Hi Duana, I love your name advice posts and am hoping you might be able to give us some advice as my pregnant brain is fried!

My husband and I are expecting twin girls in April. We have a two year old son, Christian John, and my name is Leith and my husband's name is Seamus (as you may have guessed, my husband is Irish). I am a Kiwi and we live in Australia. At present we both agree on a name for one of the girls, which is Orla with possibly the middle name of Kate or Rose. Unfortunately we are having trouble pinning down a second name as Seamus would like another Irish name, while I seem to have stuck on Olivia (possibly with my middle name, Scarlett) - no idea why as I've never had any particular thoughts on Olivia before beyond Grease reruns.

Do you have any suggestions for us? Anything that works with Orla but isn't too out and out Irish? I think we prefer traditional with a twist rather than anything too out there, and I guess feminine but not all tiaras and tutus if you know what I mean!!

Thanks so much for your help, Leith


In general people don’t really name their children with the same initial anymore, do they? Like, there are a couple of heinous reality TV families who do (no, not the one you’re thinking of, the other one) but I seem to remember a whole bunch of families growing up who all congregated around C or M or J…so many Js.

That’s just one of the reasons your letter caught my eye. I think twins with the same letter, especially one your older child doesn’t share, is going to feel a lot cutesier than you think it does right now—particularly since Orla and Olivia almost sound like versions of one another. In addition to which, Olivia Scarlett, in addition to being a much more decorative name overall than, say, Orla Kate, is very very much of a time—people might not be able to pin down when Orla was born but they will know exactly when Olivia was, even if her middle name is inherited from her mother.

Don’t worry. I’m not judging you. I get it, names start to blend together, nothing sounds right, and you want to just go with the one that everyone agrees is pretty great. I completely get it and I think lots of happy people are named—and named beautifully—this way.

But you have a complicating factor. Your twin daughters, more than almost any other children, will be compared and held up as each other’s peers and other halves, will be measured against each other, and each will look at the other like a mirror (whether they’re identical or fraternal). You want them both to have all the things you want for them, like individuality and a sense of autonomy and, of course, a sense that they both have names of similar vintage, quality, and yeah, rarity.

So, we start with Orla. It’s short, pretty, rare, and not overtly Irish—unless you know, you might not know. Despite being so rare, and being Irish, it’s not hard to read or to say (bless you for not choosing the Orfhlaith spelling), so finding its pair isn’t easy, especially since many names that might fit (like Una) can also sound rhymey.

My first thought was Emer—looks like it sounds, isn’t super ‘frilly’, but has the same Irish-but-portable vintage about it. Similarly, what about Ciara? I prefer this original Gaelic spelling, but you could use Kiera or Kyra if you wanted to be similar in the ease-of-spelling way. There’s also the gorgeous Dara – DAR-ah, not DARE-ah – which is faintly Irish, but not dripping in Shamrocks. Jacinta, which gives a rhythm to the ending-in-a without ‘matching’?

But if the ‘a’ sound isn’t adding up for you, or feels too familiar, then what? There’s the beloved Esme, of course, often admired but less often used. There’s Fiona, which breaks up the rhythm but has the O as well as the ‘a’ sounds…or you could go with the Cliona instead, and call them Orla and Clio, and really be quite stylish and pleased with yourself!

I am honour bound to mention Aisling even though it violates all the rules. First of all, depending on how names traveled to NZ/Aus, you may still be suffering from scars of “Ashley”. But it’s so gorgeous, and the hard ‘ing’ at the end (even though it’s often pronounced more like an ‘een’) remains unusual…think about it?

Niamh is another one that breaks the rules because I think it looks nothing like it’s spelled, but people love hearing it—if you’re one of them, Orla and Niamh could be charming, or you could use the ‘Neve’ spelling, which Conan O’Brien used for his daughter. Also, beware Nuala, which, despite looking like my own definitively-three-syllable name, is pronounced NEW-la and is probably too close to Orla.

Then there are the ones that feel Irish-but-not-Gaelic: Blair? Maude? Helen? Mary, even? You’ve set a high bar, but someday you’re going to tell both girls this story, and they’re going to appreciate all the effort you took…and so do I.

Let me know!