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Naming twins: Moving (way) beyond Oliver & Olivia–and why

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By Lauren Apfel, omnimom

If a recent New York Times article is to be believed, naming a baby is more anxiety-inducing than ever before. So much pressure to find the one. perfect. name. But what happens when you need two perfect names and I don’t mean in succession. Like virtually everything else to do with having twins, is naming them double the trouble?

There is a real sense in which choosing a pair of twins’ names is just like choosing a sibling set. For me, the same basic rules applied. The names had to be complementary and of a comparable level of originality. They had to roll off the tongue together, because, lord knows, they will be spoken in tandem more often than you can imagine. It would be a bonus if they shared some common, but not overwhelming, feature: a group of letters perhaps or a vague significance of meaning. Better yet, a sense of style. I have seen, for instance, all of my children’s names described as “Antique Charm.” This was a happy coincidence for the first two. For the twins, as numbers three and four, it felt almost like a necessity.

Twins are another sibset, to be sure, but there is an additional consideration. While the twin bond is powerful, it is fragile too. Twins spend their lives being linked in a way that is materially different from consecutively-spaced siblings. Because names are a powerful index of personhood, how they relate to each other can have a special impact on multiples, who are notoriously vulnerable to identity issues. In practical terms, this means you have to think about naming two babies born at the same time as exactly that: two separate babies, who should be encouraged to cultivate two separate senses of self.

Such is the argument psychotherapist Joan A. Friedman makes in her book Emotionally Healthy Twins. The key to raising kids who fit the title is to treat them as unique individuals from as early on as possible. This applies to how you conceptualize and talk about them in utero. It also applies to the names you give them at birth, the ships on which they will sail through the journey of childhood. Opting for names that are sufficiently different is a metaphor of their separate trajectories. The author, a twin herself, recommends avoiding a common first letter or any pair that sounds too matchy. The fact that her identical twin is called Jane was a source of consternation for her as a child, not of fun. “I longed for a name that was different enough from my sister’s,” she writes, “so that people would know me for who I was.”

Distinct names are arguably more important with identical twins, where the very similar aesthetic might make the case for a unique label. And yet, it is often identical twins or same-sex fraternal twins who get the sing-song combinations of Isaac and Isaiah or Ella and Emma (both sets appeared in the top ten twin names of 2012, along with Ethan and Evan and Makayla and Makenzie). This trend of naming alliteratively is another manifestation of what Friedman calls the “twin mystique”: our cultural instinct to conflate multiples at every turn. It is a tendency she warns against.

Our top boy candidates were Eli and Ezra, for example, but we decided not to use them together. The repeat of the opening E and the joint old-testament origin made them too close for comfort. Our top girl choices were Phoebe and Zoe and I don’t think we would have used those together either, for the same reason. Naming twins isn’t simply a matter of putting a finger on your favorite two monikers of the moment. Sometimes it is more a process of elimination, a shuffling around of the preferred names until you find a set that work on their own and as a pair.

For us, it was a process that took a few days once our twins were born because we didn’t know their sexes beforehand. The girl arrived first and we settled on Phoebe. As the lone daughter, the feelings about her name were stronger. We then used Phoebe as an anchor to find Jasper, a name we wouldn’t have chosen if he were a singleton, but one that is now, of course, indelibly his.

Phoebe and Jasper, Jasper and Phoebe. At two years old, they embrace each other’s names with the same pride as they do their own. There was a time Phoebe would say her name was Jasper. There was a time Jasper would say his name was Phoebe-and-Jasper. They are everyday learning more about who they are as individuals and, simultaneously, what it means to be one of a twosome. Being a twin is both of those things. No matter how much they are lumped together, their distinct names will always help them keep sight of their distinct identities.

Lauren Apfel is originally from New York, but now lives in GlasgowScotland. A classicist turned stay-at-home mom of four, she writes regularly at www.omnimom.net. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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About the author

omnimom

Lauren Apfel is originally from New York, but now lives in Glasgow, Scotland. A classicist turned stay-at-home mom of four (including twins), she writes regularly at www.omnimom.net and is a contributing blogger for Brain, Child Magazine. Connect with her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/omnimom) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/laurenapfel).
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27 Responses to “Naming twins: Moving (way) beyond Oliver & Olivia–and why”

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augusta_lee Says:

July 25th, 2013 at 11:58 pm

I have to admit, I do love complimentary twin names. Atlas and Elektra (mythology!), Marigold and Juniper (botany!), Roscoe and Dashiell (vintage revivals!), Eloise and Matilda (childrens’ literature!)…I don’t think I could resist!

livia Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 5:27 am

Olivia and Oliver, Ella and Emma – do people actually do that? Like, in real life? Good lord.

I would love to name twins but I still think I would go for simply my two favourite names, rather than names specifically chosen as a twin set. It’s fun to think about complimentary pairs but if it came down to it I don’t think I’d consciously go for a matching pair.

Phoebe and Jasper are great by the way. Is that them at the top? Adorable. 😀

KellyMarie1992 Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 6:11 am

My cousin’s recently had twins called Mollie & Ava – big sister Ezme.

I also know someone with twins called Martha & Naomi (No-Ami) – big brother Isaac.

I love Theodore & Thomas or Theodore & Donovan as twin boys. Adelaide & Felicity or Millie & Daisie.

Anotherkate Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 8:55 am

The twins lists on the ssa website are utterly painful to read. It’s like the parents of twins purposefully want something confusing and virtually interchangeable for their twins. Or they make it sound like a flight itinerary (London > Paris). Ugh!
I totally agree that if you wouldn’t name siblings born from separate pregnancies those two names (this is especially true for b/g sets, ie Olivia and Oliver, Charles and Charlotte, and the like) then don’t give the names to twins.

Mischa Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 10:21 am

Twins are individuals so their names should be a reflection of that fact. Their names should be distinct from each other but complementary as a sibling unit. I think parents should name twins the way they name single birth children. Phoebe and Jasper are gorgeous together and I like the fact that although their styles are cohesive, the names sound different. Also, they both share a six-letter name which is a subtle connection. The beautiful babies in the photo made me smile but I do wish society would let go of the pink and blue theme. I would like to see g/b twins and children in general dressed in some other colours like yellow and green.

GrecianErn Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 10:33 am

We’re expecting Twins around the New Year.
It’s been decided that if they are boy/girl twins then my husband gets his favorite name for the boy, and so far we are about 90% sure on a girl’s name: Keegan and Emerson, nn Emme.

If they are boy/boy, we’re keeping Keegan, and are about 50% sold on Landon or Griffin, though my fave boys name is Sebastian. I love the way that Keegan, Landon, and Griffin all sound so similar to our son Weston’s name – 2 syllables ending in an “n”. I think they all flow together.

For 2 girls… Emerson is still leading the pack, and then it’s a complete toss up – Eden, Caroline, Rosalind… we can’t decide. I like Eden a lot. I don’t mind the same initial. “E” is my first initial and my favorite. I worry how Emerson could sound masculine next to a feminine sister. But the nn is very feminine. If we had Eden and Emerson, both full names would have 22 letters – the same as our son’s, mine, and my siblings. Just a happy accident. 😉

I hate the matchy names – Oliver and Olivia, etc. It feels like a cop-out. How would they learn their own names? My parents mixed the 3 of us up when yelling – and our names are nothing alike.

alphabetdem Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I saw a list a couple years ago of the most popular twin names in America and for girls, a combination near the top was Mia and Maya. Really people? You can’t be more original?

I don’t understand people who have to do matchy names. They’re being born at the same time, but they’re individual people. If there has to be a theme, keep in the middle. Let them be their own people.

librarybooks Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 5:23 pm

I am going to be responsible for naming twin boys sometime in the next month. Our choices are quite disparate and I worry that they don’t “sound like a twinset.” but they are both meaningful, handsome names that we love. They don’t rhyme or start with the same letter or even come from the same language. They do rank in the same range on the SSA popularity list. I feel like twins need as much separate sense of self as they can get, so why not start with the names? It was really helpful for me to read this post at this juncture. Thanks for posting it!

littlebrownpony Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 6:01 pm

I think Phoebe and Zoe would have been fine together. It’s a teeeeeeny bit sing songy, but in a cute way, I think.

I know twins named:
Emma and Izabel
Dylan and Delaney (girls)
Kaitlyn and Allison
Zachary and Tyler
Josephine “Josie” and Brady
Cole and Owen
Grace and Ava

None of those combinations really work for me, although it may be because I’m not a huge fan of any of those names, with the exception of Owen and Josephine.

mrs_anton_yelchin1990 Says:

July 26th, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I know someone who had twins last year and named them Thaddeus and Nolan. I really liked both of their names and was glad that it wasn’t so matchy.

I think sharing the same letter is fine…but I don’t get rhyming names or choosing names that have a similar sound or names that are derived from the same source. Like Ella and Evangeline would be ok. But Evangeline and Emmeline would be out. Mary and Melissa would be ok. But Mary and Moira would be out.

If I had trends I wouldn’t purposefully choose names with the same letter, but I am saying that it can work.

Arlina Says:

July 27th, 2013 at 5:38 am

1 of my favourite twin sets are from a great blog I read http://www.mythreeringcircus.com/ = Ivy Hazel & Noah William, I think they compliment each other without being too matchy

tori101 Says:

July 27th, 2013 at 7:05 am

Hmm…
I think for me I’m unable to resist having twins sets with names that interlink like for instance I love the idea of Rosalie & Angelica for twin girls’ both being nature inspired names! I also love the idea of Levi & Jonah for twin boys both being biblical inspired. However saying this at this precise moment they are my favourite names! But I just love connections between twins. Nevertheless this doesn’t mean that I think Noah & Nolan or Mia & Maia are good ideas…

Twins I know…
Sophia & Elizabeth
Eleanor & Isabel
Merlin & Jasper (this set I’m secretly in love with their sixteen and so annoying but still adore the combination)
Ryan & Freya

EmilyVA Says:

July 27th, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I like Phoebe and Jasper a really nice twin set.

I knew a Kendra and Kendric with middles Roy and Joy.

I know a Kay and her twin Leigh.

Most of the twins I know are themey. I would prefer more subtle although I am always tempted by Nadia and Diana.

tfzolghadr Says:

July 28th, 2013 at 4:59 am

I’ve known so many twins with matchy names… Isabelle and Annabelle, Carol and Cheryl, Mason and Morgan, etc. If I had twins, I think I’d just go with my top names for each gender… gg Emiliana and Valentina… bb Soren and Kian… gb Emiliana and Soren. I’ve never really felt that they need to “match”.

mariahsweet Says:

July 29th, 2013 at 1:18 am

My grandmother was a twin: Estelle and Florence. They were called Ester and Robbie when they were young in the 1930’s. When I got into names I wished they’d been called Stella and Flora 🙂

mariahsweet Says:

July 29th, 2013 at 1:28 am

If I had twins now I’d name them:

Georgia Meadow and Hazel Adair
Julian Roscoe and Leo Baxter
Georgia Meadow & Julian Leo

I dunno how matchy any of that is. My son had a few sets of twins at school, one was very matchy (including matching outfits every-single-day) and the other two sets weren’t at all. My neighbors have triplets with complimentary but non-matchy names, and many matching outfits. I’m all for distinctive names, but I’m skeptical that it makes much of a difference long term if you’re a Richard and Robert twin vs. a Axel and Rodrigo twin. I think the matching outfits are more of a problem lol!

emnorthington Says:

July 29th, 2013 at 2:03 pm

As a twin who sports an alliterative E name (my twin sister’s name is Erin), we were dressed alike, in the same classes through elementary school at our family’s request, and were never allowed to participate in different activities because it would create scheduling conflicts. People never knew who was which twin and couldn’t remember once they finally figured it out. I, too, longed for a sense of self and identity. I didn’t find that until I went to college. I hated every minute of it and wished hoped prayed that it would go away. I wish our mother had that book at her disposal to read.

krisy13 Says:

July 30th, 2013 at 12:15 am

It would be great if you could fix the link to the Time’s article. It goes to the names New and York instead. Thanks.

Nyx Says:

July 30th, 2013 at 6:21 pm

I love the following two sentences from the article: “this means you have to think about naming two babies born at the same time as exactly that: two *separate* babies, who should be encouraged to cultivate two separate senses of self” and “the key to raising kids who fit the title (Emotionally Healthy Twins) is to treat them as unique individuals from as early on as possible”.

When my eldest was in preschool, he had two sets of twin girls in his class. Each set was either identical, or close enough in physical appearance as to make no difference.

One set had names that were each uniquely theirs and not linked in any obvious or cutesy way. This set also rarely (if ever) wore matching outfits. The rest of the kids in preschool might sometimes mix them up, and frequently had to ask which name was theirs, but treated them both as individuals.

The second set of twins had names that, while separate, shared the same beginning letter among other similarities (both were 2 syllables, both syllables of both names started with “L”). They also tended to dress identically, but with separate colors (I believe that “twin A” always wore red/pink/green while “twin B” always wore yellow/blue/purple). Both twins were also very co-dependent upon the other twin always being near. The rest of the kids in the class tended to treat these two girls as one individual in two separate bodies. I once watched a little boy call “twin A” by “twin B’s” name. “Twin A” corrected the little boy, but it just didn’t matter to him. He kept calling her by “twin B’s” name, no matter how many times she told him that it wasn’t her name. Both children ended up getting very frustrated over the incident.

I think that the easiest way for a parent to make sure that others see their twins as TWO UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS is to start with giving them two unique names. If you really want to add the matchy/cutesy name, put it in a middle name position. Otherwise, find a less obvious way to link the names… or don’t even bother linking the names!

Just my 2¢ on twin names *steps down off from the soap box* 😉

scurbro Says:

July 30th, 2013 at 9:04 pm

I love different sounding names for twins, and similar sounding names, it all depends. But given I have a pretty good list of names now this is what I’ve come up with.

If I have twin girls: Reagan and Estelle will be the names
If I have twin boys: Gregory and Winston will be the names
If a boy and a girl: Reagan and Gregory or Reagan and Winston (that one I haven’t quite figured out but leaning more toward Reagan and Winston).

But it could very well be a singleton, I haven’t had my first ultrasound yet and I’m 10 weeks along. So a few more weeks to go before I can even find out gender if I want to. I would love the opportunity to be able to use two names off my list in this pregnancy. I may seem crazy to some people, but I don’t mind the idea of twins at all. Would love to have twins, and open to any combination though partial to A boy and a Girl or two girls.

Ezras_Mama Says:

August 1st, 2013 at 5:15 am

G/G: Clara Beatrix and Amelia Primrose
B/G: Henry Gabriel & Clara Primrose
B/B: Jonah Benjamin & Isaac Nathaniel

Erinm Says:

August 28th, 2013 at 9:29 am

I think it’s mildly amusing that everyone is endorsing individuality but still calling them a ‘set’ 🙂 🙂

I really love flora related names for example Daisy and lily, Daisy and Camellia, lily and Azalea, acacia and jasmine. Etc. but I don’t think I could do it. So if I had twin girls it would probably be…

Daisy and Aria. I can say these 2 names all day.

They also embrace my two loves… Flowers and music. I also like the two syllable vs three syllable combo

For boy girl, James ( jamie) and Aria

Boy boy, I can’t even imagine, I have so much trouble with boy names. Any suggestions for a name that goes well with James? Something cool but not too far from classic. James is my one name I have loved since I was 5 as it belongs to my favourite uncle, I don’t care if it’s top 10.

jacquigirl Says:

October 2nd, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I know identical twins named Jean and Joan – just awful.
There are two girl-girl sets of twins I know which have perfect names to me:
1. Carly and Giulianna (pronounced Julie-ana not Julie-anna)
2. My personal favorite – Isabel and Sophie – its perfect

BabyNameCrazy95 Says:

October 18th, 2013 at 12:51 am

Themes work great for twins nature names’ colour names’ word name you can so much fun personally for me though I like Ashlyn & Callum or Ashton & Connor x

kristennoel Says:

February 27th, 2014 at 11:38 am

It’s actually crazy how many sets of multiples I know:

Twins:
MacKenzie and Chandler – I think these are a great match
Christiana (Christie) and Celeste
Matthew (Matt) and Smauel (Sam)
Julia Grace and Katherine Irene
Natasha and Katarina
Mia and Dominic
John and Joel
Emma and Ella

Triplets:
Christian. David and Addie
Alexis, Natalie and Zach – their middles are French: Marie, Antoinette and Louis
Claire, Kiley, and Blake

To satisfy my “same letter” self, I adore:
Josephine and Jocelyn

I really like (middles are family names):
Raoul and Lorenzo
Allison Ruth and Lydia Marion
Liam Randall and Sylvia Ann
I think for the most part they flow nicely, but I doubt I’ll ever use them, twins don’t run in the family 🙁

Chloe14 Says:

May 26th, 2014 at 9:48 am

I would love to have twins when I am older!
Brandon and Brenda (Boy and girl)
Shannen and Saoirse (Girl and girl)
Dylan and David (Boy and boy)

Angelicaecb Says:

July 6th, 2014 at 3:45 pm

My nieces are Jazmyne Nichole and Tanah Elizabeth

When I first heard the names I was a bit skeptical but soon Tanah and Jazmyne started to roll right off the tongue together and they’re both different enough.

I’ve also know Twins Kiesha & Tasha (LaKiesha and NaTasha)

And a BG set Katie(nn?) and Kurt

(and just to note, the sets above, are White Caucasian sets)

and Monica & Moira ( who were supposed to be Monica and Maria but their parents were Cambodian and didn’t speak or write English very well, so when their dad filled out the birth certificate he messed up. )

BB sets that I’ve created are Azriel & Ezekiel, Tristen & Emil

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