Name Help: A Formal Name for MaxName 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!

T writes:

We’re adopting a son we plan to call Max.

In the four photos we have of him, he’s wearing a onesie that says, “sweet dreams Max.” (We didn’t feel right legally naming a baby after a onesie!)

Our late daughter was named Rocket Josephine. For future children, we have the names Viva and Clementine for a daughter and Ezra and Huckleberry for a son, plus we’ve considered Hannibal, Barnaby, Simon, Russell, and Malik. (In other words, we’re all over the place!)

He’ll have my last name, which starts with a J and ends with a -y, so names ending with an ‘ee’ sound probably won’t work, with Lee as a second middle. So First Middle Lee J—y.

We’re both teachers and can’t use the name of any former students we’ve taught. We’d also like to avoid our kid ever sharing a name with a classmate.

We’re not religious at all, so some of these names feel like a lot of Old Testament.

With just a few days to go, we’re bouncing between these formal names for Max:

  • Milo, Moses, Maximilian for first names.
  • August, Alexander, and Oleksandr for middle names.

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

Dear T –

How exciting to be welcoming your sweet son – and so soon!

I hear a big challenge in your name choices. Teachers often remark that avoiding popular names matters. But how far will you go to give your child a one-of-one, never-gonna-repeat-in-your-class name?

Usually it turns out that parents are content to choose something that avoids repeating the names of the most, erm, memorable students they’ve come across. But that’s no guard against a future student sharing a name with your child.

Because you named your daughter Rocket, I suspect you’re willing to make far more daring choices than most!

Max misses the mark, in that regard. It’s a great name, but there are lots of Max names in the current US Top 1000, several just outside of the Top 100. And yet, it’s as if he told you his name in his pictures! So I’m not suggesting you change it.

Instead, this makes me think that it’s extra important to find a distinctive first-middle combination for his formal name.

Milo – Milo feels offbeat and edgy, but at #224 in the US, it’s actually fairly mainstream. Credit goes to cousin Miles, currently just outside of the US Top 100. But we also love so many -o ending boy names.

Maximilian – At #464, Maximilian is relatively uncommon. (That works out to around 650 newborn boys given the name last year.) It’s a big name, but that’s not a dealbreaker for you. It also leads logically to the nickname Max, which might be a bonus.

Moses – I love the sound of Moses, and I always expect it to be more popular than it is. But at #475, it’s only slightly less common than Maximilian. Of course, it will feel less popular because nothing really sounds like Moses. So in that sense, Moses might be your best bet.

I’m tempted to suggest one more uncommon Max name: Maxfield, as in the artist and illustrator Maxfield Parrish.

But let’s go back to the three you’ve listed. I’d rule out Milo because it’s the most popular. Let’s pair the others with middles to see if that makes a difference:

Maximilian August – I find it difficult to imagine a four-syllable middle with a four-syllable first, but that’s okay, because Maximilian August is a great combination! I like this so much, and it would be my personal favorite. But is it a little safe for you?

Moses Alexander – Alexander goes well with Moses, and I think it’s a good combination of the bold and unexpected with the more traditional.

Moses Oleksandr – The Olek- spelling of Alexander tends to be Ukrainian, or maybe Russian or Polish. It’s confusing as a given name, but appealing in the middle spot. Using Oleksandr over Alexander makes the name a touch more daring overall. And so I wonder if this is the best combination for your family?

Let’s have a poll, though, because I’m still more drawn to Maximilian August and Moses Alexander – but I’m not sure if that’s the right direction for your family!

Over to you, readers – what formal name would you choose for Max? And do you have any advice for teachers seeking a more distinctive name for their child?

About Abby Sandel

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What do you think?


  1. Going to echo the suggestion of using a Ma- name followed by an X- name OR Alexander. I know a Max short for Matthew Xavier. Matthew strikes me as too popular for your tastes, but Marek Alexander seems the perfect route to Max for you. I also love the suggestion of Massimo as another unusual route to Max.

  2. I feel like Maxim would be easy to use in full and unlikely to be a duplicate even if there were other Max’s in his class. And it would fit with a number of your potential ‘all over the place’ future names. I can picture brothers Maxim & Simon as easily as Maxim and Huckleberry!

  3. How about Xander or Xavier for the middle? With any M first name, you’d have the initials M.X.

  4. I love the idea of Malik Alexander, called Max. It completely works for me! Malcolm isn’t on your original list but has already been mentioned here and Malcolm Alexander works great too! I love the name Malcolm.

  5. If he’s old enough to be in photos, does he already have a name? All three of my adopted siblings were named before they came to my parents – either by the orphanage or by their birth parents. Obviously, you don’t HAVE to keep those names, but if he’s already got a “Max” name (to go with the shirt), it might be worth knowing what that is and at least considering if you could use it. (My parents chose to use the original given names of one of my brothers as a double middle, and give him a first name from our family tree.)

    I like the suggustion of combining an M name with Alexander. Malcom is my favorite with your sibset, but many of the other suggestions work well.