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Name Sage: On first-last name harmony

May 17, 2016 Abby Sandel

They love Silas, but their last name sounds like Smith. Try saying that five times fast! How much does first-last name harmony matter? If Silas is off the table, which names should they consider instead?

Shanda writes:

We love the name Silas for our baby coming in June. However, our one-syllable last name begins with an S. So if we were to choose Silas, his full name certainly wouldn’t roll off the tongue.

My husband thinks this doesn’t matter that much as his full name will be reserved for formal situations – or when he’s really in trouble!

We’ve also considered Asher, Alder, Humphrey, Beckett, Remy, and Jonah. My husband loves the idea of Ezekiel, nicknamed Kiel for the German city. I just don’t love Ezekiel. None of these have really stuck.

How much should the appeal of a full name factor?

The Name Sage replies:

My rule of thumb is this: a middle name can be a mismatch when it has meaning. Henry Harvey Smith isn’t great, but 99% of the time, he’s just Henry (or Harry or Hank or Henry H.) Smith. So if Harvey is your beloved grandfather’s name, it’s still the right choice as a middle name.

But you do hear and say your first and last names together an awful lot. Not as a young child necessarily, but I introduce myself as Abby Sandel routinely.

First-Middle harmony can be overlooked, but First-Last harmony matters.

The question, then, is whether a combination like Silas Smith is a dealbreaker. It’s not the first S that gives me pause – it’s the second. The repeating ‘s’ sounds in Miles Smith or James Smith can be tongue twisters, too.

I don’t think the hiss of Silas Smith is impossible. It’s just not ideal, and makes me think that we should brainstorm more names that are like Silas – but don’t end with ‘s’.

Let’s brainstorm some more names.

Bennett – If Beckett is almost, but not quite, maybe Bennett is better? It shortens to nickname Ben, just like traditional Benjamin, but is a little less expected.

Emmett – Another –ett ending name, Emmett strikes me as a brother for Silas, or in this case, a good substitute.

Archer Asher and Alder remind me of Archer. It’s less common than Asher, more familiar than Alder, and has some good nickname options.

Walton – There’s something gentle about Walton, but it’s still a solid name for a son. And while the two-syllable, ends-in-n pattern is very common for boys’ names today, Walton doesn’t even chart in the US Top 1000.

Kiel – Or maybe, if your husband loves Kiel and you’re on board with the idea, you just use Kiel? Conventional wisdom is that a short surname needs a longer first name. I’m not sure that’s always the case. If you’re after something unconventional, but rich with meaning, Kiel – just Kiel – seems like an option.

CarstenPicking up on the German theme, how about Carsten? It’s a German form of Christian, rare, but not unknown, in the US.

Calder – Take Cartsen’s C, add it to Alder, and you’ll arrive at Calder. It’s a surname name with ties to the worlds of ice hockey and the arts. It shortens nicely to Cal.

Eben – We started with Bennett, so let’s end with Eben. Eben sounds like Ethan with a b instead of a th; it’s a Biblical name that’s rare in the US, but certainly not unknown.

Overall, I love Calder for you – it’s close to Alder, but adding the C leads to nickname option Cal. And Bennett seems like a great alternative to Beckett.

Let’s end with a poll: should they keep looking for a name that doesn’t end with S? Or is Silas the name to use? More substitutes for Silas are welcome in the comments, too!

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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