Hi Duana,

I am a week past my due date with baby #2, sex unknown. My husband has taken a sudden interest in names and their meanings (better late than never I guess, but really dude, now??) and thrown a new favorite into the ring. For a boy we are now leaning toward Zachary as a first name. The problem is we are completely blanking on middle names. For a girl we plan to go with Phoebe Ruth. Phoebe goes really well with our daughter’s name (Margot Elena) and has a cool Ancient Greek association with the moon, while still passing the Supreme Court justice test. And Ruth, well, definitely passes the SCJ test as it’s for RBG, my personal hero. Margot’s middle is a nod to Elena Kagan, and I like the idea of a boys middle name that has this kind of honorary quality. The only males I can think of that spark this kind of admiration for me are Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. I admire these men for doing the hard thing that they believed was right. I don’t love Zachary Nelson and I feel like it’s a little try hard and I don’t see any way to name the baby for Gandhi without looking like a tool bag. Any ideas? I have literally been googling “good men” and I am totally drawing a blank.  Thank you!


This email rolled in this morning, and I have confirmed that this child has not yet been born in the intervening hours, so let’s go! 

Call him Zachary Hamilton, for Alexander Hamilton. You’re welcome, have a good birth! 

Okay, fine. Mayyybe you want a little more in-depth thought on this one… I’ll back up a little. You’ve already written everything I think about your husband’s timing re:  his sudden opinions about names, so I’ll leave that alone (but dude!) …

I really love both Margot Elena and Phoebe Ruth, so you’re in great shape there – and I get what it is that you want for a son’s middle name, so our work here is about trying to find more than two people who make you feel like they’re worthy of your admiration and of the spot in probably-Zachary’s name. 

Obviously I am biased where Hamilton is concerned, but I think if you want to be specific, surnames might actually be the way to go. With the exception of Nelson, which everyone does associate with Nelson Mandela, a lot of male names in history were used by so many people it can be hard to know who you’re hoping to honour – is ‘William’ for Shakespeare, or William Tell, or… I don’t know, President Taft? 

Whereas you could go with, say, Zachary Sagan for Carl Sagan, and it’s immediately apparent what the name’s doing and who you’re honouring, right? 

So really this is about who you like. If we’re talking judges, you could go with Marshall, as in Thurgood – for that matter, you could go with Thurgood. 

If we go over into science, you could go with Isaac Newton – Zachary Isaac isn’t great, but Zachary Newton actually really resonates; to me, it sounds totally different than Zachary Nelson, but you may feel differently. Or maybe Francis, for Francis Bacon? Or maybe Darwin? Zachary Edwin, for Edwin Hubble, of Hubble Telescope fame? 

Humanitarian-wise, you could borrow either name for Martin Luther – or hey, what about Zachary Desmond, as in Desmond Tutu? Zachary Warren, for Warren Buffett? 

Obviously your mileage will vary in terms of how much you like these names and how much you like these people – but I actually think this is a place where a surname-name might actually really work for you, and give you a little extra weight where you want it. Middle names, even more than firsts, are a place for sheer joy and expression, so don’t be afraid to let it rip. 

And let us know!