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Name Sage: Do rules make baby naming easier?

May 31, 2016 Abby Sandel

Do too many rules make naming a baby impossible, or is a solid list of must-haves the key to finding a great name for daughter number three?

Kate writes:

We are counting down the days until our fifth child and third daughter arrives at the end of June. We cannot wait to meet her, but I’m growing anxious she will arrive nameless.

Our four older children are sons Damian Joseph and Malachi John, and daughters Clara Sophia and Eve Marian.

My husband and I are picky, and I especially have a lot of naming rules. What do we need to let go of to find something we love?

Meaning – This is more important to me than my husband, though it still matters to him. Our daughters have names that mean precious things to me – Clara Sophia (light and wisdom) and Eve Marian (our mother in nature and our mother in grace). If I love a name and find out it has a negative meaning, it is out!

Originated as a girl’s name – This is my rule only, and eliminates Georgiana, Aurelia, Alexandra, Josephine, Caroline, and the like.

No “or” names – Our two-syllable last name has a strong “or” sound on the second syllable. This rules out Laura, Nora, Eleanor, Aurora, Dorothy, Orla, etc.

Traditional Use – This one is stronger with my husband. I like Solana, Seren, Elodie, Elowen, and Roisin, but he prefers names that are more familiar.

No repeats – We have a large circle of family and friends who are excellent baby namers. Because we see these loved ones often, we can’t use Isabel(la), Genevieve, Evangeline, Lucia, Abigail, Anna, Rose, Sarah, Celine, Gemma, or Miriam.

Popularity – We aren’t extreme about this, but definitely no Top Ten.

We have recently talked about Juniper, but don’t know about a middle, and my husband is unsure. He really likes Elizabeth but I am underwhelmed. We both sort of like Thea, but both want to more than ‘sort of’ like the name.

Any advice is so greatly appreciated!

The Name Sage replies:

Rules can be so helpful! Your list of criteria allowed you to narrow down the possibilities to choose wonderful names for your older children.

As you recognize, that same list might now stand between you and The Name for baby number five.

If your surname rules out any names with a strong ‘or’ sound, then that requirement stays. The same is true for repeats. If you’ve decided your child’s name should be unique among your close family and friends, then those names aren’t options. And since you’re only ruling out the Top Ten, that’s a pretty reasonable approach to popularity.

That leaves meaning, traditional use, and originated as a girl’s name.

If this were your first or second child, I might argue that traditional use could go. But I have a hard time imagining a really modern name, like River or Sloane, fitting in with Damian, Malachi, Clara, and Eve. Maybe that’s why Juniper – a truly fantastic name – strikes me as not quite right, at least as a first name.

I would encourage you to reconsider the last two criteria.

Meaning is tricky. It’s tough to condense all of the history of a name into a word or short phrase. Often our descriptions mention the most commonly associated meaning – but then discuss other origins and meanings, too. As for originating as a girl’s name, I understand the impulse – and yet, so many gorgeous names with great meanings and long histories of use do have a well-known masculine counterpart.

All of that said, I was able to find plenty of strong possibilities that satisfy your list – and even more if we’re a little more flexible.

June – If Juniper feels like it’s not quite right, how about just June? It has a long history of use, but isn’t too common today. Juniper could still be a pet name for your daughter. One downside? It sounds like she’ll be born in June, which might make the name feel a little too obvious. (Or exactly right.) Another alternative might be Julia, though it started out as a feminine form of Julius.

Louise – If you’re willing to consider feminine forms, might Louise work? It has the ‘oo’ sound of Juniper, and yet feels much more traditional. It’s also close to Lucia, but not so close it would cause confusion. And I think it has the same tailored appeal as Eve. Louise comes from Ludwig, and ultimately means “famous warrior” – a surprisingly fierce meaning for such a lady-like choice!

Lucy – In medieval England, Margaret became Margery, Cecilia became Cecily, and Lucia became Lucy. Lucy’s meaning is the same as Clara’s – light. If it seems too close to the Lucia in your circle, I wonder if you’d like Lucille – which shares Lucy’s meaning but is even less similar to Lucia – or lovely Lily, which is popular, but not Top Ten in the US.

Grace – You’ve mentioned that meaning matters. Is there any name that fulfills this requirement as nicely as Grace? It’s elegant but accessible, familiar but not Top Ten. Grace Juniper is an appealing combination, or you might consider Grace Ginevra – an Italian form of the name. (Leonardo da Vinci once painted an Italian noblewoman named Ginevra de’ Benci seated under a juniper tree; it’s the only Leonardo on view in the US.)

Constance Constance has fallen out of favor as a child’s name, but it’s a choice rich with meaning. As nicknames go, Connie is rather dated – but Constance fits right in with girls called Grace and Faith, Serenity and Journey, no nickname required. It reminds me of names you’ve ruled out, like Caroline, Abigail, and Eleanor. Another similar choice might be Celeste, which refers to the sky or the heavens.

Serena – It sounds like your husband is reluctant to consider modern choices, like Seren, a Welsh name meaning star. I wonder if the more traditional Serena would win him over? It means peaceful, originated as a feminine name sometime before the fourth century, and isn’t too common.

Helena, Helen, or Lena Serena makes me think of Helena. It’s also ancient, has an appealing meaning (shining light), and doesn’t crack the Top 200. Helen might be the better match for sisters Clara and Eve. There’s also Lena, originally short for lots of names ending with –lena, but today an independent given name. It can be tough to attach a meaning to Lena, but it does remind me of your almost, but not quite name, Thea.

Alice Alice comes from Adalheidis, which means noble. It’s also originally a feminine name. That’s two of the trickier criteria to satisfy – not bad! Alice is in the US Top 100, but feels classic, not trendy. It might hit the sweet spot between the tailored, modern names that you like (Seren and Elowen) and the more conventional names your husband favors, like Elizabeth. If Alice isn’t quite the right name, I wonder if Elise – originally a short form of Elizabeth used in German and Scandinavian languages – might appeal.

Margaret or MargotMargot succeeds because it has a fresh, modern sound, but also history galore. A form of the enduring Margaret, the name means pearl, though it’s also associated with daisies, thanks to the French version of the name – Marguerite. Clara, Eve, and Margot sound exactly right together. Another possibility might be Pearl – a nature name with literary and spiritual ties.

Overall, I like Margot best as a sister name for Damian, Malachi, Clara, and Eve. It’s just modern and different enough without straying from the criteria you’ve used to name your older kids. Margot June, Margot Juniper, and Margot Celeste are my favorite combinations.

Readers, is Margot the name that jumps out at you, or would you suggest something different to Kate and her family? Do you think some of the rules need to go, or can you think of more ideas that check every box? Am I too hasty to dismiss Juniper?

About the author

Abby

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 namesage@nameberry.com.

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