Head over to a baby naming website and suggest naming your baby-to-be Alivia. Or Jaxon.

Some will applaud your choice and add that Alyveah and Jaxin are cute, too. Several will sigh, and ask what’s wrong with Olivia and Jackson.

I’ll admit to a few snarky comments about Konner and Mackynzee. So maybe it sounds like hypocrisy – or blasphemy – to now write that perhaps variant spellings are not the end of the world.

The more I mull it over, the more I think that I may have been wrong to object to spelling variants – at least some of the time. Here’s why:

10. Good luck determining the original. Which came first, Catherine or Katherine?

It’s a trick question. The name – like so many – comes from the Greek. The original wasn’t just written in a different language – it was written in a different alphabet. K and C are equally valid translations. If a name predates the English language – and many do – there may not be a definitive version.

In our spellcheck world, it is difficult to remember that widespread literacy is quite new, and standardized spellings are even more recent. In 1880, Catherine, Catharine, Cathrine, Katherine, Kathryn, Katharine, Kathrine, Katheryn and Kathryne all appeared in the US Top 1000. Go back far enough and you’ll find people who spelled their own name differently in different records.

Pre-widespread literacy, the spelling didn’t matter. In the era of handwritten records, it wouldn’t have been possible to enforce a correct spelling. And now?

It’s a little late.

9. The most popular version might not be closest to the original. So if it isn’t possible to pinpoint the original, why not use the most common? It will save your child headaches, right?

Maybe so. Hailey ranked #25 in 2008 – far more popular than Haylee, Hayley, Haylie, Hailee, Hailie or Haley. But the original version of name is an English surname – making Haley the more authentic pick. Likewise, Caitlin and Aidan are Gaelic heritage choices – but Kaitlyn and Aiden outrank both.

If Jayden is far more common than Jadon, which is the variant? And will Caitlin take any comfort in wearing the “most authentic” version when she’s spelling her name for the umpteenth time?

8. Making a heritage choice can lead parents to choose an apparently unconventional spelling. Let’s say you’re of Scottish descent. Isobel might feel like the better choice, even if she’s awfully close to the chart-topping Isabella.

Our son was named after his grandfather Aleksander, born an ocean away in Poland. That leads to the next point.

7. Honoring a loved one can also encourage parents to make a different choice. Our Aleksander became Alexanderafter immigrating. That simpled up our decision. But what if he’d held onto his k-spelling?

Likewise, what if you’re naming your daughter after one of those Kathrynes from back in the day? Sure, you could update the spelling. But you can also argue that preserving the spelling is part of passing on your loved one’s appellation.

6. Does it really do any harm? I’ve often argued that Madisyn sounds just as common as Madison, so why put your child to the trouble of spelling her name every. single. time. And while I think that’s true, it is also true that Madisyn is just a tiny headache. The world is filled with people named Alison and Krista, Dillon and Stephen who have survived spelling their names.

You can, of course, go too far. Maddasihnne, for example, is an exercise in pointless excess.

5. Could it do some good? If you’re choosing an unusual name, it can seem like a kindness to try to Anglicize or modernize your pick. Zofia is a family name on my Polish husband’s side. Would we maintain the exotic, vibrant Z of Zofia? (Technically it is pronounced differently – ZAWF yah – though I’ve met Poles who use three syllables in the US – ZO fee ah.) Opt for the chart-topping Sophia? Or split the difference with Sofia?

What if you’re naming a daughter after Great Aunt Eithne? Spelling your daughter’s name Enya might save her some confusion – and still honor your beloved aunt.

4. You might honestly think a variant spelling is correct. I don’t mean this to sound snobbish. Television and movies, books and songs often pluck names out of nowhere, and their creators take some license with the spellings. So if you first hear of Damien in a movie, or Lorelai on television, why would you suspect that the name has another spelling?

Or maybe you hear the name Schuyler. That’s certainly not an intuitive spelling. The phoentic Skyler or Skylar seems more obvious. It’s easy to argue that any parent owes their kiddo enough research to know something about a name they plan to bestow. But, of course, plenty of resources online and in print would list Skylar. And Damien. And so on.

3. It could possibly minimize pronunciation issues. Parents sometimes choose Madalyn or Carolyn to emphasize that they want their daughters’ names pronounced with “lynne” at the end, rather than “line” or “leen.”

Doubtless they’re really irritated when their kiddo is called car oh line anyhow. But it is an understandable impulse.

2. It could fit a family tradition. While it can seem a bit much, some families do opt to use the same letter for all of their children’s names. Or some might pass on a pair of initials. While it can lead to oddities like the TLC mega-family’s Jinger Duggar, it can also lead to small variations, like Johnathan to honor a grandfather John, or Dianna – an anagram of my maiden name, something my husband thinks is wildly silly, but I still find appealing.

1. It has meaning. Yes, this is covered under the two related to family names. And the heritage choices. Maybe most of the other ones, too.

You can’t make a name “more unique” by changing the spelling – Ryleigh is too close to the Top 100 Riley to be distinctive on a daughter, and Aydin still sounds common on a son. Better to choose a less-often heard moniker than to monkey with a popular one.

But there are plenty of compelling reasons to opt for an unusual spelling, from heritage choices to family custom to simply falling in love with the spelling Cristina.

Just remember your reasons, and keep your cool when you receive yet another birthday card for your daughter Christina.

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. At Jimmy Carter’s Presidential library, there’s an old school paper he wrote where he signed his name as “Jimmie.”

  2. I used to be really bothered by variant spellings but then I spent a few years reading Nameberry daily and now I am more bothered by name snobbery than unusual spellings. I still cringe, I admit, when I see a name with a very unlikely spelling but then I remind myself that being free to name our children pretty much anything is a great gift of our generation.

    Plus, my Harriet’s middle name is Franceszka and it took me awhile to get over the spelling, but I didn’t want to change it because it is how her great-grandmother spells it. Knowing my reasons make me more open to the idea that other people have their own, equally valid, reasons.

  3. My mom chose my nn Lori and my dad insisted on a formal name more appropriate for a lawyer (which I did later become-ha). So I was named Loren. There were always other girls named Lauren and often Lori too, but almost never another Loren (all the others seem to be geriatric men). My crazy mom still insists that Lauren and Loren are completely separate names that aren’t even pronounced the same. I never felt like my version was spelled the right way, even though I prefer the streamlined look of it. The other aspect of my spelling that I appreciate is its similarity to the Spanish Lorena, because I live in Latin America and it’s just easier for people to call me that (with nn Lore, pronounced almost the same as Lori). I have seen how Spanish speakers mangle Lauryn (lah ew reen) so I am definitely glad my parents didn’t choose that!

  4. My mom named me Meaghan. She believes it was the original Gaelic spelling. I have to spell it for everybody and some people never get it right. But I’d still rather be Meaghan than Megan.

  5. I so appreciate the point about Carolyn and Caroline being different names. So many people think these names are the same. Nameberry even claims the -lyn spelling brings it downmarket!

    I was named after my mom, Linda, and my aunt, Carole, so it really isn’t a phonetic spelling of Caroline. Try telling that to anyone else in the world. Oh well. I appreciate this article, that’s for sure!

  6. The first part of my name ends in -ie which is the traditional, feminine spelling form of my name. I had a teacher who marked my English essays for about 6 years, saw my name COUNTLESS times & spelled it -y. EVERY name can be changed

    Personally, I generally prefer original spellings, though there are a few exceptions.I do think that as long as the names don’t break the linguistic phonetics of that particular name i.e Rileigh or Rylee etc,I can live with it. People will know what you are talking about & more importantly – SAY the name correctly.Some names have different pronunciations or spellings based on region or even influential languages. I once saw someone say that she couldn’t understand why her son’s kindergarten teacher spelled her son’s name Zackery as opposed to Zachary. If you think about it , -ck is a logical ending & sound that is very much the same in most of English , -ch is versatile, on the other hand.Personal exposure dictates what is ‘normal’ or ‘right’. Someone I know once said ‘Mikayla’ is elegant & classy while ‘Micheala” looks like Micheal-ah. To her, the other spelling made more sense. This person was highly educated as well

    AT the end of the day, as long as the parent puts in a lot of thought as to what they want to name their children & whatever they do is for pure reasons – it doesn’t matter. Personally, I don’t think you cannot judge someone by the name they choose or how they spell it. Obviously, there are limitations with spelling, but as long as the parent is looking after their child – I couldn’t care what they named their kid or how they spelled it. I think there’s A LOT of snobbism i names & some people think they’re better than others just because they choose a certain name or spell it a certain way

    .Personally, I’d rather associate with the people who spell the name Kaidyn than someone who chooses Charles & thinks they are a better person for choosing a ‘classic’ name. You show your sophistication in how you treat people.As long as people can SAY the names, it’s up to them. SOme alternative spellings might seem more logical to people than others

    1. Man, but I was feeling wordy that day ! Yowza! It’s actually embarrassing

      Anyway, I meant that you can’t judge someone because of how their name is spelled.

  7. What I like so much about this post is that it is sympathetic towards other peoples’ choices—instead of snobby. Most of us here don’t like the “creative” spellings, which is fine and we don’t have to use them, but I think it’s important to remember that our preferences don’t make us better/smarter/cooler than people who choose differently. Which is exactly what this post did such a great job of saying. So, thank you!

  8. Doesn’t matter what your name is, it can go wrong. I get Bevan more often than I get Bevin even though Bevan is the boy spelling and my fiance gets Johnny more than Jonny, also Johnathon more than Jonathan. What can you do? 🙂

  9. I grew up with this (sort of). My name is Toni and I constantly have to correct people,” With an ‘i’!” In general, unique spellings drive me nuts, but I’m an offender myself, I suppose. My daughter’s middle name is Caron, pronounced the same as Karen. Why did I pick that? Well, my mother is Carol and MIL is Sharon – viola: Caron! I suppose I could have gone with Karen, and I might have if this was her first name, but then it wouldn’t really have been after our mothers. Also, before I finally settled on it, I was pleased to find out that Caron is a legitimate Welsh name not even related to Karen (it’s a variant of Carys – another name I love.)