Reinventing Grandma Names: 1960s edition

by appellationmountain on January 25, 2013

Reinventing Grandma 1960sIt’s a common conundrum: you’d love to honor your mom, but her name is as dated as avocado appliances.

There are a few options, of course:

  • You can always tuck her name in the middle spot.  It worked for the Spelling-McDermotts, right?
  • Use her middle name, especially if it is fabulous.  Even if it isn’t, your choice can breathe meaning into a filler like Ann or Marie.
  • Borrow her first initial.  This flies in many circles, but Kasey might not feel like a way to honor Karen.
  • Consider her maiden name, nickname, or something else that honors her – favorite song, flower, literary character …

But what if nothing works?  Her maiden name is Kowalski, she doesn’t have a middle, and her favorite song is “Crazy Train” or “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

Here’s another route to consider.

Let’s take a look at the most popular names of the 1960s and see if there’s a way to reinvent them, still honoring Grandma, but with a name that feels right for a twenty-first century girl.  A note of warning: not every grandma Cindy will feel honored by a namesake called Thea.

Reinventing Grandma Names: The Top Ten

Lisa – She’s a nickname for Elizabeth, so use the long form.  Elisabeth and Elise preserve the -s spelling and make the link more obvious, and Elisa is perhaps the closest of them all.  Is she Lisa Ann?  (There must’ve been rafts of girls named Lisa Ann in the 1960s, right?)  Flip her names and use Anneliese or Annalisa.

Mary – Who doesn’t have a Mary on their family tree?  Forms like Maren and Maris feel modern, while diminutives like Molly and Mae seem sweetly vintage.  Marie puts a French spin on the name.  Pair Mary with a spare, tailored middle like Mary Claire, Mary Blair, or Mary Celeste for a compound name with a current feel.

Susan – Little Susie is all grown up, but Susannah still belongs on the playground with Olivia and Isabella.  After something spunkier?  Nickname form Zuzu could stand alone.  Bonus points if she’s born around the Christmas holidays – Zuzu Bailey is the little girl in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Karen – You can go a few directions with Karen.  The elaboration Karena or Karenna feels at home in 2013.  She’s a Scandinavian form of Katherine, so as with Lisa, you might revert to the original.  The Kar sounds suggests Cara, Caroline, and Carmen, t00.  Another possibility?  Lop off the last syllable to arrive at Ren or Wren.

Kimberly – Would Beryl work?  She’s almost embedded in the last two syllables.  Kimber might also feel fresh in our age of Harper.

Patricia – I’m stumped by Patricia.  I’d name a son Patrick to honor mom, but Patricia feels like the toughest one on this list.  Of course, she’s a quintessentially Irish appellation, so maybe something else from her heritage works.  One possibility, though it might wear better on a son: Patton, a related surname.

Linda – Take the former #1 name in a different direction by adding a n.  Spellings abound, but Linden makes a great nature name for a son or a daughter.  Rosalind takes Linda in a Shakespearean direction.  Or use any name with the element -lin/-lyn.  Adalyn jumbles all of Linda’s sounds and re-arranges them into an early 21st century favorite.

Donna – She’s another tricky one.  The Italian word for lady and the 90210 character that launched Tori Spelling’s career, Donna doesn’t easily lend herself to reinvention.  A few possibilities: the unrelated Donatella, an elaboration of Donata - gift – or Donella, a feminine form of Donald.

Michelle – Once a Top Ten staple, today she’s the First Lady of the United States – and most definitely a mom name.  Drop the mich and you arrive at the spare and stylish Elle.  Or look to the masculine form, Michael, for more inspiration: Michaela, Micaela, Micah, Mika, Mikka, Mila.

Cynthia – Lop off the first syllable and Thea feels surprisingly fresh.  Or delve into her meaning.  She’s associated with the goddess Artemis - Diana in Roman myth.  That links Cynthia to the moon, which suggests a bottomless supply of celestial candidates, like Luna, Io, or Twyla.

More Grandma Names and their 21st Century Descendants

Sandra – Poor Sandy has been tainted with tragedy, but she’s originally descended from the regal Alexandra.  The Italian Alessandra is a less expected form.  Willing to really stretch?  Sasha is a masculine nickname for the Russian form of Alexander, and could be a spunky – and related – update on Sandra.

Deborah, Debra – Little Debbie is nearing her retirement years, but the Hebrew Devorah feels vibrant. You could also name a son Dev.  Contracted, Deborah leads to Dora.

Tammy – Now here’s a name begging for reinvention!  There’s the Hebrew Tamar, or the contracted Tamsin.  Originally heard in Cornwall – the birthplace of Jennifer – Tamsin is a contracted form of Thomasina.  Some of those original Tammys may have been named Tamara, the Russian form of Tamar.  If you resist the urge to shorten this one, Tamara is potentially still very wearable.

Pamela – Lop off the first syllable and Mila or Milla could be very wearable.  Another direction?  Sir Philip Sidney invented the name for a poem titled Arcadia - it is a very subtle connection, but if yours is a literary clan, it might appeal.

Lori – Reboot Lori with one of her more traditional forms: Laura, Lauren, or even Laurence or Laurentia.  The frilly retro Loretta was used by Sarah Jessica Parker, and the French place name Lorraine is another seldom heard possibility.

Laura – She still works well in 2013.  No, she’s not as popular as she was in the 1960s, but it is impossible to call Laura truly dated.

Elizabeth – You’re in luck!  Not only does Elizabeth work as well in 2013 as she did in 1963, but choosing a different nickname allows grandma and granddaughter to share a name without confusion.  Prefer something less expected than Elizabeth?  Foreign forms like Elspeth or Elizabella could appeal.

Julie – Julie still sounds like the cruise director on The Love Boat, but Julia is an enduring classic, and Juliet, Juliette, Julietta, and Juliana are lovely options.

Brenda – Drop the d sound and there’s the lovely Brenna.  The brisk Brynn and Bree might work, too.

Jennifer – Was your mom called Jennifer when the name was still on the uptick?  There’s always Jenna, but she had a good run in the 1970s and 80s, too. Genevieve is a français favorite for parents today.  Jennifer traces her roots back to Guinevere, or Jenny was originally a nickname for Johanna and Jane.

Barbara – What to do with Barbara?  She’s a lovely, saintly classic bound to make a comeback – just not yet.  Babs and Barbie don’t seem any fresher.  The Slavic Varvara is an exotic option.  Nickname forms Babette, Basia, and even Bobbie all have some potential.  I also stumbled on Varenka in this book, but I can’t confirm it was regularly used.

Angela – She’s Andela and Aniela in Slavic languages, both of which make for surprising variations, though I’m taking some liberties with pronunciation.  Angelina has a Rugrats/Hollywood glitter to it, and Lina is a short form of the elaboration.  Or use Gabriella, from the angel Gabriel, or Seraphina, as in the order of angels known as seraphim.

Sharon – I’d be astonished to meet a newborn baby Sharon, but you might go with Rose - as in the flowering shrub, the rose of sharon.  The unrelated Seren shares some of the sounds.

Theresa – She’s easily updated with the nickname Tess or Tessa, and you might even embrace the Cornish Tressa.

Photo credit

For more thoughts on reinventing names, see my posts at Nameberry on Naming a Son the Pinkett-Smith Way and Naming a Daughter the Pinkett-Smith Way.

What do you think of these reinventions?  Do they go too far?  Is your mom’s name something that you might pass on to a daughter, or would you tweak it?

{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

vanessa October 14, 2014 at 3:16 PM

What about Pia as a variant of Patricia? The letters are all there!

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Felicia Christman October 12, 2014 at 10:36 AM

I am looking for help with names suggestions.my mother’s name is lori ann and my grandmother’s name is Joyce. DH mothers name is Courtney. Any suggestions. Thanks for helping us. We are looking for something that is unique.

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appellationmountain October 12, 2014 at 4:11 PM

Hi Felicia – Short or long? Lori + Courtney = Cora, or any of the Cora-names: Coraline, Corisande. Joy/Joyce could be a great middle name. Or any name that means happy – like your name! Coraline Blythe, maybe? Or is that too vintage? Did you want something more modern? Best, Abby

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Diana July 31, 2014 at 9:36 AM

Help, I’m struggling to update ‘Frida’ and ‘Helen’ and haven’t found much in the mainstream guides. I’d prefer the ‘same first initial’ route over shortening… they’re both already pretty short. But, both very grandma-y in my head. Anyone have any ideas?

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appellationmountain July 31, 2014 at 9:45 AM

Let me ask a question on Facebook, Diana. Helen seems easier – you could use any name that means light, or any of the Helen cousins: Eleanor, Nell, Helena, Lena, Nella, Elle … though if you don’t love Helen, I wonder if you want something more clearly modern? Helen may share roots with Selene, meaning moon, which opens up Luna, too.

There aren’t a lot of variations on Frida that feel promising, but Frida means peace – so maybe Paz, Pax, Paxton, Dove, Paloma (means dove – too much of a stretch?), Mira, Shalom?

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Jonquil July 31, 2014 at 10:58 PM

How about Freya and Eliana?

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Elizabeth October 13, 2014 at 11:06 AM

What about Fenella?

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Abby April 9, 2014 at 10:14 AM

This is a great post! I’ve been wanting to honor my late mother if we have a girl… but her name was Cynthia Kim and i don’t love either of those. Thea– is that pronounced Tia or th-eeah or thee-uh? I just can’t do it. Her favorite flower was an iris though… I have tossed around Iris as a middle name. Any suggestions? Her maiden name was Genovese. I would love to use Genevieve, but a cousin already has that name!

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elisabeth April 8, 2014 at 4:25 PM

I’d love to honor both my Mom (Pamela) and mother-in-law (Denise).. My husband keeps insisting on Penise… So funny. I love the Mila/Milla suggestion. Anything for Denise? I’d even consider combining the two into a middle name. I thought about Denela? My husband thinks it’s too made up and too Latin. Love your blog!!

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appellationmountain April 9, 2014 at 5:15 AM

I think Denela works as a middle name. Yes, it is made-up. But that’s much less of a concern …

A few thoughts:

Mila Denny
Milla Tennyson
Mila Dionne (Dennis originally comes from Dionysius, so any of the Dion- names could work)

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Raya August 23, 2013 at 1:28 PM

I’d love to see what you would say about Paula, my mom’s name. It was very popular in the sixties ala “Hey, Paula”. Paule, Pauli, Pauline, Paulette. Not really getting great vibes from them.

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appellationmountain August 23, 2013 at 10:27 PM

Polly? I like Paulina, too – it feels more current than Paula. For international possibilities, there’s Paola, but somehow that seems challenging to pronounce.

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Rachel Emma January 31, 2013 at 6:29 PM

This is excellent – thank you!

I think the way things are makes most of these names seem dated to our ears – and unfortunately honouring someone may mean tweaking things as you say.

I agree- Laura is not dated. Very classic. I personally think Flora could be a nice alternative too.

I also found it funny that you had both my MIL & her sisters name as well as my aunties name on here!

About 5 months ago I congratulated myself on finding a smush between my MIL’s name Sandra and mothers middle name Fay. Phaedra. Hopefully we’ll have a daughter and get to use it as a middle.

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appellationmountain January 31, 2013 at 9:32 PM

Phaedra – that is brilliant!

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Havoye January 26, 2013 at 6:55 PM

I meant to add that I sometimes think it’s better to honour someone whose name you don’t particularly like by choosing an object or theme that that person liked rather than using a name that is similar. So for instance, rather than using Beryl to honour Grandma Kimberly, you could use Grandma’s favourite flower (hoping that it’s violets or lilies and not ranunculus :D) or Ruby or Scarlet if her favourite colour is red, or Georgia if that’s where she hails from. I think this is a good idea particularly when the person being honoured has mentioned she doesn’t like her name all that much.

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appellationmountain January 26, 2013 at 8:15 PM

An excellent point, Havoye – thanks!

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Jonquil January 26, 2013 at 5:14 AM

I see Laura as a classic name, one that doesn’t have a “use by” stamp on it. Of course, Laurel, or Daphne or Kelila/h (both meaning “laurel”) could substitute.
I agree with the commenter who says Susan is beginning to seem usable.
Every other girl at school seemed to be a Susan, and I wanted to be a Susan too. The first two Susans I met (when we were all five years old) were both dark-eyed brunettes, and I always think of the “black-eyed Susan” plant. Susanna/h is lovely, as is Suzanne, but I still hanker after Susan and would certainly use it in the mn spot.

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Annamaria January 26, 2013 at 12:47 AM

I love this list. I have been looking to find a way to honor my grandmother Gladys for years but I can’t find anything that connects to Gladys except Claudia which I also don’t like. I cant use the first letter because my other grandmother’s name started with a G and I want it to be clear-ish who I am honoring. Her middle name was her maiden name Williams so not much to use there either.

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Julie January 26, 2013 at 4:14 PM

That’s tough… my cousin has a MIL named Gladys and had the same dilemma. The MIL always goes by Glady and in the end they had a boy… so they used Grady. I know Asher was a back up choice… because of the meaning “Happy”, so maybe a name with a meaning similar to “glad.”

Joy
Leta
Rina
Letitia
Chara
Rada

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Megalady January 26, 2013 at 4:22 PM

I actually kind of like Gladys. She’s got music ties and nerd-cred, a la Portal’s GLaDOS.

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Annamaria February 3, 2013 at 2:14 AM

I think maybe I’ve got it my grandmother was from Virginia…perhaps a little Ginny would work?

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appellationmountain February 3, 2013 at 1:05 PM

That would be great!

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Elizabeth January 26, 2013 at 12:31 AM

Since Susan means Lily, any Lily name(Lillian, Lilith, Liliana, etc.) would work as an honor name.

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Diana January 25, 2013 at 11:58 PM

I love the idea of a Petra or a Beatrice for a Patricia. I have many, many family members named Patricia and I was never a fan. (Pat as a nickname sounds particularly unpleasant to me, as does Trish.)

I think it’s not about “updating to sound more modern” but about honoring a family member though you may not exactly love their name. Breaking out of the box to make it their name, but not exactly, gives you a lot more freedom.

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Havoye January 25, 2013 at 10:54 PM

I really don’t think it’ll be that long before some of these names start to sound fresh again, as increasing numbers of people tire of the current wave of old-fashioned names. Mary already sounds like a breath of fresh air to me next to Lillian, Grace and Emily, as do Susan, Julie and Laura. Some of the names on that list were rarely used as middle names, so just using them as middles instead of first names adds some spark. But of course, I named my baby daughter Marianne so clearly I don’t have a problem with mid-century names. ;)

I think the most problematic names for those who want to honour their mothers are those that are very nicknamey – Cindy is harder to deal with than Cynthia, for example. But that’s not particular to the 1960s – there were lots of women with given names like Johnnie, Mattie and Willie born at the turn of the 20th century.

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marilyn January 25, 2013 at 8:38 PM

My mom is Judith Lynn, and we named our little girl Juniper Lark to share her initials. We thought the nicknames (my mom is always called Judy; we call Juniper “Junie”) were a sweet connection, although the names themselves probably aren’t at all related. :)

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Ashley F. January 25, 2013 at 4:27 PM

My mother’s name is Linda, and I’ve always thought Linnea would be a lovely way to honor her…if only I knew for sure how it was pronounced? I say lin-EE-ah, but I fear it may actually be lin-NAY-uh?

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Katybug January 26, 2013 at 9:35 AM

I work with a Linnea who pronounces it Lin-AY-ah.

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Martha January 25, 2013 at 3:30 PM

This a great post, lots of fun possibilities! As far as Donna goes, you can choose other names that mean “lady”–my name, Martha is Aramaic for lady, or my daughter’s name, Era (Latin). My mother-in-law is Donna so we have three generations of ladies!
http://nookofnames.com/2012/01/17/latin-lovelies-and-loathlies-e/

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Kelly January 25, 2013 at 3:29 PM

Another idea if you want to change things up for whatever reason: Do what Abby did for her daughter (although in that case datedness wasn’t the factor) and come up with an unrelated nickname idea.

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Kelly January 25, 2013 at 3:06 PM

I’d consider using Susan and Cynthia as-is (same for the more “classic” Laura and Elizabeth). If I could come up with some more nickname ideas I’d add Patricia to the list.

Although I agree with using an alternate form to avoid duplicate names among living family members, I don’t think you automatically need to change them up for the sake of sounding more modern* (that applies to the more classic names on the list, such as the ones I gave as examples; I’d be more hesitant with something like Brenda or Shirley which you’d be surprised to see used historically prior to their spotlight era). In fact, some of the more modern alternatives (e.g. Reese on a girl for Theresa) may very well sound more dated later on than the original forms.

*Not that I have a problem with the equally classic alternatives that were suggested.

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Mia January 25, 2013 at 1:30 PM

All the people I know named Lorraine, and I know several, are all 60+ years old. It sounds crusty to me. Loretta feels like 70’s shag carpet and country music to me.

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Susan S January 25, 2013 at 1:13 PM

I know a girl named Dalyn after her mother Lynda. My grand daughter is Susanna after me and her paternal grandmother Anne.

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Jordan January 25, 2013 at 1:02 PM

Love this post! My mom’s name is Jennifer, my MIL’s name is Judy, and my Grandma’s name was Jane (nn Janie). If we have a girl, we’re thinking about using Juniper to honor all of them. We also like Jude in the middle spot for a boy.

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Hettie January 25, 2013 at 1:02 PM

I was hoping Carol would make the list. I would love to honor a Carol with straight up Carol! But I don’t know if it falls under Barbara’s category of “not yet”. Coral or Cora or Cara just don’t quite sit right with me, and I know too many Carolines!

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Brianne January 25, 2013 at 7:23 PM

Carolina? (as in Car-o-leen-a)

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Hettie January 26, 2013 at 2:42 PM

It’s close to Caroline but I like it better somehow. And Carol would only honor one grandma, but the other’s name ends in -ina. This could be the perfect combination! I don’t know why I didn’t think of it ;)

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Brianne January 28, 2013 at 12:28 AM

Yay!

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Calla January 25, 2013 at 12:36 PM

My middle name is Dawn after my grandmother Donna, which is still dated but I have thought about using Aurora since it means “dawn”. Same with Sue or Susan, it means “lily” which could be a nice subtle way to honour someone.

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Sarah January 28, 2013 at 2:37 AM

Also, Alba is “dawn” in Spanish.

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AJ January 25, 2013 at 12:23 PM

I like Patra or Padra for Patricia, or Petra. Maybe Tricia or Patria.

Ashlie, what about Aloisa or Lola or Leisl or Eloise for Lois? Or for Lois Izo, maybe Louisa? Maybe Iris?

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Elisabeth@YCCII January 25, 2013 at 12:07 PM

I’ve also had Susannah nn Zuzu in my back pocket for years. But I made the classic error recently and gave the name Zuzu to our new dog (full name Zuleika). Oh well. There are other truer loves on the list, and we could still use Susannah should we want. Sukie? I actually kind of love Susie too, and Zanna is lovely.

Love so many of these alternatives! Camille for Milda, Catrin for Karen. Louisa and Eloise could honor Lois, but I think Lois is kind of a charmer on its own these days. Kimball could honor Kimberly if you want to go a more unisex direction.

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C in DC January 25, 2013 at 12:06 PM

Patrice for Patricia doesn’t sound as dated, or Pax. Petra is traditionally associated with Peter, but I think it would work to honor Patricia, too.

For Linda, you could also tap into Belinda, Melinda, etc., which fit in better today. If you’re going for meaning and equal popularity, Bella works.

So glad my oh-so-60s name didn’t actually appear on your Grandma list. That would have been depressing. (Although my mom, sister, cousins, and best friend all appear!)

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Elisabeth@YCCII January 25, 2013 at 11:59 AM

And then there’s NANCY! We honored my mother with Anne in the middle. A lot of people don’t realize that Nancy is a derivative of Anne. I briefly considered Nannette too in a moment of weakness, and Grace could work for the meaning.

What a fun post.

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Elizabeth January 25, 2013 at 5:58 PM

Agnes would be good name to use to honor a Nancy, since Nancy is an old diminutive of Agnes.

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Brianne January 28, 2013 at 12:27 AM

I would love more thoughts on Nancy too.

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Elizabeth January 25, 2013 at 11:57 AM

What about Vanessa? Should it be on the list?
Are you going to do a grandpa version, as well?

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k January 25, 2013 at 11:26 AM

Oh, rough way to start the morning to see my name as a Grandma name! Karen isn’t so bad, I swear. :) What would you think of (my occasional) nickname Kay? To my ears that sounds equally dated, but I do have a Grandma name, hee!

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Ashlie January 25, 2013 at 11:02 AM

What about Lois? We’re thinking about using it anyway. It was my grandma’s name and she was very important to both myself and my fiance. We like names that are a bit different, but we’ve been looking at alternatives too. We haven’t found anything similar to Lois though. Her middle name was Izo, and she hated it. So much so, that she would tell everyone she did not have a middle. Needless to say we won’t be using Izo.

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Julie January 26, 2013 at 3:50 PM

Louisa, Loisa, Eloise, Loida, Lotus

I actually really like Lois, its one of my “if we had a different surname” names.

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KatieB January 25, 2013 at 11:01 AM

My mom’s name is Milda Lynn and I already have a sister Madeline (Mah duh LYN). She has told me in the past to never name a child after her. But I’m thinking maybe Matilda would work, at least for a middle name. She also went by Millie when she was younger so maybe Camille or Emilia?

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C in DC April 8, 2014 at 1:41 PM

Love your options. There’s also Maida, Layla, Millicent, Linden, Linnea, Melinda.

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Ilona January 25, 2013 at 9:18 AM

Great post!

My mum is Allana. No middle name but her nickname is Lani. Always had trouble finding combos I like with Allana, my favorite being Lucy Allana yet its quite popular where I live. Your post made me think of her nickname as middle name which might work…

Also with Karen you can use Catrin as a possibility. ;]

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Melanie January 25, 2013 at 4:49 AM

This is something that just came up for us. If I have a daughter, id like to name her for my mother, Suz@nne P@tricia….ive been thinking Susannah but that seems like a lot of name for a little baby. Perhaps ill consider Zuzu as a nickname. If I have a son, Patrick would be nice as well.

Funny, this article hit all of my aunts and their cousins except Joan.

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Elizabeth January 25, 2013 at 3:30 AM

My mom is Ruthanna Sue. I plan on honoring her someday by using Susanna Ruth.

I love the suggestion of using Beryl to honor a Kimberly. I don’t have any Kimberlys to honor, but I think it’s a great idea.

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Julie January 25, 2013 at 3:08 AM

Patricia and Hypatia! Otherwise, it shares the letters “-tric-” with Beatrice. For names that can share a sound with Patrica, there’s also Letitia, Felicia and Alica.

I feel like I should defend my own name, but since I’ve never been terribly fond of it… I’ll just add Liana, Gillian/Jillian as updated forms.

I love Barbara just as it is and I’d love to meet a little one.

My daughter is Maria because my Mom is a Mary Ann and my MIL’s middle is Marie. (We never found a really satisfactory way to reinvent her first name… Ernestine.)

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OOoooooOOOOooo January 25, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Ernestine=Evangeline

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Megalady January 25, 2013 at 2:14 PM

Oh! I love Julie’s suggestion of Hypatia! And it definitely could work for Patricia (also Pia or maybe the Italian Patrizia).

“Consider her maiden name, nickname, or something else that honors her – favorite song, flower, literary character …” This is ultimately what I’ve considered for my grandma Donelda “Donna”. Her maiden name was Grace. Belladonna crosses my mind occasionally too.

My mom is a Sandy, short for Cassandra. I’ve always thought that my mother’s given name was gorgeous, the nickname not so much. Cassandra has several update options too from Cassidy to Cadence. Melisande/Melisandra and Corisande work for Sandy alternatives too.

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Megalady January 25, 2013 at 2:15 PM

Whoops…didn’t mean to put this here. :\

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Megalady January 25, 2013 at 5:44 PM

Nessa for Ernestine?

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Jonquil January 26, 2013 at 5:03 AM

Nesta for Ernestine!

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Elizabeth January 25, 2013 at 5:51 PM

I actually have a little cousin named Barbara. She goes by Barbie.

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