Hey Duana, 

Husband and I are expecting our first and probably only kid this November, a girl. Very excited!

We are both tree/plant people. He's a tree scientist and I'm a landscape designer, so we definitely want a plant/nature name, but I'm leaning away from the super-literal. 

All the women in my family have the middle name Ann, and I would like to carry that on. My husband (and now my) last name is the rub...ZW---. One syllable. Doesn't really flow with the pretty, plant-y names that we like.

I like Hazel, but the family I've floated it to doesn't think it matches the last name. Others on the short list are Azalea, Magnolia, and Camellia, but we're not sold on any of those. I love Daphne and think it goes with our last name, but husband can't get over the Scooby-Doo connection.

Any ideas or suggestions?  Help!


Okaaaay! See? No matter how many times you think you’ve seen a name issue before, there are always twists. I love the twists! So let’s dig in, no tree/plant pun intended, but I’m not exactly sorry about it either. 

So the reason this feels tricky, I think, is that in knowing your middle and last name, you are facing down a LOT of consonants. As in, there are only two vowels in the middle and last names. That means you probably feel a lot of pressure to have a three or four-syllable name up front to give you a lot of lyrical movement. Which is why you’re not getting much traction with Hazel, and why you’re attracted to Azalea and Camellia and so forth.  

So before we even get to the first name, I’m going to do something I rarely do, and make a prescriptive suggestion: Consider a second middle name, for flow. By no means do I mean don’t use Ann, but when you’re looking at names, add in an additional two-syllable blank space between Ann and ZW---. I know I’m the one always saying middle names are only for families and birth certificates and embroidered blankets, but hell, you’re putting a lot of work into this and you want to love saying it, so think about whether you feel better about 

“Firstname Ann Zw---” 

Or …

“Firstname Ann Arbor Zw---”

I know. I said I was done with tree puns but I couldn’t resist that one. Still, see how it gives you a bit of breathing room? A different phrasing? 

Now to the elephant in the room…

TV CHARACTERS ARE NAMED BY NAME NERDS. Who choose names that exist in the world. 

Look, we’re just like you. We want to choose names that sound new and interesting, that give you a little idea of a character, and that you aren’t going to hear on a million shows before. Which means sometimes, the first person you think of with a given name – like Daphne, for example – is a character, not a real life person. 

But here’s what I don’t get: 

Who in their right mind is going to look at your gorgeous baby, hear her name, and then dig dig dig through their minds for a negative character trait associated with a fictional cartoon character from 1969? 

Nobody, that’s who. If your husband is just reacting to the fact that he doesn’t want to name a kid after a cartoon, I guess that’s a position you could take, but like, nobody is asking him to call her She-Ra, you know? 

Partly I’m getting het up about this because I am a vocal fan of that name, of course – but it’s also because the reason you’ve chosen it and really like it is that it’s full of vowels and tones, and that’s exactly what you need to balance out the middle and last names. 

I’m inclined to say the same is true with Azalea, but I do find myself (over?)thinking about those two Zs in her name, and whether they complement each other or whether they’re all you can hear. If they are, and that’s one of the reasons you’re shying away, then I have a radical suggestion: You could choose Anthea, which means ‘flowery’, and have ‘Ann’ right there in the first name instead of putting it in the middle. Anthea Middle Name Zw---. Thoughts? 

If that’s too far from what you envision, then I do think you want to look at longer first names. Juniper came to mind right away, and even though it does boast lots of consonants, there are three different vowel sounds in it that give it zip and energy. Speaking of zip, you could lean right into the Z thing and go with Zinnia, almost ensuring that someone will write a middle grade book series about your daughter. Zinnia A. Zw--- is almost as good as Harriet M. Welsch, no? 

Or if that’s not for you, what about the lovely Geneva? It’s gorgeous and would go beautifully with your last name. Trouble is, though, that Geneva Ann requires a glottal stop (like a forced stop in your mouth/throat) to separate the two names… and Acacia, which I was mulling as an alternative to Anthea, has the same issue. Geneva Hazel Ann Zw---, though, that has a ring to it, don’t you think? 

But the ending of Daphne doesn’t give you the same problem, which is one of the reasons why you love it. So along those lines, what about something like Calanthe? I guess it’s super literal, in the sense that people will say, “Oh, what does that mean” and you’ll explain that it means ‘Christmas Orchid’, but it’s not like you’re naming her Violet or Laurel, so…

Greek name sounds are some of my favourites and I think they’d work well for you, so I’m a little inclined to stretch the rules with names like Xanthe (means yellow, which obviously appears in trees & plants, right?) or Persephone, who was Queen of the Harvest… what, I’m stretching? Fine. But they’re great names…

I suspect you may have considered Delphine, but if you haven’t you should take another look at it, and NOT talk about any characters named that recently, please – or consider Briony. I’ll blame my next suggestion on the fact that I just finished watching The Sopranos for the first time (PLEASE email me! I want to have all the conversations I walked away from in 2007) but you could do worse than to choose Meadow, which ends in a way that allows you to move easily to Ann without adding anything else. 

Very, very curious to know what you choose, and kind of proud that I moved on from my Daphne-related temper tantrum – even though I still think it’s a good choice. I am excited to hear where this winds up, and if you’re not the letter-writer but considering a flower/plant name beyond Ivy or Lily as a result of this column, I am even more delighted. 

Please let us know!