Hi Duana,

I'm due in June with our second child (a girl!) and we are having a hard time finding a name we love that goes well with both our last name and our son's name, Marcus.  Since we have a somewhat long Italian last name that people tend to trip over, we are trying to stay away from names that are difficult to spell/pronounce or have several different pronunciations.  At the same time, we'd like to avoid names that are extremely popular.  Right now, the names at the top of our list are (in no particular order) Vera, Nina and Sylvia, but we're not 100% sure about any of these.  Would love to get your thoughts on these names and ideas for other names we may not have considered!  Thanks!   


What’s interesting about your letter is that in almost all the names you reference (including Marcus!) there aren’t enough examples of the name in the larger world for there to be a consensus on what the name means. Does that make sense? I always reference those Buzzfeed articles that say things like ‘Conors are like this!’ and ‘Annas are like that!’ but I don’t know if that exists for these names. Do you know how wonderful that is?

So when you don’t have sort of a common language about names, usually you default to personal experiences, which is one of the other things I love about names. Everyone has something to contribute to the conversation depending on who they’ve met and what their names are.

As such, I have really positive associations with all three of the names you’ve listed.  Vera, as you probably know, has its roots in ‘truth’. And every Vera I’ve known, but one in particular, is a straight shooter. There’s no time for messing around, which makes Vera a really strong character who takes care of herself. As the younger sister of an older brother, you might find this is a really beneficial quality to try to imbue. Plus it’s so unusual right now (the only V name in any kind of popular use is Violet) she’ll be able to make it all her own. 

Nina, similarly, makes me feel good things, and there’s something about the name that’s neat and smart. ‘Clever’ comes to mind. A Nina always seems to be ahead of the curve, catching on quickly and getting a good idea of what’s going on socially. If there are drawbacks, they’re the somewhat generic ‘little girl’ meaning, and other weather and mortgage disambiguations. Still, I think Nina is a lovely choice and it really hits home in the ‘known but underused’ category that Marcus sits so squarely in. I love it, and if you need another reason for me to preach about The Americans, there’s a beautiful character called Nina Sergeevna who backs up everything I think about the name.

Sylvia is also beautiful, and one of those names that does an awful lot with just six letters. What I think about it as opposed to other names, though, is that it’s ahead of its time, somehow. When people joke about retirement home names, Max and Jake and Sam are in full usage. In fact, those boys, named after their grandpas, are all in third grade by now. But Sylvia is almost ahead of the game. She should be ready to join the Dorothys and Evelyns who are now in ever-heavier rotation, but somehow hasn’t caught on! So be a trendsetter, and be aware that people will have commentary about how their great-aunt is named Sylvia – or be prepared to hear it in a few years’ time and realize you were on the cusp of something great.

The other names these names make me think of? Nora, Celia, Edith, and Thea - all with classic roots but antiquated usage. Still, I think that Nina and Vera and Sylvia outstyle almost any of them. Don’t you? Let me know!

A note to name-nerd letter writers,

I love getting your letters. In order to give them the best chance of being answered in a timely fashion, could I please trouble you to include the due date in the subject line of your email? Also, please send only one email – duplicates are deleted and may result in your email not being answered. Thanks!