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!
I’m the youngest of five kids, married to the youngest of four. We’re the last of our siblings to start a family and it feels like they’ve used ALL OF THE GOOD NAMES.
Especially for boys.
If not our families, then our friends have already taken the ones that we could seriously consider using.
Our style is pretty traditional. My favorites are Henry, Theodore, and Charles. My husband likes William and James. These are all already the names of our nephews/cousins/close friends’ kids.
Joseph is a family name on both sides, but it could really only be a middle. (There’s a Joseph III in our new baby’s generation already.)
Names we also like but are already taken: Alexander, August, Benjamin, Daniel, George, Jack, Lucas/Luke, Miles, Nathaniel, Nicholas, Patrick, Ryan, Samuel, Thomas, Zachary.
My husband is Matthew, and we know we don’t want a junior. Also, our last name sounds like Kella-her, but is spelled differently, so Oliver is out, too.
We’re not due until January, but our name list is empty!
Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Congratulations on your new son!
And oh, this is tough. As joyful as big families can be, they do make naming a little more of a puzzle.
Let’s tackle this from two angles.
First, are the classic names you love really off-limits?
I agree that you probably wouldn’t name your son William if your sister or his brother has a two year old named William.
But if it’s his cousin, the one who moved across the country after college and you only see every few years? Or your old college roommate, who you adore, but last saw at a wedding in 2019?
Maybe those names should be on the table. The parents aren’t leaving your life, but the repetition is not likely to cause a problem.
I know good friends who met when they both had toddler boys named Max And extended families where names repeat, but a mix of age and distance means that there’s never really any confusion.
So your first task is this: think about which names it would be really awkward to repeat. Consider the possibility that your family might have, say, a 16 year old Lucas and a baby Luke without any issues.
Second, let’s think about how to broaden your list.
Right now, you’re looking for names that are both current and classic.
By definition, that will always be a tiny, limited list.
But you can turn more than one dial.
In brief, you could choose names that read slightly less classic, but still fit with
STILL CURRENT, NOT QUITE AS CLASSIC BOY NAMES
Does the Benjamin in your lives rule out Bennett? It’s a surname derived from Benedict; any of the three names could easily be shortened to Ben. So it feels traditional, even if surname names tend to be a little more modern.
Because your last name is a little longer, a short, strong first name could be great.
There aren’t a ton of Biblical names on your list, but I think Old Testament Isaac is less in the Nehemiah/Ezekiel camp and closer to Henry/Miles.
This New Testament name is rising throughout the English-speaking world, an alternative to Jack with much of the same appeal. Bonus: a built-in lullaby, thanks to The Beatles.
Hayes sounds polished and preppy. Like Bennett, it’s a surname name – though it’s even more recently risen in use. It’s an alternative to Miles or Henry.
We don’t think of Owen as traditional, necessarily – but it is. The much-married King Henry VIII had a great-grandfather by the name.
Another surname name, Reid feels traditional-ish. It’s also spelled Reed, but the “ei” spelling is more popular. Again, it sounds particularly good with a longer last name like Kella-her.
A name with deep roots, New Testament Silas comes from the Latin Silvanus, ultimately from silva – the forest. It’s quite stylish at the moment, a brother for Theo or Will.
STILL CLASSIC, NOT QUITE AS STYLISH BOY NAMES
Tony is solidly in dad-name territory, but Anthony, used in full, has a very different image.
There’s something cuddly about Jesse. It fits right in with casual-cool names like Theo and Jack. If it hadn’t been very popular circa 1980, it would be big now.
Another name that caught on in the 1980s, Jonathan feels like an alternative to Theodore and Alexander today.
When it comes to overlooked classics, Malcolm always comes to mind. It’s solid, traditional, and nickname-rich, without needing a nickname at all.
Nowadays, Mike is somebody’s dad – or maybe grandpa! But Michael? Use it without a nickname, and it feels fresh and modern.
It’s a storybook name, the boy’s answer to Alice. And it’s a rock solid classic, too – pun intended. That R ending ought to make it fit right in with Carter and Hunter and Asher, too.
Simon sounds smart, a little serious, and very traditional, too.
Theodore is white hot, but Thomas, somehow, we’ve neglected. Say it in full – Thomas – and it fits right in with Miles and James. But Tommy feels delightfully old school and I think Tom still has potential, too. But just like James is no longer automatically Jim, I don’t think you’d have to shorten Thomas – and that’s why it works so well.
So how do you decide where to turn the dial?
There’s a style gap between Simon/Thomas/Michael and Silas/Bennett/Owen. Either set could be a brother for Henry, but Simon doesn’t sound as much like a brother for Bennett, right? (I mean, they could be. But it’s not my immediate thought.)
If you’re stuck, it might help to think about girls’ names.
I know, I know … imagining a future sibling for your firstborn is potentially overwhelming!
But do you find yourself drawn to the most classic of classics for girls – Mary, Elizabeth, Helen, Katherine? (Though I realize you’ll surely have the same repetition problem here.) Or do you find yourself eager to consider slightly more modern/stylish names for girls – Sienna, Autumn, Maeve?
Because if your girls’ name list feels a little more adventurous, I’d suggest you consider the Bennett/Silas category more strongly.
But if you’re Team Mary and Katherine? Then I’d focus on choices like Peter and Thomas.
There are some great suggestions here and in the comments! A few additional ideas (all of which would be nice with Joseph as a middle name and “Kella-her” as a last name):
Once we got rid of our boy names that were “already taken” (including Charles, Thomas, Theodore), we were left with Calvin and George. I think either could work here!
I love some of the suggestions of others…My youngest we debated between Julian, Teddy, and Harrison. They all seem classic but have sweet nicknames too.
Harvey! Harvey Joseph Kella-her. Like Henry, but rarer, cooler and still classic.
My first thoughts before reading the article were Anthony & Malcolm, but I also love your suggestion of Peter. I have a Michael who goes by Michael & it works.
What about a variation of a classic?
Alistair instead of Alexander
Mathias or Matteo instead of Mathew
Liam or Wilem instead of William
Traditional but not overly used. Short to go with your last name.
A few for your consideration (with some repeated suggestions):
My first thought when reading the comment was Sebastian.
Also thought of Leonard (Leo) or Elliott.
I also liked the suggestion of Malcolm.
A few more ideas: Raphael, Martin, Leon, Emmett or Emil, Alfred, Stanley, Joachim
My first thought was my son’s name, Lewis, but seeing that Lucas is out, I’d caution against it as my Lewis is often mistaken for Lucas.
Otherwise, how about:
Harry (maybe too close to Henry)
I love those suggestions too. Though I noticed that Thomas is on their taken list. Possibly Peter is also out for the same reason as Oliver, ending in ‘er’.
Oh gosh, you’re right!!
Completely agree with Abby on Peter, Simon and Thomas!
A few others:
and my favorite:
So classic and so underused!
Alan, Brian, Christopher, David, Edmund, Edgar, Eric, Francis, Frank, Frederick, Geoffrey, Gregory, Guy, Howard, Ian, Joel, Kirk, Lawrence, Louis, Mark, Max, Michael, Neal, Oscar, Paul, Philip, Quentin, Ralph, Richard, Robert, Roland, Roman, Stephen, Thaddeus, Tobias, Victor, Vincent, Warren,
Maybe you haven’t yet considered
I agree with the comments that repeating names may work in many instances – since classic names are often really rich in nickname options, there’s a lot less confusion if a name is used more than once. However, I totally understand wanting a name that hasn’t yet been taken!
If you’re still looking for more options, here are a few classic names on my own list that I don’t think were mentioned yet:
Hugh / Hugo
Lewis / Louis
Very similar situation… husband has 3 brothers and there are about 20 boys in our kids generation.
We have a Charles and August. Names I liked but didn’t use (and you haven’t listed as unable to use:
My favourite classic but not overused boy names:
Francis (Frank or Frankie?)
Edward (if you like Theodore, would you like Teddy?)
Many repeats in my suggestions:
Great advice. It’s really all your comfort level with re-using a name – and yes giving a different nickname, or keep looking amongst the classics or cast a wider net. I love Conrad, Ivan, Declan, Byron, Scott, Oscar. Maybe surnames would be your style too? Harrison, Davis, Jameson, Calloway!
I have a large family with many grandsons, all named in the style you prefer, seven of the names you mentioned among them. But there are other fine traditional names you might consider:
Aidan (spelled that way, like St. Aidan)
These young men/boys range in age from 21 down to 2.5 years.
My sister and my cousin are both Elizabeths but one is Liz and the other Elise. I could easily picture that arrangement working for two Williams (Will & Liam or Billy), two Henrys (Henry & Hank), two Thomases (Thomas and Tommy), two Theodores (Ted and Theo), two Augusts (August & Gus)… you get the picture. So I’d say it’s ok to use a name you love, especially if you expect to pick a different nickname. I also like Abby’s suggestion to consider girl names and what fits.
But if you’re still looking, what about Arthur, Xavier, Noah, Gabriel, Ambrose, Christopher, Gregory, or Sebastian?