Hi Duana! 

We're getting close to the due date and I can no longer tell if something I thought was too gimmicky actually isn't, or if it's just the pressure of not having a name that's making me fuzzy. I need some level-headed advice! 

Baby number 2 is due mid-May and we don't know if it's a boy or a girl. It's the boy name we're having a hard time with. Our first is a boy - Finn. When naming him, we also considered Sawyer, which we both still like. It's actually the only boy name we both like. Despite how I feel about the name, I've said no way to using Sawyer from the beginning, as I think it just begs for a lifetime of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer jokes. My husband doesn't agree - he doesn't think it's as obvious of a connection as I do and also doesn't really care if it does come up. 

I used to be firm in my convictions against using Sawyer, as it just seems gimmicky/too matchy. But we aren't finding anything else that either of us really likes, let alone another name that we both like, and now I'm thinking that maaaaybe I had it wrong? Is it that big of a deal? As obvious as I think? Will it be a joke? And yes, if it's a regular joke, it will bother me. If we don't go with Sawyer, the other names that we're sort of considering are Miles, Rory and Wyatt, though neither of us love any of them. We want a name that can't be shortened into an obvious nickname and will be used as is, and no names that start with B. For style reference, for girls we're considering Adair, Ailsa, Willa, but we're not sold on any of them either. 

Thank you! 


You know, a few months ago I wrote to someone saying that I wasn’t going to say they shouldn’t worry about people imagining a link between their children’s names and those same names used as a romantic couple in a poem, and I meant it… 

And then a couple of weeks later I wrote this piece that referenced Lainey and Kathleen and I talking about how maybe new young writers don’t have the same foundations of all the supposed canons of storytelling and literature… 

Plus, last week as Lainey and I updated each other on some things neither had heard of, I giddily reassured her that ‘there’s no such thing as common knowledge anymore’, now that we all know a lot about a little – 

…I am detecting a possibly disturbing pattern. 

I have to be honest with you, and tell you that some people who meet your sons, Finn and Sawyer, will assume you have an affection for Mark Twain. Now wait, before you strike the name from the list, just stop for a second and ask yourself – is that, in and of itself, a problem? Not that you’re endorsing the books or the mores of the 1880s or anything like that, any more than naming a child Laura means you’re endorsing the rhetoric of Little House On The Prairie. Is that a bad thing? 

You say that it would “if it’s a regular joke”, but play that out. The joke, if it comes – and, as I’ve said before, it’s going to come far less often than you think it will – is gonna either be “Wow, where’s the fence/raft?” or the aforementioned “Big Twain fans, eh?” That’ll be it. There’s no other joke to be made here, honestly. “Oh, do they… get along?” That’s not a joke, and there’s no need to worry about it. 

There’s also the fact that these names are popular precisely because the names are from 140-odd years ago, and we’re now using names that were formerly surnames. So I really, really don’t think it’s going to occur to most people that the books could be a source, let alone the actual reason you chose the names (which of course, it isn’t). I agree with your husband – the link is there, sure, but they’re also names that are in use these days, and that fit well together. They’re not a punchline. 

For a thought experiment, try this: if you meet a little girl called Lizzie, and then her sister is Meg, do you immediately screech “Little Women! I caught you! Which of you’s going to die of consumption?!” Of course not (if you do, please remove yourself from this column). You wouldn’t do something like that, because, first of all, it’s desperately impolite, and second because, take it from me – when you point out real-life names that are similar to book names, most people don’t even know what you’re talking about, and then you feel dumb. I spent my childhood testing this experiment every time I met someone named… well, anything, really, since anyone I met, no matter what their name, produced a memory of a book character with the same name… and invariably they’d never heard of it. (Also, 80s/90s YA led me to believe there would be a lot more Anastasias in the world than has turned out to be true. Where y’all at?)

It happened to me just last month. I was watching The Wife and eagerly told my mother-in-law, next time I saw her, that the couple in the movie was Joe & Joan, just like her and my father-in-law! Without missing a beat, she said “My Joe’s nicer, though. Should I put mustard on the sandwiches?”

Most people don’t notice, fewer than that will even care – and those who do are well-read, and understand why the names are chosen out of love and care, and not just because you think it’s a cute pairing. In short, the people who are secret book nerds are going to be delighted, not horrified, by the connection, and they probably won’t tell you about it for fear you’ll laugh at them. The world is weird. 

More importantly, though, each of your sons is going to grow up with other kids who have his name, or whose siblings do, or etc, and not only is their frame of reference for Finn gonna be this guy… 


…they’re never gonna pay attention to what his little brother’s name is, or what that might say about his parents. I promise you. 

I look at your list of alternates and agree nothing’s as great as Sawyer, though I could make a case for Sullivan (or indeed Saul) if you really didn’t think you could go through with it.  But I think you should, and you will, and everyone should be delighted by that choice because it’s the right thing to do! 

Let us know!