Duana Names: Everything is Ennui

August 8, 2016 19:36:51 Posted at August 8, 2016 19:36:51
Duana Posted by Duana

Dear Duana,

I have a sweet yet spunky daughter named Flora. I get that some people find the name choice strange (bacteria! margarine!), but overwhelmingly, the reaction has been positive. It helps that we live close to Italy! The name struck a chord with me because I'm a fan of 1890s novels. I found the meaning also perfect for a spring baby, but the name not too frilly for a grown woman. But while I'm super stoked about my daughter's name, I struggle to find a name for her baby brother. After all these years I seem to have developed a case of name fatigue. 

For her brother's name, I considered matching some of the characteristics of "Flora":
- vintage (but not really classical)
- not gender-neutral, but rather masculine (as "Flora" is very feminine)
- simple, short, easy to spell
- perhaps Roman/Italian, but needs to be somewhat ambiguous ("Flora" works in many languages)
- seems impossible, but I'll add: meaningful in whatever direction (related to season, for instance?)

My husband's all-time favorite boy's name is Oscar. It meets some of my criteria and I'd go with it in a heartbeat, except it's super popular where we live. Other names that got thrown around:

Dexter (got vetoed because of the tv series),
Henry, Luis, Bennett, Elias (all fine, but far too popular),
Otis (O pronounced differently from the one in “Flora”/elevators?),
Linus, Lennart (feel dated, kids I grew up with often had Scandinavian names such as these),
Italian names such as Matteo, Leandro (TOO Italian for our German last name which ends with -stein),
Hugo, Ruben (difficult to say?),
Conrad (no nice nicknames?),
Frederick nn Fritz (but our family name has 10 letters already) and on and on.

I still have some months to go, but I very much hope for your input. Thanks in advance!

(in Germany/Switzerland)


I’m so glad that you included where you’re living, or from—it’s so helpful in terms of the cultural implications, surprising in some cases (I would never have said there was a ‘Flora’ margarine but as soon as you mentioned it, I remembered I’ve seen it a lot) and also, super-gratifying that these columns are resonant more than five blocks from my couch, so thank you!

I note all of those things because they’re interesting, but also because I take particular notice of the popularity or pronunciation concerns, knowing they’re highly variable. The one that sticks out most, for example, is Dexter. Sure, the character was a bit of a serial killer, but the series (and the books before them) have faded far, far from most North American TV-watching aficionados’ memories, replaced by many more reprehensible anti-heroes. In North America, the name is seen as being on an upswing, stylish and yet not like anything else out there right now. So, your experience may vary, but Netflix Worldwide being what it is, are you sure the name is still as associated with the show as you think? 

Of course, you may mean that you and your husband dislike the name, in the same way you dislike ‘Oscar’ because it’s too popular. Fair enough, but along those same lines, I see nothing difficult about Hugo or Ruben. Yes, they share a sound, but unless it’s completely unheard of in Germany or Switzerland, which I don’t think it is, given ‘Dusseldorf’ and, you know, ‘umlaut’, I can’t see why they’d be particularly difficult to pronounce. Conrad doesn’t have a lot of nicknames, but…it has ‘rad’ right in it!

Yes, I think you have name fatigue.

Sometimes this happens in very cosmopolitan places. When everything is unusual and there are no restrictions on what names you can choose, and everyone is open to everything, you can start to feel like you’ve heard it all before. This goes double if you’re also reading stuff about people naming babies in Saskatchewan and Alaska and New Jersey, so that even if the names aren’t happening around you physically, they’re still happening around you. You know?

So while I will make suggestions, and while I think that Flora is an amazing name to pair with, I think you need to focus a little less on names that are popular or not, and reframe the conversation on ‘what do we love?’ In your short description of Flora there is a whole lot of DGAF, in the best way possible, and I encourage you to find something similar in a boys’ name.

For example, I never think of elevators when I think of Otis, and I think it’s a great place and time for this name, which does have a similar sound to ‘Flora’. And it inexorably, inevitably, makes me think of Bruno, which you know I continue to love. Bruno and Flora have a similar vibe, and are both charmingly underused. Maybe?

How about Raymond? Similar in vintage to Flora, but has a charming nickname built in and so primed to come back. Albert? Calvin? It strikes me that ‘Stellan’ might be too obviously Scandinavian, but also…that might be exactly what’s required.

Cosmo—too Italian? Rufus—too Irish (actually that’s my own implication, it’s actually Latin)? How about Orson or Arthur, Cyrus or Nolan or Odin? Simon or Vincent (Vincenzo?) I’ve held off on suggesting Roman because that seems too on-the-nose, but it does seem like the kind of name that would work here. And as for Frederick, I can see how it might seem that it would look long, but it’s not a mouthful to say, unlike some of my other favourites, Damian or Bartholomew. Frederick rolls off the tongue and offers you nicknames for days. Reconsider?

I am fully willing to give you a second round if it turns out these are closer but not quite there…when you’re this close but still struggling, triangulating is the name of the game.

Hit me up with an update…please!

P.S. the title I just gave this article makes me want to suggest Ennis…yes?

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