Dearest Duana,

I’m writing to you in a panic as we thought we had a name for our second daughter and now we’re not so sure. Okay, totally not sure.

Our first born is Margaret “Maggie” Claire (now 21 months). Margaret is in honor of my husband’s beloved great grandmother, and Claire just because we think it’s pretty and it went well with Maggie. I also like that it has a bit of an Irish feel as I have a very Irish last name (O’Hara) that neither of the girls will get. The hospital staff was sad to learn this as they fell in love with Margaret O’Hara. Anyway, the point is everyone loved the name both before and after she was born.

This brings me to baby number 2. We had chosen Nora Frances, with plans of calling her Frankie. Frances is the name of my great grandmother. And, Nora:  see why we chose Claire above - it got a big bonus for its Irish roots.

Well, we told our family at Christmas. My husband’s family was pretty “meh” about it while my family was like... no, your great aunt is also a Frances and everyone hates her. My grandmother acted as if I did this to hurt her — it blew my mind as I had never heard of a rift before!

While their reaction didn’t really bother my husband, it broke my heart. I began to think maybe I don’t love it as much as I thought. Because if I did, I wouldn’t care what they thought and would not be questioning it?!?!

So, here we are, starting the 3rd trimester, and hunting for new names. The only Irish name we can totally agree on is Fiona (husband hates my beloved Maeve and has nixed another favorite — Bronwyn).

And then there’s a middle name. We want a family name and that limits us to: Frances (you know, the one they hate), Virginia, Helen, Ann, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Jane.

Long story (kinda) short, we’re stuck. Should we keep our original (we’d call her Frankie, thus distancing her from the hated Frances)? Or can you help us find a name that honors one of the family members listed above while also giving a nod to my Irish roots!

Many Thanks,
Maggie’s sister needs a name

Yessss. A letter that’s right in my favourite wheelhouse: families and their weird name associations – and, of course, the related assumptions that they are entitled to tell you about those associations, and that you will care and internalize them. Fun! This is what Name Therapy is based on.

The crux of your letter, to me, is about your heartbreak – because of course it’s heartbreaking to find out that the name and, honestly, the image of the child you’re about to have don’t pass muster with the people closest to you. Of course they’re going to love the actual child when she arrives, no matter what her name is, but it sucks to hear that kind of reaction, obviously. 

I think your gut instinct is right that, based on your family’s reaction, Frankie – regardless of whether it’s sourced from the apparently-dreaded Frances or Francesca or somewhere else – is going to feel a bit tainted for you, and also is likely to produce a “hmmm” from your family, who have previously expressed their dislike, instead of the ‘Oh!’ of joy you’re hoping for. 

That sucks, and I’m really sorry. Whether names are ruined for us by someone’s reaction, or by meeting someone with a name you love and then realizing they suck, or some other global phenomenon, there’s always a bit of mourning associated with letting the name go, knowing it probably won’t make you as happy as it once did. But before you let go entirely, it’s worth debating whether anything else will make you as happy as Frankie did/will, even with the asterisk of what your families said at Christmas.

So, let’s go exploring. First of all, I’m not totally sure why you were going to give Nora the first-name spot if you were always going to call her Frankie – is it just because it flowed better? If so, I’d say Nora is still an option, and is very charming; my only note is that it’s gained in popularity lately and so doesn’t necessarily have as much immediate Irish association as it might have a generation ago. But that’s not a reason not to use it, just something to keep in mind. 

It’s worth noting that you want something with a touch of Irish flavour, but, I suspect, not a Gaelic name. I can’t cut off that option altogether, but in the meantime… 

A lot of the names that are associated with Ireland without actually being Gaelic come from hundreds of years of including obligatory saints’ names, and thus finding rare saints to include… so my immediate thought was to go with something like Veronica, which is seen as quite Catholic, or Monica – obviously partly thinking of Derry Girls actress Saoirse-Monica Jackson here, but it’s got an underused and attractive ring to it.  Further afield, what about Deirdre? It’s much more commonly used in Ireland than here, but it has a similar rhythm to Maggie and there are certainly nicknames to be found if you want them, and I think it easily pairs with Catherine or Elizabeth for a more ‘traditional’ middle name. Bridgid, or Bridget, is another that rings a similar bell, with a number of known associations but a wearability outside of people who aren’t well-versed in Gaelic. Both names are maybe more associated with older Irish people than babies born in 2020, but given that Ireland, like half the countries in the world, boasts Emma and Sophie and Amelia in its top 10 girls’ names, that’s not a bad thing or a deterrent. 

Bonnie is another name that comes to mind – though it’s origins are obviously Scottish, it’s still a beautiful but not super-popular name that could easily share a rhythm with Maggie and a nod to your heritage. Finally, Lucy is English but currently in the top 50 in Ireland, and shares a little of Frankie’s DNA, so it might be a good fit for you despite being across the (littlest) pond…

Before we move onto the next phase of names that might require a little more daring, a word on your middle names. If I were you I’d take another look at a few of them and see if they couldn’t step up to the front spot – Jane is a well-known favourite of mine, but Helen is another name that matches Margaret in style very well, and though there are a million variants, I think the simplicity of it speaks to the style you’re looking for on its own. 

Then when we get into the Fiona of it all – I love the name and have no qualms about recommending it to anyone and everyone, but I’ve often wondered why it was the one Gaelic name that took off (yes, with Maeve) and others haven’t. You can always chew on the longer Fionnula, the similar Cliona, or something like Orla (again with the Derry Girls) if you want, or we can venture farther out. 

Aisling is a very popular name in Ireland, mostly because it’s got a great ring to it, and Aislinn appeals to a lot of parents outside Ireland too. I should stress that both are traditionally pronounced with an ‘Ash’ sound at the beginning, and probably benefitted from people who loved Ashley but knew it was overused; however, in the last little while I’ve heard of people using an ‘Aze’ sound at the beginning and… look, it’s not traditional, but language is fluid blah blah blah. 

Anya is another one of those names that goes anywhere by virtue of being traditional in many languages, and while it might seem kind of a kicky relative to Margaret, I think it has a lot in common with Maggie. Ciara or Keeva (even I can’t bear to spell it Caoimhe) also feel like they share some genetics with Frankie, and you could even get into something like Neve if you want to attach a longer family name like Virginia or Elizabeth in the middle. 

I hope this is helpful and I really regret that someone poked a hole in Nora Frances for you – if you decide to screw ‘em all and go with that anyway, I’ll support you all the way. 

Let us know!