Hi Duana,

My husband and I are pregnant with our first child and CANNOT agree on a name. More specifically, we cannot agree on a boy's name. (We aren't finding out the baby's sex.) He's convinced me of his choice for a girl - Eleanor Joan - mostly because I can already think of all the nicknames I'll surely call her: Nora, Ellie, EJ, Nellie... (For the record, my top choices were Mary Frances and Lorelei, but Eleanor is growing on me.)

The problem is, I can't seem to get him on board with my name for a boy. I've fallen IN LOVE with the name John Francis. To me, it sounds strong and classic. We're Catholic and I like that it sounds that way. We have an awkward, Polish last name (as you can see from my email address), so I feel like we need to give our child a strong, easy first name. (I know from experience that they will constantly be re-spelling and re-pronouncing their last name to people who simply cannot understand what they are saying.)

My husband thinks John is too boring and common, even though I argue that it's becoming less common in a world of Liams and Aidens. His alternatives are, in my opinion, just as basic (Jacob is his frontrunner). He's also suggested George and Paul, which just don't sit well with me, but maybe I could be convinced?

I guess my question is - Is my husband right? Have a fallen in love with a boring name? Or am I justified in my love for such a timeless classic? Are there other names we aren't thinking of that might satisfy us both?

With names like John, Paul and George (I'm sensing a Beatles theme!), this is likely the most boring Duana Names email you've ever received. But that's all the more reason why I need your help! No one's discussing the merits of these names anymore - I can only find commentary on choosing a unique name for your child. (It's not that I don't want my child to be unique. It's that I feel like giving them a classic name gives them freedom to be whomever they want to be!)

I appreciate your advice in advance.


P.S. We've both maybe just fallen in love with the name Gerald. Is it horrible? We love it but I'm worried others will hate it...


I remember so clearly reading Schroedinger’s Cat for the first time. It was the summer between my third and fourth years of university, and this guy I was starting to be friendly with loaned it to me to see if I’d like it – he was reading a lot of books along the same lines and so seemed like more of an expert on… whatever we call that. Metaphysical philosophy? 

I read the book and enjoyed the experience but had mixed feelings about the endeavor overall. When I returned his book, I expected him to want to explain it to me – but he kind of blithely said he wasn’t sure he understood it at all. Obviously, I fell in love with him instantly. 

So. The cat is both in the box and not in the box; you and your husband are both right, and therefore you are both wrong. 

Does the logic hold? I’m not sure it does… let’s take a look. 

My first gut reaction was to say that your husband was right. That John Francis was kind of boring, for a number of reasons. Because we’ve heard it a lot before, in that particular combination, is the clearest reason to me that I feel that way. That is, even if it were Francis John, it would feel fresher – and still be, as you call it, a ‘timeless classic’.

I hear myself and wonder if I can justify the above statement, but I’m fairly sure I can. There’s something about John at the front, not just as the strong responsible name of stalwart fathers in books and movies, but also the thousands of Jons who are would-be Jonathans, that gives this name its ‘every-guy’ quality. There’s also the fact that all those Johns and Jons are fathers and grandfathers and bosses now – it’s not that the name isn’t original, it’s that it’s around too much right now, in common usage, to feel fresh. That is, say that in the course of the day you go to the dentist, the movies, and the butcher before picking your kid up at daycare –- there could quite easily be Johns at each one. 

Then again, I don’t know of a baby John born in the last five years, so in a sense, you’re right too - it’s just as ‘original’ as any other name and much less likely to be repeated than the ubiquitous Liams and Aidans and Connors. So there’s that…  and I agree with you that Jacob is not likely to be any more rare. 

Basically, the idea of a name that’s ‘fresh’ when it’s also an established English ‘classic’ isn’t necessarily that we’ve never heard of it before, but that it’s not in use right now. You might find yourself using John or Jake six times in the course of your day (and, depending on where you live or work, Paul fits here too) but you’d be much less likely to refer to a different George or Frank or Stanley. The idea isn’t that those names are so unusual, but that, for the moment, they refer to your child alone. 

Which brings us to Gerald. Why would it be horrible? Because there aren’t a lot of names starting with ‘G’ right now? Because you didn’t know any growing up? As you’ve heard me say before, the days of kids being made fun of for their names are largely long gone, and there’s nothing about Gerald that is any different than, say, Patrick or Stephen. It looks like it sounds, it’s easy to read and spell… 

And – and! You both love it… 

…which will inform the way other people think of it. It’s been a while since I admonished expecting parents not to reveal the name before the baby arrives, because people seem to think you’re soliciting opinions. If you announce the name once the baby has already arrived, that’s a new person, and that’s their name, and nobody gets to debate it, and obviously you will both love the name, so people take their cues from you – and that’s how new names are born. 

There are billions of other names, of course. If you want names that are identifiably Catholic, everything from Vincent to Crispin to Benignus qualifies. If you want names that are short and crisp, Keith and Ian and Walter are definitely also ‘classics’.  And ultimately, if you want the traditional feeling that comes with John Francis, who’s going to say no? It’s your choice and your kid – I’m just pointing out that it’s not the only way to get to the name choice you want. Or rather, to investigate whether you want a name that’s ‘classic’, or a name that gives you the feeling that ‘John Francis’ does? 

Let us know!