We are expecting our second baby girl via scheduled C section the week of Thanksgiving. So I have a concrete deadline to name this baby.
We named our oldest Mary Margaret and call her Maggie, a family name honoring my late mother and her great grandmother, and also my husband's late grandmother. We covered a lot of bases with it and there was never really another contender in play. I never really expected to have two girls, so I am at a true loss this time around. Other names on our initial list don't work or appeal to me anymore. My husband and I tend to gravitate towards very traditional names (often Irish for him and more English for me perhaps). I do not like popular names. I want names we use to be lower than 200 on Nameberry. My name was never popular growing up and I loved standing out in a sea of Jessicas, Jennifers and Sarahs. I want to give my daughters that same sense of individuality. It is extremely important to me.
Our favorite name (which is a family name) is Helen. One of my grandmothers and one of my husband's grandmothers was named Helen. Unfortunately, because of our last name (an Irish name starting with a K) and a famous Helen all students learn about in school, we probably shouldn't use it. It feels just perfect to me, not the least of which because the Helen we don't want her to sound like is actually a hero and did incredible things, but is known for one or two other things that a 4th grade girl does not generally want to be taunted for. I wish I had never told anyone that we think of using it, because every person tells me it would be cruel to use it. (That's another thing - I generally don't tell anyone what we are thinking about using. I don't want to hear their critiques.) I still hold out hope that maybe my husband will agree to it and we can use it. Hopefully after the birth?
My husband's only suggestions thus far have been Shea and Kaye. He likes them both a lot, but they have no real connection to our family. I love Martha, Beatrice, Harriet, Henrietta, Sally and Georgia. I also love Katherine, calling her Kitty. Martha was a former favorite, but it seems too Kardashian-like now using it with Maggie (and my name also begins with an M). Names that we both like are Elizabeth (a family name, but so popular) and Faye (slightly modified version of a family name). If we used Elizabeth, I would want to use a nickname - Bee or Bess.
And that's the other thing I can't escape - nicknames. All three of our formal names all pass the Supreme Court test (and my husband and I are actually both attorneys so we use our formal names on paper), but my husband, my oldest daughter and I all go by nicknames (some more difficult to explain than others). It would be nice to not afflict this child with the same fate, but I keep returning to it (like thinking Hattie must be used for Harriet and I won't even get into my preferred boys' names (Jack for John; Teddy for Edward; Hank for Henry)).
I know that something simple ending in a consonant is probably what's appropriate. But I just don't know. I can't find it. I am honestly at a complete loss.
I hope that you can help. If not, I think that this baby will be nameless until Christmas.
I don’t usually edit the letters I get, unless the letter-writer asks me to obscure some detail that was for my eyes only – but if I’m answering a long one, I’ll sometimes cut out salutations and the very nice things people say about me, as in this case. But I didn’t edit further, because I was amused when I got to the paragraph explaining that the writer was a lawyer, and straight up laughed out loud when I got to the brackets inside brackets.
But I want you, letter writer, and also anyone else reading, to see if you can find the problem I’m going to point to in your letter. I’ll give you a hint – it starts early in your second paragraph. Have you found it yet?
Okay, I’ll stop being pedantic (though I have to admit I had fantasies of writing this whole column using the Socratic method – I might have a skewed law school fantasy going on).
The issue is this: when you point out that your daughter’s name, and others you are debating, honor both your family and your partner’s, but then also say you want a name that’s not popular at all – therein lies the paradox, you know?
That is, if lots of people want to use family names, often ones that are older and less in use – and if the vast majority of people choose names from within the family tree that either share some cultural background or are transferrable from one to the other… you see it, right?
Those ‘unusual’ names are going to get more popular – especially if you’re choosing the ones that have more than one family connection, as in several examples you listed. Like with Elizabeth – it’s not that I think it’s ‘popular’ per se, but if you’re in North America or Northern Europe, the chances that there’s an Elizabeth somewhere in the family history is a reasonable assumption, you know? I’m no 23 And Me, but we’re all somehow linked if you go back far enough, blah blah please test my spit!
Plus, you’re interested in nicknames, which broadens your horizons. Yes, you and I know that Lizzie and Bess and Elise and Libby all come from the same root name, but I promise you they’re not going to feel like they’re not the only ‘Bette’ in the room just because someone else has the same root name. I promise. In fact, this may be the reason your husband is attracted to Shea and Kaye – they’re more likely to be singular because they aren’t on everyone’s family trees.
Keep that in mind as we deal with your most prevalent problem first: You think your Helen K will be compared to another Helen K, namely Keller. But honestly, I think this is something you can get out in front of. You actually point out that that Helen is a badass – so teach your little girl that early and often. You can even imply she was named after that Helen – so that when everyone learns about it in school, she’s going to be ahead of the game and proud AF, which takes a lot of the sting out of an insensitive joke some dumb fourth grader will make. “Bah-ha, your name sounds like hers!” “Yeah, because the names sound good together, and she was awesome!” Problem solved. I wouldn’t necessarily push this option if you were only lukewarm on the name, but it’s your favourite!
If you want to create a little more distance, though (or feel like it will be easier to sell your choice to your spouse), my obvious suggestion is going to go with Helena, which allows plausible deniability and which will ‘fool’ most people’s ears.
I do think, though, that maybe that sounds a little long and froufy for you, since you want a consonant-ending name or at least something shorter. Next up I’ll point out that by no means are the Kardashians the first ones to do the all-one-initial thing – you can like the choice to do it or not, but I promise there are families out there with Jeff, Jodie, and Jason, or Matt and Meghan, who will back me up.
That said, I think the key is to list a bunch of names I think you’re neglecting, and that will fit perfectly into your family. I cannot guarantee they’re on your family tree – in fact, I bet they aren’t – but they’ll be close enough that they seem like they could be, and I think that’s the point.
Try on Nadine, first of all, or Nina. That immediately makes me think of one of my underrated favourites, Anna. Or you could consider Sonia, or Elaine (a derivative of Helen anyway) or Jessamine, which is going to be far less-frequently occurring in family trees than C/Katherine.
Esther is great and gives you all kinds of nickname potential, and where Georgia is very popular, chosen by parents determined not to choose Grace, Greta is still under the radar… and yes, it’s a derivative of Margaret, but you can spin it as a sly way to do some more honouring if it bothers you, which… oh fine, I know it will.
Henrietta and Harriet are both perfect and need no adjustments, but I would also submit Winnifred and Millicent and Cecily as similar-vibe options that are going to be as rare as you want them to be.
Finally, when looking at Nameberry (a site I love and consult constantly) be aware that it’s populated by name nerds, and so a ‘Nameberry popularity’ ranking is not necessarily anywhere close to the same as the ranking in the US or whatever your region is. Also, I hope your region is the US because otherwise your Thanksgiving baby has been nameless for some time. Sorry.
You got this. You have parsed it all out but you also have taste and style, so turn off the counterpoint in your head and go with your guts! Let us know!