recycling names with the boys.

I always wanted to use River but my husband’s last name is Graber. An -er ending for the first name with an -er ending for the last name isn’t my favorite. If it had been a fourth boy, we would have been like, “Okay, let’s just do it”. We’ve used every other boy name for our other sons.

Billie was our other boy name. It was neck and neck between the two, but we decided to go with River. After Billie Eilish, I felt like the name would always be tied to her. I love her, but not that much.

Tell me about the name hints you gave on social media.

I love games and trivia and thought it would just be a fun thing and maybe five people would guess her name. But people got so into it! I think it’s because it’s the ultimate mystery box — a human!

I was trying to come up with all these obscure clues and learned very quickly that many people are a lot smarter than I am. I was sitting there like, “They’ll never get this!” and people were fully explaining the meaning of all the clues.

I ended up giving prizes to the first people who guessed Leni. They got to pick gift cards to my favorite small businesses, which was really fun.

How do you feel about your own name and how did that influence your choice of baby names?

I’m happy with my name and I like it, I just feel it’s very safe. Early ‘90s was the time of the Hannah! There were two other Hannahs in my class. I had to be Hannah W. and I hated the sound of that. There was Hannah B. — that’s so cute — Hannah J., and then Hannah W.

What are the trendy names in your social circle?

We live in a very small town and unique names are so normalized here. It definitely opened my eyes to options that I didn’t think were names. Anything can be a name if you want it to be. There are tons of fun, free-spirited names like Wand, Tree, Magpie "Pie", and Cave.

Nature names are very popular. We have some Rivers out here, actually. I met them after we found out we were having a girl and was like, “Phew.” Ocean is also a big one even though we live in the desert!

Because we’re out West, there are a lot of rancher, Old-West names. There are some deep cuts — not like my kids Jackson, Wyatt, and Hank.

Did you have any big fears related to baby names?

My biggest fear is that she would grow up to not like it. I actually have name regret sometimes for our youngest son, Henry. We thought Henry was a safe choice, so we decided to go for it. But I kept overanalyzing, so I gave him two middle names in case he wanted to be Johnny or Aaron one day.

Sometimes I wish we had named him Ace! It fits his personality — he’s a little bruiser.

I felt way less fear of judgment when we were naming Leni. The more time I’ve spent as a parent and the more kids I have, the more I’ve realized it’s okay to be unique. I was so young when I had my first kid, I was afraid to go out of the box. I already felt judged for my age.

The more confidence I got as a parent, the more I wished I had a name like Leni. It’s fun and stands out — she will really be her own person.

What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting the baby name process?

Making decisions like how common or uncommon we wanted the name to be and the letters we liked and didn’t like, really helped us narrow it down. There are always going to be names that pop up. When you’re expecting a baby, you’re listening to every name on every TV show, paying attention to names in books, of every person you meet. It was an easy way to focus on something when we homed in on the initial L.

I’m also all about including some kind of family element. If there is a family name that you don’t want as a first name, it’s great to use it as a middle name. That can help craft what the first name sounds like because you are narrowing it down to choices that go with the middle name.

How would you describe your style beyond baby names?

Right now, my style is a raccoon in the trash! Nice sweatpants, same shirt for four days.

But really, my style would be best described as “kid-forward.” I let my kids give their input on home choices, and I try to make the rest very comfortable and welcoming. The kids have a lot of creative freedom in their rooms. I love hosting and love a house full of kids, so I want the house to feel casual, so people are relaxed when they come over!

Did you pass down anything special to Leni?

I’m a borderline hoarder with hand-me-downs. I get really sentimental about the clothes! That’s kind of how I hang on to memories of parenthood, just because it’s so exhausting and draining in those early years.

With our youngest son, I dressed him very gender-neutral and saved a lot of his outfits. My mom also saved so many outfits of mine that I now get to dress Leni in. It’s really sweet for me to finally get into those boxes that were in her garage. Now Leni gets to wear them, and I’ll save them for her to give to her children, if she decides to have them.

What are the cool things to do for parents and kids in Joshua Tree?

Of course, Joshua Tree National Park is a huge one. They have camps and rock climbing and picnics. It’s very nature-oriented out here.

There is a conservation desertscape Zoo in Palm Desert called The Living Desert. They have great memberships so it’s a hot spot for all of us to take the kids.

We have a few restaurants out here that are really kid-friendly like Spaghetti Western in Morongo Valley and Red Dog in Pioneertown and Giant Rock Pizza in Yucca Valley. It’s a community vibe. There’s music playing and the kids all get into a group and storm the stage. Everyone’s digging in the dirt, rolling around in the dust, and playing all together.

Hannah's (and Leni's) Favorite Things


The one splurge that I would sell the shirt off my back to buy is the Snoo. I know it’s not for everyone, but for me, with severe anxiety, it ensures Leni’s on her back — it’s the only way I can fall asleep.

Spectra Pump

I absolutely love it. The Spectra is very efficient and easy — both to use and clean!

Baby Einstein Activity Center

Leni is obsessed with this. It’s my favorite thing because it helps her practice moving her feet to get from one space to the next.

Kyte Baby Clothes

The material is so stretchy that you can use clothes a lot longer than a traditional cotton outfit. They’re just so soft during those first few months.

Fin & Vince Clothes

They have great unisex clothes. I shop boy and girl sections for my boys. They're durable so I can use the hand-me-downs for multiple kids. My hot take is that I purchase from the sale section for the next year of that season.

Click here to see the entire Baby Shopping Guide or our Pregnancy Shopping List. And check out the Nameberry Amazon Store to see all products recommended in How I Named My Baby.

Thank you so much, Hannah!

Photos via Hannah Williams and Matt Graber

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About the Author

Sophie Kihm

Sophie Kihm

Sophie Kihm has been writing for Nameberry since 2015. She has contributed stories on the top 2020s names, Gen Z names, and cottagecore baby names. Sophie is Nameberry’s resident Name Guru to the Stars, where she suggests names for celebrity babies. She also manages the Nameberry Instagram and Pinterest.

Sophie Kihm's articles on names have run on People, Today, The Huffington Post, and more. She has been quoted as a name expert by The Washington Post, People, The Huffington Post, and more. You can follow her personally on Instagram or Pinterest, or contact her at Sophie lives in Chicago.