Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, 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!
Hi there! I have a #namehelp for you all the way from New Zealand!
We currently have a boy named Moss Robert (Robert being a family name) and our last name is two syllables and ends in ie.
We recently lost my mother-in-law Noeline Joy, and I’d love to honour her but am not crazy for either of her names or derivatives we can think of. We have decided a boy will have Noel as a middle name. For boys we love Van, Sullivan, Otto, and Oscar but would love some more suggestions.
Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Dear Kelly –
Congratulations on your baby on the way! Moss Robert is a great combination of the traditional and the unexpected. I can see why it’s tough to name his sibling.
Here’s the challenge as I see it.
Moss manages to be both on-trend, as a nature name and color name – and yet seldom heard. But we can think of just enough people with Moss as a given name or surname that it feels familiar.
So – do you want to aim for an obscure name again?
Oscar is quite popular. (Find the New Zealand data here.) Sullivan and Otto are less common, but still broadly familiar. But you do like these names, and there’s absolutely no rule that says siblings’ names have to match in terms of popularity. Van feels like the best bet in terms of matching Moss, but if it were The Name, you wouldn’t be writing!
I also wonder if the middle name presents a stumbling block. Noel is a fitting tribute to your late mother-in-law, but I wonder if you might also consider Nolan? There are some great, single-syllable names that I’d like to suggest, but they might work better with a slightly longer middle.
I haven’t applied any strict tests to get to this list of suggestions, but I’ve tried to stick to names that are less popular, without feeling invented.
Asher – Here’s a thought: your mother-in-law’s middle name, Joy, might be echoed by a boy’s name with the same meaning. There’s Felix, which I think works well for your family. And Noam, which reminds me of Noeline. But there’s also Asher. On the downside, it’s much more common than some of the names you like. Yet it does remind me of Oscar, which makes it seem like one worth considering.
Dashiell – Moss and Dash sounds like an upscale design firm, doesn’t it? And yet, I think the names are marvelous together. Moss Robert and Dashiell Noel. Dashiell is long and literary, originally a surname, but long-associated with the author of so many unforgettable detective novels, Dashiell Hammett. Today The Incredibles has sparked some interest in Dash, as in Dashiell “Dash” Parr, the middle child in the Disney-Pixar superhero family. But it remains unusual.
Elgin – I pronounce this with a soft g, like El-jin. I’ve heard it pronounced with a hard g, too, like the Elgin Marbles. It’s originally a Scottish place name, turned surname, but it has a very modern sound. One caution: I’d test out how others say the ‘g’ where you live before choosing this name. Both are pleasing, but it would be good to know which will be the default.
Hale – If you love the word quality of Moss, I wonder if another word name would appeal? Hale is a favorite; it means robust, from the Old English hal – healthy. The phrase “hail fellow well met” refers to an outgoing, friendly sort of guy. It’s a thoroughly positive set of associations. And while the sound and spelling are straightforward, no one is using this as a given name.
Orson – To an earlier generation, Orson was Orson Wells – the actor. But today that’s a less familiar reference. It started out as a surname, ultimately from the Latin ursus, meaning bear. It feels just as traditional as Otto, but a little more unusual.
Otis – If you love Otto, but it’s not quite right, I wonder if you might like Otis? It’s a cousin to Otto, but with a slightly different sound. And while Otto makes me think of Germany, Otis is all Otis Redding.
Rufus – Names like Otto and Oscar are vintage picks making a comeback. I wonder if you’d like to go even farther, and consider names that have yet to catch on? Rufus is one of my favorites. Yes, it’s a Harry Potter name. (Rufus Scrimgeour is a Minister of Magic in the later novels.) But JK Rowling used so many great choices for her characters – and it’s not quite like using Harry, Ron, or Hermione! I think it’s an overlooked possibility.
Stellan – There’s something crisp and modern about Van, so I wonder if you might consider a name like Stellan? It sounds like a masculine form of Stella, from the Latin word for star, but that’s not the case. Instead, Stellan comes from Swedish and might mean calm. Actor Stellan Skarsgård has made it familiar throughout the English-speaking world, but it remains quite rare.
Overall, Dashiell is my favorite – Dashiell Noel or Dashiell Nolan, possibly with Dash as a nickname. I think it stands up nicely to Moss Robert. It’s a little less common than some of the names on your list, but isn’t any more unusual than Moss.
Sometimes I feel like there’s one obvious answer to a question, but this is the opposite case – it seems like the options go on and on and on! So let’s turn it over to the readers: what would you name a brother for Moss Robert?