Dear Duana,

My partner is convinced that my favorite baby names are too old fashioned.

I am pretty set on the name Patricia for a girl (a family name), but I also like Antonia and Estelle. He is mostly onboard with Patricia... because he thinks she could go by the nickname Tricia and "fit in." His preferences are Emily or Zoey, which I feel are SO COMMON right now, and honestly sound "nickname-y" to me.

For boy names, we pretty much have to go with Erick, after his brother who passed away (which is why I think he's trying to be open to my girl name, since I "have" to take his boy name). I don't love it, but I like it and support it because of the significance. But again, my personal preferences would be Henry or Lawrence.

Is there a middle ground here - or variations of his names I might love (or visa versa)?




Lainey’s the one who has talked about (and is!) being a professor at a liberal arts university, but I was straight-up giddy when I realized I could actually give an assignment here.  

First, though, the theory. In case you haven’t heard me say it before or you want to point it out to your partner – in this case, he’s wrong, not you. If Patricia ‘fits in’, it won’t be because of the nickname ‘Tricia’, which brings to mind an 80s gal with a chunky-knit sweater and a chunkier ponytail. The Tricias he remembers from school are now just ‘Trish’, but a girl named Patricia born in 2018 is much more likely to go by Patty or Patrice or Patricia itself – to ‘match’ peers like Eloise or Molly or Georgina. Likewise there are no boys named Jake or Jay or ‘bro’ names like Shane – it’s Jacob and Julian and Ephraim, no nicknames please. Lin-Manuel Miranda just named his second son Francisco, to go with older brother Sebastian… you see where I’m going here. 

But your partner thinks those are all ‘old-fashioned’ instead of being the new way, right? He thinks it would be totally cool to consider Kelly (as in Kapowski). The names he’s chosen, I realize, are the names that are popular today that were eking their way into our consciousnesses while we were still young, such that Zoe or Emily maybe still feel like they belong to people slightly younger than ourselves. But while they might not be ‘old fashioned’ they certainly aren’t new, by any stretch. 

This may work positively for you when it comes to boys’ names. Erick isn’t in vogue for babies born in the last few years, but that means you won’t be running into one around every corner – which may suit you, since Henry is right up there in the ‘so beloved it’s just about common’ files, and Lawrence will, if I’m not mistaken, soon follow suit. 

But hey—what if you don’t believe me, or this doesn’t really ‘feel’ true where you live? I have mentioned, and maintain, that people should pay attention to the names people are calling their kids at Starbucks when they try to bribe them into submission with apple chips – but what if you think that’s an isolated incident or you’re out of town so it’s not an accurate unit of measure? I have lamented that the people who are closest to large sample sizes of kid names are already parents, which is great for people naming their second and third, but not so much for first-timers. Add to that that it doesn’t look great to hover in a playground for hours just listening for names (try explaining that, too – “Oh I’m just… researching!”) and there’s never been a real solution …until now. 

Now – as in right now, as in early February – call up your friends who have kids who are in preschool or above. Text your cousin in Utah, or your brother’s ex-girlfriend you always liked who wound up having two sets of twins.  

Ask them to take a picture of the Valentine’s Day lists. 

I didn’t think about the fact that these would have to happen, but it makes SO much sense. You are sent home a list of names of every kid – so nobody is left out – but no surnames to cloud the matter. Sometimes seeing them in a group helps you see things you can’t see on your own – that, actually, Antonia or Estelle might fit very well with potential classmates Henrietta, Teresa, and Emmeline. Or that Morris and Oscar and Felix and Connor are all six-year-olds, not septuagenarians. Any one name can seem like an outlier – or like perfection – but when you see them in a group, separated from their surnames or siblings or anything else that makes them anything other than a list of names, you get a much broader taste of how the name you love (or don’t) might appear within them. 

A few readers have been kind enough to share lists like these with me over the years, and though I haven’t shared them to protect their privacy, what I’ve loved is how often the mundane or well-worn names bump up against the old or the unheard of. We’re at a totally new place in naming choice, and it’s an exciting task to get to un-learn the rules of popularity we used to think were all that mattered.   

(NB - If you do have a list like the above that you’d like to share, I always love seeing them, I will always preserve your anonymity, and selectively deploy the names you send, but never the photos/font etc.) 

Look around, ask some friends – and let us know!