Dear Duana,

We are happily expecting our second girl in May, after a long journey to get here. Now we need to name her.

I have a three year old named Leoni Elli (middle name after her grandmothers), who gave herself the nickname "Neenee" when she was 12 months old. It fits her completely, both Leoni and Neenee. We didn't realise that it was such a popular name in Europe (particularly Germany and France) but quite unknown in North America (as my mother asked if we had made it up!).

The only hang up I have is that due to our bilingual house, English and German, and her German grandparents, her name is pronounced in 3 different ways. I use the French pronunciation, with the accent on the Le, (though English I was raised in Montreal, I have just naturally say it this way), my husband and his family say Lay-oh-nee, and the rest of our English speaking friends and family use Lee-Oh-nee. I figure this is almost inevitable and part of what we needed in a name, to be able to be easily pronounced in German, English, and possibly French (we might be moving back to a French speaking province). I wonder if we should just factor this in to the next girl as inevitable as well?! (As a side note, my husband's name is Russian in origin and is pronounced different in English than in German, something that he has gotten used to, but at times bugs him).

Another consideration is our last name, as you can see
[For readers: It’s a noun, something like ‘House’]. German but meaning something significant in English (also with a different pronunciation). We have to be mindful that we can't give the new baby any first name that is remotely like a description, at least that's our sense, such as Indigo. Perhaps this will cut down on teasing. My husband is very proud of the last name, he is often only known as his last name, and has tee shirts made out with his last name. We actually all have tee-shirts and our daughter loves to wear hers. We figured we would start the pride early. (She left the hospital in a onesie with her last name on it!)

We need something that can work in English, German, and possibly French; that won't be mangled by our relatives, that matches Leoni, isn't too popular (which I am sensitive too given there are countless people I meet with my name), and goes with our last name. Also mindful that we currently live in Australia, where people LOVE giving nicknames, which often don't make much sense. Leoni gave herself her nickname; prior to that we called her exclusively Leoni. I call her both; my husband only calls her Leoni (he's not such a fan of nicknames).

All that to say, we would love some guidance. Here is what we have so far: Greta, Gretchen, Hannah (too popular I think), Mira, Freya, Anouk, Miriam (mostly rejected by my husband), Carmen (currently Leoni's top), Rafaella (currently my top). We most likely won't choose one name and will go in with a list (as we did with Leoni) but wanted to see what you thought of what we have so far. Middle name is still undecided, but we are not too worried about it at the moment.

We are looking for any suggestions that you might have. A name we haven't thought of, or overlooked.....
Thank you so much for your help!!


It’s a long list, K.

Fortunately, you possess the one skill most essential to those who have a big wish list – you’re not trying to give us this big shopping list and then say ‘we named our first daughter Emma’. 

No disrespect to the Emma-born, but there can be this philosophy among some globe-trotting families that the only name that will work everywhere is a North-American-certified ‘regular’ name, instead of one that may be less familiar here, but more there. What’s worse is that because a lot of U.S. Entertainment is shipped internationally, they can more or less get away with it. Yes, I blame Friends for the preponderance of Emmas.

But in your case, you know what’s up and what we’re trying to do, so let me roll up my sleeves and get into it.

I’ll tell you what I usually tell people who send me a bunch of viable names (which, by the way, happens much more often with girls than boys): Most of them work well, but you don’t seem like you like them that much if you’re still fluctuating. But for the record, Greta and Mira and Anouk seem to suit your purposes well. Freya does too, but I’m noticing a BIG uptick in them on the East Coast, if that bothers you. I’d wager there’s no point hanging onto names that not all of you love, so Miriam and Rafaella get booted, and I suspect the same is true of Carmen. As for Gretchen… this is one of those names that belies everything I know to be true about names.

I know it’s a classic.
I know it’s a variation of ‘Margaret’.
I know it will be forever linked in your mind, as in mine, to arguably the most awesome Pre-Teen Sensation created by Judy Blume (and I think she got to have the ‘Sensational’ name Veronica, right?).

But to me, it always sounds more difficult than it is. I have the thoughts about this name, sometimes, that I chastise other people for. Am I crazy? Gretchens, tell me what you’ve lived, and why I’m wrong!

But what you want are names you haven’t thought of yet, and that’s why I’m here.

You know how I say popular names are popular because they’re good? They’re also often usable in many languages, which contributes to their overall excellence. So what about Zosia, which is itself a variant of Sophia, but doesn’t have the same overused feeling?
Or there’s my beloved Thora, which I think would work in all of the above languages, plus feels like a really valid partner for Leoni?

I’m feeling a little badly about cutting out Rafaella, but ultimately think it’s the right thing to do… still, what about the simpler Ramona or Renata, which read more or less like they’re pronounced? These led me to Linnea, which I think is too close to Leoni, and yet isn’t close at all beyond sharing some same letters. Suffice it to say they have kind of the same spirit about them…

What about the amazing Zelda? Or Cosima, or Olympia? I’m also reminded of the lovely and underused Jessamine, which reminds me of Carmen but has that extra rarity and syllable, and which I think is still usable even if a German pronunciation makes it closer to ‘Jasmine’.

There’s also some wisdom in going with something Greek, like Phoebe, because while reading it isn’t exactly instinctive, the name would be pronounced in roughly the same way in all languages. Full disclosure with regard to nicknames – as a kid I played a Phoebe in a play, and someone jokingly called me ‘Phoebe the Feeb’. I didn’t know what this meant (as in, Phoebe the feeble, I think) but if you’re worried, know that it’s a common, if lame, taunt.

What else? So many! You could go with Leda, which really is different enough from Leoni, or Viveca, or something like Rania, or Reyna, if you prefer.

I love the options you have here, I’m very excited about how this could all go. Will you let us know?