Hi Duana. I’m due in March, but I’m such a planner that I know I’m going to be settled on a name long before that. We are all set for a girl’s name, but totally stuck on a boy’s name.

What I want is something different but identifiable, somewhat familiar but not at all common, easily spelled but not particularly trendy or of the moment.  The issue with my self-identification as a unique name lover is that I have fallen in love with names riiiiight at the beginning of their popularity, before they were top 100, never mind top 10 names. Names I have loved over the years, just as they rose: Avery, Ava, Olivia, Noah, Henry, Brayden… I would have picked any one of these names. I would have had one of ten McKenzies in the class. I don’t trust my own judgement here. On top of this tendency is that my top name priority is that my kid doesn’t have to share a name with many people. Obviously no one can predict the future, but perhaps you can help me avoid joining the early end of a major trend.

Last name will be 2 syllables, ending in “oes”, so names ending in O or S don’t work so well, despite my love for many of them.

Names I like that are on the table: Wesley, Felix, Sullivan (husband not a fan), Foster, Leo, Weston, Sam. Names I like and but can’t use for various reasons: Rowan, Asher, Bennett, Theo, Evan, Jude, Reese/Rhys. Names I like a lot but don’t work with the last name: Milo, Arlo, Hayes.

Wesley is the frontrunner, and I like it a lot but I’m not sure I love it. Feeling any inspiration here? Please help!


You know how rare and brave you are? There are a lot of people who would say they want unusual names, then choose something in the top 10, and then swear up and down, cross-my-heart-hope-to-die, that they didn’t KNOW it was popular, instead of just admitting, “Yeah, I kind of did, because it’s kind of great.” And at the risk of being a broken record, popular names are usually great. You can grow exhausted at the 98th Olivia you hear about this week, but it’s a fundamentally great name, and so is Noah. They’re good because they’re good, you know?

So your job is to think about what names might be like the names you already like, and think about choosing one of them. For example, if I look at Wesley and Felix and want to popular-down a level, I think of Wallace or Fergus. No, they don’t sound as zippy-snappy charming – but believe me, neither did Wesley and Felix. Think of all the Jasons and Justins you went to school with and imagine a Leo or a Foster fitting into that crew? Not likely. So you must believe that your ear will adapt to the name the more you think about how special it’s going to be to have a little boy whose name is his alone. (Also, keep working on your husband re: Sullivan, because it’s good.)

Nameberry.com has an excellent ‘Similar Names’ tab under any given name that algorithms other choices other people have made based on the name you like, so that may give you a springboard—but I would encourage you to think about the names you like and then others that could have conceivably been in their orbit when they were last in use and see where that gets you. So:

Foster makes me think of Clifford.
Leo makes me think of Gavin.
Weston makes me think of Callum, or Lachlan
Rowan and Bennett lead me to Orin

Et cetera, et cetera. Are there places you can ‘go’ with the names that you can’t use that will lead you in a particular direction?

Five years ago, of course, the advice would have been to look at the popularity lists below the top 50 or top 100. But they’re getting less and less reliable because Caleb #37 is ranked separately from Kaleb #165, but the sound-familiarity is the same.

Put another way, even if you decide to avoid: 

Mason #3, Ethan #6, Benjamin #10, Aiden #13, Logan #14, Jackson #17, Jayden #20, Sebastian #35, Owen #36, Nathan #38, Ryan #39, Christian #43, Jaxon #44, Julian #45, Landon #46, Grayson #47, and Jonathan #48, aaaaaaand we wrap in Aaron at #52, well, your Tristan, #101 or Roman #102, or Hayden, at #151, are going to sound like they’re part of a trend.

And I skipped over a BUNCH from 50-100. (Oh, all right, fine: Cameron, Adrian, Colton, Jordan, Brayden, Hudson, Lincoln, Evan, Austin, Gavin, Nolan, Ian, Easton, Kevin, Brandon, Jaxson, Jason, Ayden, Carson, and Kayden. It was going to really bug me if I didn’t finish the list.) That’s 38 in the top 100! Fully 38% of the top 100 names end in ‘n’. That is what you have to avoid, if you want to avoid it.

A sidebar here – I know you weren’t asking specifically about names that end in the ‘on’ sound. I point out this trend not because these names are not to be used, or to imply that they’re a flash in the pan; while you can paint ‘Jaxon’ with that brush pretty confidently, ‘Sebastian’ comes by the ‘n’-ending honestly. But I wanted to show just how prevalent a trend like this can be even when we don’t think a name is playing into it—including some I’ve suggested above.

Which brings us back to Wallace and Fergus, or Clive or Wilbur or Royce or Dashiell or Conrad, or other names where not just the name, but the sound and the feeling are different from what we’ve been hearing. Ernest. Reggie. Northrop. Winston – oooh, but there’s that N again! How you react to that depends on how important ‘not popular’ is to you – that is, there’s a method that involves choosing an old antiquated name, like Clayton or Gideon, specifically because it has a popular sound at the end, so it will gain a little more acceptance than it might otherwise.

Sometimes I wonder if we grew up as name nerds because our generation was named SO traditionally and boringly—but the flip side of being interested is you might never choose something truly unused. All you can do is study up, and decide exactly which clubs you want to be a part of—including the 38%.

Let me know!!