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!
My husband and I have very different name preferences. He likes “strong” unisex names for girls (think Ryan) whereas I like more traditional feminine names (along lines of Evelyn).
I am not opposed to using a unisex name – our first daughter is named Harper Adele. If I heard the right one, paired with a feminine middle name, I could even go as far as using a more masculine name.
We are considering the name Beckett for a girl because we like the name Rebecca/Becca.
We both agree that our second daughter should also have a name that is flexible in terms of who she wants to be, whether an artist, attorney, or athlete. I loved that the name Harper had ties to so many different kinds of historical people, particularly literary.
Neither of us care about finding a name with a good nickname.
Family history is important to me, and I would like to use a family name for at least one middle name. We are open to having two middle names.
The possibilities are:
- On his side, the only name we would consider using is his mother’s maiden name, Pearson.
- On my side, there is a Marie that is important to both my father and mother’s families. The problem is that I prefer using it as a first name or part of a double first name only (or barring that, as a first middle name), but my husband is not crazy about it as a first name.
- Another name on my side is Rosa/Rose.
- We have toyed with using another form of my mother’s name, Jennifer. Maybe Genevieve? But it’s not a good pairing for Harper, as a first name paired with Pearson to represent both grandmothers.
Finally, our last name sounds like Van Dorn. The two words make every name longer, but the right name could sound perfect with either the “v” or the “d,” or just the overall feel of the last name.
Read on for my response, and please leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments!
Congratulations on your second daughter! It sounds like you did a great job compromising on Harper Adele’s name, and it’s just a matter of finding something that works just as well for Harper’s sister.
When it comes to gender neutral names, there’s a wide range of possibilities:
- Some names feel tailored, even severe – but are overwhelmingly feminine in use, like Claire and Jane.
- Other names are so common for girls that we rarely associate them with boys today. Madison is in this camp, and I’d say Harper is, too.
- There’s a growing pool of names used for both genders. These are often nature names (River, Rowan), or more modern inventions (Jayden and friends).
- Some names have transitioned from boy to girl, or mostly-boy to mostly-girl. Think of surnames like Riley and Bailey. Surnames that can shorten to feminine nicknames – think of Ellison or Emerson – are especially likely to transition to girls’ names.
- Other names are overwhelmingly masculine, but it’s not unusual to meet girls with these names – Parker, Hunter. Your husband’s pick, Ryan, is in this category.
- And then there are names that feel aggressively masculine – though that doesn’t mean that you won’t find a girl called Hawkins or Rogan or Slade.
I suspect this is why Harper works for both of you. It has the gender neutral style your husband loves, but feels more like a tailored, but still feminine name, like Evelyn or Adele.
Let’s start with some possibilities that might fit, then talk about options for mixing in family names:
Maren – It’s definitely a feminine name, a cousin to Marina and Marinus. But it’s quite tailored, too, and I thought of it as a possible honor name for Marie.
Hadley – Hadley is almost as literary as Harper, and just as familiar as a girls’ name. Elizabeth Hadley Richardson became the first Mrs. Hemingway, and was the subject of the 2011 fictionalized account of Hadley and Ernest’s early married life, The Paris Wife.
Juniper – I agree that Genevieve isn’t the best sister name for Harper (though it isn’t at all unthinkable!) What do you think of nature name Juniper as an honor name for Jennifer? While it has a history of use for boys, Juniper is far more common for girls in the US.
Wren – Another nature name possibility. But is Wren Van Dorn restrained and elegant, or a little too choppy? I can’t decide.
Sloane – If you decide that single syllable names are an option, I’m tempted to suggest Sloane. While Ferris Bueller’s Day Off isn’t a work of great literature, it did make Sloane widely familiar as a name for girls.
Delaney – Delaney has been in steady use for girls over the last two decades, but never as popular as Mackenzie or Kennedy. Harper and Delaney share the same style, but have completely different sounds – I think that makes for a nice match.
Beckett – Beckett is far more common for boys as of 2014, when there were more than 1,500 newborn boys called Beckett compared to 79 girls. But I do think it works, exactly for the reason that you’ve pinpointed: Becky/Bex is a feminine favorite, widely familiar to thanks to the popularity of Rebecca. Shonda Rhimes has three daughters: Harper, Emerson, and Beckett.
I could go on – there are dozens and dozens of surname name possibilities for girls! Layer in nature names and tailored names that happen to feel like surname names, and it’s pages and pages of names.
But I think we need to take a few minutes and look at those family names.
Is it possible that you would consider Pearson as a given name? It’s definitely unexpected, but I don’t think it’s unwearable. Harper and Pearson sound right together. I’m guessing that’s not a front-runner, though, since you didn’t mention it in your letter.
If Pearson isn’t a first name possibility, I’m not so sure about using it as a middle name with a gender neutral first, for two reasons:
- I think it’s nice to have the option of a name that clearly indicates gender. Ryan Pearson Van Dorn is probably a boy. Ryan Evelyn Van Dorn is almost certainly a girl. While plenty of parents disregard this guideline, and plenty of kids don’t mind, I do think it’s worth considering.
- This is probably a matter of personal style, but Beckett Carter Smith always sounds a little like the name of a law firm to me, while Beckett Connor Smith is obviously a person’s name. Again, it’s not a rule – just something to consider.
You also have fabulous middle name possibilities that would anchor a less gender specific given name: Rose, Rosa, and Marie, as well as Jennifer.
If you’re not wild about passing down Jennifer, I’m inclined to cheer for Genevieve as a middle name, too. Adele and Genevieve are lovely names, both French in origin.
From my suggestions, I love the idea of Hadley, Delaney, or Juniper as a sister name for Harper. But I do think that Beckett – especially Beckett Genevieve, or maybe Beckett Marie Rose – would be a gorgeous choice for Harper’s sister.
One final thought: Evelyn actually started out as masculine, or at least gender neutral. (English writer Evelyn Waugh married a woman also named Evelyn; their friends called them he-Evelyn and she-Evelyn!) It’s solidly feminine now, but it would be easy to argue that Evelyn was the Ryan or Taylor of the early 1900s.
Readers, what would you suggest to Cathryn and her husband?