Name Help

Name Help is a new series at Appellation Mountain. Every Saturday, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.

We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!

Andrea writes:

I’m trying to name baby #7 – my last baby – and with eight weeks left I am just not happy with anything. Our last name is very common, is the opposite of “old” and works with all names.

My boys and girls have totally different styles of names so my boy names aren’t really helpful here as I’m having a girl. Just in case though, they are Cowen (long “o” sound), Eli, and Oskar. We spelled Oskar with a “k” to honor my German heritage.

I’m way pickier about girl names than boy names and that might be the crux of the problem here. I want my girls to have really powerful and intelligent sounding names. My girls are named Miriam, Emeline (pronounced “line” at the end), and Harriet. Emeline is named after a famous women’s rights activist, Emmeline B. Wells, and Harriet is named after Harriet Tubman.

All my children have family middles.

My husband said no to my first choice for this baby (Flannery) and I’ve let it go–reluctantly–to please him. His first choice is Annabel, and while I think it is a gorgeous name it feels very frilly compared to my other girls. Maybe that is all in my head?

We put together a short list, but I’m not in love with any of them and I keep feeling like I’m going to have to “settle” instead of having a name I love. That is a horrible thought as I ADORE all of my other children’s names. Maybe I will grow to love her name as I grow to love her?? Maybe I’ll regret her name forever?? ARGH!

Are there any incredibly intelligent and powerful girl names that I’ve overlooked???

Read on for my answer – and please leave your suggestions in the comments!

Hi Andrea –

I think it does get so much more difficult to name children as we go on – we’ve used our favorite, easily agreed upon names, and we’ve also set a pattern.

Your style for boys and girls is different. Not miles apart, but enough that I’m going to focus on matching Miriam, Emeline, and Harriet. You have definite role models in mind for Emeline and Harriet, and Miriam is undeniably a strong name for a girl.

This makes *both* of your favorites feel slightly like outliers.

Flannery O’Connor is a great namesake. But she was born Mary Flannery. And Flannery is, style-wise, more like Harper or Hadley. Literary, yes. But not a strong traditional like your other girls’ names.

Annabel is slightly frillier than Miriam, Emeline, and Harriet. Not so different that they couldn’t be sisters. But enough that I share your hesitation.

Would you and your husband be opening to just starting fresh, and agreeing to use an entirely new name?

If so, these strong names for girls come to mind:

Constance – No one is using Constance, even though Caroline and Cora and Katherine and Claire are quite popular. It’s not quite a virtue name, except that it is. And while Connie is a dated nn, Constance in full is just two syllables. If Piper isn’t Pie and Isabella isn’t Issy, then Constance can be just Constance.

Marguerite Durand (1864 – 1936), French stage ...

Marguerite – Okay, I’m kind of high on Marguerite right now. But I was reminded of Marguerite Durand when I read this post on suffragette names.  And she’s a fascinating figure – a French actress turned journalist turned suffragette. Plus, she had a pet tiger.  That’s her in the picture.  Formidable, right?

Louisa – As in May Alcott. It’s frillier than your daughters’ names, but has the same vintage feeling. Louise is an option, too, but if your husband prefers something slightly more feminine, Louisa might be a compromise. And oh, look – she’s on the suffragette list, too!

Cordelia – Lear’s loyal daughter. Like Louisa, frillier. Unlike Louisa, there’s no suffragette associated with this name – at least not that I know of. It keeps coming up when use the Namehunter tool at Nameberry, so even though it doesn’t feel like a fit, I’m adding her to this list.

Cropped screenshot of Judy Garland from the tr...Esther – Call me crazy, but I hear Esther as the logical way to complete this quartet. The daring Biblical queen! Judy Garland’s character in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” the one who sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”! A strong name, if ever one was. And, thanks to Harper and Piper, not nearly as dusty as she was just a few years ago.

Edith – Or … Edith? Edith is another name that strikes me as a strong name. It’s a little outside the mainstream, but, like Esther, in the early stages of feeling stylish again. (You haven’t mentioned style or appeal, and I don’t have the sense that you’ve given it much thought – and at the same time, your children’s names are nicely ahead of the trends.) I always think of the poet Edith Sitwell, and while she’s an eccentric, sometimes controversial figure, I love her poetry.

Olive – I added her at the last second. Also a suffragette name. No-nonsense and ever so slightly fashionable.

Josephine – As in Baker, a member of the French Resistance. Found her on this list at nameberry.  Update: Andrea likes Josephine, but a family member has the name.

Anna – Or here’s a thought – name her Anna. Miriam, Emeline, Harriet, Anna. Anna feels a little plain compared to her sisters’ names, but it would be hard to dismiss Anna as anything other than a classic with roots.

Anneliese, Annalise – Or maybe look for another Anna- name? Anneliese is the German spelling, but just like Kaitlyn surpassed Caitlin, I think Annalise is poised to be the preferred spelling in the US. (Plus, it is the name of Viola Davis’ character in her new television show. She’s a strong – if flawed – character.) Anneliese/Annalise feels a little less frilly, and closer to your other girls’ names.

This might be overwhelming – especially if you’re used to having a name settled by now. And if you do decide to go with Annabel, I do think you’ll come to appreciate it.

Andrea wrote back to tell me that Lois, Alice, and Beatrice are on their lists, too – but none of them feel quite right.  She thinks Connie would be unavoidable with Constance in her family, so that’s out.  Also, as I noted above, Josephine isn’t an option.

What would you suggest to Andrea?  Are there any great, strong names for girls that fit with Miriam, Emeline, and Harriet?  Or is Annabel the right name after all?

UPDATE: She’s here!  Clover Mildred arrived just before Christmas 2014.  It’s a different direction than they were originally thinking, but as Andrea writes: “This girl was meant to be a Clover!”  Congratulations on lucky baby #7, and thank you so much for letting us know that she’s here!

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I don’t think these have been mentioned yet:

    Blythe (for Nellie Bly)
    Hypatia (for the extraordinary ancient teacher)
    Diana (for the Roman goddess of hunting, etc)

    Or how about some of the wonderful women artists other than Freida?

    Georgia (o’keefe)
    Berthe (Morisot)
    Louise (Bourgeois)
    Mary (Cassatt)
    Eva (Hesse)

    The list could go on forever!

    Good luck.

  2. My first thoughts were Ramona, Louisa, Virginia, Lucille, and Florence. I also like the suggestions of Ada, Susannah, Meredith, and Maude. I actually kind of like Annabel with your other girls names, but I can see your hesitation.

  3. We called our daughters Georgina and Emily – looking for classic, strong, historical names that weren’t common. Georgina fitted the bill much better than Emily but when no. 2 was born Millie (which is her nickname) just seemed perfect for her. I also liked Bridget, Imogen and Caroline.

  4. For the sister to Miriam (290), Emeline (outside top 1000), and Harriet (outside top 1000), you want an intelligent and powerful girl’s name. How about some of these?

    – Beatrice (593) (she led Dante through hell, so she’s got that going for her)
    – Sylvia (505) (Sylvia Plath)
    – Magdalena (982)
    – Wilhelmina (outside top 1000)
    – Laurel (873) (Used to crown champions)
    – Gretchen (998)
    – Eleanor (107) (There are a lot of Eleanor’s in my circle, but perhaps not in yours)
    – Lorna (outside top 1000)

    I like AM’s suggestions of Louisa, Edith, and Josephine.

  5. I’ve recently playing with the idea of Flannery and I’m all about strong & intelligent girl names, however my SO’s taste is more along the lines of your husband with Annabelle, Sofia & Felicity, pretty names but they don’t have that strong independent feel to them.

    Other names I’ve mulled over which might be right up your alley…Alma, Winifred, Lucille, Pheriby, Virginia, Theodora, Ruth, Eliza, Briony, Matilda, Laurence, Georgiana

  6. I too think Annabel is great, although it sounds more current then Emeline, Miriam, and Harriet. I like many of the other suggestions. Susan/Susana and Joanna came to mind. Cadence/Cady is a lot like Constance, while avoiding Connie and honoring a suffragette. Magdalen is another possibility

  7. I can’t think of a more powerful woman in American history than Victoria Woodhull. Her name is both powerful and frilly, so it may suit both you and your husband’s tastes.

  8. If Annabel doesn’t quite get you there, what about Abigail? Abigail Adams was a feminist (she begged her husband “not to forget the ladies” in the Constitution. Strong name, more popular these days, but not one I hear all the time. Margaret (Sanger, Mead) fit in well, too, and Ada seems a fresh twist on Ava.
    But I do agree with an earlier post – there’s no reason a “frilly” name can’t connote an intelligent woman. The pretty/smart dichotomy needs to be buried.