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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 Be sure to include your due date.

a Name Sage post by: Abby Sandel View all Name Sage posts

Growing up as one of the Emilys has this mom seeking a stand-out name for her daughter.

Emily writes:

My husband and I are expecting our first child and need some name help! We have a boy name, but are struggling to come up with the right girl name.

Growing up as an Emily M., I’d rather our children’s names be less common. A family connection is important, too.

Therese is my favorite. It’s my middle name, and my mom’s name, too. My husband isn’t convinced. We’d use the nickname Tess. My husband is worried that the nickname isn’t intuitive enough with Therese. There’s also some concern that we’d be expected to name future children for family members. If we don’t use it as a first name, we agree it will be used for a middle.

My husband’s choice is Roxy. I like it, and we have a fun story for it. But I worry how other people will react.

We’re also considering:

Louisa/Louise, nn Lula
Frances, nn Frankie (but I’m not sure about Frankie)
Mina, pronounced minn-ah
Vienna, nn Via

Our list keeps getting longer, but we’re no closer to selecting the name. We would love some fresh suggestions and your thoughts on the names from our current list.

Thank you for your help!

The Name Sage replies:

Happily, none of the names on your (long) short list seem poised to be the Emily of the 2020s. That doesn’t make it easier to narrow things down, though!

Let’s start with the one name that meets both of your requests. It’s a fresh suggestion and it incorporates a name on your current list.


It comes from Therese, but it sidesteps two concerns. First, Tess and Tessie follow logically from Tessa. More importantly, it’s a spin on Therese, not the exact same name. While it honors family, it gives you plenty of space to choose names you love, too.

As of 2018, Tessa ranks Number 245 in the US. It’s hovered in the 200s for the past decade; if anything, it’s fallen slightly in use over the last few years. Even though the name is broadly familiar, your Tessa probably wouldn’t share her name very often.

Another reason I think Tessa works? It splits the difference between sparky nickname names like Roxy and Maisie, and the more traditional choices, like Louisa and Frances. But it also leaves the door open to use any of those names in the future. Tessa’s sister could be Maisie … or Louisa, or Louisa called Lula.

If I haven’t sold you on Tessa, I’d suggest:

Sylvie – Like Tessa, it feels midway between the most casual and more buttoned-up picks on your list. As a bonus, it’s even less common. Sylvie ranked Number 897 in the US as of 2018. Yes, I think we’ll hear more of it in the coming years … but it’s a long way from Ava or even fast-rising Everly.

Frances – You’re not wild about Frankie, but how about Frannie? Or maybe Zazie? French Zazie comes from the “ces” sound at the end. (It’s used for Isabelle, too.) Zazie might be too non-intuitive for your husband, but if he likes cool, edgy names like Roxy, it’s worth considering.

Speaking of Roxy, I wonder if it might appeal more to you if you had a formal name to fall back on?

The logical suggestions are Roxanne and Roxana. I’ve also heard Roxy suggested for Rose names. Rosalie, Rosanna, or even just Rose or Rosa could work. Something like Rose Alexandra adds an ‘x’ in the middle spot. It’s a compromise that might alleviate your concerns about Roxy. But again, would your husband find it too much of a stretch?

I keep coming back to Tessa as the logical compromise, possible with a more daring middle name. Tessa Vienna, Tessa Roxy, Tessa Roxanne, or Tessa Harriet, maybe?

Readers, what would you suggest for Emily’s daughter?

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Modern Traditional Boy Names

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modern traditional boy names

If it’s a girl, they’re all set. If it’s a boy, this kiddo is currently nameless! Time to call in the Name Sage.

Jordan writes:

I am expecting baby number three in April and my husband and I cannot agree on a single boy name. We are not finding out the gender this go around and not knowing the name or the gender is driving me crazy!

We have a son named Kai Anthony and a daughter named Lilah Alexa. I loved the meaning of both names and they flowed well together, but haven’t found anything that fits for the third if it is a boy. I like the name Phoenix but my husband hates it.

We like the name Quinn if we have a girl, which is my husband’s middle name. He does not like Quinn for a first name for a boy though.

Out last name ends in -er which eliminates a lot of names, too! We could use some suggestions.

The Name Sage replies:

Most things in parenting get easier with experience. Somehow naming isn’t one of them!

It sounds like you’ve used your favorites, and now you’re feeling stuck.

The obvious solution, of course, is to use Quinn for a boy. It’s a true unisex option, given to over 800 boys in 2018, along with nearly 3,400 girls. But that’s the challenge. Because it ranks in the girls’ Top 100, I’m guessing your husband sees it as feminine. Factor in a handful of high-profile female Quinns, and I suspect he’s not alone.

Since we’re ruling out Quinn and Phoenix, let’s think about the kind of name that would sound just right for Lilah and Kai’s brother.

We’re looking for a modern name with a strong sound and a good meaning. Anything ending with –r is almost certainly off the list because of your surname. I’m guessing you prefer your names shorter and nickname-proof. And I’m going to avoid other unisex-trending choices, even though some, like Rowan and Finley, might otherwise fit.

But that’s not quite the full picture. While Kai and Lilah feel at home in 2020, both have plenty of history. I think that means we’re avoiding the truly new names, and leaning towards something grounded in the past, even if it’s novel as a given name today. Call them modern traditionals,  names that aren’t quite either,  but manage to be both.

Would you consider:

Boone – It shares roots with the Latin word bonus, meaning good. We still sometimes hear boon in English to mean a good friend – a boon companion – and bon is the French word for – yup, you guessed it! – good. Frontiersman Daniel Boone makes the name feel nicely rugged, too.  

Crew – Like Boone, there’s something quite capable about Crew. It always strikes me as preppy, thanks to rowing, and, of course, clothier J. Crew. But there are also wrecking crews and motley crews, so it’s not too buttoned-down.

Hale Boone and Crew both make the current US Top 1000. If you’re after something completely different, may I suggest Hale? It comes from an Old English word meaning healthy or whole. And while it’s rare as a given name, it’s familiar thanks to figures like Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale.

Hayes – Believe it or not, Hayes is cousin to Aidan, and shares the same meaning – fiery. Like Kai and Lilah, it’s a favorite for children born in recent years. And the ‘s’ ending has an appealing, scissor-y sound that makes the name stand out.

Jude – Strictly speaking, Jude belongs with the ancient names. It appears in the New Testament, and has been popular ever since the Protestant Reformation. But history aside, Jude sounds bright and modern. Better yet, if you’re a Beatles fan, it comes with a built-in lullaby.

Knox Phoenix makes me wonder if another x-ending name would satisfy? Knox means hill, but it’s broadly associated with Fort Knox in the US – where the country’s gold repository is kept. That lends the name a different vibe. Drop the K and nox is the Latin word for night, so if you’re looking for a tie-in to the natural world, that’s there, too.

Lawson – I’ve suggested lots of one-syllable names, but I think there are some great longer options. Lawson means “son of Lawrence” and Lawrence ultimately comes from laurel, as in the plant used to represent victory in the ancient world. While choices like Jackson, Hudson, and Grayson are Top 100 staples, Lawson remains just a little bit different.

Torin – Many of the names I’ve suggested started out as surnames. I wonder if you’d prefer something like Torin? It’s an Irish name meaning chief, and it’s just the right mix of familiar and unexpected. I think Kai and Torin sound great together.

The first suggestion I thought of is still my favorite – Hayes. I like the subtle nature name tie-in, the distinctive sound, and the way it sounds with Kai and Lilah.

If not Hayes, I’d rank Jude a solid second choice. Even without the famous song, this seems like an old school pick at home in the twenty-first century.

Readers, would you name a brother for Kai and Lilah Hayes, Jude, or something else entirely?

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Baby Naming Rules for the New Year

a Name Sage post by: Abby Sandel View all Name Sage posts

If you’re expecting in 2020, these seven smart resolutions can help you make a naming decision you’ll never regret.

Stop waiting for love at first sight. Sometimes a name just clicks, and both parents immediately know that it’s The Name. But most of the time? Choosing a final name requires patience, compromise, and effort. Reading list after list waiting for a lightning bolt leads to frustration.

Accept that your mom might hate the name. That goes for your co-workers, your sister, that random person on the internet. Not everyone loves every name. And that’s okay! Odds are you’re not wild about their every one of their favorites, either.

Beware the Insta-perfect pick. Sure, I love a good Instagram birth announcement. But unless you’re Beyonce, your child’s name reveal is probably not a media event. Stick with the name that feels right for your family, even if it’s not likely to go viral. Yes, it’s fine to name your son James – it’s not boring, it’s classic!

Be realistic about popularity. Setting up guidelines makes sense, like avoiding the Top Ten or even Top 100. But too many parents reject their all-time favorites out of worry that Eliza is the new Olivia. Remember that choosing a name that no one will share comes with its own drawbacks.

Duplicate … with caution. You probably don’t want two close-in-age cousins both answering to Henry. But ruling out every name shared by every baby you’ve ever met – or heard of? That way lies madness. Yes, you can name your daughter Josephine even though your freshman year roommate did, too. And just because Beth in Accounting has a Max doesn’t mean that you have to take it off your list forever, either. 

Build in some balance. Classic firsts benefit from sparky middles, and wild, daring firsts need something more traditional to serve as anchors. Catherine Arrow – or Arrow Catherine – works better than Catherine Ann or Arrow Calanthe.

Use the name you love. It’s easier said than done, and yet every rule really comes down to this: she who raises the child picks the name. You’ll sing it, shout it, and enter it into countless forms. Your child will ask, one day soon, to explain why she’s Millie instead of Chiara.

And if the name that you adore breaks one of the first six resolutions? This is me giving you permission to proceed regardless. Because using a name you love – one that reflects a parent’s overwhelming love for her child – matters most of all.

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Burning Baby Naming Questions

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baby naming questions

As Nameberry’s resident Name Sage, I hear all sorts of baby naming questions. While every short list and situation is just a little different, a few big themes repeat. And even though my answers vary based on circumstances, some things remain true.

With a fresh new year upon us, let’s talk about those enduring questions – and the answers that apply in (almost) every case, too!

How can I talk my partner into my favorite name? First things first: you cannot talk your partner into naming your baby Hephzibah, even if it’s been your top name since forever. The flipside is also true. You wouldn’t want to be strong-armed into using something you weren’t wild about, right? Naming a child – just like raising a child – is a joint effort between both parents.

When there’s disagreement, I suggest both parents put aside their favorites and start fresh. It’s always possible that, after careful consideration, Hephzibah will rise to the top. But in order to find a name you can both embrace, you’ll have to let go of your favorites first.

How do we break this family tradition? Together. Children often arrive when we’re relatively young in our relationships. But by the time that baby heads off to kindergarten, the family we create together will be different, in ways large and small, from the ones we experienced growing up. There’s no reason one side’s customs should dominate our decisions – in anything.

If you can’t imagine continuing the tradition of all J names, or passing down the name Horatio to a third generation, then you are free to move on. It might mean a tough conversation or two, and maybe some hurt feelings. (And, as Swistle always reminds us, if it’s your family tradition, you talk to your parents. If it’s your partner’s parents? The opposite applies.) Remember that your child’s grandparents will love them, regardless of their names.

We like this one name a lot, but feel like it might not be The Name. The act of finally deciding on The Name is a struggle. If you’re almost-but-not-quite there, here’s an approach. Put your favorite aside, and start the process over again. Talk about the other possibilities on your shortlist. If nothing rivals your top choice, then it’s likely you’ve found your name.

If evaluation is your challenge, you might consider using tools created by Nancy’s Baby Names. She created a weighted decision matrix as well as a paired comparison analysis. Even if analysis isn’t usually your thing, seeing it in black and white can help.

Or maybe you’re the kind of person who needs to hear a name in lots of different settings. Consider going to a different coffee shop and ordering with your favorite name. Does it bother you if the barista misspells Elliana? How does it sound called out in a crowd? Testing it out with strangers can be revealing – and satisfying, too.

Our first child’s name is perfect! How can we choose a second name without it feeling like a runner-up? It’s so great when parents love their kids’ names! That’s why this site exists, right? And yet, when I hear this, I wonder … is the name so uniquely perfect? Or is our love for our child so strong that we’re having a tough time realizing that the experience will repeat? I knew that my daughter’s name was great when I chose it. But my love for her quickly became part of that name, and magnified my feelings. Chances are the same thing happened to you, and will again. Choose a good name, and know that all that’s missing is having your baby in your arms.

I have name regret after our first child’s name. How can I avoid it this time around? It depends on thinking through why you have name regret. Often, it’s a case of how you decided on your first child’s name. Maybe you bowed to outside pressure, or simply rushed the decision process. The latter was true for my firstborn. We agreed on a first name. But then I suggested a middle, my husband said “done” … except I wasn’t! While there’s a point where you’ll simply have to choose, there’s something to be said for taking your time and doing the research, too. Regret that your first child’s name is too popular? Use our resources to research your favorites this time around. Frustrated that pronunciation or spelling is difficult? Our forums can be a great place to look for feedback and reactions. Or did you get talked out of your favorite name? Stand your ground this time. Which reminds me …

Everyone hates our favorite name. Should we still use it? I’ll almost always say yes. It might be worth noting why others object. Do they think it’s just bananas to name your baby Khaleesi? Are they worried that no one will spell Saoirse correctly? They’re real concerns, but you’re still free to ignore them – and be confident that your friends and family will love your little Dothraki queen anyway. And if it’s the grandparents that dislike the name? Well, often their favorites are stuck in 1984, give or take a decade. Their list of “normal” names probably includes Stephanie, Crystal, Justin, and Joshua. They don’t realize that Aria, Evelyn, Wyatt, and Elijah are the 2020 equivalents.

Is it okay to use this super common/super weird name? Yes! You should use the name you love, a name that you and your partner agree on. Even if it’s as popular as Liam or as obscure as Odette. It matters most that you and your partner feel comfortable with the name. There are rules you can consider, but ultimately, when you both agree on a favorite, it’s almost certainly the best choice. If you’re still worried, add a sparky middle to make sure your Olivia Jones won’t be confused with the others, or opt for a middle like Caroline to anchor a daring first like Juno.

My partner shoots down every name. What can I do? Break the pattern. It’s exhausting to be the one suggesting ideas and far too easy to do the rejecting. Switch roles, and insist the one rejecting names come up with some new possibilities to discuss. If that’s not working, I’d suggest the technique below, for couples who just don’t know where to start.

We don’t know where to begin. If you’re just plain stuck – either because you can’t think of a name either of you really likes, or because you’ve been going ‘round and round with lists, but not finding any agreement, it’s time to shift the conversation.

Instead of talking about names for your child, talk about your own names. Reflect on whether you like them – and why? A Kristen who has grown weary of spelling her name out probably shouldn’t name her son Jackson, Jaxon, or Jaxson. And a Matthew who disliked being Matt G. in school might not want to name his daughter Ava or Emma. The questions are many: did you like having a family name? An unusual middle? How did your feelings about your name change from childhood to adulthood? It’s an interesting conversation – and it can often help us recognize the qualities we prize in our children’s names. And that’s often a far more productive place to start than arguing the merits of Liam versus Oliver.

Do you have any advice for parents who are struggling to choose a name? What were your biggest challenges?

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Celtic Baby Names SOS

a Name Sage post by: Abby Sandel View all Name Sage posts

Let’s help these parents solve a puzzle! Find Celtic baby names–specifically Scottish-Cornish– that don’t start with P or I, contain the letters L and A, but don’t end with A or R. Oh, and work well with older siblings Palmer and Isla. Ready, set …

Amber writes:

SO Stuck!

My third child is due in 17 days and we’ve spent 9 months with NOTHING that we like between my husband and I. So I’m calling in the experts.

We don’t know if it’s a boy or girl. Child 1 is Palmer Sinclair (boy) and Child 2 is Isla Rosalind (girl) and we can’t find a good fit for #3!

Part of me wants the names to be all the same or different – so no starting with P or I, or ending -er or -a, but both names have an L and A in them, so it would be neat if the third might follow that pattern?

All of the names are family-inspired except Isla which is a nod to Scottish heritage (almost did Islay). Both my husband and I are of Celtic heritage (predominantly Scottish and Cornish).

The Name Sage replies:

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