Dear Duana,

Just like everything in my life, I'm cutting this one really close. Our daughter (first child) is due on March 15, and we are still stumped. I read your column religiously, and read The Name Therapist in my first trimester. I'm hoping you can help solidify one of our options, or somehow miraculously suggest something we haven't thought of already.

My husband and I have been together for 18 years, and when we first talked about kids years and years ago, we easily and quickly agreed that a girl should be named Emma Ruth, two family names on his side. At the time, I knew only one Emma. Ha! Now, while I still love the name (it's a good name!), I agree that there are currently enough Emmas, and the world does not need another one.

The two of us have come a long way towards compromise, having started in very different places. He favors longer, more ornamental, feminine names like Annabelle, Isabella, Bella, Elle, etc., and I wanted something shorter and stronger like Mae (vetoed because our last name starts with O - Mayo = no). Generally I want to avoid naming a girl something that specifically means "beautiful" in one way or another. I started out more conservative in my taste for names, and have slowly been warming up to some of the more unusual choices. For context, we live in Northern California, he's Jewish of Russian ancestry, and I'm an English/Western European mutt.

Our last name begins with an O, and is long (3 syllables). My first name is 4 syllables, so I've always gone by a one syllable nickname, and ideally I'd like a one or two syllable name for our kid. 

We have a tentative short-list, but we're both having trouble committing 100% to any of them. It's also populated with much more unusual names than I could possibly have predicted. Maybe the right name is not on it yet? But I've been name-nerding so hard, I find it tough to believe that there is some as yet unconsidered name that will feel more "right".

The current short-list, which skews heavily towards Greek/Roman mythology, presented with commentary (not in order of preference):

Daphne - we have one friend with an older child Daphne, who was enthusiastic about us possibly using it, but it does give me pause.

Juno - is both awesome, and a little scary. This is at the edge of my "out there" zone, and I worry that it's too specifically spunky, and maybe weird with our last name (Juno O.)

Phoebe - one we both love when written, but I pointed out that if it were spelled phonetically (Fibi, or Feebee, etc.) it would be entirely off the table, and he agrees. But the spelling! So lovely.

Anya - undeniably part of the A-sandwich trend, but because of the lovely pause created by the n-y transition, maybe a little more special?

Maia/Maya - also in the "sound-alike" trend zone, but still lovely. 

Cecelia - somehow I don't mind this one being 3 syllables, but hate the nickname Cece. Maybe still a little girlish for my taste

Names he likes but I don't: Olympia (nickname Pia), Helena, Adeline (I'm not 100% no on this one)

Names I like but he doesn't: Faye, Ruth (as a first name - it will likely still be the middle name, depending upon the first), Ramona, Audrey, and an increasingly popular one that I nonetheless have loved since I was a little girl - Cora.

I'm trying to accept the fact that this little one might go unnamed for her first few days of life since she could arrive any second, but I would LOVE to be able to bestow a name as quickly as possible. 

I hope you can help!


When I read this letter, I thought ‘I can help’. In fact, at the end of this letter I’ll get to the name that I think will solve this problem altogether. But it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, right? So…

Let’s start with a couple of hopeful assumptions, maybe? For example, let’s hope I’m within the margin of error for due dates, or that if there is currently a tiny bundle of person in your same airspace, that you’re still debating names for her – even though I know you want to get her named as soon as possible, what you may realize if she’s here is that these are the first few seconds of a long, long time and of literally millions of occasions on which you will say her name… so it’s fine to get it right. 

Let’s also assume that your husband has realized, since you originally wrote this letter, that Annabelle and Isabella and Bella and Elle are ALL THE SAME NAME. They are a nice name, sir, if you’re reading this, but you cannot get away with saying that you’ve submitted four names to the process, because… we know this is not the case. 

And, just to be equal-opportunity about the whole thing, let’s acknowledge that maybe you had a little bit of name vertigo when you were talking about names that you love when written but not if they were spelled phonetically. Come on! I love this topic more than anyone in the world, honestly, but that’s not a thing and you know it! I mean, yes, the word ‘phone’ would be utterly ridiculous if it were spelled ‘fowne’ but it isn’t, so we don’t need to worry about it. Right? 

Good. Now that we’ve got that out of the way…

I have mentioned before that this particular subset of names is one of my very, very favourites. I can tell because I have used just about all of the names you suggested in scripts at one time or another, always to denote someone who gets to stand out just a little bit – who gets to be the one who seems just a little more special. I know everyone thinks their names (and their children, and hell, their characters) are special, but these are the ones that mean that for me. 

So I am inclined to push you towards liking them more, while acknowledging that’s not the right thing to do necessarily – but I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t whip down the list of concerns: 

Daphne – I love this name. It is my very favourite, my number-one-if-I’m-dream-naming, the be-all to end-all. That’s why it’s hard for me to give what would be typical advice, which is that if you’re concerned about the friend and comparisons to the ‘other’ Daphne you should skip it. But I don’t know the closeness of the friend or of the daughter, and it’s giving me more pause than it otherwise might. I guess one way to think about it is that there are definitely friends who, by accident or design, both have Emmas or Madelines or Rileys…

Juno – I know exactly what you mean by saying the name might be too ‘specifically spunky’ and yet I don’t agree – the name has always struck me as being kind of calm and centered for what it is, and that’s even taking the eponymous movie into account. (Also, for the readers’ sake, the Letter Writer’s last name does begin with O, but it’s a different O-sound than the end of Juno. So it would be more like Juno Oscarthegrouch as opposed to Juno Overwhelmed). I suspect my alternative suggestion will be too far out there, but Juno always makes me think of the sound-alike Djuna, which is similar but doesn’t have the same ‘ostentatiously cool’ association. 

Phoebe – I touched on this a bit above. I love the name, I think that the spelling dissuades people from using it (though not for the reasons you state above) which will make it more likely that she’ll be the only one in most situations… 

Anya – One of the reasons that this name, to me, isn’t part of the ‘A-sandwich’ trend, as you call it, is because I am always inclined to pronounce it ‘Onya’, as per Buffy The Vampire Slayer and/or the Irish spelling of Aíne. It’s worth my pointing out that my Irish mother toyed with both Aíne and Graínne before I was born, and was told by well-meaning but conservative Canadian namers that they were gross names that sounded like you were saying “Climb Up On Ya”. They are nice people, but they are wrong. That said, please don’t pronounce this name “Ann-ya”, as it removes all the charm that you so correctly point out is there.  

However, if this one is close but not quite, what about the lovely Una? 

Maia or Maya are the lowest on my personal list, but I think they have all the same stylistic traits as the other names on your list. Super-weirdly though, they make me think of the lovely (but long) Anastasia, and though I think this is a valid name suggestion for you (I know you say your surname is long, but Anastasia Oscarthegrouch kind of flows), I’m also wondering why I have the association. Did Anastasia Krupnik have a friend called Maya? I know she had a Daphne and a Meredith. (Lois Lowry had an outsized effect on my name preferences.) 

Cecilia – I agree with you that this one is somehow more ‘girly’, even though all of the names we have are girly, and I don’t like ‘Cece’ at all. But this is because you don’t need it if you use the infinitely more perfect name (shout-out to my friend S, who shares the love here) Cecily. I don’t know why it works but it does, just like I don’t know why most names that end in the ‘ee’ sound are not OK for me but Cecily is my joy. 

Given that you’re basically considering my hit parade here, I’m not even going to spend a lot of time on the names only one of you likes, because those are non-starters and you have a number of great options already. (One small exception –  for people who find Ramona attractive but think it’s too close to the book character or something, Simone and Renata often hit the same buttons…)

…But if all of these still feel the same as they did before, so close and yet not exactly right, let me offer you the piece de resistance. The first thought that came into my head, but also the one I knew I wanted to tell you the most, is very simple. 


I know it’s three syllables but it’s only 5 letters! It looks the way it’s pronounced, it is familiar but not, and there’s even a repeating vowel sound but it’s not the vowel sound that starts your surname. 

I really feel like this could be it. 

The one qualification is that for those who are well-versed in the Old Testament, Naomi is Ruth’s mother-in-law so using both those names together might have a bit more biblical emphasis than you intend… but maybe that’s not an issue for you, and I suspect it isn’t for most people. It’s another one of the beautiful Greek names that should be getting way more play – but the fact that it isn’t is good news for you.

As I write this, it may in fact be her birthday, but given that we got to spend so much time in the land of names I love, it might as well have been mine. I can’t wait to hear what you choose!