Hi Duana,

I swear at one point I had a mental list of beloved names but now that we’re expecting (after over 7 years of trying!) I can’t seem to remember any of them! She’s expected to arrive in January and we’re stuck for names.

My last name and to-be-baby’s middle name is three syllables, Portuguese and ending in a hard “o”. I grew up in the 80s (yes, I’m one of those mothers of “advanced” age who has been told by numerous people that “it’s great I’m doing this at my age” – lol) with a very common first name and have always wanted one more unique. My husband is South Asian with a four syllable last name. His first name is also four syllables and incredibly unique. He, of course, hates this and is forever wishing to use his Starbucks name. I’m drawn to names like Simone, Gemma, and Sloane—all rejected by hubby.  We also love when girls/women sport a traditionally masculine name. My loving and supportive hubby’s first suggestion was Jayden but I’ve since talked him out of this one.  He has also suggested Avery – which I liked at first but have now rejected.  I know it’s silly but I have had too many “starts with an A and ends with an ee sound” people in my life who have done nothing but try to wreck havoc in my life.

There has been only one name that we both agree on and LOVE…Eliot (nicknamed El and/or Ellie). I’ve confided in a few people and our choice has been met with very little to no enthusiasm (truth be told I’m not surprised but initially didn’t care what anyone else thought). I’ve been told it’s not very pretty, too masculine, too confusing, etc… My favourite reaction was “I don’t get it.”  There have also been a couple babies born in our extended circle of friends/family/coworkers in the last few years who have given their babies “E” names. I’m feeling the pressure to give our little one a “pretty” name.

So now we are searching for a name that is not too common, not too unique, and subject to the taunts of bullies. Just in case all those ultrasounds were wrong some boys’ names would also be great.

Are we overthinking this one? Are we caring too much about what others think (of course we are!)? Thank you in advance – I can’t wait to hear your suggestions. I pored over your book and loved it but I still can’t come up with anything. I am suffering from a serious case of name-block.


God, is it satisfying to get a letter where the actual questions are laid out in it for me. Sure, you want to know whether or not you should name your daughter Eliot, and what names I would suggest if you don’t, but more importantly, you want to know “does it have to be pretty?”

The thing about this, of course, is that even if there was a universal definition of ‘pretty’, sometimes it can come off as a pejorative. If I looked at a dress and said “it’s pretty”, that often means it’s got a small print or delicate details or other feminine touches. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s awesome. As I type this, I’m wearing a tailored black jacket with leather details– without a doubt my most reached-for item of clothing this year. I adore it, and when I’m wearing it, I feel comfortable and badass and yeah, attractive—or pretty, maybe, sure. But the jacket itself would never be defined as ‘pretty’…it adds to the overall effect.

Likewise, I don’t think you need a ‘pretty’ name if pretty is understood to be conventionally girly and bringing to mind those little details from the dress. If you mean ‘sounds pleasing to the ear’, then I absolutely think you want a name that’s pretty, or attractive, in that way – but you have to prioritize your ear over other people’s, and also factor in that we think what’s familiar is attractive, which is why you might encounter resistance if you chose, say, Hedwig.

Furthermore, while some people reading this letter agree with the people who gave you a lukewarm response to Eliot, plenty of others are going to think it’s gorgeous – because they’re considering or are actively choosing to give it to their daughters too. I do think it’s one you’re going to hear more and more, because that El and Ellie nickname continues to appeal, and because – and I’m not joking – there are going to be a spate of people who want to name their daughter “Eleven” after Stranger Things, and get talked out of it by a conservative partner or family member. [For the record – go ahead and name your child Eleven, if you really want to. If you’re having this discussion in your household, let me know!]

So to me, Eliot is ‘pretty’ in that you love it, and that it contains a lot of sounds we usually like in names, especially for girls. If you didn’t ‘know’ it was a man’s name, how is it different from Violet or Juliet or Harriet? It’s not.

But if it’s tainted now, well, that’s different. I can offer suggestions, but even if I say I suspect that ‘Sebastian’ will someday be a girls’ name, it sounds to me like what you want is less a boys’ name on a girl, and more a spare, unfussy name that’s got more masculine qualities.

So for example, you say Avery, I say Fern. Technically for a girl, but definitely not frilly. Or maybe Jane, or something like Delaney or Tamsin or Aubrey (don’t know why I think this will avoid your A-with-an-ee trigger, but I do) or good old Leigh or Opal or Jade or Honor. Something that feels…maybe attractive is a better word, or stylish, rather than ‘pretty’.

My other submission for a boys’ name that’s destined to go girl, easy to spell and understand and enough out of the boy loop that it would be beautiful (see my own bias?) and not trying too hard on a girl – Keith. I don’t know why this name hasn’t already slid to the girls’ side to begin with. NOT that I’m saying you can’t name your boys Keith, but I think there’s a sort of Beth-like softness to it that people will love. 

Shea or Blair or Demi or Adele or Kate? You’ll notice not all are purely gender neutral, but all are spare and clean and brisk, which I think is part of what you want. 

Also, a name I rarely suggest for reasons that will become obvious, but that fits exactly in this metric? Lane. Or Laine. As in Gilmore, or as in someone closer to home…maybe that’s what works?

All this said, remember that, as with everything else where your kid is concerned, you get to be the one who defines, in this case, what ‘pretty’ means.

Let us know!