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!
My husband and I are expecting our first child in September and do not know the baby’s sex, but are having a hard time finding a boy’s name.
We are both über-popular-name averse. We’re in our early 30s and do not want names that sound like those of the people we grew up with or a name from our parents’ generation. We don’t want one that sounds too trendy, either – so nothing that rhymes with Aiden!
While I grew up in the US, my husband was born and raised in Germany. We need to consider the pronunciation of any name, as well as its popularity there.
Js are pronounced like Ys and Ws like Vs. Our surname starts with S, which means a first initial S is out of the question, because the initials would immediately be perceived as SS.
Names we considered, but ruled out because they’re very common in Germany include Luca and Felix.
Names I love are Clive, Clyde, Clark, and Kit. But a friend has a Clark, so that’s off the list. And I’m not sure about Kit. I do not like Christopher, and I’m concerned about it being such a short, gender ambiguous name.
Read on for my answer – and please share your helpful thoughts and suggestions in the comments!
Hi Allison –
Oh, I’ve been through the but-how-does-it-sound-in-another-language baby name debates. It’s tough enough to choose a name in one language, but two? Definitely ups the complexity.
So we’re looking for a name that:
- Feels current. In other words, nothing that was big in the 1970s or 80s – or the 1950s or 60s. But it also shouldn’t feel too trendy, so sayonara, Aiden and company!
- It seems like you’re drawn to shorter names – more Jack than Sebastian.
- The name can’t be too popular – in the US or in Germany.
- The name must work in English and German. This means no S names, and possibly rules out J and W names, too.
I think one thing to consider is this: do you want the name to be nearly identical in German and English, or simply pleasing in German and English? Those can be two very different things. The latter is far easier to achieve.
There’s no official popularity list in Germany, so I referred to this website’s Top 500 of 2014.
When looking at naming across cultures, I tend to look at the non-English language first, and consider which names would work well in English.
Why? American English is an anything-goes language when it comes to baby names. Many other places aren’t so accepting. First Names Germany spells out the regulations that would apply if your were naming your child there – clearly gendered, no surname names, nothing “absurd.”
I know someone in a similar situation who ended up with Nicholas – never Nick. I think it’s easy to veer towards the classics when crossing languages, but there are plenty of other possibilities, too.
Wow! That’s a lot to take in, and no wonder you’re having trouble coming up with The Name. Let’s take a look at some options.
Flynn – Finn is a phenomenon in the US and Germany, but Flynn is less common both places – in the mid-300s in Germany, and #659 in the US in 2014. On the downside, Flynn would almost certainly be mistaken as Finn, at least some of the time. And yet, it’s a short, complete name that works in both languages. It has the “F’ of Felix, and the brevity of Clark and Clive.
Leif – I’ve heard that Old Norse/Viking-inspired names are considered rather stylish in Germany at the moment. Some of them could almost fit your criteria – like Kjell – but I’m not sure how wearable Kjell would be in the US. Leif, on the other hand, is perfect – rare, but familiar. Leif ranks in the mid-200s in Germany, and was #998 in the US in 2014.
Dean – Clive, Clyde, and Clark make me think of Dean. It violates one of your rules – Dean peaked in the 1960s, possibly inspired by the late James Dean. And yet, Dean is back in the US, charting at #221 in 2014. In Germany, it’s a Top 200 name. It is the kind of choice that feels both retro and current – kind of like Clark.
Benno – I wonder what you’d think of a name that’s just a little bit different? I’m sure Benjamin is too popular for you – the name ranked #12 in the US last year. Benno hovers around the 200 mark in Germany, but is just about unheard of in the US. That could change – we’re all about ends-in-o names for boys, from Leo to Arlo. And if your Benno prefers to be just Ben, well, he’d blend in with all those boys called Benjamin and Bennett and Bentley. But Benno remains a style stand-out.
Tilo – Here’s another name from the same category as Benno. It’s the one SwissMiss blogger Tina Roth Eisenberg gave to her son. As she explained, the ‘i’ sounds like the ‘i’ in Tina. Tilo ranked #211 in Germany, and is just about unknown n the US.
Martin – If you’re drawn to names like Clark and Clyde, I wonder if you’d consider Martin? Martin is in style-limbo in the US, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s a two-syllable, ends-in-n name, just like Mason and Logan. It has a long history of use, just like William and Charles. And, for your purposes, Martin is well-travelled, a name that works almost anywhere. Martin currently ranks #149 in Germany and #261 in the US. I’d say Martin strikes a nice balance between timeless and retro. Another name in this category? Peter.
Jasper – Okay, remember my question about whether the name has to be almost identical in both languages, or simply pleasing in German and English? Jasper is why I asked. Jasper is #148 on the unofficial German list. It’s currently #218 in the US. That seems like a sweet spot for a name that is appropriate for a child born in 2015, but not very popular.
Linus – One of the challenges with names like Jasper and Flynn is that they’re likely to be more popular in the coming years. So a name you choose in 2015 could violate your no-very-popular-names rule by, say 2018. I’m tempted to look for something even more obscure for you. Linus is one of those names that feels incredibly on-trend but ridiculously underused. It’s not even in the US Top 1000. Of course, Linus is #42 in Germany – possibly too popular for you.
Do any of these feel closer to what you’re looking for? I think Dean might be a really strong possibility – it has the same style as Clark and Clive, but seems to work well in both languages.
Readers, what would you suggest for a boy’s name that works in English and German, but isn’t too trendy or popular in either language?
Of the names mentioned here, a lot of them are on the list of most common names of people living in Germany [http://www.beliebte-vornamen.de/28071-derzeit-lebende-bevoelkerung.htm], and/or the top 100 for 2014 in Germany, so I would rule those out. Of the remainder, these are on the top 500 list [therefore definitely used/pronounced in Germany]: Alex, August, Benno, Caspar/Jasper, Dean, Flynn, Hagen, Hugo, Kjell, Leander, Leif, Mick, Milo, Quentin, Ruben, Tilo. Of those, I would second a recommendation for August, Caspar, Hugo, and Leander — those seem sufficiently “European” while still easy enough/familiar to U.S. ears.
I love the suggestion of Martin.
Also wanted to add to the chorus of support for Karl. You could do something like Karl Isaac Tobias and call him Kit.
You seem to like the Cl sound. Perhaps Calvin.
How do you pronounce Kjell? And do you think you could use it in the US?
When my brother was in high school we had a series of exchange students from Germany, two of their names caught my eye: Mathias (pronounced mah-TEE-us) and Tobias (toe-BEE-us). I like both names and after one or two hints, most people pronounced them correctly. Or you could let them pronounce it both ways.
My boy is August Leander …. We have a friend who is German and he pronounces August as Aw-Gooste which I think is great. It’s a great name in either language. I love the name Leander and would have happily chosen that as the first name and I see from the comments above that someone else has suggested it.
We were in the same situation, and Abby has already mentioned several of the names we considered (and the one we chose,) but some of the others we considered were:
what did you go with?
Karl or Carl
I’m a German native speaker, so here are my two cents, but one thing before I start: American names are really popular in Germany – but they are usually associated with lower-classes. A couple of years ago, there was even a study showing that teachers in elementary schools had strong prejudices against names such as Kevin and Justin (and thought they would never do well in school; a phenomenon called “kevinismus” in German). What I want you to be aware of is, that if you choose a name that is not international enough but clearly American in origin, your kid might encounter prejudices in Germany. So my advice would be to stick with something international – and maybe even chose a name which is a bit more popular.
But I digress.
Here’s what I think about your names:
Clive, Clyde – not common in Germany at all; he’d have to spell it all the time and quite a few people would probably not know how to pronounce it at first
Clark – ok because of the Superman association, but he’d still have to spell it (pronunciation would not be a problem here)
Christopher is somewhat common (I personally think it’s pretty), but the go-to nick name is always Chris or Chrissie; Kit sounds female to my ear
From the name sage’s list, I think that only Martin would work without a problem in Germany but it’s somewhat an older-people name (it was huge in the 70s, 80s – see here http://www.beliebte-vornamen.de/4970-martin.htm; by the way the website stated above is good for checking developments over time as well, just write the name in the search box on the top right)
I think some of the following could work for you:
Marius (#132 in Germany)
Hugo (#142 in Germany)
Konrad (#181 in Germany; K-spelling would be the go-to- spelling)
Marcus (#224 in Germany)
Quentin (#315 in Germany)
Hagen (#449 in Germany)
Mirko (#470 in Germany)
Happy baby-naming. Choose what feels best to you and don’t listen to much to internet-strangers like me 😉
I do know a German/American couple who have a subset named Ronja and Leif.
I said something similar on Swistle the other day – I think embracing the German full force makes sense. Ethnic names have proliferated, heritage names are trendy – I’d go for a Henrik or Karl or Oskar or even Jurgen or Johann. Or pick a name from your family, and Germanize it. Why not? My girl’s 2nd grade class included Indian, Nepalese, Greek, and Hawaiian names, not to mention an LOTR elf. Pronunciation is not going to be that big of a deal.
Whoops, sib set.
Loren Slaymaker says
A friend in this same situation used Lucas. German dad’s name is Thomas, which could also be possibility. Paul could also work- never hugely popular, but not in much use now.
I would recommend Otto – it’s easy to understand, say, and spell in both languages.
Perhaps Victor nn Vic? Vic is short and strong like Clark and Kit and has the hard “c” sound you seem to like. Victor is 245 in Germany and 152 in the US.
Also, since you like the nickname Kit but not Christopher, how about Christian nn Kit? It’s number 42 in the US and 103 in Germany.
My first thoughts were Casper / Caspar and Kester. I’ve always liked Kester was a way to get to Kit.
The Mrs. says
How do you like Oscar (Oscar)?
Axel? It’s in the top 300 in the US and is a traditional German name.
Gus might also work for you.
Conrad is classically German, too.
Hmmm… Behind the Name is often where I go to find a name that fits a certain ancestry. Perhaps this would be a fun exercise for you? 🙂
Best wishes as you welcome your son!
I second Conrad! I have a 3-yr-old Conrad and it wears really well. A friend from college who lives in Switzerland reports that Conrad/Konrad gets shortened to Connie/Konnie a lot, which may not appeal to you. In the US, it gets confused for Connor quite often but that’s the only aggravation I’ve had with it.
I can’t believe I forgot to mention Conrad! What an excellent name in both German and English. Conrad would be a great pick to bridge the gap.
C in DC says
Spell it Konrad and it’s not a far leap to Kit as a nickname.
That’s a really interesting idea, C – I think it works!
Lisa T says
I have the same problem right now (although it’s a good problem to have)! My baby will be Canadian/German, living in Germany. I’ve been looking for a name that sounds good and sounds the same in both German and English, and isn’t too popular in either country. My tip for finding good cross-language names are checking out baby name lists from other European countries. Scandanavia seems particularly good for finding good German/English names, as you can tell from two of my picks below! Here are my boy’s names picks so far:
Leander – My current favourite. Sounds great in both languages, unheard of in US, recognisable but not common in Germany. This is a popular baby name in Norway right now.
Kai – This is an established name in Germany but hasn’t been popular for a generation or so. Fairly trendy sounding in America, but isn’t the top 50 in US or Canada, at least not yet. It has gotten popular in other English speaking countries though.
Marius – Rare in US, established name in Germany but currently not trendy. Popular in Scandanavia.
Arlo – not popular in either country. It’s has potential to get trendy in the US though (along the lines of Milo, Hugo, etc).
Two possibilities that came to mind are Killian (actually Gaelic in origin, but an Irish monk by this name went to Germany as a missionary in the early Middle Ages and brought his name along with); it’s not uber-popular in Germany currently but it’s common enough that people know and recognize it.
Something a bit more traditional would be Karl: You can’t get more German than this! It’s familiar enough in English, too, but definitely not a common name nowadays. But unlike some “traditional” names, it doesn’t have a dated feel to it (unlike, perhaps, Carl).
Another possibility is Otto, but maybe because there was a kid in grade school that I wasn’t a fan of whose surname was Otto, I can’t quite bring myself to recommend this!
St. Kilian is a patron saint of Bavaria, I believe. I’m not entirely sure, but I’m going off the fact that my Bavarian grandmother has a plaque on her wall saying as much.