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!
We are expecting our second child in early January and I keep feeling like none of the options we like as standalone names quite fit with a sibset.
Our first child is Greta Alvenell and I honestly love so much about her name. I love that Greta is feminine without frills, easily recognized without being popular, has a straightforward spelling and pronunciation, and also that it doesn’t lend easily to nicknames.
The middle is our loose, creative homage to my grandfather Alvin.
This baby is a surprise so we need boy and girl options.
Names we both agree on but are definitely not exclusively looking at include:
- Duncan, Amos, Angus, Marius, Ansel, and Bram for a boy.
- Beatrix, Marlo, Agnes, Aster, Flora, and Tabitha for a girl.
For a middle something also based on a family name would be nice: Espey, Jean/Gene, Kay, Jon, Elizabeth or Katherine.
Would greatly appreciate any and all suggestions – thank you!
Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Congratulations on your second!
Greta Alvenell is absolutely gorgeous. And as an honor name for Alvin, it’s just perfect. Are you sure you need help?!
Because often it’s when we’ve gotten it just exactly right for our firstborn that naming her sibling feels impossible.
Two things leap out at me.
First, your list feels far more rare, and maybe even a little more daring. Greta feels like a neglected classic, a name that we all know – even if few of us are choosing it for our children. It’s a reliable Top 1000 choice. This time, though, only one of the girls’ names and one of the boys’ appear names in the current US Top 1000. (Though that’s not the only – or even the best – measure of familiarity.) Amos and Flora would be great choices, but I’m not sure if I’d automatically make them the frontrunners.
Second, nickname-proof/easily spelled-pronounced is challenging, and some of these fall a little short. I’d say Duncan, Agnes, and Flora are the names that don’t lend themselves to an automatic/obvious nickname, though even Agnes is often Aggie. More on that below!
A BROTHER FOR GRETA ALVENELL
Let’s start with your current list for boys.
- Bram is one of my favorites, and it meets lots of your criteria. However, it’s very rare in the US. I can imagine it being misheard as Bran by anyone who watched Game of Thrones.
- Marius and Ansel strike me as easy to mis-hear. Maybe it’s because they’re uncommon, or maybe the sounds are just a little too vowel-heavy.
- Angus and Amos feel like possibilities. And yet, I’m not sure if they feel like a match with Greta.
- While Duncan is outside of the US Top 1000, it feels nicely familiar. Like Greta, Duncan has plenty of strong, distinctive sounds.
So from your list, Duncan gets my vote.
I’ll add a few more ideas.
A handsome, traditional choice that has the same sort of vaguely European vibe as Greta.
A short name with a strong sound, Curt could be spelled with a K. So that’s a negative. But Curt – or even Curtis – is one of those names we all know, but seldom hear.
Trading Marius’ M for the D of Duncan somehow makes this name feel a little more mainstream.
Often considered a nickname for Dashiell, Dash ranks in the US Top 1000 – while Dashiell does not. That makes Dash a name with lots of twenty-first century energy, but a feeling that it’s not completely novel.
A nature name, Heath saw some use in the 1960s and 70s, thanks to a popular television character. It’s remained familiar, thanks to figures like the late Heath Ledger.
Are surname names on your radar at all? I like the style of something like Thatcher with Greta. It’s strong, distinctive, and yet familiar, too.
I’m not sure any of these top Duncan, but I really do like the sound of Greta and Conrad.
A SISTER FOR GRETA ALVENELL
Since Beatrice is more popular than Beatrix, I suspect that could be a hassle. Likewise, Marlo will probably be mistaken for the more popular Marlowe.
Aster feels maybe a little out there.
And I’ve yet to meet a Tabitha who wasn’t Tab/Tabby at least some of the time.
That leaves Agnes and Flora. Both are great! Flora is more familiar, though, so I’d put it at the top of my list.
Greta and Flora could be perfect together.
Let’s see if anything else clicks.
With several possible meanings and origins, Alma is a distinctive name that really only has one spelling and pronunciation.
I do love Marlo’s O-ending, which got me thinking about other options. Margot is too popular; that’s even more true for Willow! While there are lots of options, Cleo feels like the best fit with your list.
A brief name with bold style, Faye might be spelled Fay or Fae, but the four-letter version is the most common, by far.
A homespun name that mixes traditional vibes with plenty of warmth, Martha is another one of those names everybody knows, but nobody chooses.
Since Aster is a word name, would you consider a vintage gemstone name, like Opal?
A cousin to Sylvester and Silas, this French form of Sylvia has caught on in the US in recent years.
I love the sound of Greta and Sylvie best of all, but it’s easy to imagine any of these working beautifully for your family.
Maybe Sylvie Jonquil, to play off family name Jon? Or Flora Aspen, since Espey refers to aspen trees in German. (I think! Surnames can be tricky, and if your family is Scottish, it could be something else entirely.) I like Duncan Espey an awful lot, too.
Hi everyone!! Thank you so much for your thoughtful responses ☺️ Agnes Theodora (an honor name to Theodore Espey my FIL) was born last night! Her nns will be Thea and Dory in a similar fashion to how we got to Greta Alvenell (nns Nell/Nelly)
Hi! Love the name Greta and the unique middle name. For boys…I will second Hugo (my older nephew’s name) and add Casper (my younger nephew’s name). I think they both go well with Greta. Felix, Bruno, Henry, Linus, Carsten…these are some boy names that work well, I think. Also, for girls, I like Solveig (ok…I know it’s a little out there), Eloise (my niece’s name), Sophie, Calla, Ingrid, Elsa, Verena (one of my character’s names in a fantasy novel I just finished for kids 10-12), Sabina (another character) and Sascha (another character).
Thanks, I can picture them as sisters.
The Mrs. says
Do you like Malcolm? He’s got one spelling, isn’t terribly popular, and doesn’t need a nickname.
For a little lady, what about Fern? Fern Espey?
The suggestion of Martha is excellent. Every Martha I have known has been SO NICE.
Greta Alvenell and Martha Espey
Carl? How does he feel in your family? Greta and Carl.
Ada might work. Ada Espey is sweet!
Greta and Ada
Blanche is lovely.
Blanche Espey and Greta Alvenell
Irene!!!! Irene Espey and Greta Alvenell. Ooh! I love this combo.
Do you like Hugh? Greta and Hugh? If you’re extra daring, there’s Homer.
Congratulations and best wishes!
Also, Imogen or Imogene could work as an honour middle name.
Wow Heidi Geneva makes such a great sister name to Greta Alvenell!
Yes, that is an amazing combination!
Flora is lovely. Also Florence?
My mind went straight to Heidi.
With Espey … Pick up ESPE and make it Vesper?
Gene could also be Geneva
Heidi Vesper and Greta Alvenell
Vesper Kate and Greta Alvenell
Heidi Geneva and Greta Alvenell
Geneva Kate and Greta Alvenell
I’m liking Amos
Jonas for Jon
Eli for Elizabeth
Evan is a form of Jon as a middle option
Felix sounds like it’s strong and is easy to say and spell yet spunky
Hugo Eli and Greta Alvenell
Amos Eli and Greta Alvenell
Jonas Eli and Greta Alvenell
Felix Jonas and Greta Alvenell
Love to hear what you choose.
I actually think Marius is quite straightforward, and though not common, is certainly familiar. I’m having trouble hearing how it could be misheard, but maybe it’s different in my Australian accent. I’m thinking Mario with a muted ending and an s.
I wonder if something with the initials SP could work as a nod to the family name Espey … Silas Paul?
Espey also made me think of Elspeth, which I think is quite lovely alongside Greta, but also makes for a nice interesting middle name alongside Alvenell. There is also the added bonus of it being an Elizabeth variant.
Genevieve would also be a lovely middle name to honour Jean/Gene.
Greta Alvenell & Elspeth Genevieve?
Greta Alvenell & Flora Elspeth?
Or Clara Elspeth I think I like them better.
I know I’m leaning into girls names here, but I also love the suggestion of Estelle. Greta and Estelle are beautiful together … Greta Alvenell and Estelle Genevieve?
All the best!!
I love this family’s taste in names! Greta Alvenell is just lovely.
At first glance, Ansel was my favorite from the list of boys’ names, but Marisa is completely right that it would evoke Hansel and Gretel.
On a similar note, I see why Abby suggested Thatcher, but I wouldn’t pair it with Greta: too close to Margaret Thatcher.
There are some lovely suggestions here in the comments! Based on the family’s taste, I would recommend:
Anders for a boy
Astrid for a girl
I think either one would go well with the family honor names. I especially like Espey and Jean/Gene.
Oh so funny – I was coming here to throw support behind Ansel but saw the comment about Hansel & Greta. So I agree, not a great pairing. How about Stellan or Linus? Love Bram too. And the suggestion of Carl, Conrad.
For a girl, I do agree Sylvie Jonquil is beautiful. I wonder if you’d like Pearl? Or Iris? To me they have that same older / easy to spell and pronounce, feminine, no nickname vibe.
If you’re willing to give up one of the aspects you love about your firstborn’s name, then how about:
Obviously leaning hard into the Swedish idea here….
Duncan is a great option: familiar, but not popular.
Other than that, I suggest Magnus, since you like Angus and Marius.
For a girl, my favorite as a sister to Greta is Flora.
I think Petra fits all the criteria, but it’s too similar to Greta.
Maybe Juno, Viola or Leona?
Oh yes – I think Magnus fits the brief better than Angus or Marius AND still retains all the charms of those names!
Juno is brilliant!
Bram and Amos are my favorite boy names and make a great match for Greta. Be aware that if you want to use Duncan, he will be called “Dunk” constantly (as experienced by someone I know and he is perpetually annoyed by it).
For girls: Justine, Lorelei, Agnes, Lois, Astrid could all be great sisters for Greta. Also love Sylvia and Faye!
Greta and Sylvie definitely sound like they’re from the same neighborhood. I also second Sylvie Jonquil, it sounds medieval and French to me. Greta Alvenell also sounds medieval to me which is so cool!
If you feel like leaning into something modern but with minimal nicknaming, I’d go for “Esme”. It could pay homage to Espey and homage to the sound of your name, Rae.
As for potential boy combinations?
Bram and Amos (singer Amos Lee is one of my favorites) definitely front runners for a sibling for Greta too. I like the previous suggestions of Fraser or Conrad too.
“Duncan” is not my style but if you’re looking for anything similar, I immediately thought of “Deacon” and I’ve heard that as a first name before, surprisingly.
Hope we’re helping! Best to your growing family and I hope you arrive at the best possible combination soon.
Some other suggestions that may work!
Girl: Frances, Constance, Mabel, Edith, Therese, Ruth, Corrine, Carys, Simone, Maren, Daphne, Maude, Rosalind, Annabelle, Marion
Boy: Clement, Rufus, Randal, Ian, Rupert, Fletcher, Clive, Cyril, Jude, Warren, Fraser, Malcolm, Donal
Sylvie Jonquil. Ohmygoodness yes, please.
I’d also add Walter for a boy. Walter and Greta sound so good together.
I’ve known two Duncans and both were almost automatically shortened to Dunc affectionately by everyone. Even the natural emphasis of the pronunciation lends itself easily to that shortening- all the stress is on “Dunc” and the “an” is clipped and short.
Great name but absolutely not nickname-proof.
A few more suggestions.
Boys: Basil, Clifford, Fergus, Fraser, Graham, Jasper, Malcolm, Soren, Wallace, Victor
Girls: Astrid, Bridget, Florence, Helene, Ingrid, Iona, Jean, Laurel, Millicent, Sally, Sonya, Thora, Viola
Of the boy names, Duncan, Amos, or Angus get my vote! Definitely not Ansel—unfortunately, I think of Hansel and Gretel with that pairing. Would Eugene be an acceptable middle? Because Amos Eugene is wonderful. Espey works really well with all three names too.
I love all your girl name ideas! I think I like the first three the best—Beatrix, Marlo, Agnes—since they don’t repeat the -a ending of Greta’s name. Beatrix Elspeth? Marlo Makay? Agnes Espey?