You named your first doll Alexandra. When you wrote short stories, the heroine was always called Alexandra. Back in college, when you and your girlfriends imagined you future kids, yours was always called – you guessed it! – Alexandra.
Now you’re expecting and it’s a girl. Only it feels like every other parent has stolen your top pick, including your old roommate AND your sister-in-law.
It’s true. While the name has always been in use, since 1988, it has been in the Top 50 – that’s two solid decades where more than 6,000 newborns were dubbed Alexandra every single year. Some quick back-of-the-envelope math shows that more than 90,000 Alexandras joined our ranks in that time frame.
Should you barrel forward and call your daughter Alexandra anyway? It’s a tough call.
On the one hand, Alexandra is a classic. Years ago, parents didn’t fret about having so many Marys, Janes and Mary Janes on the same block. In fact, if you look at my mother’s Italian family, there are multiple cousins with variations of the name Maria, all honoring one grandmother of the same name. It was tradition.
It was also confusing. So you understand why Mary and Maria and Anna Maria all grew up and tried to find slightly less popular choices for their children. (Of course, many of them ended up with Linda and Pamela, Amy and Jennifer – but that’s another post.)
Our forebearers had a valid point: sharing a name is just that. You don’t share anything else, and if the name has meaning, then it feels almost superficial to abandon it simply for fashion.
On the other hand, it is easier to change your hair color than it is to change your name. So it’s worth sweating what we’re going to call our kids – and worth wondering if you really want your child to be one of many.
Here are a few alternatives to consider:
- Choose another, similar, but less common Al- name. The musical Allegra comes to mind. It has yet to hit the Top 1000, though I suspect it will break through by 2010.
- Choose a similar name that starts with a different letter. Cassandra is perhaps the most obvious substitute. (It was a mere #219 last year.) Cordelia and Marianna might also appeal.
- Choose a globe-trotting variant of Alexandra. Now this is where the fun begins! If you take a global view of this classic name, there’s Alix, Alejandra and Alessandra, as well as Alessia and Alastrina (related to Alastair), plus the French-fried Alexiane.
- Choose a modern variant of Alexandra. The fun never stops! On our own shores, I’ve heard Alexa, Alexine, Alexane and Alexia. While Alexia is often dismissed as a) a brain disorder and b) a brand of frozen potatoes, it was also #164 on the Social Security most popular baby names list for 2006. I’d say that makes it c) a valid choice for your child.
- Elaborate on Alexandra. There’s the place name Alexandria, which is both exotic and genteely Southern; the graceful Alexandrine, the mouthful Alexandrina or even something new. Alixandrie, anyone?
- Stick with Alexandra, but choose an unexpected nickname. Lots of little girl Alexandras are known as Lexi, and – surprise – plenty of them go by Alex, too. But probably just a handful are called by the Russian diminutive Sasha. And fewer still are Zandra or Zandie, Zara or Sadie. And while Ali is a popular nickname for plenty of Al- names, it’s a valid choice for Alexandra, too.
The one name I haven’t listed as an alternative to Alexandra is Alexis. Why? If Alexandra has been Top 50 in recent years, Alexis has been Top 10 – from 1996 to 2003, in fact, and it remains Top 15. It has even spawned monstrous variant spellings like the part-baby, part-luxury brand moniker Alexus.
So while Alexandra retains a classic, regal dignity no matter how many times it is repeated, Alexis simply sounds worn out. The original remains a valid choice for modern parents – though one that requires some reflection.
Incidentally, my own firstborn is Alexander, called Alexei – named after his grandfather. If I were faced with naming a girl Alexandra? I’d stick with the original and call her Sasha.
But the choices are nearly infinite.