Name Help

Name Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every Saturday, 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!

T writes:

Could I offer up a name challenge for the Saturday series?

We are having a boy.

We already have a girl named Magnolia, nickname Nola.

For a boy, our top two names are:

  • Sebastian, nickname Bash or Baz
  • Augustus, nickname Gus

The middle names will be James.  Our last name is one-syllable, and a color.

We dislike how popular Sebastian is, but love the name so it remains a frontrunner. My husband loves Augustus. I would prefer just August but August seems cheesy with our last name.

Other names we have considered include Hugo, Everett, Evander, Desmond, Caspian, and Jasper. We like longer, more formal names have have an off-beat nickname.

Read on for my response – and please leave your own thoughts in the comments!

Hi T –

There are so many interesting questions in your letter!

How Popular is Too Popular?

It sounds like Sebastian would be The Name.  It meets all of your criteria: a formal name with an off-beat nickname.  And it pairs beautifully with your daughter’s name.  Magnolia and Sebastian.  Nola and Baz.

So let me start out by saying that I don’t think you should rule out Sebastian at all.  There are good reasons to use a very popular name.

I’d make that argument even if Sebastian were a Top Ten name, but here’s the thing: the name ranked #45 in 2013.  That’s just about 7,500 boys – many fewer than the 18,000-plus named Noah.  Because our children receive an ever-expanding number of names, and fewer receive the most popular names, the chances of duplication keep going down.

My kids are almost-10 and just-turned-6.  We know a lot of kids, but only one Sebastian.

Still not convinced?  Or maybe you know just one Sebastian, too, but that’s enough to make it feel awkward?

Does a Noun Last Name Mean Avoiding all Noun First Names?

I love August, and the name feels like a great brother name for Magnolia.

You’re rejected it because your surname is a color.  But Magnolia shares the same colorful surname, right?  Has it been an issue for your daughter?

My advice to friends in a similar situation: avoid Jade Green, but feel free to use Lily Green.  It’s not nouns that are out.  It’s only nouns that seem to create a commonly heard phrase that are problematic.

More Possibilities

Of course, both of these issues – how popular is too popular, and when does a first name clash with a surname – are really personal choices.

So let’s assume both of those are dealbreakers, and look at other possibilities.

  • Augustine, Augusten – You’ve mentioned that your husband likes Augustus.  It’s a grand name, and seems to fit all of your criteria.  But you’re not in love.  Would one of these forms feel like a better fit?  Both of them get you to Gus, are even more uncommon than August/Augustus, and have a tailored, literary feel, as opposed to the Imperial Augustus or the calendar August.
  • Nicodemus – The nickname Nico seems like it might suit.  Nicholas is classic, but maybe too ordinary.  Happily, there’s no shortage of Nic- names.  Nicodemus appears in the New Testament, and yet the name has never been common.  There’s also the Italian Niccolo – a possibility given the popularity of Matteo.
  • Benedict – I don’t think this one is quite as cool as others on your list, though Benedict is definitely an older name attracting lots of attention lately.  (Thank you, Mr. Cumberbatch.)  Ben is the default nickname, but I like the idea of Ned.  Nola and Ned – it sounds like something from a storybook, doesn’t it?  But I’m not sure this is your style.
  • Ludovic – If you’re intent on avoiding popular, how about Ludovic?  It’s a form of Louis (really!), and has never been common in the US.  Nicknames Luc/Luke, Ludo, and Vic are all baked in.
  • Maxfield – Gus always reminds me of Max, so I’m tempted to suggest one of the less common forms of the name.  Maxfield is one; Maximilian is another.
  • Raphael – Maybe Raphael or Rafael, with the nickname Rafe?
  • Ezekiel – I feel like so many of the names on this list lean Old Testament or saintly, so I hesitate to include Ezekiel.  But Zeke is so appealing.  Magnolia and Ezekiel, Nola and Zeke. And, of course, nowadays plenty of boys answer to Isaac and Elijah, with no regard to spiritual considerations – so I don’t think this is necessarily an issue.
  • Leonidas – One of the more offbeat formal name options for Leo, a name boosted by the popularity of the historical-action movie 300.

Let’s have a poll about the popularity of Sebastian – I’m curious to see what others think!

Even after going through all of these possibilities – plus about a dozen that didn’t make my list – I still think Sebastian matches Magnolia best, though Leonidas and Nicodemus are close seconds.

I’d love to hear others’ ideas about the right name for Magnolia’s brother – and the potential issues of choosing a popular name!

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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What do you think?


  1. I really like Abby’s suggestion of Nola & Baz (Sebastian)! I would go with that.

    A few more ideas:
    Ignatius nicknamed Iggy (Nola & Iggy)
    Tarquin nicknamed Tarqy (Nola & Tarqy)
    Riordan nicknamed Rio (Nola & Rio)

  2. I like Julian(Jules) and Jasper from pp suggestions.
    I will add: Leon, Hendricks, Fletcher, Gabe, Winslow, Louis and

    I too would keep Sebastian as top contender.

  3. I love Sebastian nn Baz/Bash but if you feel it’s too popular how about Balthazar. It’s not as popular and you still have the nn Baz or Bash.

  4. When I read through the top 100 baby names there are some names that strike me as regionally polarizing, and Sebastian is one of those names. I live in Texas, and I have met 1 Sebastian in my life. By contrast I know a handful of Augustine/August’s. They are both great names, and you really can’t go wrong with either

  5. Me, I’m not a fan of alliterative subsets, and Nico and Nola is too close to Nick and Nora for me. But I love Sebastian. I live in a very diverse naming environment (I’m thinking over a total of 7 preschool classes, and the only repeats were Hudson and Ava,) and there haven’t been any Sebastians. And with those nicknames, I honestly think you won’t have to worry about popularity. I love it- big formal name with a one-syllable noun surname, with zippy nicknames as well.

  6. I know two boys with the name Sebastian. Maybe you’ll share similar tastes with their mothers so I’ll tell you their brothers’ names.

    Abraham (lots of great nicknames with that one)
    Malachi (goes by Kai)

    Other family:
    Nicolas Orlando (goes by Lando)

    I love the name Sebastian and don’t think it feels really popular–certainly worlds away from Eli (my own son’s name–I got over the too popular thing really quickly when we looked at our little dude and knew his name was supposed to be Eli).

    I adore your daughter’s name. Good luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. I vote for Evander! It’s so much like Magnolia–familiar but different, similar to a classic but with its own charm. Nickname Van is great with Nola. If you like Nico, I suggest Nicolin as a long form. It’s my BIL’s name and pronounced like Nicholas but with a -lin ending. It has that same familiar but different feel as Magnolia.