Hi Duana! 

My husband and I will be welcoming our third child this Spring. Our older two children are elementary aged. Our oldest is Vivienne Kathleen. Our son, is Bennett Michael. We do not plan on finding out our third child’s gender until birth. As you can guess, we are struggling with names. 

I had two names in mind, in case we ever did add to our family. I’ve always had a soft spot for both Henri and Eleanor. Sadly, they are overwhelmingly popular. Our kids do not have classmates with their same names, so we are hoping to brainstorm a similar name, but a name that will hold up to Vivienne and Bennett. 

In no order these are the names we’ve come up with. (Right off the bat, I feel like our boy names are trying too hard and it’s driving me crazy.)

Boy names: Warner, Ledger, Rhodes, James, Otto (family name), Henrik/Henri (will I ever let go of this name?!), Emmett

Girl names: Vanessa, Victoria, Gisele, Camille, Serena, Gwyneth 

Our last name is short, with only one syllable. I would love and appreciate any feedback you have or any name suggestions of your own. 

A long time fan of yours, and the art of names,




I hope you don’t mind the title of this article, but your line about trying too hard is what jumped out at me first, and I think it’s the hardest – and least articulated – part of naming someone, right? You want to find the perfect name, not force a name to fit where it doesn’t belong – but when you search for something that feels perfect, you wind up coming across names that feel like they’re trying too hard to be something else – something you don’t want for your child, or something that’s not a good fit for the feel you want. 

So instead of looking at your names list to start with, I’m going to point out what you’ve already built, and maybe what you’re looking for. 

The names of your oldest two children, Vivienne and Bennett, feel at once like they’re a bit international, and sort of Victorian – I have L.M. Montgomery on the brain this week because of the Emily of New Moon thread in Russian Doll, and I have no problems imagining either of those names, or Eleanor and Henri, in that time and place. 

I think that’s also true of some of your girls’ names. Serena, Camille, Gisele, Victoria – even Gwyneth feels like it’s stylistically ready to be attending Shrewsbury High School, or riding over to White Sands or Carmody. Vanessa is the notable exception, but I can’t decide if it’s because it’s too old (invented by Jonathan Swift) or too young – based on how popular it became in the 1970s and 80s. In case you think I’m listing that as a detraction, I’m not – Vanessa is one of those names that I think should be more popular than it is, and it’s as glamorous and stately and old-traditional-modern as any of your other choices. 

So based on the style I think you want, and the fact that you hope not to have any repeats in your circle, you’re mostly in good shape, with a couple of caveats – Victoria is much more popular than it was a generation ago, and people are attracted to the Tori or Tory short form as opposed to Vicky – so you might be more likely to see that one around.  And if you wanted to have an absolute abundance of caution, you might want to avoid Camille, since that double L is still friendly and familiar to people in the influx of Elles and Stellas and Ellas – but that’s being overly strict, since the name actually has a slightly different sound. 

The other names in this vein you might not have chosen? Emmeline, Genevieve (which of course is so different from and similar to Vivienne that it makes me shiver excitedly), Nathalie, Simone, or Eloise.  But with the exception of Genevieve, I think I like all your original choices better, don’t you? 

Now the key is to find that same style in boys’ names, so I’m going to eliminate Warner and Ledger because even though they share a surname-factor with Bennett, they seem a bit Tennessee cowboy alongside him and Vivienne. Which leaves us with Otto and Henrik – both names I love, but that do seem slightly out of sync for you, and James, which is very much back on the popular scale. I’m not sure quite where I sit with Rhodes – I don’t dislike it, but it’s so different in syllable and style from your other names that I’m not sure you’ll 

I do think Henrik is different than Henri, for what it’s worth, and you might be entirely happy with it – but would you be happy if someday someone nicknames him Rikky? Discuss.  

Otherwise, I think what you’re looking for is something like Felix (yes, of course I’m thinking of actor Zachary Bennett who played Felix King in Road to Avonlea, I’m not made of stone), and Sebastian, Marcus or Wilfrid or Elias or Reginald – names that will allow whomever wears them to break open those novels that contain Bennett and Vivienne and see themselves there too. Bartholomew (no, I’ll never stop) or Lionel or Augustin. 

They’re not so different than the names you suggested, but they’re not forcing themselves into a pattern with their older siblings – Vivienne, Bennett and Lionel, or Vivienne, Bennett, and Camille, seem to be obvious in their simple, comfortable fit – and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

It’s still so rare to have a child whose sex you don’t know, let alone one where the playing field is still so open! I can’t wait to find out what you choose, and we’ll all be waiting delightedly for your update. But you already know how to do this, and you’re about to do it again, beautifully. 

Let us know!