Chloe With a Side of Zoe? The Matching Sibling Name Debate

Did you give all of your dolls perfectly coordinating names as a child? Maybe you had dolls named Sandra and Chandra. (OK so you probably didn’t name your dolls Sandra and Chandra; this is just a random example. Please go with it.) Maybe once you became a teen that same combo grated on your nerves.

Opinions vary widely on how much sibling names should match. And the rules can be different for same gender vs. opposite gender siblings and twins.

My take is that coordinating (but not matching) sibling names is a nice-to-have, but not a must-have. For example, if you are naming baby number four and you found a name that is perfect in every way except it doesn’t go perfectly with your older children’s names, passing up that name could be asking for frustration and disappointment. Especially if you and your other half had a hard time agreeing.

There’s this theory in statistics, known as the “secretary problem.”   The “secretary problem” involves some math I can’t claim to understand, but basically the theory is there is an ideal stopping point when interviewing applicants for a secretarial position. The ideal stopping point can be applied to any number of decisions. It is also known as the “picky suitor” problem.

This isn’t a perfect analogy to picking a baby name because based on this theory, the employer must decide before the next interview whether or not to hire the previous applicant and in doing so rules out all other applicants – permanently. This means if you apply the “secretary problem” perfectly to baby naming, you can never go back to a rejected name or  change your child’s name after birth if you experience regret. There is no rule that says you can’t reconsider a name that had been moved to your reject list last month. And this often happens. There is no rule that says you can’t change your baby’s name after birth. This doesn’t happen as often, but does happen.

Nevertheless, I do believe that when selecting a baby name, picking a stopping point is wise. In that sense the “secretary problem” loosely applies. At a certain point, you will not find a name that is better. After looking at thousands of names, you will not discover that name you and your partner both really love, that goes with the last name Markewitz, that goes with the honoring middle name Dalton, meets your modern tastes and happens to have 10 letters and four syllables like your two older kids’ names. Maybe you will find a name that fits the jig-saw puzzle, but then one of you won’t like it.

I’ve said it before, when your kids grow up, they won’t likely have each other’s names on their business cards, unless they are co-owners of some family business. This is assuming the name in question isn’t a glaring clash with the three other names. For example, if your three older children are named George, Charlotte, and Alice, and the almost-perfect-in-every-way name for baby four happens to be Fez, I would ask you if you are absolutely sure this name is perfect in every way.

However, if you have kids named Morgan, Aiden, and Colin, and really love Tatum for baby four but are reluctant to commit because Tatum ends in a different letter, I would encourage you to use Tatum. In this case, it’s not worth giving up the beloved name that fits stylistically, when its only fault is failing to meet a narrowly defined pattern.

Until recently I thought one of the downsides to following a pattern was limited options. Why stick yourself into a small box? But after I read Laura Wattenberg’s musing on “the paradox of choice,” I began to wonder if, at least subconsciously, some parents were drawn to the limits imposed by a sibling name pattern. There could be comfort in living in a small box.  Otherwise too many options might be overwhelming.

This may seem counterintuitive. Most of us get excited about the idea of unlimited options, but unlimited options are only exciting as an idea. In practice, when we get down to the real work of picking our children’s names, there is some comfort in a manageable number of choices.

Committing to a sibling name pattern is one way to cut through the myriad of choices available today. However, this benefit is minimized once a family exceeds the typical two to three children. Older children’s names automatically rule out names for younger children, and when you add other requirements, such as “must have four syllables” you may have accidentally painted yourself into a too small, too tight corner.

A good example comes from my childhood family. Where my name-nerdness comes from is a mystery. One thing is certain, I didn’t inherit it. When my non-name nerd parents decided to use all A names for me and my two brothers, I don’t think it was a deliberate choice at first. It simply developed out of wanting to use my Dad’s middle name, Alan, for their first-born son. On a certain level, I think they were relieved to limit their choices to A names.

And when picking a name for their first (me) and second child (their first-born son, Alan), this guideline served them well. They ran into problems when picking a name for their third, my youngest brother. The problems were they didn’t like Adam and a daughter named Angela called Angie, automatically ruled out Andrew, because they would have called him Andy. They ended up picking Anthony out of a process of elimination. Since they weren’t name-nerds they weren’t aware of any other A names. I’m not sure what they would have done if they didn’t like Anthony.

Next week I am going to delve into different patterns for sibling names with different degrees of matchy-ness. For now, I’m curious, how important is it that your children’s names go together?

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Comments

  1. I think it’s a nice bonus, but not a dealbreaker for me at all. We have James called Jamey, and we’ll be having Fiona in October. I think that they’re not the most coordinated pair, but those are the names we agreed on, and the names that fit them, so whatevs. I think that James can pair with almost any sibling name because it’s so classic and common. Jamey needs sisters that are very feminine. I feel like Jamey and Riley or Jamey and Addison would be a confusing sibset. Not that they’re my style anyways, but not a pair I’d like to hear together.

    To me, I think it’s harder to pick names that might be too similar. My husband and I clashed on this one a lot! I thought Jamey and Jonas made a nice set of brothers, he thought they were too similar. I thought James and Jane were waaaay too close for siblings, he thought they were super cute.

    Our only real concern was to not repeat our initials. We’re Kayt and Kevin, and we were certainly not going to do the KKK thing, or the KKJK, as it might have been. It’s silly, but I liked when I was a kid, and we sat down to play board games, we could scrawl ‘M B K A’ at the top, for each of us, and not write out full names to keep score. And when mail came, we knew that K. Calder was definitely for me. It’s little things, but things that have been annoying with marrying someone with the same first initial.

    • I think James and Fiona go together as well as Fiona and Paul! Like you said, James can pair with almost any kind of name. I also feel brothers/sisters don’t need to coordinate as closely as brothers/brothers or sisters/sisters. I know what it is like having a family where everyone shares initials. My parents names both begin with K and me and my brothers all had names that began with A, although my youngest brother Anthony was called Tony, and we used T for him. It never caused problems with labeling but I am happy that my husband, kids and I all have different initials.

  2. One of my biggest naming pet peeves is when sibling names rhyme. Chloe and Zoe or Addison and Madison are perfect examples.

    That said, some of the names on my list don’t really “go” together. What a name means to me is far more important than how the names sound as a set. My favorite boy names and favorite girl names are similar in some ways but for the most part practically different styles.

    My mom and her sisters are Kerri, Kristi, and Kimberli. My grandmother purposefully spelled them so that they’d all start with K and end with I. We call my mom and aunts the KiKiKi. What makes it worse? Two of their middle names rhyme, and one of the names was made up so it would rhyme. And then my grandmother likes to talk about how her parents were bad namers… o.O

  3. milly mary jane says:

    I know sisters named Kayla, Tayla, Shayla, Layla, Makayla and Ayla with two brothers Jack and Jaxon. They all have Mc middle names: Kayla McKenzie, Tayla McKenna, Shayla McKinley, Layla McAyle, Makayla Machelle (A variant of Michelle), Ayla Macaria, Jack McArthur and Jaxon Mclean. It is super tacky to me even though my name is similar to my nieces she is Emma and I am Emily but she is Emma and I am Milly. I also siblings of Isabella Zoe, Arabella Chloe, Gabriella Bowie, Annabella Joey and Bella Snowy with their cousins Zoe Maya, Chloe Kaya, Bowie Laya and Joey Baya.

  4. My Childers names are Gabriella Christine, Raven Lyn, and Trevor Ray. I don’t think they go together at all.

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