Hi Duana,
We are expecting our second child at the end of June and just can’t find a name that clicks for us. Our first is Benjamin. This time around we are having a girl.  I gravitate towards grandma and/or Irish names, my husband adores anything from the 80s/90s (for boy names he was pushing HARD for Kirk or Marty).  He vetoed my favorites: Dorothy, Ruth, and Maeve, and I vetoed his favorites: Emily and Lily.  He flat-out disliked Maeve and Ruth, and doesn't like any of the nicknames that naturally flow from Dorothy (Dora, Dory, Thea, Dot, etc.). No amount of pointing out examples of where nicknames are totally separate from a given name could get him over this hang-up because he’s seen with our son that it’s likely daycare will automatically shorten our daughter’s full name.  He’s not entirely wrong, and I vetoed Emily because not only was that the girl in my class who ruined Santa for me, but I’m also afraid in that an Emily would get lost in all the Emersons, Emerys, and Emmas her class—especially since those names are usually all shortened to Em or Emmy in our area. 
4 months ago we narrowed our list down to Alice (Allie), Samantha (Sammy), Evangeline (Evie), and Jane. Since then we haven’t been able to settle on a final name. He has a slight preference for Samantha and I’m leaning toward Alice or Evangeline. But, neither of us are really feels strongly about any of the options.  I think part of my hang-up is that he loves girls names that have the -ly or -ie ending, and I want to make sure that she has a name that isn't overly dainty/feminine.  Any suggestions for names that we are overlooking or that we should take another look at?  We are really getting desperate and feeling the time pressure, and I'm honestly afraid that I'm going to crack and let my husband convince me that naming our daughter after a character from Back to the Future or Teen Wolf is an excellent idea.

Thanks so much, Duana! Love your column and listening to Show Your Work!


Oh wow! We all have names that have been ruined for us because of people who wore them, but I have to admit this is the worst offense I’ve ever heard from an Emily, except for one who was known in certain circles as “Dinosaur” for reasons that will not be further explained here. 

So here’s what’s up – based on successfully agreeing (right?) on Benjamin, and all the names that have been rejected so far, you’re both most likely to agree on a name that’s longer, and that isn’t in the current zeitgeist. No Madeleines or Beatrices here, not that you were going to. 

But let’s be clear, you’re arguing about the nicknames more than you are the actual names. I could point out that ‘Allie’ is no shorter than Alice, and so it might be less likely that the name will be shortened (or that, if it’s just a matter of being affectionate, the obvious nickname for Jane would make the name longer) – but I want to focus on the real issues here – his deep 80s preference (to be honest, I think Marty would feel fresher than some of these names at this point) and your short-name preference. I think what we need to focus on are names that, say, could have been Grandma names, but don’t belong to anyone you actually know. 

I should admit that the name that feels most anachronistic for a 2019 baby is Samantha. Of course there were tons of them in the 80s and 90s, and thus they must still exist today, but either they’ve all vaporized or they all call themselves Sam religiously, because I don’t know any adult Samanthas. The problem with this, of course, is that it means all our brains go to that one particular Samantha, as in Jones, as in Sex And The City, even though I know for guys of a certain age that name will always be linked to Samantha Micelli, Alyssa Milano, and their first bona fide crushes. 

So I wondered how to get the feel of Samantha without the name. I thought of Calandra, which is beautiful and virtually unknown (and which might appeal to your husband based on the sound-alike of another 80s name, Amanda) but I suspect it’s gonna be way too out there for you both. 

So what about Anthea? Yes, it’s veddy British, but it’s not unwearable, and it goes beautifully with Benjamin. It’s kind of the gold standard for uncommon names in that it reads exactly the way it’s pronounced, and it’s got some common sounds with some names you already like (shhh don’t tell him you can get to a Thea nickname here as well).  If it’s uncommon, then the variant Althea is even more so, but for some people it’s just the ticket. 

What about Geneva? Another one that looks exactly the way it sounds, and that has the ‘Eve’ sounds you like in Evangeline,  but it’s not the kind of name that’s going to lend itself to nicknaming, generally, so you’re in good shape there. If people do go with a nickname they might go with Gen – this causes a lot of people cognitive dissonance so it’s not that common, but maybe the familiarity of the sound will actually make him like it more? 

If you’re looking for Alice alts that don’t seem as easy to nickname you could go with Adair, or Ariadne. That last one messes a lot of people up, but it’s charming and pretty and at least if it’s shortened to ‘Ari’ she’s less likely to be one of a million --  and of course, Ariadne being Greek (as is Anthea, actually) makes me honour bound to suggest Phoebe. Both of these are names, along with Daphne, that end in the ‘ie’ sound but without feeling like they’re cutesy and diminutive as a result. 

More names on the ‘no easy nicknames’ front, or at least not ones that will be shared with other people, include Simone or Delphine, or hell, let’s throw Cosima in there as well . Or you might like Hazel, which is old-fashioned but a little more lyrical than Ruth, or maybe Lucy, which somehow escapes all the cutesiness that (I agree with you!) all the other –y or –ie names seem to be plagued with. 

I’m interested to know what you choose, but you should know if you don’t already that I am very, very fond of the name Jane (if people wouldn’t put you-know-what rhyming preposition in front of it) so I’m never going to be mad about that choice either, except maybe for the fact that it does seem a little, er, under-decorated relative to Benjamin, in a way that Alice doesn’t seem to, and that if he’s shortened to Ben, Ben and Jane might feel quite clipped (but also very sleek and stylish, so you can’t really go wrong. 

This is one of those ones where I truly don’t know the way it’s going to go down.  Please, please write and let us know!