Name 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!
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.
Hi 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?
Minnie could be a gorgeous choice, now that it is a short form for Wilhelmina as well
Billie is wonderful with Layla!
Willow does seem more distinctive than Willa in this sib set. I like Willa just fine on its own, but it does seem rather soft and unsubstantial paired with Layla. The “ow” gives it a bit of punch.
If you love Liam, by all means use it. Popular shmopular. I’m realizing I don’t know any Liam’s in our elementary school crowd. Willem is a great name, but he will be correcting people his whole life.
And yeah, Layla and Liam are a matched set, but whatever. Use the names you love.
kelsey D says
I absolutely 100% think that Layla Capri and Willa Mercy sounds fantastic together. Like actually perfect!
As for the boy name… I personally would use William that way you have several options for a shortened nickname but still have the full name to fall back to….I personally really like Will. I also love the suggestion of Willem. Less common, not exactly the same as your dad but is a pretty awesome nod. But Willem is just a tad bit more spunkier!!
Good luck and keep us posted!
Liam is not too popular. I’d say go for it, if that is your only hesitation. My choice would be the longer name. I prefer William with the nickname Liam. This allows for more options as babe grows.
In that vein, my favorite option from the list for girls is Wilhemina with the nickname Mina.
Does your father go by Bill? If so, I wanted to toss out another option… Sybil. Layla and Sybil seem well matched, but with different sounds.
I think Willa Mercy is adorable! And I think there is no problem with Willa and Layla as sisters. They sound fine together. It would be different if you were considering, say Layla and Lyla. Those ARE too close.
I think Liam, though popular, is still great for a son. Especially if you love it! And from your middle name options, I, too, think Marcus is perfect. The only downside I see to using Liam is that it would break the fun five-letter trend in your family:)
Overall, I agree, you should stick with Willa and Liam if those are the names you really love.
I think Willa and Layla are just fine as sister names, especially if honoring William is important. However, I LOVE Wilhelmina as a feminine form of William…Mina is just so darling! I also like Willow.
If it were me, I would just name a son William and call him Liam. I particularly like William Marcus from your potential middle name list. I also like the suggestion of Wilder or Wiley.
I definitely don’t think Layla and Willa are too close for sister names. IMO sharing starting sounds is more problematic than sharing ending sounds, in terms of Mom and Dad mixing up the names when yelling across the house or what have you.
If Layla and Willa are too close, then so are, I don’t know, Brandon and Jordan, or Ryan and Aaron… And surely we’ve all known sibsets along those lines.
I love Liam with Layla! I also love Willow with Layla. I don’t think Willa and Layla are too close though, Willa’s just not my style.
If Liam is too popular, there are tons of surname names for boys that are uncommon and could give the nickname Wil or Will. My very favorite is Willis. Wilder, Wilson, Wilton, and Wilbur all come to mind as well.
Layla and Will would be cute together too.
What about Billie for a girl? It doesn’t go with Mercy, buy there’s no mistaking it as coming from William and it makes a great girl’s name! I’m of the opinion that Willa and Layla are too close. It’s not just the vowel sounds, but also the fact that neither has strong consonants. I never would have thought my daughters’ names were too close but, too late, I now realize that a combination of stressed syllables and lilting consonants make them a lot more similar than I’d have thought (think Elizabeth and Olivia).
More outside the box ideas: Mila, Mia, or Maia.
I was all set to say, Go with Liam –and I voted for it, but then I thought about siblings named Layla and Liam and now I’m not sure. That seems less than ideal, as do sisters named Layla and Willa.
I might use one of these William related names instead:
William, as is — probably called “Will”
Willem — an unusual shortening is Wim (Dutch form)
Willow – I prefer over Willa and especially with Layla
But both Liam (love it!) and Willa would make a fine honor name for Grandpa William, and if those are your favorites, I think either works okay with Layla. In fact some parents would be delighted with the linking of each name with Layla:
Layla and Liam
Layla and Willa
The bottom line for me is going with the name that you love and feels right to you.