H7 on the merry-go-round

Lainey Posted by Lainey at August 23, 2013 16:05:32 August 23, 2013 16:05:32

Dear Duana,

I write to you as a disillusioned name nerd. I've been looking forward to naming a baby for a long time, but now that my husband and I are expecting a little boy, it turns out to be a lot harder and less fun than I expected. Basically, all of the boy names I thought were adorable and fun (Milo, August, even your fave Otto) ended up feeling too trendy or precious or time-stamped when I really considered attaching them to a human for the rest of his life. And my husband wasn't really on board with my fun names anyway. (For some reason I think both of these issues would have been easier if the baby were a girl, but that's another conversation.) So, we've ended up focusing on more conservative names, and we sort of have a short list at this point, but we (or at least I) have reservations about all of them. The main contenders are Elliot (too...prissy?), Emmett (same), and Owen (too..bland? also, too common?). Other contenders are James, called Jamie (but is that too 70s? and James itself seems kind of boring), Julian (again, prissy?), Micah (for some reason this doesn't totally grab us), and Tobias/Toby (like Jamie - too 70s?). Both of us love Jonah, but it's our nephew's name. I loved, but my husband rejected, Benjamin (too common in the state where we live) and Theodore/Theo (he just wasn't into it). I also love Noah, but obviously that one is crazy popular. Anyway, I'm pretty sure we've considered every single name there is at this point, so I'm not so much looking for you to suggest additional names as to do a reality check on the names on our short list. Are my concerns valid, or am I just over-thinking everything at this point? This whole process has left me pretty exhausted and deflated!

Wearily yours.


You know, I didn’t think about this phenomenon a lot before, even though I know it’s a thing. You hear all these awesome, cool, fresh-again names, and then everyone else does, too. So they do feel time-stamped, because who wants a name that’s so two years ago? I can hear some of you going “OH MY GOD IT’S A NAME NOT A SHOE” but this is the problem. When a name – say Noah, or Ethan - isn’t just a classic, but a sudden phenomenon, it is firmly rooted in a place and time. This is the reason we make jokes about Jennifer. 

And yeah, it is harder with boys. The names are in tiers: Always used, never used, and “used to be never used and now totally always used!” So logic says you go to ‘never used’, but then your brain is all “But they’re never used for a reason!” 

So first of all you have to shake off your associations, as best you can, and then look a little further into the names that aren’t Otto and August. When you think of the names that were popular when we were kids, they all feel a little bit dudebro.  Matt and Dave and Steve and so forth. But think about the names around the edges to see if they’d appeal to you? Ian is one of those names that is always fitting in and standing out, both. Martin? Yes, it’s hopelessly old-fashioned but that kind of makes it new – there are very few other little babies called Martin these days. Alastair? Angus? Archibald? Why am I only suggesting names that begin with A? Hugh? Jeremy? Spencer rides the line a little, does it speak to you? 

I don’t agree, though, that this or that name is ‘prissy’. The names that are popular for boys now do have a softer sound with fewer hard consonants – but that’s what makes them current. You could go with a hard consonant name like Kevin – but all those consonants are part of what make it feel so dated. 

Other ‘current’ names that haven’t hit the mainstream include Vincent or Wesley or what about Anton? Time was, I would be yelled at for suggesting Damian, but you can’t catch me now. How about Darius?

As for the names you’ve listed – Tobias and Toby feel fresh, actually, and Jonah reminds me of Judah. Would you love to have a little Jude? But really, if you want something outside the box, look all the way outside of the neighbourhood and the class list, and think about names that haven’t yet been anointed as ‘trendy’, and anoint them yourself.

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!


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