Reader Q&A

Reader Q&A: When Matchy Names Aren’t Planned

A reader found the first part of our Super Matchy Super Clashy series on siblings with shared initials when searching for help with her real-life dilemma: her sons’ names ended up being more matchy than she had planned. She left a comment asking for help and I felt her story would be interesting to share.

D writes:

I found your article because I’m going through this exact problem. My first-born son’s name is Declan and we agonized over number two’s name. We knew we were having a boy and I had a list of lovely names that my husband didn’t like. The week before he was due Donovan resurfaced as a name he liked and when we left the hospital that was our chosen name however I honestly had never thought about what it would sound like with Declan and then hated that they had the same initials and sounded so matchy. I hadn’t ever thought through the sibling set names. Donovan is three months old and I’m still trying to convince my husband to change it! I love the name by itself but not with Declan!

Here was my response:

I know what it’s like to have these great names and not have them appreciated by the husband. Under those circumstances I can see how coordinating sibling names could get overlooked. In this situation, finding a name you both like is a huge step, and everything else seems secondary. Your story is a great example of how super matchy names aren’t always the result of parents trying to be cute, but rather they are often unintentional.

Unintentional matchy-ness is more likely than some may think because people tend to like similar sounds. For example, my daughter is Fiona, and some of my other top 5/top 10 girl names include Ione and Viola. Notice the repeating io. Notice how Fiona and Viola share all the same vowels in all the same places and have the same number of letters.

If you are planning on having more children, perhaps you could mention to your husband that you have sort of painted yourself in a corner. For example, if you had a third boy, Declan, Donovan, and Duncan seems a bit gimmicky.

From what I gather, it sounds as though your husband can’t imagine your son by any name other than Donovan. This is tough. I understand the pressure to want to change your son’s name sooner than later, but I also realize you need to have your husband on board.

Perhaps you could start calling your son by a different name paired with Donovan before officially changing it, and see if it sticks. For example, you could start calling him Seamus Donovan, in the hope that your husband could get used to that and then you could drop the Donovan or perhaps keep it as a middle name. And then after your son is known as just Seamus (as a random example), you could convince your husband to go through with making the paperwork change.

Getting a name that flows well before Donovan is a challenge, and maybe you already have a meaningful middle name. But in the case of an existing middle name you don’t want to drop, perhaps giving your son Donovan as an extra middle name would be a necessary compromise.

You could also say Donovan first with the new name second for flow. This would still give you the option to drop Donovan later. For example, Wallis Simpson was named Bessie Wallis, and was called Bessie Wallis as a kid, but dropped Bessie as an adult. But I would try to relegate Donovan to the second name if you can swing it.

Maybe some of these combos would appeal to you and your husband. Some of these ideas I got by entering “Donovan” or “Declan” at I don’t know what names your husband has vetoed.

Benjamin Donovan / Donovan Benjamin – you could use Ben Donovan, but then that sort of sounds like “bend over” or “Ben Dover”, a joke from “The Simpsons.”

Clancy Donovan / Donovan Clancy

Colin Donovan / Donovan Colin

Conroy Donovan / Donovan Conroy

Cormac Donovan / Donovan Cormac

Darby Donovan / Donovan Darby – If you like alliteration. Declan and Darby is an example of a set that shares initials but doesn’t share the N-ending, making it a little less matchy.

Flynn Donovan / Donovan Flynn

Keane Donovan / Donovan Keane

Killian Donovan / Donovan Killian

Kieran Donovan / Donovan Kieran

Liam Donovan / Donovan Liam

Malachy Donovan / Donovan Malachy

Murphy Donovan / Donovan Murphy

Noah Donovan / Donovan Noah

Owen Donovan / Donovan Owen

Rourke Donovan / Donovan Rourke

Riley Donovan / Donovan Riley

Riordan Donovan / Donovan Riordan – came up for both Donovan and Declan, but I am uncertain of pronunciation.

Shea Donovan / Donovan Shea

Tierney Donovan / Donovan Tierney

Nymbler has some great ideas, and I could go on, but wanted to keep the list manageable.

And while this may be little consolation now, perhaps you can take some comfort in knowing that when your sons grow up, they will not be known as a pair, and will be distinct individuals, with separate friends who may not even give a second thought to their matchy names.

Good luck.

Readers: Do you have any suggestions for D?

Reader Q&A: Baby Name Theft

Back in April I wrote about “baby name theft“. This is one of our popular posts, and gets lots of views six months after publication. Last week, reader Beth reached out in the comments, asking for advice on her own case of “baby name theft”:

Months ago I mentioned to my sister-in-law that I would like to have a daughter in the future and name her Alice after my Great Aunt. She gave birth to her daughter the other day and used Alice as a middle name; although its only the middle name I feel so upset and hurt by her doing this and now feel like I won’t be able to use it in the future if I am lucky enough to be blessed with a daughter. I want to ask her why she did this knowing my love for the name but don’t want to upset anyone by causing a fuss. Could someone please give advice???

Reading this predicament, I became acutely aware that this situation, unlike the situations covered in the original post (with the “miffed moms”) was not hypothetical, but very real. Therefore the personal nature of her request really hit me. Variables that seemed important in abstract, didn’t seem to matter anymore.

One of these variables is that the name in question, Alice, is a popular one, in the U.S. top 150 (#142) and rising. Alice ranks even higher in other English-speaking countries. In the U.K. it ranks at #43 and in Australia it ranks at #48. Yet Beth chose Alice for very personal reasons. Suddenly Alice’s popularity seemed irrelevant.

Another variable is that Beth’s sister-in-law used Alice as a middle name, and Beth wishes to use Alice as a first name. As an outsider, I initially thought this “should” lessen the hurt feelings. After all  with a few exceptions, most middle names are forgotten only to resurface on a few occasions: birth, graduation, wedding, and lastly funeral.

And then I imagined how I would feel if I told my sister-in-law about my first choice girl name, in this case, Opal, and my sister-in-law ended up “stealing” it for her daughter’s middle name. This is a very hypothetical situation since neither one of us plans to have any more kids, and we have different naming styles. But I suspended disbelief for the sake of this exercise, imagined my sister-in-law “stole” Opal, for a middle name, and I felt irritated.

The last variable is that a daughter is not imminent for Beth; a daughter is her hope for the someday-future. I was reminded of a friend who is freaking out because his utility bill is projected to nearly double by 2014. While this stinks, focusing on something that won’t happen for another two years, does not help with the more pressing, immediate tasks in the present. By 2014 my friend may live in a different apartment. Yet I didn’t want to brush off Beth’s predicament with the obvious, and not show any empathy.

With this in mind, the best response I could give Beth was that her hurt feelings will probably fade with time. Here was my advice:

If your sister-in-law is calling her daughter by her middle name, I might hesitate to use it, but don’t feel that precludes you from naming your daughter Alice. Assuming your sister-in-law is calling her daughter by her first name, I would not hesitate to use Alice if you get a chance. The only reason not to use Alice is if you happen to find another name you would rather use.

You could even say your daughter was named after both your Great Aunt and her cousin. Your child might think this is neat. I wouldn’t say anything to your sister-in-law unless you find yourself pregnant and then you could say to her that if you have a girl you plan to name her Alice after your Great Aunt and her cousin. I only suggest saying that if it would make you feel better. I don’t find it necessary to say anything to your sister-in-law.

This situation might seem disappointing now because you thought of Alice first. But these things have a way of working themselves out. Either you won’t have a daughter or so many years will pass before you have a daughter that time will change your perspective (either you won’t mind using Alice or you will find another reason to use another name).

Readers: How would you feel in this situation? Would you still use Alice in the future? Do you have any other advice for Alice? Please note: all comments are moderated by me. While honesty is encouraged, rude, less than tactful comments will get taken down.

Reader Q&A: 19-Year-Old Name Changer Worried About Being “Dated”

Imagine my surprise when a reader, Emily, came to me for help changing her name. I was amazingly humbled by this. We emailed back and forth and I got her permission to post this on Upswing Baby Names.

Parts were edited for length. Emily’s quotes are italicized.

Emily writes:

I’m 19-year-old college student intent upon changing my name. The only problem is that I like “vintage” names like Clementine, Harriet, Evangeline, Beatrix and Penelope. I have a longer list, but what I’m primarily worried about is unintentionally choosing a name that will suddenly become very popular, or date me somehow. I strongly dislike most of the names on the SS list for 1992, and don’t want a name that is as near as popular as Emily – so the boring classics like Charlotte, Elizabeth etc are out. Could I possibly get your advice on this?

I see babies as a blank slate – even if they aren’t really – and always felt most babies grow into their names. However, your topic has come up often enough online that I know in a few cases people don’t grow into their names.

But renaming a grown person is not at all like naming a newborn baby. While a newborn baby, for all practical purposes, is like a “blank slate” a grown person has lived with a certain identity their entire life.

Selecting a new name with an identity firmly in place raises some issues. You are right that the names on your list are stylish for babies but might seem out-of-place on a 19-year-old. But what kind of name would work better? You said you were worried you would pick a name that would suddenly become popular. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent a name from becoming popular at any given time. Who knew Isabella would become the number 1 name?

Picking a name that isn’t too different from your given name might ease the transition, and may make the most sense in theory. You could go with Emmy or Emmeline or even Milly sounds very similar. But if you don’t feel Emily fits, perhaps one of those names isn’t right. Ideally you would have a grandmother, great-grandmother or great-aunt with a vintage name you like, giving you a compelling reason besides style to use it.

I’m also going on some assumptions:

  1. You have disliked your name most of your life.
  2. You have your parents’ blessing or you can live without your parents’ blessing.
  3. You have already considered that you will face resistance getting some friends and family to use your new name.

If you haven’t considered the above, I would spend more time thinking about the decision, but you seem resolute from the tone of your email.

While it’s tempting to give you a list of names, I would rather help prepare you for the transition, help you decide how much of a departure you want to make from your given name and help you discover your new name on your own.

As I think about this, I think talking to other people who have changed their name would be very helpful. You can ask if they regret their decision or feel it was the best decision they made. If they regret the decision, what do they regret: abandoning their given name or not choosing a different name?

I will try to do some research and follow-up within the next couple of days.

Emily Replies:

I’m touched by the thoughtfulness of your reply! I have talked it over with my parents, and they accept it, although of course they would rather I keep my name. Their main qualm was paperwork! I’ve looked at names similar to Emily, but no go. I’ve been compiling a list based on style, but will ultimately decide based on the vague “I feel like a ______” (Strangely enough, Fiona is one of the names I can see myself as. That’s how I found your site!) I will take your advice and scout around for stories of people who have changed their names. I know this is a decision that is somewhat like getting a tattoo on one’s face!

I think my main problem, actually, is that there are so many choices. Of course I know what my taste/style is, but there is that lurking feeling of “What if I’m missing one?” I’ve been poking around name lists etc for about a year, so I’ve set myself the “due date” of May 3.

I’ve searched around for a group for name-changers and haven’t found a group exactly, but I have found this article from that quotes people who have changed their names, How to Change Your First Name.

Here are some thoughts on the names you are considering:

Fiona: One of the reasons I named my daughter Fiona is because I feel it is easy to wear, but I do feel the name could get almost as popular as Emily in a few years. In other English-speaking countries, Fiona was very popular in the 1960’s-80’s. It was just slow to come to the US for some reason. It is a great name though. I’m very biased  🙂

Beatrix: Beatrix and its sister Beatrice, I see becoming a little more popular in a few years. Both names have that vintage sound that is stylish on babies now. While both names could become dated because of that, I feel Beatrice is a little less provocative, and therefore might not date as quickly. The X ending may be eye-catching now, but could date Beatrix more later. Both names are established though and if you are a fan of Beatrix Potter or have some other compelling reason to use Beatrix, then you might be able to get away with it.

Clementine: At first I thought this name would be the most difficult to pull off. But then I realized Clementine shares the “em” sound with Emily. The shared sounds might offer you a way to ease yourself into the name. First you can start going by “Em” or “Emmy,” then you could change that to “Clem” or “Clemmy,” and if that sticks, you can legally change your formal name to Clementine. The only drawback I can think of is that “Clem” rhymes with “phlegm.” I’m not sure how much of an issue that is for an adult. I hope my readers can weigh in on that.

There are a few names I see as being equally stylish on babies and people in your age group, usually because the names were almost equally popular in 1992 and 2010 or were ahead of their time back in 1992. I’ll throw them out here with the 1992 and 2010 rankings:

  • Autumn – In 1992 #170 – In 2010 #81
  • Bianca – In 1992 #97 – In 2010 #280
  • Cecilia – In 1992 #275 – In 2010 #277
  • Naomi – In 1992 #251 – In 2010 #92

Of course these ranking don’t mean a thing if these names don’t feel like you. That’s why I was hesitant to give you a list of names. Make of this list what you will.

You might find an easier transition if you start using the name first and if it sticks, then making the legal change.

Emily Replies:

Thank you for your help! None of the names you listed really resonates, although looking at the rankings is a good idea! My list as it stands is; Beatrix, Clementine, Penelope, Camilla, and Harriet. I was considering Cordelia. It fits stylistically but I didn’t like the nicknames/sound so…

Besides vintage, I’m looking for a non-frilly name. I’m not into the super feminine names like Isabella etc, I think Clementine is a good example of what I find feminine but not frilly! I appreciate your help very much thank you!

Readers: Do you have any advice for Emily? I forgot to ask Emily if her self-imposed due date, May 3 was significant. I don’t know if she is transferring to another college or graduating or just decided she needed a deadline. This is certainly a huge decision for her.

I hope I have given her some things to consider, but I am hesitant to endorse any one name. And as I think more about it, I understand why her parents are concerned about the paperwork hassle. I am not sure how her birth certificate will be effected or if she could run into extra challenges should she decide to get a passport in the future, if she doesn’t have one.

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