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Have a baby name dilemma?

Ask the Namesage!

Welcome to Nameberry’s newest column, The Name Sage. Every week, Nameberry’s Abby Sandel, will answer one reader’s questions about naming a baby-on-the-way, or general baby name angst. And here’s the best part: we’d love it if you would add your thoughtful suggestions and comments to help expectant parents decide. The world needs more nicely named children, berries! Want to see your question featured? Please email namesage@nameberry.com. Be sure to include your due date.

Challenging Family Traditions

a Name Sage post by: Abby Sandel View all Name Sage posts
challenging family traditions

They named their son after her husband’s dad. But does that mean they have to name their second child after another relative? Let’s talk challenging family traditions – and help them find a girl’s name they can both love.

C writes:

When our son was born, my husband wanted to name him after his recently deceased father. It’s a classic name, and I was happy to honor his dad’s memory. My husband is Greek, and naming children after their grandparents is part of their naming tradition.

Now we’re expecting a second child, a delivery surprise. If it’s a boy, we have some ideas.

But if it’s a girl, we have a problem.

My husband wants to follow tradition again, and name a daughter after his mother. When we were expecting our first, I agreed to use a shorter form of her (long, Greek) name if the baby was a girl.

Now I’m having second thoughts.

We’ve already honored his family with our son’s name. Plus, my relationship with my mother-in-law hasn’t always been easy, and that complicates my feelings about using her name for a child.

I do agree that any name we choose would have to be part of the Greek name day calendar. But I don’t want to be forced to use this specific name under these circumstances.

The Name Sage replies:

When it comes to challenging family traditions, I find myself repeating a mantra:

Relationships matter more than names.

The tricky part here? There’s more than one relationship to consider.

I hope it goes without saying that your relationship with your husband matters more than his relationship with his mom, or your mother-in-law’s relationship with her future granddaughter. They’re significant, yes. But they come second.

Family traditions are marvelous, but they can also be used to shut down discussion. That’s not right, particularly because those traditions represent only half of your children’s heritage.

Continuing this family tradition takes your preferences and opinions out of the equation, and that’s hurtful. How could it not be?

Your intention – to choose a name from the Greek calendar of saints – represents a compromise. It also signals that your preferences carry equal weight. Challenging family traditions can mean breaking an established pattern – in this case, naming after grandparents – but it also helps build your new family’s identity by embracing the best of you and your husband’s stories combined.

Because you described your son’s name as classic, my list sticks to the Greek name day calendar, but favors the more traditional choices.

GREEK GIRL NAMES

ALEXANDRA – Impeccably Greek, but also international and enduring. Alexandra can be shortened to at least half-a-dozen nicknames.

ANASTASIA – Combining deep roots with a current sound, Anastasia feels like an obvious Greek heritage choice.

EVA – My understanding is that Eva is often short for Evangelia – which means “bearer of good news.” That feels like an auspicious meaning for this child’s name.

HELENE – My first thought was Eleni, but some name calendars list Helene instead. Any form of this classic favorite could be a lovely choice. Again, the meaning – light – feels appropriate.

KATE – At first glance, there’s nothing Greek about Kate. It sounds impeccably English! And yet, Katherine’s roots are Greek, and Katerina remains in steady use.

LYDIA – A place name, and a popular choice for a daughter in Greece, as well as throughout the English-speaking world.

PHOEBE – Another name that feels traditional in Greek, stylish in English, and carries an appealing meaning: radiant.

SOFIA – Yes, Sofia may very possibly be the most popular name for girls in the world at the moment. Along with Sophia, it’s a favorite from Finland to Portugal, Chile to New Zealand. But that’s at least partly because it works so beautifully for families blending their cultures.

THEA (THEODORA) – Stylish Thea is rising in use, following names like Mia and Leah. The longer form of the name, Theodora, has potential, too.

ZOE – While Zoe has fallen in use slightly in recent years, it remains popular throughout Europe and the English-speaking world. It’s a mini name that feels sleek and modern, and yet instantly conveys Greek heritage, too.

Challenging family traditions is never easy. And while you’ve suggested a rock-solid compromise with lots of possible names to consider, there are other paths. Is there a grandmother’s name from his side that appeals? Or, even better, a name from your family history that would be appropriate?

Based on names alone, I’d suggest Eva or Thea – classic favorites, accessible to speakers of Greek and English alike.

But I do think it’s worth pondering whether there’s another compromise name that feels significant and pleasing to you and your husband.

Readers, can you suggest more Greek names that might be just right for this family? And what advice can you share on challenging family traditions?

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Confronting Name Regret

a Name Sage post by: Abby Sandel View all Name Sage posts
confronting name regret

They’ve brought home their new baby, but her name just doesn’t seem to fit. Time for practical strategies for confronting name regret, and finding the best possible name for their daughter.

C writes:

I am having serious name regret. We named our daughter Leila Rose. The name Leila was on our short list, but we chose it at the very last minute. Rose is a family name, so I feel very comfortable with that name as a middle.

Since coming home from the hospital, the name Leila has never felt right. At this point, we’d like to change it. But I haven’t found a perfect – or even mostly perfect – name.

Leila is often mispronounced. I’m worried it has ethnic roots that don’t overlap with our own heritage.

We’d like something a little less unique/more classic. Maybe something more Americanized/more easily recognized, too.

Isabel, Sophie, Juliana, and Amelia are all options.

Do you have any suggestions about where to start? Is it crazy to change your baby’s name? (We really don’t use it, so I don’t think she knows it is her name yet.) Could we use two middle names, adding a new first name with “Leila Rose” for her middle? We’ve been thinking about Juliet Leila Rose.

Thank you for any help!

The Name Sage replies:

Parents have changed their children’s names months after they were born for generations. Long before the internet, even before we’d all heard of name regret. While there’s no hard data, talk to enough people and the stories are there. You’re not alone!

It sounds like Leila is a name you love – but maybe not for your family. Despite your unease, though, my experience is that any name change brings a sense of loss – even when it’s the right decision.

Because of that, it’s often best to change a name as little as possible. Retaining some part of your child’s original name helps, too.

And while I’m sure you know this in your heart – we all do! – no name is ever perfect. Often a name represents the best possible choice, reached through a mix of logic and love.

Let’s start there.

SMALL CHANGES

You’ve mentioned that Leila feels like the wrong fit for your family’s heritage. I wonder if you’d consider spelling it Layla? The Arabic roots remain. But it’s broadly familiar in English. That’s thanks, in large part, to Eric Clapton. (His smash hit power ballad with Derek and the Dominos was inspired by a medieval romance, the poem Layla and Majnun.) But it’s also about our love of Kayla and Hailey. Layla has been a Top 100 favorite since 2006, currently ranks Number 23, and it’s easy to pronounce.

Layla might not be as classic as Katherine or Jane, but it feels like a mainstream choice for a daughter born in 2020.

Another option might be to substitute Lyla (Number 120), Leah (Number 44), or even Lily (Number 34) for your daughter’s name. It’s a change, but a subtle one.  

Of course, your daughter already has a classic, easily spelled and pronounced name: Rose. Would you consider simply calling her Rose or Rosie? If this idea appeals, you can always legally change her name to Rose Leila. Or not. Lots of people go through life as M. Elizabeth and J. Sarah with minimal fuss.

A FRESH START

But if none of those approaches appeals, then adding a new first name might be the right approach. It allows you to retain your daughter’s birth name, as well as her meaningful middle. And it gives you a blank slate to choose something new.

Juliet Leila Rose seems like a great combination. It picks up on Juliana, another of your favorites.

For what it’s worth, though, Juliet is less common than Leila. The spelling Juliette, with an extra –te, ranks Number 170 in the US. But, of course, Shakespeare’s character means that we’re all familiar with the name, regardless of spelling.

If not Juliet, I wonder if you might like one of these names, all ranked in the current US Top 500:

Eden

Evelyn

Josephine

Margot

Vivian

Zoe

As for two middle names? While there’s no official data, it seems more and more common. My younger child has two middles; plenty of families use one parent’s surname as a second middle name, too. While plenty of official forms might reduce Juliet Leila Rose to Juliet L, if two middles make this process easier, then don’t hesitate to use them.  

THE BIG DECISION

My suggestion is to consider each possibility in turn: would spelling her name Layla help? Is a similar-but-different choice like Lily or Lyla a good approach? Could you call her Rose instead?

If not, my vote goes to Juliet Leila Rose. It’s close to the other name you considered during your pregnancy. And it makes for a lovely combination, a mix of the name you gave your daughter at birth, and one you realized would suit her better for her future life.

Readers, over to you! What would you suggest as an alternative to Leila Rose? Any advice for dealing with name regret?

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Great Nicknames Shorten Classic Favorites

a Name Sage post by: Abby Sandel View all Name Sage posts
great nicknames for classic boy names

Great nicknames can transform a solid, distinguished classic into a cuddly name for a child – and still leave plenty of room to grow! Kalli and her family have used this strategy to name their daughters. Now let’s help them find an equally great nickname/formal name combination for a son.

Kalli writes:

We are expecting our fourth child and our first boy! He joins three older sisters named Louisa Jane, Emilia Frances, and Georgia Mae.

We tend to use nicknames a lot – Lulu, Millie, and Georgie – so I’d like our son to have a classic, somewhat unique name with great nickname potential. However, I’m finding that with boys, there aren’t that many options! I feel like I know several babies already with each name I am interested in, but maybe we could get over that?

Some names we have considered using are Lawrence, Jameson, and Wesley. We would probably pick Lawrence, but the nickname Larry is just so awful, and other nicknames don’t feel as natural. The other two names we like, but we haven’t fallen in love with them, at least yet.

I love Calvin, Dean, Wesley, and Theodore, but those names have been taken by close friends or family members already.

Our last name ends in an -er, so we’ve avoided any names with that ending as well.

Appreciate any thoughts/insights!

The Name Sage replies:

The more our families grow, it seems, the more children we know – and the more names that are taken!

It’s true that classic boy names are slightly less subject to trends than girls’ names. Even Elizabeth or Katherine fails to rival the staying power of John, Joseph, and James.

Happily, plenty of classic choices for boys are just slightly out of favor now, and ready for revival.

That’s true for Lawrence, which could be perfect with your older kids’ names. I’m tempted to suggest the nickname Ren – but maybe that’s one of those possibilities you’ve already ruled out as too much of a stretch?

Great nicknames for classic boy names abound, though, so let’s look at more options.

AUGUST

August means venerable. It started out as a title given to the emperor of Rome. We tend to hear it now as a summery favorite, but it works nicely year-round. Plus, August shortens to Augie or Gus.

EDWARD

Regal and traditional Edward is surprisingly rare today. But Eddie and Ned make this buttoned-down classic accessible for children. Ned especially feels vintage and spirited with sisters Lulu, Millie, and Georgie.

FRANKLIN

Surname names for boys are having a moment – like Jameson. I wonder if Franklin would appeal? It’s handsome in full, but if you’re looking for great nicknames to shorten classic favorites, then Frankie works.

FREDERICK

Among the most overlooked of traditional names, Frederick is ready for revival. Freddie is the obvious short form, big in the UK, but neglected by American parents – for now.

JONATHAN

Jon is the obvious choice, but Jonathan could also be Jack, Jono, Nate, or Nash. Even though Jonathan remains a Top 100 name in the US, it feels just slightly unexpected.    

PHILIP

Spelled with one L or two, traditional Philip is relatively uncommon these days. But with nickname Pip, it could be the perfect brother for Lulu, Millie, and Georgie.  

MALCOLM

A Scottish favorite, Malcolm shortens to Mac, Mal, Cole, or Colm. Lulu, Millie, Georgie, and Mac is irresistible.

RAYMOND

A long-time Top 100 favorite, Raymond has faded in recent decades. And yet, is there any nickname cooler than Ray?

ROBERT

Robert feels traditional, even over-used. But it’s surprisingly uncommon for children born in recent years. For a child, Bobby is sweet and Robbie is darling. Bo works, too, and, of course, your Robert can easily grow into a Rob.

If none of these feel quite right, you might try working backwards. Cal, for example, might be short for Callum, Callahan, or Caleb, to name just a few. Or you can browse a long list of nicknames, with possible longer versions, here.

My favorites with your girls’ names are either August-called-Gus, or Malcolm-called-Mac. I think they’re traditional, but not too predictable. Plus those nicknames? They make grown-up August or Malcolm feel perfect for your sweet new son.

But I wouldn’t rule out Lawrence just yet. I do think Ren works better than you might guess. And, of course, there’s always the option of calling him Lawrie. After all, it worked for Little Women.

Readers, what would you suggest as a brother for Louisa, Emilia, and GeorgiaLulu, Millie, and Georgie?

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Narrowing Down Your Name List

a Name Sage post by: Abby Sandel View all Name Sage posts
narrowing down your name list

Narrowing down your name list can be the toughest part! Jessie has it down to three final choices. But how do you go from three to one? And if you can’t get there, does it mean that it’s time to broaden your search again?

Jessie writes:

We’re expecting our second daughter in January, and we need your help! Our first daughter is named Eloise June, a combination that we love and fits her perfectly. We chose Eloise just because we liked it, and June is in honor of both her grandmas, who have June birthdays. 

Now that we are naming our second, I just can’t find a name that seems right. We considered using Hazel or Ada with our first, but neither of those will work this time. 

Our top three names right now are Annabelle, Marceline, and Sylvie, all of which I have absolutely loved at some point. But when it comes to actually deciding, I can’t follow through. 

Will I regret not using either of the leftover names? Maybe this means that we haven’t even found the right name? Or is it on our list but I’m just too afraid to go for it?

Our last name is three syllables, starting with a long “A” sound, and I like “Mae” for a middle name, as it’s a family name in both families, and I secretly love the connection of “June” and “Mae.”

We’d love to hear your suggestions to let us know if we’re on the right track or if we should change directions entirely!

The Name Sage replies:

Some couples draft a list together on their honeymoon, and confidently use it to name children over a decade.

Other families start fresh with every pregnancy. Runner-up names simply belong to that moment in the past – even if there’s no practical reason that you couldn’t consider them for future children.

It sounds like this describes your feelings. That means it’s time to tuck Ada and Hazel in Eloise’s memory box. Will you regret not using them? Maybe a little. For those of us who love names, there are always some amazing choices that get away.

Let’s get to work on narrowing down your name list:

ANNABELLE – It’s a great balance to Eloise. The names share a similar rhythm, and I love the way Annabelle and Eloise both have a strong ‘el’ sound. Plus, Annabelle Mae sounds sweetly vintage.

MARCELINE – This name brings to mind Adventure Time, and, of course, Walt Disney’s hometown, inspiration for the iconic Main Street millions love. It’s also quite rare – in 2019, Eloise ranked #151, Annabelle #170, and Sylvie #874. Marceline doesn’t make the current Top 1000. That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but it does mean that you’ll probably repeat and spell Marceline more than Eloise.

SYLVIE – Like Eloise, Sylvie leans gently French. It’s less common than Eloise or Annabelle, but still generally familiar. It shares the middle ‘v’ of chart-toppers like Ava and Evelyn, and fits in with favorites like Lucy and Sophie. But Sylvie makes for a distinctive choice, too. I think it hits the sweet spot between Annabelle and Marceline.   

If not Annabelle, Marceline, or Sylvie, I’d suggest:

GEORGIA – Traditional but spirited, Georgia and Eloise go together nicely.

JUNIPER – A nature name that echoes Eloise’s middle.

MARGOT – A traditional choice with French roots and that high-energy ‘o’ ending.

MATILDA – Sparky and storied, Matilda and Eloise both have children’s books bearing their names.

SYBIL – A name that shares Hazel’s –l ending, but is far less common.

VIOLET – A Top 100 favorite with a strong, vintage sound.

And yet, I don’t think any of these top Sylvie. If Sylvie wasn’t already on your list, I’m sure I would have suggested it. Eloise June and Sylvie Mae sound like sisters.

The question now is whether you agree.

When it comes to narrowing down your name list, logic – and an outside perspective – can help. But every bit as valuable is that gut feeling that the advice might be wrong. Maybe, after reading my case for Sylvie, you’re convinced that Annabelle really is the name for your daughter.

Instead of adding to your list, I’d suggest spending some time with each of your favorites – Annabelle, Marceline, and Sylvie – and thinking about reasons that you appreciate each name. That lightning bolt moment of certainty might not come, but patience, compromise, and effort can help you choose a name that you’ll – ultimately – love.

Readers, what would you suggest for Eloise’s sister? Do you agree that Sylvie is the name to beat? Or do you think there’s something fresh they should consider?

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Handling Celebrity Name Theft

a Name Sage post by: Abby Sandel View all Name Sage posts
celebrity name theft

They had the perfect baby name all ready to go, until a famous singer gave it to his daughter – just weeks ahead of their due date! How do you handle celebrity name theft?

Emily writes:

I’m hoping you can give us some advice. I’m due with a baby girl soon. My husband and I have had our hearts set on naming her Lyra since I found out I was pregnant.

Now Ed Sheeran has named his baby Lyra!

It sounds dramatic but I feel crushed, and I’m losing sleep thinking of new names. In your opinion, will people associate the name with Ed Sheeran and do you think it will become very popular?

I can’t decide whether to stick with Lyra or try to find another name.

The Name Sage replies:

Celebrity name theft is frustrating, isn’t it?

You’ve found this perfect, under-the-radar name that you both love, and now it’s all over People.

It happens. But should it change your plans? There are two factors to consider.

One: Is this the first prominent use of the name?

Many people hear Lyra and have an immediate association – and it’s not Ed Sheeran.

After all, she’s the heroine of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series. (If you’re not a fan of the books, movie, or the new BBC/HBO series, Lyra Belacqua ends up in the middle of a cosmic battle between good and evil when most kids her age are still in middle school.) It’s not quite Harry Potter-level famous, but for nearly thirty years, Lyra has been a hero name.

It also succeeds on sound. Think of Lily, Layla, and Lyla. And, of course, it refers to the stringed instrument and the constellation, making it as musical as Aria or Melody; as celestial as Stella or Luna.

Ranked number 673 as of 2019, Lyra is the kind of name others will recognize, but few will share.

Truly unique names – Chicago or Apple-level unique – make headlines. If you named your baby X AE A-XII, we’re all going to assume you borrowed it from Elon Musk … even if you planned the name out back in middle school.

Lyra has a solid – and inspiring – history of use that pre-dates Ed Sheeran and Cherry Seaborn‘s daughter, so the name easily passes this test.

Two: Are the parents likely to keep their kiddo in the spotlight?

All but the wildest celebrity baby names fade quickly. After all, unless they’re reality stars or royals, few celebrity children remain in the spotlight.

Here’s a quiz: name the children of Pink, Justin Timberlake, and Carrie Underwood. No Googling allowed!

Nameberry readers can probably come up with a few, but how many people really know that it’s Willow and Jameson, Silas, and Isaiah and Jacob? (I scored three out of five.)

We’re always curious about what celebrities name their babies. But unless it’s a favorite – either the star or the name – we quickly forget.

My best guess? We’ll see the occasional picture of Lyra Sheeran, but she’ll mostly stay out of the spotlight. (After all, the couple didn’t say much about the pregnancy.)

That means Lyra passes the second test, too.

There are lots of reasons Lyra could rise in the popularity rankings. Maybe Ed and Cherry’s daughter will contribute, just a little. The HBO series seems like it might have a bigger impact. (Just think of Khaleesi.)

But if Lyra doubles in use between 2019 and 2020, and then doubled again the following year, it still wouldn’t rank in the US Top 100.

Should you introduce your daughter and someone replies, “Oh, like Ed Sheeran’s baby?” You can absolutely tell them that you thought of it first.

Readers, have you experienced celebrity name theft? How did you handle it?

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