Dear Duana,

Like many people that write to you, I’ve been reading your column for years.  I always assumed that when I finally became pregnant, one of the first things I would do is write to you for help.  However, my son’s name came to me in a flash and I never really considered anything else. We named him Benjamin knowing that we would only call him Benji.  I still think it’s perfect for my now three-year-old. We’re due with #2 in two weeks and the sex is a surprise. If the baby is a girl, we’ve decided on the name Claudia and I have the same strong feelings about that name as I did about Benji’s.  The problem is that we’re struggling to come up with a boy’s name and my hunch is that we're having a boy. Our last name is Korean and one-syllable with a strong “on” sound [something like ‘John’]. Because of our last name, I would like the baby to have a first name that’s at least two syllables.  We talk about names all the time, but there’s nothing that gives me the same feeling as Benji or Claudia. I suggested Frederick (after my grandfather) with the nickname Freddy, but my husband rejected it. He likes Caleb, which I think is a fine name, but I’m not in love. He also likes Connor, which I’m even less enthused about.  We both like Conrad a lot, but I’m worried that it doesn’t work with our last name because they both have the same “on” sound. Please help me find that name spark again!

Thank you so very much!


Okay, I love a question like this! Because to me, it’s very obvious what you want and what you need, so all we have to do is find the name that does both… and er, rather quickly. 

But luckily, it’s fairly simple. You like unusual sounds, and combinations of vowels & consonants. The ‘nj’ sound in Benji, plus the name ending in the ‘ee’ sound, and all of the above in ‘Claudia’ (one of my favourites). This extends to Frederick and Conrad, and explains why you don’t love Connor – there aren’t enough hard/unusual consonants to hang out with. 

Then I’d say that what you need is – vowels, vowels, all kinds of vowels! (I’m thinking of the ‘bowls, bowls, all kinds of bowls’ interlude from Leslie Jones during SNL’s ‘Back Home Baller’, if you need something stuck in your head right now.)  I agree that  such a strong, single-syllable last name means needing a longer first name – but I’d also strongly encourage you to consider names with more vowels in them, as you have with Claudia. That’s sometimes a slightly harder sell with boys, but look – you’re there with Benji, and in the ballpark with Freddy, so let’s get going here – strong (maybe offbeat) consonants, lots of vowel sounds… go! 

But first -- one thing I’ll caution is that a lot of boys’ names we know are shorter, and a lot that aren’t end in ‘n’, so I’m going slightly further afield to find something that works, but stay with me, okay? 

One of the first that comes to mind is Donovan. I hear you on the repeating sounds in your name, but to be honest, it doesn’t bother me in Conrad, and it extra-doesn’t bother me in Donovan, where you could go with a cute-as-hell nickname like Dov or Dovo. Other names that flirt with surname status could work here too – Carlisle is a great one, as is Montgomery or Duncan or Clarence or Gallagher.  (While we’re in this part of the alphabet, is Claudius too far? Don’t answer right away, chew on it – Claude is a pretty cute short form…) 

You could go with something traditional-ish like Gabriel, or Finnegan, or even Hamilton? I know I mention it all the time, and to my knowledge nobody’s taken me up on it yet, but Barnaby – if you didn’t mind both names starting with the same letter – would work really well here. Benji and Barney? Come on! Or what about Aubrey, or Jasper, or Lawrence or Gilbert or Augustus?  Victor or Darius or Hector?

Obviously Lionel is one of my go-to suggestions these days, but it really does work in your scenario, I think, or maybe Nathaniel or Neville or even Niall, to keep the n sound far away from the end of your last name.  Speaking of, there are even more surname options suggesting themselves, with their combinations of unusual sounds and syllables – how about Sawyer or Magnus ( I know – wasn’t I the one talking about vowels?) or Oliver, Cassius, Phinneas, or Tobias? 

If you’re really craving length, consider Jeremy or Gregory or Matteo or Sebastian or Raphael or Isaiah, or go with Nicholas, Damian, or Elias. Speaking of which…

All the ‘usual’ vowel names also apply here – in particular, what about Hugo or Cosmo or Levi or Bruno? Lots of fun work for the mouth and tongue before you get to the single-syllable last name. Ezekiel? Abraham? Viggo? Quincy? 

I’ve been avoiding most of the names that end in ‘n’, but I know they’re phenomenally popular right now, so if they do appeal, try to choose one that has some unusual sounds within it – Simon or Byron or even Quentin or Declan – so you don’t feel like it’s all one name blending together.  

I really don’t know which way you’ll go, because your tastes are delightfully less common, so please, when you can, let us know!