Hi Duana,

I've been so excited to write in to you since my husband and I found out I was pregnant in May (due in late January). I've been holding off until the 2nd trimester ultrasound so that we would know if we were having a boy or a girl. Unfortunately, our baby is already a stubborn asshole and refused to cooperate with the ultrasound tech. We happily know all the major organs and bones look good, but the sex is going to be a surprise come January.

So now we need to pick out both a boy name and a girl name and we need your help. Our last name is French and ends in -ier We're looking for something that's recognizable as a name but not used too often, similar to my first name, which is known but not common, rather than my husband's very common name.

We're not sharing names with friends and family until it is too late for them to ruin the name we choose, so we don't have outside help other than you (no pressure). Whenever anyone gets too nosy, we just tell them we're planning to name the baby Kanye no matter what it is.

Names we've been considering for boys are: Leo (though it may be too popular and my husband can't get "uncle Leo" from Seinfeld out of his head), Xavier, Silas, Milo, Isaac.

For girls, we're considering Georgiana, Josephine, Cordelia, Caroline.

Middle names for either sex would probably be chosen from some family names. Are any of these winners or losers? We're definitely looking forward to your feedback and suggestions. Thanks for your help.


One of the things people ask most about names is what name will be distinctive, as opposed to one that is very common. These days, that is; I really do believe that’s a  modern concern. And if you extrapolate that a little bit more, what people really want out of this is partly that, of course, but also partly for people to think that they’re original, unusual, not followers. That they chose a name that shows their point of view – their unique point of view.

Which is where this gets tricky. Because names are often not-that-popular overall, but really quite popular in your neighbourhood or city or socioeconomic demo. The low number on the popularity list that ‘Arlo’ hits is no guarantee that there won’t be three Arlos at your Whole Foods.

Which means that a name that sounds charming and exciting and sophisticated is not necessarily the same thing as a name that nobody else is choosing. 

Which means that, to varying degrees, the names you’ve chosen are great, but not unusual. I know you didn’t use the word ‘unusual’ in your letter, that’s what it seems to be adding up to.

In order, I’d say you’re most likely to meet other Leos, Silases, Josephines, Milos, Carolines, Georgianas (give or take the people who will hear the name as Georgia or Georgina, both in current rotation), Xaviers, Cordelias, and Isaacs.

That’s arbitrary, it’s not based on anything quantitative—but they’re names I hear often. Cordelia and Isaac come into the last spots because they seem to come up on people’s best-loved list but then are used less often – moved aside in favour of, sometimes, some of the names you’ve listed above.

But. But but but… none of this means the names you like aren’t good! It just means they aren’t unusual, and we would probably all do well to unhitch those two thoughts from one another. After all, unusual being the ONLY qualification for a ‘good’ name is how we came to have names like Brekkin or Rhyli.

And, after all, you asked for names that occur some of the time, and these are all in that category, but because of how things are, they’re probably going to occur more often than ‘occasionally’ in your world.

Which brings us to - if you want to go further afield, here are a few places I might suggest – Rupert. Enzo. Luther. Roland. That long ‘o’ is a sound you really like, so try finding it in not-yet-appreciated names like Bruno and Waldo and Margot, or in Jocasta or Odin or Yolana (note – not a typo. I always thought YoLANDa was kind of harsh and open and flat, and the first Yolanda I met backed that up. But Yolana – which is of course a derivation of the same name – seems so softened by ‘Lahna’ that it’s purely elegant, which is something I learned only after I met a Yolana, natch). 

Other names in the ‘oh yeah I’ve heard that before’ category, subgenus ‘but not recently’, include Wesley, Denise, Igor, Xanthe, and Shea. Remember, if those sound way out of bounds, that Zoe was once considered exotic and unusual. Remember too that I’ve never heard anyone sigh and say “gosh I wish we named her Emma”.

Let me know!