Hi Duana,

I am expecting my second child in March and we are waiting to find out the sex. We are happy with a slew of girl names *(Margaret, Josephine, Penelope) but we are stuck on a boy’s name. WE want a name that “fits” with our first son’s name (Alfred, called Fred).

My in-laws are all blond-haired, blue-eyed Habsburg look-a-likes, and we have a common German surname, so fully-German names are out (no Otto, Heinrich) but we like the low tones of Germanic-sounding names. We do not like anything with an ‘e’ sound (like Damian or Terry) or with a hard consonant. (RicK or ChaD). Must pass the Supreme Court test or, even better, sound like the name of a Victorian scientist/novelist. We have large families and would prefer not to repeat a name so almost all common traditional names are out (William, Charles, Louis, Edward, etc.) We don’t want the names to rhyme (no “Fred and Ted). 

We have a couple of names in the running but nothing is a clear winner: Malcolm, Roger, Phillip, Oscar, Desmond. Nicknames are great but not necessary. I wish Laurie was still a nickname for Laurence (a la little women) because we don’t like Larry. I love the nicknames Gus and Wes but we don’t care for “Augustus” or “Weston” and I was thoroughly vetoed on “Fergus” by everyone.

I know our style isn’t very exciting but considering how a lot of names we’d consider are eliminated due to family ties, we are quite stuck. Please help!


One of the best/worst things about me is that I am a seemingly incurable people-pleaser and yet I also cannot abide rules. I am that awful person who will jaywalk just for the sake of it, because who’s it going to hurt, but then tremble if you’re going to be mad at me as a result. I need deadlines to keep me in line but I will swear a blue streak about them and how oppressive they are and you can’t just do things on a schedule because some suit says so and… I am generally insufferable (but you knew that).

You guys, though, are not like this. I know because you have listed all kinds of rules for me and I can see how they are being followed, and how each eliminates a series of very good names and that’s important because they are against the rules, and I admire your fortitude and I think you have incredible discipline but oh my God where is the fun?

It’s fun! Names are serious business, yes indeed I agree now and I always have, but they’re also fun! It’s an exciting thing to get to pore over all the words we use to identify people in this language and get to find that, yes, this one is the most perfect.

You’re not the only ones, obviously. Lots of people use this method, because they’re faced with vast vast choices and need to eliminate some, so they start making rules and cut entire swaths of names out.

I get it—but what if you started by including things that you loved? Names that would be exciting? Names that give you a bit of a faster beat in your heart? You’re trying—you mention that you’d like a name that sounds like “A Victorian Scientist/Novelist”, but I would argue that person is necessarily possessed of a bit more whimsy than you’re allowing here.

First of all, I would shout back at the people who veto ‘Fergus’. What’s wrong with Fergus? It’s fun, it’s great, it works with Alfred. Next, I would return to a well I’ve been trying to avoid and recommend Felix, because so many people avoid it because it doesn’t have an easy nickname, but I, like you, believe those aren’t necessary—and possibly unlike you, I don’t think  the ‘x’ at the end is too hard a consonant.

I was immediately inclined to suggest Ambrose, because it’s soft but strong, and is high on the Victorian novelist angle. But for some people two names starting with A would be untenable, even if Fred is never called by his full name. Arthur is another name I always find a home for, and it falls under the same category, so YMMV. 

Dylan feels too soft for what you want, not least because it is being thoroughly adopted by girls but Damon doesn’t, and neatly avoids the ‘e’ sound you dislike. Roman might also qualify in this endeavor. I also wonder whether you might be able to get around your dislike of a hard consonant if it was in the middle of the name, not the end? Bertram relies on that T, but you barely hear it. Come to think of it, are you sure you don’t just dislike 60s beach names? Rick and Chad just don’t come up that much anymore, and neither do Todd and Ken. But if the name was, like, Kristof (I know, I know) would those hard consonants be OK? 

I know you don’t like Terry, and I would be violating my own rules if I said you should use Terrence anyway, knowing that people might default to Terry… but it does make me think that Clarence is a viable option, and that Clifford is one you should consider too. While I’m on these ‘n-c-e’ names, I should let you know I once knew a male Lawrie, nickname for Laurence (though tell me how that doesn’t violate the ‘ee’ sounds rule?). Vincent? Wesley, rather than Weston? Virgil? I know a couple who recently used Virgil as their ‘joke’ name for their fetus, the way some people refer to it as ‘Peanut’ or ‘Bean’. I was so happy to hear it in constant usage, but so sad it wasn’t in consideration for a ‘real’ name…

Still, it’s not just because Lainey texted about the new, Moira Walley-Beckett-penned Anne miniseries that I’ve saved the most bullseye name for last, but because I think you’ll really like it… Gilbert is exactly what’s required here. Works long, works short. Low tones, but super Victorian novelist. Not unlike Roger or Oscar or Desmond, which are all fine but didn’t strike you. Not unlike something like Neville or Stefan, it’s got some edges but they’re not too firm, it’s got some softness but holds up in the middle.

Did I hit it? Get close? Make you feel something exciting? Or did I inspire a whole new round of notes, including ‘don’t get name advice from jaywalkers’? Let us know!