Hi Duana!

I LOVE your column and your name nerd advice (and your name, to be honest). I also loved your book – how we feel about our names is such a study in human hope and behaviour, I can hardly believe that we went this long without the name nerd column in our lives. I have a name that has a completely wacky spelling so I totally live by my Starbucks name on paper – thank you for not making me feel badly about this.

That being said, I never thought I would actually reach out to you for your advice – the advice you hand out every week is always so perfect, I thought I was armed enough to make a decision. But here we are.

We are waiting for baby #2 on Halloween, and the gender is a surprise. We have a 3 year old boy named Callum Robert (for both of our dads – Malcolm and Robert). I am so happy with our choice. And I love that Callum is not “Little Malcolm” – he’s his own little dude with his own name. 

For this time around, my French-Canadian partner would like us to have a name that is more on the French side, but easy to say in both languages, and like Callum, this baby will have his last name: a very common Quebecois name that ends in -ette. 

So now the dilemma – as with so many other letter writers here – we’re totally stuck for a boy’s name. The only one that we agree on so far is Jacob, but it doesn’t feel at all as special as Callum. It feels like it’s the only name we like that sounds good in English and French.

We had a pretty solid choice for a girl’s name last time, too – Céleste. I assumed this lovely name would stay at the top of our list but then, out of NOWHERE, my husband sent me a text suggesting Calla for a girl. Calla! I love this! But also – it’s too close to Callum, right? And now I’m worried he’s no longer into Céleste, which is sending me into a total tailspin. I thought we had the girl’s name covered! 

For your consideration (inspiration?) he is 100% Québecois with French ancestry, I am Franco-Ontarian/Scottish with an African grandmother with whom I am very close. Her name is Simone and the island she is from is called Mahé – he vetoed that name too but I mayyyy be able to get it in the middle. We’ll see. I would love to know if you have some secret Creole-inspired name up your sleeve I could use to honour this wonderful woman.

Boys names that I love but that have been vetoed are Mowat, Tobin, Florian and Tavish. He mayyyy be swayed with Arlo, which I adore. But it’s not a slam dunk for him. Girls names that he has dismissed are Élodie, Laetitia, Delphine and Léonie.

So there you have it – we clearly need some guidance! Do I need to keep going to bat for Céleste, or do you have some fancy French name knocking around just waiting for its moment? Is Jacob lame? How do I convince him that Arlo isn’t too pretentious? Help us, please!  

A devoted name nerd,

Starbucks Name: ‘Cat’


Oh, the heartbreak. This is part of why names are such a rich playground for us. Because, you know, just like the didn’t-get-enough-play Erykah Badu track Next Lifetime, there are people you meet that you just don’t have room for this time around, and some of them are potential people, as Calla is.

Yep. It’s too close to Callum. Which I’m sure you both know, and if part of this letter is about convincing him of that, then just direct him to this line here:

Dude. You can’t do it. Calla and Callum? Nope.

I’m not surprised you both love it though, since it sounds so much like Callum, and you’re used to saying it, and used to the dopamine feelings it gives you when you say it. But it’s not OK in this context.

If I were writing a relationship column, which sometimes I am in this space, I’d just go along assuming that Celeste was still the name, because it’s great and you both love it. But if for some reason it turns out not to be, you can have a few names in your back pocket…

First of all, there’s Estelle. It’s sort of the homonym-inverse of Celeste (if you thought of it as “Stell-este”, I suppose) and it’s effortlessly French and poised for popularity. You can’t go wrong.

The other thing Calla made me think of was Celia – technically it’s Latin, but it made me thing of Celie, as in Miss Celie, in The Colour Purple, which is undeniably French. I don’t get the impression you’re living in Quebec, but I got the most interesting note from Natalia yesterday telling me that while ‘France-french’ pronounces a name ending in “a” with an ‘-ah’, that in Quebec they’re more of an ‘ugh’. Your mileage may vary; also, this reminds me of a rare name that I love – I grew up with a Portuguese lady named Cidalia (si-DAH-lia) but I just found Cedalie on a Louisiana Creole name list...maybe there’s room for it to be brought back?

This of course lends us to Lucille and Camille and ‘mainstream’ French names. I’m not sure if you meant your partner vetoed Simone, or Mahé, but either would be good in the middle. But why relegate it to the middle? Celestine has authentic Creole cred, too…

Where boys are concerned, I think you’re going a little too fanciful relative to Callum. Yes, I know. How dare I say such a thing? But Callum is, in addition to being a perfect fit, kind of an amazing reference to Malcolm. Tavish and Florian don’t necessarily have the same personal resonance.

But listening to you like the ‘O’ sounds, what about Rodney? Or Alphonse, which has a similar ‘al’ sound to Callum but in a different way? I don’t think Arlo is pretentious at all, but if it doesn’t land for him, what about Munro? Wallace? Any reason Simon, as a nod to Simone, doesn’t play here?

May I just say that while it makes my job a little harder, I am so charmed by the number of people who aren’t finding out what they’re having? Is this just you guys who read the column, or is it the new trend? Super into it, either way. Let me know!

Oh and PS…and I hope this proves that no matter what you choose, you can do something more interesting than Jacob.