Name Sage: A Brother for Charles Alasdair

Update: Welcome James "Jem" Lysander!

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

Kristen writes:

We put lots of thought into naming our first son, and I couldn’t be happier with what we settled on: Charles Alasdair, Cal for short.

Both his first and middle names honor his great-grandparents, Charles and Al. Cal is the name of my favorite character from my favorite book, East of Eden, and Alasdair is a cheeky nod to Alexander the Great and the fact that we were deployed to Afghanistan at the time of his conception. It’s the perfect name for him and our family.

The problem is coming up with a name for his little brother, due in March, with a similar traditional feel, cool-but-not-too-common nickname-ability, and family significance. We like strong, classic boy names, but I have always wanted to avoid the Top 100 — though I obviously made an exception with Charles.

Some of the family first names we’re working with are John, William, James, Thomas, and Raymond — all of which are too familiar for my taste, as they are — and Bertsch, Rhodes, and Stokes as possibly transformable last names. I’d also be open to using honor initials, like J.D. after my father or T.R. after my husband’s grandfather, but we just can’t think of any combination of names that we’re in love with.

As a middle child, I know what it’s like to feel overshadowed by my older sibling, and I really want this baby’s name to be just as special as his brother’s. Can you offer any advice?

The Name Sage replies:

So often we determine our first child’s name over years, dreaming up possible combinations and unexpected honor names until we get it Just. Exactly. Right.

Then we find ourselves expecting our second child, and somehow, we need to recreate that magic in just a few months, in between laundry and picking up spilled Cheerios. Not only does the second name have to live up to the first, but the first name rules out possibilities for the second, either because they’re too close – or just too wildly different.

No wonder naming a second child can feel tough!

But here’s the good news: you can fall in love with a name over time. I put lots of thought into my daughter’s name, and I’m always discovering new reasons to be delighted with our choice. My guess is that you’re having the same experience. Charles Alasdair was a really good name when you chose it, but over time, Cal has transformed it into a great name and helps you find more reasons to love his name when you least expect it.

I do think that avoiding the Top 100 is a tough request, given that you’re working with so many great, classic family names. I’ve suggested some names that are far less common, but I suspect that your best choices might include a very traditional first name for your son!

On to the names:

Thomas Rhodes, called Troy – From the first-middle options you’ve listed, Thomas Rhodes leapt out at me immediately. Thomas, like Charles, is an impeccable classic. But it’s not nearly as common as many of the other choices on your list. It’s ranked in the Top 60 or Top 70 over the last few years – not the Top Ten. But I’m not so sure about Troy as a nickname. It has a kind of cool, ancient world vibe – as does Rhodes, of course! And I do think Cal and Troy sound like brothers. But it’s not quite as current and cool as some other possibilities, so let’s keep looking.

James Bertsch, called Jeb Jeb seems like a natural, if unexpected, nickname from James Bertsch. It also sounds Southern, and might read as political, thanks to Jeb Bush.

James Stokes, called Jase Jase is another brisk, bold boy name, a logical brother for Cal. And James Stokes is every bit as classic as Charles Alasdair.

James Stokes, called Jake – With Jase, we took the ‘s’ sound from Stokes. But the ‘k’ sound is equally obvious, so I think Jake works well as a nickname. For what it’s worth, James and Jacob actually come from the same Hebrew root, so it’s not nearly as much of a stretch as it might seem at first.

William Rhodes or John Rhodes, called Rhodes – The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It reminds me of your subtle nod to Alexander the Great. I think it’s the most wearable of the surname names on your list – you could easily opt for Rhodes William or Rhodes John, too! The one combination I’m not suggesting is James Rhodes – though the fictional character is a good reason to like Rhodes even more! In The Avengers franchise, James Rhodes is a good friend of Tony Stark, and fights alongside Iron Man in a high tech suit of his own. Don Cheadle played him in the recent movies. The character is called Rhodey for short. Cal and Rhodes, Cal and Rhodey. I think it works!

John Dashiell, called Dash – Using your father’s initials, I though about John Dashiell. Cal and Dash sound like a great pair of names for brothers, and John Dashiell is every bit as classic and handsome as Charles Alasdair. Of course, you could also call him J.D., which might make the connection to your father even more obvious.

Lucian James, called Luke – Bertsch means bright ruler, and Lucian is ultimately derived from the Latin lux – light.

Lucian James, called Lux – Again, I’m borrowing Bertsch’s meaning. I’m not sure if that’s too much of a stretch. But I can easily imagine brothers called Cal and Lux, and a name like Lucian is familiar, but far outside of the US Top 100.

Raymond William or James Raymond, called Ray Ray is such a cool name! Think of Ray Charles and Ray Bradbury. It also brings to mind a ray of light, which is yet another reference to Bertsch’s meaning. I’m not sure if you’d consider Raymond as a first name, but I think you could move it to the middle and still use Ray as a nickname.

William Blaise, called Blaise – Here’s another name inspired by a surname – Blaise, from Stokes. It brings to mind stoking a fire – starting a fire, or a blaze. So if you’re willing to really stretch, Blaise or even Blaze could be a nod to Stokes. I do think Cal and Blaise sound like brothers, and I think Blaise is a cool, edgy name.

Lucian James called Lux is my favorite, but I’m not sure if I’ve strayed too far from your family names with Lucian. John Dashiell is a close second, and seems a little more faithful to your original list.

UPDATE: Welcome, JamesJemLysander! You can read about his handsome name in the March 2016 Baby Names Announcements.

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About the author


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
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26 Responses to “Name Sage: A Brother for Charles Alasdair”

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mill1020 Says:

November 17th, 2015 at 11:43 pm

My favorite is Thomas Rhodes (called Troy).

Alberrypie Says:

November 17th, 2015 at 11:50 pm

A vote for John Dashiell “Dash” or William Rhodes “Rhodes.” Both of these names seem to give the same timelessly cool vibes that you get with Charles Alasdair “Cal”

lesliemarion Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 12:12 am

Charles Alasdair aka Cal is a great name.

In lieu of the honor names you find too familiar, what about (and sorry if I repeat any of Abby’s):

instead of John: Jonah, Johannes, or Jerome (I think Charles and Jerome sound good together)
instead of William: Willem or Wilkie or Wallace
instead of James: the Scottish version of Hamish (again, Charles and Hamish I like together)
instead of Thomas: the scottish version of McTavish or Tavish with nickname Mac
instead of Raymond: boy, do I love Charles and Raymond, but Rainier is lovely too or Randall or Randolph

I can’t think of any versions of the last names.

I do love Charles and Trevor together.

Best of luck!

thunderdragon424 Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 1:36 am

I’m not sure which combination is best, but I love the idea of using Rhodes because of the connection Abby mentioned to Alexander the Great. You could use Des or Dez for short!

Dash is my favorite of the nickname options and it pairs so well with Cal (perfect name, by the way!) So, I would probably go for Dashiell Rhoades.

Care Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 2:01 am

Since DASH is the name of the current terrorist group, I think you might rule that out.
J.E.B. is John Edward Bush. JEB is his initials, not just a nn.
Rhodes sounds like roads and will cause a constant “What are you calling him??”
Lux according to Nameberry is a girls’ name.

I like your first suggestion the best… Thomas Rhodes called Troy
Cal and Troy, clear and well matched!

elizabethkt Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 7:31 am

What about:

“Gib”, “Berts”, “Gil”- Gilbert William/Wilhelm -honoring Bertsch & William

“Red”- Raymond Seamus. -honoring Raymond & James

“Tad”- Thomas Wilkes -honoring Thomas & William

“Jock”, “Jay”, “Jones”- John Wilber Stowe – honoring John, William, Bertsch, and Stokes

elizabethkt Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 7:35 am

One more-

James Roman- honoring James, Rhodes, and Raymond

ellicrow Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 8:08 am

Wilson nickname Win
Jensen nickname Joss
I’ve always loved Rhodes. It would sound great in the middle.

Maple10 Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 10:21 am

Theodore! It honors Thomas with the “th” beginning and it’s cool but classic like Charles. Pair it with a family middle like James or Rhodes and your golden. Cal and Theo would be adorable!

leighmiller Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 11:55 am

I second Theodore. Theo and Cal are great together and Theodore Rhodes is classic but still unexpected.

teacupsandtiaras Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 12:00 pm

I love Jem as another potential nickname for James!

Titus245Mama Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 1:06 pm

My immediate thought was “Jameson”. Thomas Rhodes–nn Troy–is a great choice, too, and I like the suggestion of Theodore. One way or the other, I think you’re headed in the right direction and I’m sure you’ll find something great. You may not “fall in love” with it in the same way as you did your first name choice, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be “just right” for your son. 😀

nicolebaby1 Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 1:17 pm

Okay, I’ve been thinking about this one for a bit now because I really love your older son’s name–just my style–and think you’re doing such a cool thing with the nicknames. I hope you like one of these!

Thomas Rhodes (or Rhodes Thomas) nn Rhett.
Here you’ve got the literary nickname again. I like the flow of Thomas Rhodes better but Rhodes Thomas probably makes more sense for the nn. Still, I think Thomas Rhodes nn Rhett still works. (But if you wanted to use it, I think Rhodes is a stellar name.) Charles and Thomas, or Charles and Rhodes. Cal and Rhett.

William Stokes nn Wes.
This one is maybe my favorite. I think William is one of those names, like Charles, that no matter how popular it gets never loses its charm. Wes, I find, to be one of the sweetest yet cool nicknames for a little boy ever. A nickname like Cal that wears well all the way to adulthood and beyond. Cal and Wes most definitely sound like brothers to me. (There were some great suggestions for alternatives to William as well that would obviously still work. Personally, I love the name Wallace. I so wish I could use this name for our next one, but alas it is terrible with our last name.) I will suggest too Wilson as an alternative to William. William Stokes, Wilson Stokes, Wallace Stokes. They all sound great to me. Charles Alasdair and William Stokes. Cal and Wes, I love it too much!

William Earnest nn Wiley
Okay maybe this one is my favorite. How awesome is Wiley as a nn for William? I’m kind of impressed with myself, haha. I chose the name Earnest in middle spot (tying in some literary cred again) but you could obviously use any E name. I’m sure you’ve got one in the family tree to pull out. Especially if you tweaked William as the first, having another honor in the middle might please you. In any case: Cal and Wiley! How sweet.

James Stokes nn Jess
My hubby’s name is Jess so I obviously have a sweet spot for the name but I think there are very similar feels to the name Cal and Jess. Both names make me picture like old-timey outdoorsy gentlemen.

I was also going to suggest West as a nn for William Stokes but as rad a nn as I think West is, I think Cal and West is too must left-coast-loving. I was going to leave it out but maybe it doesn’t bother you.

Gr19 Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 1:51 pm

Rhodes William or Dashiell John are my favourite options for you

Jerome is a good idea- cool nicknames Jem or Rome definitely sound like brothers to Cal

Jem is a nice literary name and Rome has that ancient cool

And could be a cheeky nod to the J.D family member through the connection to J.D Salinger

Suzannah Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 4:23 pm

Instead of William, I like Winston. Winston Rhodes nn Win.

Suzannah Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 4:43 pm

or Wilkin Rhodes nn Win

ashbee Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 7:07 pm

I LOVE Jem as a nickname for James, Jameson, Jacob, etc. Another alternative to James is the Irish version Seamus.

I love Abby’s suggestions of Ray and Thomas, and Rhodes as a middle name. Thomas may be less popular than you realize, too.

An overlooked nickname that would go great with Cal: Hank, short for Harrison, Harold, etc.

alchemicallypurplefairy Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 8:17 pm

Favorite is definitely Thomas Rhodes.

chi1127 Says:

November 18th, 2015 at 11:12 pm

Some suggestions for TR:

Theodore Rhodes
Theodoric Rhodes
Tristan Rhodes
Timothy Rhodes
Tobias Rhodes
Torrance Rhodes
Terrence Rhodes
Thorian Rhodes

Bobcat108 Says:

November 19th, 2015 at 12:40 am

A note of caution: Rhodes will 99 & 44/100% of the time be heard as Rose. And it will be misspelled about 50% of the time (Rhoads, Rhoades, Roads, Rodes) when someone understands it’s actually Rhodes & not Rose. Rhodes has been part of my last name for almost 20 years now, so I have plenty of experience w/this.

amydotnet Says:

November 19th, 2015 at 8:54 am

My favourite is definitely Thomas Rhodes. Charles and Thomas (or Cal and Troy) sound so handsome together!

flowercait Says:

November 21st, 2015 at 11:53 am

Thomas Rhodes with the nickname Troy would be prefect!

jesstheebest123 Says:

November 21st, 2015 at 4:55 pm

John, William, James, Thomas, and Raymond

I really like Rhodes as a first name! And Rhody is pretty cute.

Thomas Rhodes has the T.R initials though!

For T.R I like

Theodore Rhodes “Theo” or “Teddy”
Cal & Theo, Cal & Teddy
I love both nicknames!

Townsend Ryan “Towns”
Cal & Towns

Tennyson Reid “Sonny”
Cal & Sonny

For J.D

John Demitri “JD”or “Demi”
Cal & JD, Cal & Demi

Jameson Dax “Dax”
Cal & Dax

John Dieter “JD”
Cal & JD

Jethro Dylan “Jet”
Cal & Jet

Jackson Drew “Jax”
Cal & Jax

Sylvester Thomas “Sly”
Cal & Sly

Solomon James “Solo”
Cal & Solo

Casimir William “Caz”
Cal & Caz

Barrett Thomas “Bear” (full name could also be Barron)
Cal & Bear
Barrett Rhodes

Lazlo James “Laz”(Formal spelling is Laszlo)
Cal & Laz

Nicholas William “Nico”
Cal & Nico

Niklaus James “Klaus”

katelynkale Says:

November 21st, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Thomas Rhodes also jumped out at me, but I may have an alternative, which would be..

Thomas Bertsch, you could call him Toby for short, which I think would flow nicely with Toby + Cal

MaryKathryn Says:

November 22nd, 2015 at 7:03 pm

I really love Rhodes. I think Cal and Rhodes is a great sibling set!

Charles Alasdair and Raymond Rhodes, i.e. Cal and Rhodes.

I’m not against the name Thomas Rhodes, but I would prefer calling him Rhodes over Troy, especially in a generation that grew up with “High School Musical”. If Rhodes isn’t a name you would like to use, you could use Tom as his nickname. Cal and Tom is a great sibling set, as well.

lunazola Says:

November 23rd, 2015 at 6:23 pm

The great thing about your honor names is that they’re so classic that there are variations in many languages. Why not “translate” the way you did with Alasdair from Alexander?John: Sean, Eoin (Owen, Ewan) , Ivan, Evan, Jonas, Hans, Ianto, Ian,James: Seamus, Iago, Hamish,
William: Wilhelm, Liam, Wilmot, Guillermo, Wilmot
Thomas: Tam is the Scottish short form, Tomek
Raymond: Redmond, Ramon

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