Dear Duana,

Before finding out we were having a girl, we had two very solid boy names selected which, although I am very excited to be having a girl, am a little bummed I will not be using these names I love so much. The first is Jack Wallace (Jack after my PopPop) and the second Jonathan Rupert (Jonathan after my cousin who passed away of cancer some years ago). I adore both of these name combinations and loved that I would have been able to incorporate important family names into the mix. Sadly, there aren’t any family names that really hit home with me to use for a girl.

Girl names that my husband and I have somewhat agreed on: Winnifred (I LOVE Winnifred; nickname Winnie), Matilda (another favorite of mine, he is not sold; nickname Tilley), Penelope, Wellington (I am hesitant because there’s a certain “celebrity” making headlines recently of the same name which I’m worried may add to the name’s popularity; nickname Wells). We also love traditional “boy names” such as James or Drew for a girl, so possibly James Winnifred, James Wellington, Penelope Drew. I struggle with finding an accompanying name for Matilda.

Names that I adore that my husband has vetoed: Wilhelmina, Tallulah, Bernadette, Louisa, Etta. He has not contributed much to the list. The only name he has ever really expressed any interest in is Elizabeth (which is a yawn to me, no offense to the Elizabeth’s out there), but that is off the table anyway, because his niece is Lila Elizabeth. I think we obviously favor vintage names, but am trying to steer clear of anything in the top 25 most popular names. I want something unusual but not something completely off the wall. As you can tell, I also love a name that allows room for a great nickname.
Any and all advice or suggestions you may have are welcome! 


This letter, more than any other in awhile, illustrates why I love, why I need, why I crave the other names in your orbit.  Every now and again, someone sends me a note that reads, in total, “Help us think of a good middle name for Margaret?” and I’m like… but which Margaret? Where? What context? What siblings? A little help, please!? 

In this case, it’s the names you had selected for hypothetical boy children that really have brought this home for me. Because there are a number of qualities that really come through here for me – you have family names up front, combined with offbeat (these days), out-of-the-mix middle names.  To me, that says you want a ‘clunky’ factor. You say you want ‘vintage’ names, but a lot of people get there through much more ‘traditional’ or allegedly easier-on-the-palate names, like Henry or Martin or something. 

And the fact that you’re bummed about not being able to use the ‘family’ names tells me that you might be struggling not because you don’t have any girls’ names in your family to use, but because you need a legitimate connection to a name to be able to use it…  and that because you don’t have that, you’re putting the ‘clunk factor’ of a name up front and then wondering if you have anything substantial for a middle name and how did we get here and fehhhh…

So. I like your chosen names, and I like your rhythmic structure – Winnifred James, Penelope Drew, longlonglong SHORT. I do think you should consider throwing out the names you’re not sure of, or that your husband doesn’t love, and I say consider because if that suggestion gives you rage and fear, then maybe one of those is where you actually want to go.  But before you do, I’d point out that middle name pairings for Matilda could include Matilda Blair, or Matilda Yvonne, or Matilda Louise. Wellington Jane, or Wellington Kate, or Wellington Ada, or Wellington Rue - or Ruth, for that matter.

(Here’s the pause where I googled for celebrities named Wellington and didn’t find anyone who pinged my radar, so either it’s a geographic issue or I’m just not as cool as I thought I was.) 

But we can go further afield, because calling a name ‘clunky’ isn’t even what I want to get at here. I called it ‘Clonk’ up in the title because what you want is a name that arrives, and says “Yeah, this is me, get used to it.”  It’s proud of its offbeatness, and that’s what makes it beautiful - and also why Elizabeth will never (in our lifetimes, anyway) be that name, because we’ve never not been used to it. 

So, with that in mind, the names I thought of – which, if you’ll forgive me, have the most power in their long forms, though they’re all nickname-compatible if that’s your heart’s desire – share some DNA with your original choices while not being identical… 

Lucille – easily the most unusual of the L names, and more refreshing than Louisa. Deirdre. Agatha. Dorothy (too popular for you? I think this one depends on your regional vintage name factor). Francesca – but only if you keep the full name in use, because everyone and their novel-writing cousin wants a female ‘Frankie’ these days. Frederica (yes, I’m serious). Philomena. Esther? I’ve always wondered why Esther doesn’t get much play these days, since it’s so easy to wear on both a little girl and a grown woman - maybe it needs another decade, but I’d be itching to use it now…

Harriet, Augusta, Gwendolyn, Rosamund, Phillipa, Geraldine, Antoinette – the rhythms are still there, and I humbly think the CLONK is there too, like the vintage-name equivalent of BDE. 

The challenge now is - which one sets you on fire? Which one sounds like fun coming out of your mouth? 

There doesn’t have to be a big reason behind it. It could be that they remind you of an old book or a movie, or the name of your best friend’s second Cabbage Patch Kid (when are we getting the oral history of naming them!?) You might just like one of the names because you never thought it could be used, and now here we are.  Or there’s a defiance in choosing whichever one that really appeals to you. Staying out of the top 25 is easy. Finding a name that’s got a vintage feel is easy. But let’s be honest, those are fairly common name goals these days, which may be why you’re feeling a bit <shrug>. 

But you want the one that fills you with giddy prickles at the thought that it might be yours. You’ll find it, regardless of how it’s seen ‘in the world’ or who else might have considered it (or not). This is like narrowing down your favourite food. You can’t describe why, and you don’t have to explain why -- in fact, sometimes the satisfaction in a favourite is that it’s nobody else’s. 

I can’t wait to find out what you choose – please let us know!