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!


Jackie writes:

We are due with our third child in July and names have always been a challenge for us. I’m an elementary teacher and, as unrealistic as this is, I quickly dismiss a name if I know a child with the same name.

Despite this, we love the sweet-spot-to-us names of our two oldest. Our daughter is Gwen Bernadette and our son is Callahan Douglas, who we mostly call Cal. 

We don’t know the gender of this baby. We love the surprise but don’t like the pressure of needing to find two names!  We like names that are known but not too popular, easy to spell, and aren’t modern. Our last name is Irish and you can probably find it on some red-capped bottles in your spice cupboard. 

Our girl considerations are Mae, Eve, and Rose (popular but has family significance). The middle name will be either Juliette or Juliana. 

Boy names seem much more challenging!  The name we’re drawn to the most is Finnegan/Finn but we’re worried it seems like a little too much when paired with our Irish last name and a brother already named Callahan.  Another boy name option is Graham but other than that, we are stuck! The middle name will be Michael. 

Can you please help open our eyes to some fresh ideas?

Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.


Abby replies:

Congratulations on baby number three!

The naming challenge faced by teachers is so, so real, and I imagine it gets a little harder with every child you welcome to your family. Not only have you already used some great names … plus you’ve taught a few more years’ worth of students!

Beyond the challenge of finding something uncommon, it sounds like you’re pretty set on one syllable names – either as a full, complete choice, or as a nickname for something longer.

I also think we’re looking for names with a certain kind of polish. Not preppy or aristocratic in any way. But as I started mentally running through one-syllable names for boys, I felt like Beau and Gage and Knox didn’t quite hit the right note, either. Maybe the right name needs just a hint of vintage?

Let’s look at some options.


For a boy, the name to beat is Finnegan “Finn” Michael. I don’t think it’s too Irish at all! Finn benefits from being a mainstream favorite, associated with characters like John Boyega’s intergalactic hero in the Star Wars sequels as well as young actor Finn Wolfhard.

Still, let’s see if we can find some alternatives.


While this name is rising in use, it remains beyond the current US Top 100. And while there’s Judah and Julian, few names sound that much like Jude. The Beatles song makes it immediately familiar and contemporary, a counterweight to some potentially heavy Biblical and literary references.


As with Jude, Hayes is also rising in use – but has yet to crack the US Top 200. It’s got that same mix of twenty-first century sensibility with traditional roots. Hayes is handsome, strong, and still a little bit unexpected.


In our age of Leo and Milo, it’s surprising that Hugo isn’t more common. But that’s to your benefit. A name with centuries of use and a strong meaning – spirit, mind, or heart – Hugo is the kind of name that everyone recognizes, but relatively few parents choose.


Or Nathan or Nathaniel called Nate, of course. Both Nathan and Nathaniel are falling in use. But just Nate has never charted in the US Top 1000 as a given name. I think that’s a good opportunity for a name with a stylish sound but a relatively low profile. (Then again, I suspect at least one Nathan/Nathaniel/Nate has come through your classroom, so maybe that’s out.)


I see Eve on your girl’s list, and I do think it’s a great choice. But surname Reeve is even more distinctive. There’s (male) actor Reeve Carney and (female) author Reeve Morrow Lindbergh. But I think Reeve probably makes most of us think of Reid and Reese, and that makes Reeve feel instantly familiar, but still a little bit different, too.


I first considered Teague for this list. But it is quite Irish. Spell it Tadhg and it’s right up there with Siobhan and Padraig. But Teague might be on the right side of surname style. And Tate absolutely is. The only challenge with Tate – an English surname, originally – is that it’s just about doubled in use from 2019 to present. Still, I think either name hits the familiar, not overused mark nicely.


Mae, Eve, and Rose are lovely names that pair well with Gwen and Cal, and would be great with Juliana or Juliette as a middle name. But let’s see if we can find some more possibilities.


Beatrice is an old school name that’s somewhere between serious and offbeat. Bea is one of those no-nonsense choices, a sister for Kate, a timeless and versatile option. I love it as a sister name for Gwen.


The problem with June is that June Juliette is either adorably repetitive or too, too much. (Possibly both at the same time.) But June? Could be perfect. It’s a little more sound that Eve or Mae, and slightly less common than Rose. One other option: Juniper, called June or Junie (or Juno!) for short. Though it’s worth noting that Juniper is currently more popular than June.


Mae is lovely and vintage and strong. So is Eve. Put them together and you’ll arrive at Maeve. It’s the best of both sounds, and the name of a legendary warrior queen. But if you’re worried that Finn is too Irish with your surname? I feel like Maeve doesn’t pass that test, either. Still, it just might be worth it.


Mina rhymes with Gina and Tina, but feels far more contemporary. In fact, Mina can be Persian or Hindi or English or Dutch. Bram Stoker gave the name to a character in Dracula, which makes Mina lean a little more vintage.


Lots of formal names can shorten to Nell. Helen and Eleanor are two, but those are only a start. Nella an obvious choice, too. Gwen and Nell sound so much like sisters to my ear, and Nell Juliette is perfect.


I feel like Ruth is one of those names that parents are considering anew. It can feel a little old lady – except it’s actually fresh and vibrant on a girl, sort of like Ruby meets Thea. It’s brief, complete, and nicely unexpected.

Overall, I really do like Finnegan “Finn” Michael for a boy, with Jude Michael and Reeve Michael tied for second place.

It feels a little harder for a girl. I’ll pick Mae Juliette from your original list, with Nell (or Nella) Juliette and Mina Juliana as alternatives. I would probably have put June on that list, too, but I think the middle name is a complicating factor.

Readers, over to you – what would you name a brother or sister for Gwen Bernadette and Callahan “Cal” Douglas?

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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 know it can be hard, but you have to dismiss the school-thing when searching for your child’s name.

    I’m also an elementary teacher, and two weeks after returning from maternity leave I got a new student with the same name as my new baby. Inevitable, right? And I said that student’s name all day long every day because he needed a lot of redirection. It did feel like it ruined the name of my already-named baby . However, kids move to new grades, they switch schools…two years later the kid switched schools, and now he’s a distant memory, and I love my 5-year-old’s name.

    1. Good perspective – thank you, Em #2! (And oof! I can only imagine how it must’ve felt to see that name on your roster!)

  2. I agree that Maeve seems like a perfect choice for a girl! Maeve Juliette would be a lovely complement to Gwen Bernadette.

    Although, as a fellow teacher, I wonder if the reason it’s not already on your list is that you’ve already taught a Maeve or two (or more)? In that case, I think any of your existing choices would be lovely!

    For a boy, I think Finnegan “Finn” pairs nicely with Callahan “Cal”. Doubling up on Irish surnames is a bold choice, but if it’s worked for your first son, there’s no reason it shouldn’t for another!

    Of course, you could choose another name, such as Finneas, to get the same nickname.

    Or simply go with Finn on its own!

    Even though Finn is shorter than Finnegan, it’s actually the older of the two names. Finnegan is simply a diminutive of Finn. Finn MacCool (or Fionn mac Cumhaill) is one of the greatest heroes in Irish mythology.

    In other words, Finn has been a standalone name for centuries, so there’s no need to treat it as a nickname unless you really want to.

    I do think Finn/Finnegan is preferable to Graham, which nearly rhymes with Callahan (at least to my ear).

    From Abby’s list, I like Jude! And from the comments, Julian and Wesley “Wes” stand out as possibilities.

    Here are some other options:

    Sebastian “Seb”
    Sebastian Michael McC—
    Gwen, Cal, and Seb

    Vincent “Vin”
    Vincent Michael McC—
    Gwen, Cal, and Vin

    Alexander “Xan”
    Alexander Michael McC—
    Gwen, Cal, and Xan

    Russell “Russ”
    Russell Michael McC—
    Gwen, Cal, and Russ

    And finally, an option that doesn’t have a monosyllabic nickname, but which I think would go beautifully with your surname and existing children’s names:

    Lachlan Michael McC—
    Gwen, Cal, and Lachlan

  3. Girls:
    Faye Juliana
    Maude Juliette
    Michelle Juliette (remake your possible boy’s middle)
    Phoebe Juliette
    Stella Juliette
    Tess Juliana

    Auden Michael
    Edgar Michael
    Julian Michael (remake your possible girl’s middle)
    Noel Michael
    Roland Michael
    Tristan Michael

    But I vote for Maeve and Finn. Good luck!

  4. Felix, Emmett, Duncan, Samuel, Patrick, Drake, Drew, Sullivan.
    Or you could do Griffin nn Finn.

    For a girl, Maeve joins 2 of your favorites! Mae+Eve!

  5. I want to point out that Finnegan Michael very much makes me think of the song “Michael Finnegan” (“There was an old man named Michael Finnegan …”) It’s probably totally a non-issue, but I thought I should mention it!

    Anyway, I’m going to suggest some names for you:

    Abraham “Abe” or “Bram” for a boy


    Louisa “Lou” / Louise “Lou” for a girl