Name Help: Honoring WilliamName Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every Saturday, one reader’s name questions will be discussed. (Wait, you say, it’s Monday! Right you are. We’ve had so many requests that I’m adding these posts to Mondays as needed.)

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!

Erica writes:

We have an almost 5 year old named Layla Capri. Layla was a name I had chosen back in middle school and my husband loved, so it was a no-brainer. Capri came unexpectedly during the pregnancy. Layla would always kick my belly when I would play the song “Capri” by Colbie Caillat, so we like to say that she picked her own middle name.

We are expecting baby #2 in May. My husband and I have decided we would like to honor my dad, William, this time around.

We both love Willa for a girl and Liam for a boy. However, I have a couple of concerns:

  • Willa sounds an awful lot like Layla. Is that a dealbreaker? I’ve looked at other female variations of William and none of them really stand out for me. If Willa is too similar, what else would you suggest? The middle name we have in mind is Mercy.
  • We have always loved Liam, but it is SO popular. I don’t want my child to be known as Liam N. his whole life. Middle name contenders include Elias and Marcus.

My dad’s middle name is Lee, which he gave to my brother as a middle, and my brother has now passed down to my nephew as a middle. So, that name already has plenty of use.

Our last name is two syllables, and starts and ends with N. (Think Nelson.) So we are also trying to avoid names that begin or end in n.

Less important, but also worth noting, my husband, Scott, Layla, and I all have 5 letters in our first name. It would be fun to have another 5 letter first name to round us out, but not a deal breaker by any means.

Read on for my reply, and please leave your helpful thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

Name Help: Honoring WilliamHi Erica –

Congratulations on baby #2!

It sounds like you’ve made a great start on choosing names. By deciding to honor your father, you’ve narrowed the list of potential baby names from a galaxy of thousands to a very few. But if honoring William is more important than any other consideration, that’s as it should be.

My sense is that honor names – when they’re freely chosen by both parents – are rarely regretted. That’s true even if the name isn’t exactly perfect in every sense. We named our son Alexander after his paternal grandfather back in 2004. It was very popular then, and it has become even more popular since. But I do genuinely like the name, and I love the connection between generations. I’ve never regretted naming my son Alexander, even though my tastes definitely run towards the less common.

It’s a consistent theme I’ve heard from other parents – an imperfect name choice rich with meaning trumps a name that is super-stylish but chosen for that reason alone.

So, that brings us to your first question: is Willa too close to Layla?

I don’t think so. In How Close is Too Close? I listed ten factors to consider, and sharing sounds is one of them. But I’ve met plenty of families with more than one a-ending name. The first syllables are very different. And the names don’t actually rhyme, share the same meaning or origin, or set off any other too-close signals. I say they’re fine together.

Let’s have a poll, because I’m curious to see if I’m in the minority here:

Two William-related alternatives that you’ve probably already considered:

  • Willow – No, it’s not related to William etymologically, but it shares the same first syllable. And hey, it worked for Will Smith. I also think that Layla and Willow share a breezy, modern style – feminine, but not frilly.
  • Minna or Mina – Both Minna and Mina can be nicknames for Wilhelmina and other elaborate feminine forms of William. I think Layla and Minna are gorgeous together, though it’s not immediately obvious how Minna comes from William, so I can see that it might not be satisfying as an honor name.

So I do think you’re in good shape if your second child is a girl. Layla Capri and Willa Mercy. The sounds are similar and the styles are different, but both names have a story and strong reasons for being chosen. In that sense, they’re perfectly matched.

Now, on to an equally complicated question if this baby is a boy: is Liam too popular?

I do think my comments from above apply – better to choose a name that’s very popular, but meaning rich, rather than one that’s less common, but chosen without the same kind of backstory.

There are lots of good reasons to use a Top Ten – or even a #1! – name, and I’d say that Liam checks off a lot of boxes on the list.

When I look at the Top Ten names, it always strikes me that we don’t really know that many kids with any of the names. There’s only one Ava in my kids’ entire school, plus one other in our extended circle of friends. There’s more than one Olivia, Sophia, and Isabella, but I don’t believe any class has more than one. William and James repeat, of course. But there’s only one Liam.

Again, I think a poll might be helpful here:

Now, if you did want to consider alternative names that honor William but aren’t in the US Top Ten, you might think about:

  • Wilkie – It’s a surname form of the name via medieval diminutive Wilkin. It’s the middle name of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick’s son, James Wilkie. It brings to mind writer Wilkie Collins – born William Wilkie Collins. But it’s the opposite of Liam – it’s almost unused as a child’s name.
  • Wiley – Wiley is another surname name. Like Willow, it is related to William only by virtue of the first three letters, Wil. But Wiley is much more familiar as a given name – there were 118 newborn Wileys in 2014, plus 87 Wylies. And one very famous coyote. But a plus to Wiley (and Wylie)? They’re both five letter names!
  • Willem – My favorite form of William is the Dutch form of the name, Willem, as in Dafoe. It’s not very common, but it’s not completely unknown, either.
  • William – Another possibility is to use William in full. While the name is very popular, it’s always been very popular. If you find that there are truly too many Liams in your son’s kindergarten or on his soccer team, you’ve reserved the possibility of calling him William or Will instead of Liam at some future point. Liam can never really become Will.

After looking at all of the options, I can honestly say that I’d stick with Willa and Liam – but I know that there will be more great suggestions and creative ideas from the community.

Readers, what would you say to Erica and her husband? Are Layla and Willa too close? Is Liam too popular? Are there other William-inspired names that might work?

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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