Dear Duana, 

We are expecting our first child in early June 2020, and just found out it will be a baby girl. I have loved the name Virginia for years, as it honors both my maternal grandmother who was one of the most important people in my life and helped raise me and my husband’s maternal grandmother as well. 

However, we recently read that Virginia is derived from the word Virgin and started worrying that perhaps our personal love for the Virginias in our lives have clouded our judgement of the name and that we are opening our future child up to an onslaught of nickname teasing involving virgins and also potentially vaginas (not that we have anything against either — but why pigeon hole a kid?). Speaking of nicknames, we would like to give our daughter one that she could use on a daily basis. I love Ginny, but my husband isn’t so crazy about it. Would love your help and advice on bad nicknames and more importantly good ones for our little one. 

Thank you for your consideration!


Sometimes I get a letter that makes me break all the rules, and this is that letter. 

That is, the due date is way in the future and I usually answer letters much closer to D-day, but more importantly, I think, is the fact that I usually don’t give too much weight to parental concerns about ‘name teasing’; if you’ve read this column you know that I think there are so many more names outside the ‘norm’ that babies whose names are being discussed in these columns will likely not recognize any sort of stratification in names at all. That is, sure, they may someday run into a name they haven’t heard before – but many, many names these days are names you haven’t heard before, and people in general are much more willing to learn spelling and pronunciation now than they were a generation ago, when names like Toby and Elissa passed for ‘unusual’.

But it’s a different thing entirely when there’s a potentially difficult association with a name. Again, I usually laugh it off when a parent worries about an association with an obscure cartoon or even a relatively current pop culture moment … but this is something different. 

Virginia is an old and storied name, of course. There are many famous bearers, there are geographical locations, there are dozens of characters and songs with the name in it… 

And yet. 

I don’t know. 

I really struggle with names that assign a meaning to a kid that they don’t choose themselves. Hope and Grace are kind of the least offensive because, at least theoretically, there are many ways to embody those things. But Faith and Charity can seem like a lot of pressure, and when it gets to names that have to do with sexuality, like Chastity… I really can’t think of a compelling reason to do it.

You ever notice we only give these names to girls? 

So where Virginia is concerned, I can definitely see your struggle, not just because of the root word ‘virgin’, but because of the conversation we’re having in our culture right now about what ‘virginity’ implies, whether it’s a social construct (it is) and whether T.I., of all people, has caused us to think about why we still use the word (again, mostly for girls). It’s a lot to put on a little kid, and if the word and the concept fall out of use in the next generation, she may be unexpectedly out of step with a name like this, kind of like the very good people named Donald who are watching their name be associated with an orange disaster every day.  

As you point out, it’s compounded with the similarity to ‘vagina’ – that the one name not only implies sexual activity (or lack thereof) but also brings to mind the body part you’d do it with – that’s a lot of name to walk under, you know? Teasing is one thing, but loud musings in the high school hallways about whether Virginia is a virgin, or enough times being called ‘Virgina’ at a time when kids find the words ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ to be suddenly hysterical, might be an awful lot to ask. Your daughter might be absolutely fine with it, or she might not.  

And yet I struggle, because it’s a beautiful, lyrical name, and the states (and Virgin Islands) aren’t going anywhere, and I don’t think we need to banish names from ever being heard just because they don’t fit into our current culture—but this is a tough one. 

So yes, if you really want to use it, I’d say a nickname is close to being essential. Ginny is often the go-to, but you could also go with Gina or Gia or Nia or even Vinny or Vera – I could even see Virgil if you’re into the whole gender-neutral idea… but then of course, it starts to become a question of ‘what’s the point?’ If you’re going to choose a name but then immediately obscure it, why use it in the first place? 

I bet there are more people than we know who have ‘Virginia’ as a middle name for exactly this reason, because there’s been many a beloved grandmother or great grandma with this name – it was in the top 10 for 25 years beginning in 1912 so it’s ripe for revival… but times have changed, and this name as a first name might be one that needs another season on the shelf. 

I suspect your reactions to my thoughts here will vary based on your geographical region -- obviously people living in cities or states named Virginia will dissociate from the ‘virgin’ theme, and also in places where there are strong religious undertones maybe an association with virginity, social construct or not, is a positive thing.  

But since you’re asking, I’d say that while we can’t ever tell the future, I feel confident saying a name that doesn’t evoke a maybe-soon-to-be-outdated concept of a woman’s sexual purity is probably a safer choice, for the incredible and exciting life I know you want your daughter to lead. 

I’m sorry if I burst your bubble, but I love that you’re thinking about this, and I don’t think it takes anything away from the women you want to honour if you put this name in a middle spot or choose a derivative to represent it. The good news is, you’ve got a while ‘til your baby arrives, so if you read this and think you want to take another run at choosing a name, we’ve got time and I’d be happy to help! 

Let us know, and of course, if your name or your child’s is Virginia, I’d love to hear what you think, too!