Hi Duana!
I am due to have our 2nd child in late April, and I really think I need your help!
Our daughter is called Alexandra. She’s 3 and I love her name, and a lot of the reason we chose it was the flexibility it affords. On its own it’s a strong name, but I also like that she can stretch it different ways as she grows into it.

I think I was reacting against my own name as well. Growing up there was only one other person with my name I knew of. She was very famous in the mid 90s, and known for being loud, obnoxious and a bit ignorant, and I hated being associated with her. So part of the attraction of Alexandra was that it’s been worn so many ways by so many different people that she can find role models in it no matter what or who she becomes.  
But now we need to name a new baby, and I’m a bit lost finding something to balance and compliment Alexandra. We don’t know if it’s going to be a boy or a girl.
My partner loves the name Stirling for either a boy or girl, but something about it makes me really uncomfortable! It might be because it was largely inspired by Archer? He hasn’t really offered any other options because he’s so happy with it. We’re both generically Australian with Scottish / UK heritage.
I like names like Phoebe, Marcus, Cassandra (I know it’s too close), Frederick, and Genevieve, but they don’t get much more than a shrug. I love Margaret but it gets a flat no. The baby’s last name will be a fairly common 2 syllable British name ending in “on” so I’m trying to avoid boys names ending in “n”.
Please help! My brain is already fried, but I really don’t to saddle a child with a name compromise.



Okay, I rarely do this, but I’m gonna go ahead because it’s Friday, let’s live dangerously: I don’t think Alexandra’s sibling is Stirling, one way or another – but her sister definitely shouldn’t be. 

In this column (including today – see below!) we’ve discussed and debated the merits of historically-gender-specific versus gender-neutral names, and while I’ve historically been in favour of the former, because of the way ‘gender-neutral’ names can subtly be anti-feminist, I recognize that trends are changing, and that my responses are as a result. 

But the other drum I’ve banged for a long time is that siblings should have names of a similar style, lest there be unintended inequality between them. Sometimes this goes too far, as people with beautiful choices wonder if one sibling will feel bad for not being named with the same initial – but basically, the point holds. You don’t want to unconsciously choose one scholarly name and one free spirit, or one down-home short nickname and one fusty-entering-Eton appellation; basically, your kids will find various things unfair in their lives and upbringing, but you don’t need to label it, literally. 

Alexandra and Stirling are exactly this type of pairing – no matter what your opinion of which name. As you point out, Alexandra has a rich history with many bearers to look back on; it’s also traditional and formal. Stirling is rare for either gender, but especially for a girl, and has nearly no heritage (except, as you point out, in a salty adult-animated series). It doesn’t matter which of those traits you think is great and which one lacking – it matters that you don’t have a name which will, in your words, ‘balance and complement’ Alexandra, and since she was here first, she kind of sets the tone. And I should be clear – I think Stirling would be a beautiful name for a girl or a boy, but not for your girl or boy. Hate me yet? Plus there’s that thing where Stirling, even with the ‘I’ spelling, has a meaning, is a descriptor, in a way Alexandra isn’t. I mean yes, technically, there’s Alexandrite jewelry, but you know what I’m saying. One can refer to a silver platter, the other overtly can’t. There’s nothing wrong with either name, I want to stress, but in this case, they’re mismatched. 

Okay, moving on – I have a pretty good idea of your style from the names you listed, but I’m less clear on your husband’s, except that it’s pretty obvious he wants some quirk. So let’s see what I can do, on either side of the gender divide, to get you both closer to the middle. 

Girls first, because the first name that came to mind was a girls’ name. Stirling made me think of Aisling, a Gaelic name pronounced “Ashling” or “Ashleen” depending on who you ask. (I can hear Lainey screaming from here.) The consonant ending seems to be part of the attraction for your partner, so going French, maybe something like Clemence, or Cecile might get you there. Maybe something that’s Welsh (so vaguely in the family) but still known as feminine would fit the bill? Alexandra and Arwen, or Alexandra and Bronwen? Or Briony? Cerys? Or maybe you want something a bit more sound-alike, in which case Stella is standing here waiting for you, or it’s more formal Estelle. If the attractive sound is at the beginning, rather than at the end, maybe something like Perla or even Petula? Or, back to ending-in-consonants – something like Raquel or Mercedes? Raphaelle? Maybe, to keep the Archer vibe going, Mallory? 

For boys, I will confess, I’m not immune to TV either – my first thought, which you’d guess if you know me at all, was Roger. No, it’s not terribly close to the style of Stirling, but it is similarly out of phase, and I’m looking forward to its return sometime soon. Then, of course, there’s a debate I had with Sarah yesterday that I didn’t think I’d have the chance to talk about so soon: is it time for the return of Stanley? Sure, roll your eyes, gnash your teeth, but I’m telling you, all the Robs and Gregs and Chrises are gonna be grandparents soon. Stanley’s about to feel super fresh. 

Going further afield, though, and into the more unusual space, what about August? Or not that we’re limited to A-names, but what about Archer itself? It’s not totally similar to Alexandra but it’s got enough similarities to get you by while still feeling a bit offbeat. You could go with something like Wolfgang, which still ends the same way but has a bit more of a heritage, or something like Kipling, which dances on the edge of being a bit too whimsical but is saved by everyone’s familiarity? How about Eugene? Benedict? Campbell or even Macaulay – what?! It’s too good a name not to be used just because a certain Culkin has it. 

Another way you can make the name sit a bit more in balance to Alexandra is to choose something long – I’ve unconsciously done that with some of the boys’ names above, but since you haven’t said she primarily goes by Alex (which feels very 90s now, doesn’t it?) I’d steer you away from choices like Knox or Flynn. Is there another surname in your families that’s a bit more in line, even if it’s not super obvious? Thackeray, or Webster, or something like that? Callahan? 

I wish I had a clearer way to go for you, but I think building a bigger bridge between your two kids’ names will feel better in the long run, and I can’t wait to find out what you choose. 


Thematically, there couldn’t be a better time for the gender-neutral updates – as usual you guys were full of fascinating info and kept me in check. My dear friend S reminded me that she wants to take Kim back for the boys, which I’d say is going to be increasingly possible due to how utterly it’s faded out of usage in girl world – and reminds me of the name I feel this way about: Morgan. Remember when Morgan was a boy? Meanwhile, Jessica reminded me that I should have suggested Jude in that column… Oh, and L would like for Percy to be in this category as well – while I’ve never heard of it being the case, I can’t see why not… 

Okay, here are your gender neutral updates from around the globe.

Stephanie writes:

“The use of the following names in Ireland would be presumed as male:
Ashley, Rowan, Rory, Dillon or Dylan, Rhys, Ryan

Other names that would likely be expected as ‘female’ when heard elsewhere but is a male name: Darragh [Duana: I have a (male) cousin Darragh! Yes!]

Nollaig can be male/female but I have never met a boy with it (usually Noel).

K from Calgary, AB knows a female Logan and a female Wynne, both still in diapers, but just as you got comfortable, R wrote, “ I know two 1-year old children named Rowan, one in Colorado and the other in Maine. Both are boys.” 

Meanwhile, across the city (or just next door), S, also from Calgary, says: 

“I do have lots of 32-37 year old friends considering/ naming their kids once male - but "feminizing" the spelling - ugh, eye role. Here's some actual examples...

Paisley [Duana: I’ve actually heard this one, often in the South], Emersyn 

I know a 21 year old male "Spencer"; and many late 20 and early 30 "Taylor", both female and male.”

A wrote from SW London to say:

“We have an 18 month old boy Rory here, and I have met two 5yr old boy Rory’s in our area through my older. No girl Rorys though. I do know a 2yr old girl Dylan here and a 6yr old boy Dylan. Also 9yr old girl Tyler.

Meanwhile in Boston, T (I’m not outing her, but T you have a GREAT full name) told us:

Ryan and Logan are hugely popular boys names here (there will be a few in every class), never heard them used for a girl. Rowan, Ellis and Elliot are boy names, but not super common. Cameron, Dylan, Jordan, Sawyer and Devon are more common for boys, but are in lesser use for girls. I know one Quinn, a boy, and interestingly he has a brother named Reece. (I have recently heard of more girl Quinns)

But D in SW Ontario wanted me to know she knows a tween girl Logan, and here’s where geography comes into play, because C in SE Ontario backs her up, knowing a girl Logan just a year or two younger. And N says…

“In Toronto I know a 20-something man named Rowan and a young girl Rowan.”

… and then went on to explain that she thinks ‘Lane’ is a female name but her sister thinks it’s for boys. 

Then we swing down to Texas to hear from L: 

“ I never could resist the extra credit in school and this feels "Taylor-made" for my family...We live in a semi-rural area just outside a mid-size city in Central Texas, USA--if you've ever heard of "Fixer Upper" +  Chip and Joanna Gaines, whelp, that's just about where we're calling home these days. We have two daughters, Liberty Elizabeth (7) and Finley Rose (4)…They go by Liberty and Finely at school. I don't personally know any other male Finleys outside of novels. My oldest daughter (7) has a Finn that's a boy in her grade, but as far as I know that's not a nickname--just his given name. My youngest (4) has a girl in her dance class (3-5 year olds) also named Finley. Honestly, I was surprised-as were the other girl's parents, although perhaps we shouldn't have been with the preponderance of feminine names ending in -ly. We have a niece named Peyton (15). This year in her first grade class Liberty has a Harper (girl) and a Sam (girl-short for Samantha). Finley (4) has a Parker (girl) and a Charlotte (does not go by Charlie). Growing up, Logans were always boys, but a sister of a long-ago friend has named her daughter (5ish) Logan. In this area Brook/e would be a girl but Brooks would definitely be a boy.”

You guys! So much good stuff! Geography is everything! But perhaps the best is this email, which still bears the wounds from what I assume was getting on for 20 years ago:

“I’m actually nominating myself. My name is Casey. I grew up an hour outside of Boston, Massachusetts. The spelling of my name is mostly held by boys. Kacey (or variations ) is generally the girl spelling. So much so that when I was in 6th grade and signed up for a bowling league, they placed me on the boys team! They didn't have any room on the girls league so I had to play on that team the whole season... “

You guys are the BEST. Thank you so much for all the audience participation – can’t wait for the next time! 

Coming up on Monday – I got THREE letters labeled “Emergency!” Hope everyone involved is cool crossing their legs until then.