Hi Duana,

I love your naming articles and I hope you can share your wisdom. My email subject says it all really.

After three years of multiple losses and general sh-ttiness, I am the proud owner of a first time 29 week bump and a baby who loves to boogie woogie in there. Baby is a girl and a tough little cookie (we just survived a car crash a few days ago if you can believe that) and we wanted a name to reflect this. 

The only name we both love equally is Matilda. Early in the pregnancy, myself and Himself were watching a documentary about Empress Matilda and looked at each other, ‘that’s it!’ Also, Roald Dahl’s Matilda is a little badass. 

The minor problem we have is that my brother in law and his wife’s pet chicken died recently and she was called Matilda. Both of them and their kids associate the name with deceased poultry. They don’t know we had decided on this name, and still don’t. While they were telling us about the chicken, Himself was giving me the bug-eyes across the table but we said nothing. My hope is that Chicken Matilda will be almost forgotten about by the time Baby Matilda makes an appearance around Christmas Day. What are the chances, Duana??

Also, some middle name suggestions would be appreciated for dis bebe. We are Irish and baby will have a H starting surname, with two syllables, that ends in a hard D! 

Thanking you in advance,

- B 
(assisted by the spirit of Chicken Matilda)

Let’s get to a couple of business items out of the way before we get to any advice. 

First – Yes, of course this article has the same title as the original email. Why mess with perfection?

Second – There is not a shred of doubt in my mind that this is a real email. Get out of here, cynics. Maybe there are people, somewhere, who would troll a name columnist  but they’d be trying to go undetected. They would not include… 


I cannot tell you how much joy this letter has given me. I’ve read it over and over, and I am immediately going to start referring to my husband as ‘himself’. Why should my Irish relatives get all the fun? 

Now to the meat of the question at hand. What’s interesting about this scenario (other than the novelty of the pet poultry, OBVIOUSLY) is that when you ask about whether Chicken Matilda will be forgotten about by the time Baby Matilda arrives, I can’t quite tell who you’re asking for, if you know what I mean. 

Usually when I get a letter about using or ‘stealing’ a name that’s already in your circle, the question is either ‘will they be mad if I use this?’ or ‘is the comparison too close, and thus unfair to our child?’. In your case, I think you’re asking about the second, but just in case, let’s address both. 

I don’t know how old Chicken Matilda was when she went to her reward, but I was surprised to discover (while googling ‘Life Span Of A Chicken’, in case you were wondering about this week’s most notable career firsts) that a pet chicken can live between five to eight years. So if Matilda was the only beloved pet in the family, I can see how you might initially hesitate. 

But by the time Baby Matilda is old enough to process that there was once a Chicken Matilda, she’ll be roughly three years old. Though your brother-in-law and his wife will undoubtedly point out their pet’s name when you announce your daughter’s, it will be old news and/or a favourite family story by the time she’s big enough to care.  Not that any pet is replaceable, but I’ll assume that by that point they might have a new little chick (or hell, a rooster or turkey?) to fawn over, though I should say that I’m going to place your limit at names you can lift from their pets at just this one – no matter how much you wind up loving the name they give to their rooster or tortoise or alpaca, this should be a one-off and not a trend, right? 

Which brings us to middle names! Here’s my feeling: Matilda is uncommon but well-known in the English-speaking world, and you’re right that both the Roald Dahl and Mara Wilson versions are badass. Ergo, I think you should go full Gaelic with the middle name. This is based only partly on your name, B, which is one of those Gaelic names so completely confounding that I immediately admitted defeat and called my mom, who I think might have had to call one of the aforementioned Irish relatives. 

So I definitely lean toward going very Gaelic, something with lots of vowels. My first instinct is something like Róisín – it’s got sounds you don’t hear elsewhere in the name and gives you a nice pivot point before your last name. Or, I’ll admit I’m a sucker for Aoife – it will
look gorgeous written, and though it ends in a similar sound to Matilda, the F sound won’t appear anywhere else in her name, which makes it worth it (also I just love the name). You could also go with something like Delaney. It is Gaelic, even though it’s written like it sounds. Or Keavy. Or if you want to go really Gaelic hardcore – something I understand is a trait I put on you and not one you asked for – what about Sadhbh? 

It’s pronounced ‘Sive’. 

…FINE, Anglicize the spelling if you want, even playwright John B. Keane did. It’s a really great name either way, but I have embraced being called ‘contrary’ and really like that you kind of have to unlock the code of the spelling before you get to know the charm of the name. 

I await the oddly-named unusual pets that I know will flow into my inbox. Dogs and cats, take a break – this is for less-usual animals only please, and B, make sure you let us know!