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!
Ever since we started trying for a family, I had one name in mind for a daughter: Scout. I like it because of the Harper Lee character, but even more because my husband earned his Eagle Scout award, as did my brothers, and I was a Girl Scout for many years, so it was very important in both of our families. And it’s everything my name is not: there’s one spelling, it’s strong, and it’s not trendy.
Now, after a long journey, our daughter will be here in a few short weeks. There’s no question we plan to call her Scout. We’d settled on Scout Eleanor, Eleanor from my husband’s grandmother. (She died before we met, but Eleanor Roosevelt makes me love it, too.)
But lately I’m wondering – should her first name be Eleanor? My sister – who I love, but don’t necessarily share the same taste in names – is trying to talk me into this approach, because she worries that her niece will “outgrow” Scout. (Jean Louise did, right?) I’ve asked other friends, and reactions are mixed.
My husband sort of shrugs it off, and says whatever I decide is fine. Except I can’t decide!
Any advice is welcome.
Please read on for my response, and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Dear Linsey –
First, congratulations on your new daughter!
This is one of those questions that elicits strong feelings. Some parents will insist that it’s a Horrible, Dreadful, Terrible mistake to put anything other than your child’s everyday use name on her birth certificate. They opt for Maggie instead of Margaret, and short, simple names like Ava and Claire.
Other parents feel every bit as strongly that Formal Names Matter. They debate the possible nicknames for Josephine, or worry that Scarlett doesn’t have any good short forms. Denying our children a longer name, they contend, is to make their path to the bench of the Supreme Court that much more difficult.
The hard truth? There’s no right answer. As tempting as it is to declare formal names a must, or nicknames needlessly complicated, the truth is that both approaches work just fine. Both have their drawbacks. (Maybe Maggie tires of being asked if her name is short for Margaret, just as much as Posy dislikes explaining that she’s really Josephine. There’s no way to know.)
Your sister is arguing that Scout doesn’t stand up as a first name – it’s too insubstantial, a nickname that might hold your child back from future accomplishments.
No parent would bestow a name with that intention, so I understand your anxiety.
And yet … I think your sister is wrong.
Let me break it down:
We are living in the Golden Age of word names. Might some adults raise an eyebrow at a child name River or Reign or Scout? Sure. But these names continue to gain in use, along with so many other word names – like Scout. That means that a child named Willow or Journey today will experience their name as normal, and as their generation ages, so will everybody else. Because …
All names age with their generation. We can’t imagine a Supreme Court Justice named Madison because, in our experience, the average Madison is a teenager. (Though actually, Madison reached the US Top 100 in 1993. Plenty of Madisons are full-fledged grown-ups by now.) Fast-forward to, say, 2043, and Madison will be the name of many women of accomplishment in all fields of endeavor, just like Melissa, Susan, Jennifer, Michelle, and Amy are today. All that’s required is a few more decades. And so it will go with all sorts of names in use today – Sadie and Scarlett and yes, Scout.
The formal name versus everyday use name is based entirely on personal preference. There are no rules when it comes to naming. Maybe some guidelines and good advice, but rules? Nope. Some of us like Clarissa and Aurelia, while other parents pick Quinn and Sloane. For every parent who argues passionately in favor of Eleanor Scout, another will insist that Scout Eleanor is the way to go.
It’s like asking a group of friends to pick a paint color for your bedroom. You love them all, and you’re grateful for their opinion … but when the sun sets, you’re the one who has to sleep in that room with the charcoal/chartreuse/peacock walls, so you’d better love it.
My sense is that Scout is your daughter’s name. You hadn’t considered Eleanor as a first name until your sister mentioned her misgivings – but they’re her misgivings, not yours. This is the name you’ve loved for a long time. In short, I can’t think of a reason in the world to change your plans now.
Still, let’s have a poll, because if you really are down to a coin flip on this one, it’s always interesting to see what the community says.
Let’s hear it, reads: Should Linsey stick with Scout Eleanor for her daughter, or reserve the names to Eleanor Scout … called Scout?
I’m the type of person like your sister, who leans towards classic name first, fun name in the middle. But that’s me. If we’re trying to look at this more objectively, we need to know your surname, even if it’s just the syllables. We’re comparing a one syllable name to a three syllable name, and I also happen to prefer putting the longer name first! It could be Eleanor and Ann, for example, and I’d feel the same with Eleanor coming in the beginning.
But if you have a long surname, like…Rodriguez, for example, and want to take that into account? Scout Rodriguez sounds so snappy compared to Eleanor Rodriguez!
I think any way you go, it’s a lovely, well-balanced name. Strong and sweet. Feminine but not frilly. I think Eleanor Scout flows so nicely, but I am a believer in choosing what you love. If Scout ever decides she’s not into it, she can use Eleanor instead. Lots of people do that with their middle names.
Also – think of telling her the story of her name, how you loved Mockingbird, and dreamed of the name Scout for your daughter. She’ll love it. Once I found a storybook my mum wrote in elementary school with a main character she named “Julea” in it and it touches my heart to know that she had been swooning over my name since she was a little girl.
Mandie L says
If it were my daughter, I would go with Eleanor Scout (and I would probably call her Ellie). But she’s not mine, and she’s not your sister’s, she’s yours. Based on what you said in the letter I think Scout Eleanor is absolutely the way to go. And I agree with Abby that it will hold up just fine in her generation.
But – do keep in mind that there is a possibility (however slim) that Scout might someday decide she’d rather go by Eleanor. Are you OK with that?
Let me ask you this – if she decided she wants to be called Ellie or Eleanor not Scout in the future would that hurt/make you cringe? If yes proceed with Scout Eleanor it’s a great name. If not then maybe Eleanor Scout is the move.
So, I truly don’t think there is a right answer to this question. We have a friend whose daughter is named Katherine Scout but always goes by Scout. Scout says this is only mildly annoying when her teachers call her Katherine on the first day of school.
My personal preference would be Scout Eleanor for two rather mundane reasons: 1) then she doesn’t risk issues with school and work issued email addresses starting with e vs s and 2) her monogram will match.
Plus, she could always still go by her middle name (Eleanor) later on if she wanted.
Andrea Young says
I would go with Scout. Always pick what you love. Unless you love the name Satan. Then don’t pick what you love.
I voted for Eleanor Scout. I think Scout makes a great middle name — especially with the associations you and your husband have with the word-name. But your daughter may grow out of it — or it might not suit her at all. I don’t think that every girl/woman fits the image of Scout, the character of Jean Louise “Scout” in “To Kill A Mockingbird,” while Eleanor, if she someday choose to be called by that name, is much more versatile (including also Nell, Nora, Ellie, and others). Jean Louise in “Mockingbird” was given that nickname after she had developed/shown her own personality, given the nickname because it suited her. I suggest you try “Scout”” on yourself and see if it would work for you, as you were growing up, now as an adult. There’s the “Starbucks” test (what is your name? Scout; a bit later your name is called out: “Scout”) and other ways to test it.
I would name her Eleanor Scout and call her “Scout” — for as long as it suits her or maybe always.
I agree with everything Keats said above. I personally think Eleanor Scout flows better.
I’ve known many people who have gone by their middle names. And, of course, actors do it all the time. William Bradley Pitt goes by Brad Pitt. Christopher Ashton Kutcher goes by Ashton Kutcher. Laura Jean Reese Witherspoon goes by Reese Witherspoon.
But you do what feels right to you.
To me, this is not a question about what your daughter’s name is…. It is Scout. And your sister’s concern that she needs a formal name for “her future” is met through Eleanor.
You are instead asking about sequencing, which comes down to your tolerance for administrative frustration. And/or desire for that frustration to be **potentially** passed to your daughter in the future.
The only time this matters is legal documents, school/doctor registration, and future corporate email. All three of which are a relatively small, periodic part of your/her life. I mean, how many people know your full name?
So really no wrong answer here. As long as you have a name she can default back to if she “outgrows” Scout, you are set. (And for what it’s worth, this applies to all kids names. I know many kids with traditional first names that use their nontraditional middles as adults.) So whether the traditional name is first or middle is rarely going to be a practicable issue.
I feel like you’d regret not giving your daughter the name you love. Personally, I’d like to be named Scout! Go for it.
As a trendy name holder myself (Dana) I do think Scout is a trendy name. It was never really used at all, is suddenly popular as a fresh sound with a timely meaning, and I expect it to fade away and effectively serve as a generational/age time stamp, much like Dana does. So if that’s something you want to avoid, don’t use it. If that negative doesn’t outweigh all the positives of the name for you go for it! Also, much like Jean Marie’s parents did 😉 – you could name her literally anything and still CALL her Scout.