Duana Names: We Must…

March 21, 2016 20:54:00 Posted at March 21, 2016 20:54:00
Duana Posted by Duana

Hi Duana,

My husband and I are due with our second baby girl in April, and we are having a hard time coming up with a name for her. Our firstborn is named Emilia, which we loved and still love, except now we've run into the pesky issue of everyone spelling her name Amelia. We've decided we want to avoid the spelling issue with our second.

This time around, we're looking for a name that goes well with Emilia, is not super popular, but is also not super weird or too "try." So far we've come up with Mavis and Dorothy, but are stuck between the two. I'm worried Mavis is too "try", but I do love the old-time connotation of the name. I also like how it's not super popular. Also, we've nicknamed her "Mei Mei" in utero (pronounced "May May") which means "little sister" in Chinese. We hope to continue that nickname after she's born, so Mavis would work really well in that regard.

With Dorothy, we think it has a good balance of old-time feel while not being too out there or too popular and also being something that is easy to spell. We really like the nickname Dory too, but we're worried about the Finding Dory movie that is about to come out this year.

Also, I should mention that we are planning to make her middle name some derivative of Michael, after my brother. We're considering Michaela (no Mikayla, thank you) or Micah or Micheline or maybe just plain Michael, whatever works best with the first name we pick and our last name.

That's what we've come up with so far, and we like either, but can't decide and are worried there might be something better out there. Our last name is a single syllable, so we really prefer names that are multi-syllable to prevent the first and last name running together. (Otherwise, I'd really be pushing for Jane.) Also, no names that start with "A" or "P" because when those initials are combined with our last name -- well, it creates a very bad nickname situation for our children.

Thank you for your help!


You all know how much I love Judy Blume, right? Even though there’s maybe more of my (and Lainey’s!) love for her elsewhere on the site than in this column, she is a seminal influence, and not just on writing, or writing for teenagers, but on writing about names, too. She knows names matter.  After all, she was the one who first named Ralph…remember? (If you don’t, you owe it to yourself to google right now. You won’t be disappointed.)

I think of how she proved that names mattered to girls in particular when the four Pre-Teen Sensations in Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret had special, ‘sensational’ names. Alexandra, Veronica, Kimberly, and Mavis. To quote Margaret, “I was Mavis”. 

See how much that conveys in tone? It’s not that Mavis is a bad name to have in and of itself. It isn’t. It’s clearly carrying some sort of sophisticate’s calling card that people really respond to—and, in contrast to the letter from the other day, it might be so much of a woman’s name that it doesn’t always strike us as a little girl’s name.

But to go back to what Judy teaches us, it’s not that Mavis isn’t a sensational name itself—it’s that in comparison to those other, multi-syllabic floral names, it might seem a little underdecorated. Emilia and Mavis are, patently, different—not just that one is long and one’s short, but that one has not just the feminine ‘a’ ending, but the ‘ia’, which is somehow even more decorated, while Mavis ends in a consonant. It’s closer to Sloane or Greer, or Ellen or Paige or Fawn or Enid. It’s just a different kind of name.

In addition to which, Mavis Michael or Mavis Michelle or Mavis Micheline might seem a little too alliterative. I actually don’t dislike alliteration at all, but lots of people do, and if it makes you feel all Marnie Michaels/Junie B. Jones, be forewarned.

I want to caution readers—I don’t dislike Mavis, and I love how the letter writer’s nickname Mei Mei goes with it! I just think for this family, in this current configuration, it might create a bigger gap between the sisters than is intended.

So we turn to Dorothy, which, for better or worse, is experiencing an increase in popularity right now. It’s not quite at Eleanor or Adelaide levels, but in terms of ‘older’ names that are popular again, it’s right there. I think ‘Dory’ normalizes it a little more, but I don’t think it’s going to start a huge trend (and while we’re on the topic, if you’re holding off because of a character, you don’t need to. Elsa’s popularity has ebbed and I would never think of a baby named that as some sort of Disney talisman, any more than you would if you met a baby named Ariel. Sure, faint smile of recognition, perhaps…but that’s it. OK?).

In fact, it may instead be because of a trend. Yes, the ‘old lady’ decorated names—it’s hard to believe but even Olivia was an old-fashioned old woman’s name not so long ago…and the popularity of ‘o’ in boys’ names lending themselves to girls. If you do worry about popularity, though, you can deke with the charming Dorothea and Theodora, which still give you Dory and Dora—another character, but far too cute a name to be relegated to the closet just because of that!

Other names that come to mind? Valerie, or Valeria if you don’t mind them both ending the same way. Calliope, if that’s not too crazy. Giselle, which is ‘decorated’ but still spare in the way of Mavis? Fabienne? Remember the discussion a few months back about Sidonie? Could she fit here?

Let me know!

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