Traditional Girl Names with a Twist

July 16, 2019 Abby Sandel

Can Penelope’s sister have a name as short as Alice or Claire? More importantly, does this mom want her to?

Erin writes:

We are expecting our second girl and struggling to agree on a name! Our older daughter is Penelope Reese, and we absolutely love her name.

My husband is leaning towards short and sweet names this time. Alice and Claire are his two favorites. I’m worried those names will seem too boring next to the lengthier Penelope, even though I do like them both. We tend to gravitate toward vintage names and I’d like to find something that isn’t too popular, but isn’t too rare. We are both very open to a variety of middle names.

My top favorites are Colette (but my husband has vetoed), Margot, Isla, and Louise or Louisa.

Do we go short and sweet like my husband suggests, or find something a little bit longer?

The Name Sage replies:

Penelope is just plain to fun to say. It’s a quirky traditional, an upbeat name that never gets old.

Of course, that means it’s a tough act to follow!

But here’s what leaps out at me: you’re not saying you love the name Alice, but worry that it’s not quite a match for Penelope. You’re saying the name Alice is fine, but you’d prefer Colette. Or Margot.

So let’s go back to the drawing board, because it sounds like you’re inclined to veto Alice and Claire, just like your husband isn’t wild about Colette. It’s not because you don’t like the names in a general way, but because they don’t feel like the right names for Penelope’s sister.

Let’s look for more traditional-with-a-twist options:

Eliza Eliza falls somewhere between Alice and Elizabeth, a thoroughly classic choice, but with a little extra zip. Penelope is the clever, loyal wife of The Odyssey, while Eliza can be heard singing her name out as one of the Schuyler sisters on Broadway. Penelope and Eliza are nicely paired, spunky names with plenty of history behind them.

Eloise – If it really is the length of Alice – and Isla and Louise – that gives you pause, how about Eloise? It’s similar in sound to names from both of your lists, but the addition of the middle ‘o’ lends an extra syllable.

Genevieve Claire, Colette, and Louise strike me as gently, slightly French. I wonder if Genevieve, a name straight out of Paris, might appeal? Like Penelope, it’s a long name with rich nickname options – but I hear it used most often in full.

Josephine – Like Penelope, Josephine ranks a little higher on the popularity charts than you might guess. But that’s because nothing really sounds like Josephine, so it feels quite distinctive.

Juliette Shakespeare made this name famous way back in 1597, so we know it’s not new. But it sounds fresh and modern. The –ette spelling has recently become more popular than Juliet, but both split the difference between spare and classic Claire and the literary, less common Colette.

Serena – There’s something soft and flowing about Serena. But this peaceful name carries a high-energy image, thanks to Serena Williams. It seems like a logical extension of Isla and Alice.

Veronica – Again, there’s no question that Veronica belongs with the near-classic names. Like Penelope, it claims millennia of use. Veronica brings to mind chart-toppers like Victoria and Violet, but remains just the tiniest bit on the surprising side.

My favorite from this list is Eliza. It’s close in sound to Alice, but offers a little more rhythm and interest. It just sounds like Penelope’s sister to me.

Penelope Reese and Eliza Blair, maybe?

Of course, if you’ve read this list and found every one of these names lacking, there’s no reason you can’t opt for a short name for Penelope’s sister.

But let’s have a poll, because I’m curious to see if readers agree that longer is better. And I know we’ll get some great suggestions, too!

What would you name a sister for Penelope Reese?

Abby Sandel is the creator of name blog Appellation Mountain and writes Nameberry’s Name Sage column, offering wise advice on baby name questions submitted by Berries every other Wednesday.  Abby lives outside of Washington DC with her husband and two children, Alex and Clio. You can reach her on Facebook , Instagram and Pinterest. For a chance to have your questions answered on Nameberry, contact Abby at

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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