By Kara Blakley
Twin names and honor names are some of the hottest topics on the Nameberry forums.
Some folks like a direct approach, sticking with a shared first initial or passing down identical names from one generation to the next. Others like a more subtle approach. For the subtle crowd, I like the idea of ‘cognate’ names: names that are either the direct meaning of a name (e.g., Margaret means pearl), or names that share a meaning. These names can add a subtle connection between siblings or generations, or alternatively, they might be names you want to avoid using in the same combination.
Margaret / Pearl. This is one of the most traditional sets of cognates. While Margaret has rebounded along with other classics (and Margot and Maisie are having a moment), Pearl has caught fire as a middle name, and pops up occasionally as a first. June also works as a cognate for Pearl—the gem is the birthstone for the month.
Susannah / Lily. Megapopular Lily would make a great namesake for midcentury Susan, while Susannah is due for her own resurgence. There are eight S-starting names for girls in the Top 50 alone, so Susannah is an ideal fit-in/stand-out name.
Deborah / Bee. Deborah, like Susan, is currently a name most likely borne by new grandmothers. However, animal names in the middle (like Fox, Bear, Lark, and Wren) are having a moment. Why shouldn’t Bee join the group?
Leslie / Celyn. Leslie, meaning ‘garden of holly’, has never fallen off the Top 1000, but if you’re looking for something fresher, consider Celyn, which simply means ‘holly.’ This darling choice may be reserved for boys in its native Wales, but it would wear well on an American girl.
Esther / Stella. Lesser-used biblical names are quickly gaining ground in the US, and Esther is no exception. Stella, meanwhile, broke into the Top 100 five years ago, alongside a plethora of other -ella names. With a shared meaning of ‘star,’ Esther and Stella make for an unexpected but connected sibset.
Irene / Paz, Shalom. It may take another decade for mythological, saintly Irene to catch on again, but in the meantime, Paz and Shalom—which share Irene’s meaning of ‘peace’—could be a distinctive way of honoring a favorite aunt. Pax is a trendier, Jolie–Pitt-approved, alternative for boys.
Dawn / Aurora, Zora. Though there is something almost spiritual about the dawning of a new day, Dawn has plummeted in popularity since the 1970s. Consider Aurora, goddess of the dawn, which is ascending rapidly. For a less popular option, Zora, as in Neale Hurston, is a delightful yet underused name that would fit in with Cora and Nora.
Iris / Rainbow. Floral names, mythological names, and vintage names are all gaining ground, and Iris fits all three categories. The goddess of the rainbow leads to the colorful cognate Rainbow. It may not be for everyone, but Rainbow could be the standout choice for the bravest parents.
Hazel / Aveline. Hazel is hot right now, partly owing to her ability to fit into many popular categories: a long-A sound (like Top 50 names Grace, Layla, and Sadie), a zippy Z in the middle, vintage appeal, and recent use in books and movies. She’s poised to break into the Top 100 any time. Aveline, by contrast, is unranked and obscure. Meaning “hazelnut tree,” Aveline fits in perfectly with Ava, Evelyn, and Adeline: a perfect way to honor your great-grandma for those who wish to avoid rapidly-climbing names.
Joy / Allegra. Is there a happier virtue name than Joy? (Even Blythe is a bit less obvious.) Still, Joy began descending in popularity in the 1970s and 80s, meaning it is more closely tied to previous generations. Consider Allegra, a musical name that means ‘joyous.’ While I think it’s time to overlook the medicinal connection, Allegra sits prettily in the middle of infinite combos.
Hope / Esperanza, Nadia. Like Joy, Hope is a timeless virtue name that, while beautiful, might be too literal for some namers. While there are many names that mean ‘hope,’ I’m including Esperanza and Nadia on this particular list. Esperanza has Spanish origins, but in English, it fits in perfectly with other frilly, multisyllabic names in the Top 100 while sounding original. Nadia has never peaked or plummeted in the US, and its ability to transcend languages and cultures make her a great, hopeful choice in 2015.
Which other cognate pairs do you like? Would you consider this method to honor a loved one or connect siblings?
We’ll give the boys equal time later in the week.
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