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!
Emilie and her husband are expecting their second child soon, a little sister for Nol@n. She writes:
When I was pregnant with my our first, my husband and I both agreed that if she was a girl, we would name her Charlie. My husband’s name is Charles.
Now that we are having a girl, we are hesitant to recycle the name Charlie for two reasons:
- We don’t think it will age well. Charlie is cute for a baby, a child, and a teen. But not sure if it is appropriate to have a nickname as a name in a professional environment?
- We gave our son the middle name Charles, and worry that would be a little repetitive to use Charlie on a second child.
We don’t like any of the long versions of Charlie – Charlotte, Charlene, etc.
We are both leaning towards using a “unisex”/gender neutral name – which I have learned from baby naming websites is quite controversial. I don’t want to incite a riot!
The problem is we cannot both agree on any names – all of the names we like, one or both of us has some doubt that it is the right name The only name that has been completely vetoed (by me) is Taylor.
She adds that their last name is one syllable and ends in an ‘l’ sound, and their daughter’s middle name will be Victori@, a family name.
Read on for my advice – and please add your own thoughtful comments and suggestions, too!
Hi Emilie –
First, congratulations on your baby on the way!
You’re right – gender-neutral names can be super controversial. Know this: first, thousands and thousands of people have names that are gender-neutral to some degree. The world has continued to rotate on its axis. Some people love ’em, some people hate ’em, some people never give it a second thought.
Using a name like Victori@ in the middle is a good way to provide balance. I always prefer the idea of, say, Reese Violet over Reese Ellison. If your daughter is ever truly distressed about her first name feeling too masculine, there’s an undeniably feminine option waiting in the wings.
Another small point: there are unisex names that are used predominantly for girls (Madison), and ones that are used almost exclusively for boys (Jesse).
That said, all of the names on your list strike me as perfectly wearable for a girl. And while it might complicate things, I’m going to suggest a few more, too!
Let’s start with the names on your current list:
- Eden – Emilie mentioned that they worry about two things: is this name too popular? And will she be teased about the Garden of Eden? I can’t promise your daughter will never be teased, but Eden has gone pretty mainstream. Even if she’s teased, it will fall into the same, eye-roll-worthy category as kids who are asked if they love peanut butter cups because they’re named Reese. Eden ranked #158 in the US last year – actually less popular than your son’s name, which is established in the Top 100. It’s also in use for boys, but is significantly more popular for girls.
- Dylan – Dylan is a Top 100 mainstay for boys, but has been in the girls’ Top 1000 for over a decade. I’d assume Dylan was a boy, but with figures from Ralph Lauren’s daughter – founder of Dylan’s Candy Bar – to Drew Barrymore’s character in Charlie’s Angels proving that it can be used for girls, this one seems perfectly possible for a daughter, too.
- Blake – You won’t be able to escape the Blake Lively connection, and yet, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. Audrey and Ava and Katharine are all connected to Golden Age Hollywood stars. Blake has remains well-used for boys, but is heard more and more for girls these days. In fact, a friend of mine in a very fashionable San Francisco neighborhood has spotted a baby girl Blake. Plus, poet William Blake lends this name some literary sheen.
- Jordan – Jordan is one of those choices that proves names can be stylish for boys and girls at the same time. The name is falling in popularity for both boys and girls, but the connections to the Jordan River have boosted this name over the centuries, and I always think of The Great Gatsby’s Jordan Baker. (The character’s name was borrowed from two automobile companies back in the day.)
- Elliott – Another great name, but yes – I do think this might feel like the most popular of any names on your list, with so many formal names leading to Ellie and Ella.
- Logan – Currently in the girls’ Top 500, as well as being a fast favorite for boys. Emilie notes that they know a teenaged girl Logan, which makes them hesitate to consider the name.
- Ryan – This is a new favorite on their list, but their firstborn is Nol@n. Is the Nol@n Ryan/baseball association too much?
Emilie adds that she likes Jordan and Logan best with their son’s name.
Even though it is one of your favorites, I’d be inclined to drop Logan from your list for two reasons: first, your husband’s hesitation. And second, the repeating long ‘o’ sound. Logan and Nol@n aren’t incompatible, but they’re closer in terms of sound than any other name on your list.
If popularity is a concern, that almost certainly rules out Elliott, thanks to the many, many Ellie names in use. (I know a just-Ellie, and Eleanor-called-Ellie, and an Elizabeth-called-Ellie.) And Elliott’s true popularity is masked by the use of Elliot and Elliott in almost equal numbers.
That leaves Eden, Dylan, Blake, and Jordan. I’d also add:
- Rowan – One of those names that is pretty well-balanced in use between boys and girls – #295 for boys, #425 for girls – but not wildly popular for either. The only reason this isn’t my favorite name for you? The same thing as with Logan – it shares a vowel sound with Nol@n.
- Linden – Rowan always makes me think of fellow tree name, Linden. It’s not in the US Top 1000 at all. Like Elliott, it easily shortens to a feminine form – Lindy/Lindie – which might be a bonus.
- Parker – I’m not sure if you’re avoiding ends-in-r names for a reason, but I keep thinking of Parker. More popular for boys – Top 100, but steadily used for girls, too – Top 300. Fits right in with Harper and Piper and lots of similar choices, but still feels distinctive. I also thought of Sawyer, but not sure if you’re avoiding all ends-in-r.
- Rory – How do you feel about ends-in-y? Rory is ranked #459 for boys and #900 for girls in 2013. The Gilmore Girls makes Rory perfectly wearable for a daughter, but it still feels like a crisp, unisex name possibility. Nol@n and Rory. My only hesitation: Rory Victori@ repeats a lot of sounds.
- Ellery – You know my whole don’t use Elliott-because-she’ll-get-called-Ellie line? My hunch is that Ellery wouldn’t be as automatically shortened as Elliott. Why? We’re used to girls called Avery and Emily, and the names aren’t shortened. And Ellery is much more unusual – not currently in the US Top 1000, so there’s less likely to be pressure to distinguish your daughter Elliott from, say, a preschool classmate with the same name. But I might just be optimistic about Ellery – or pessimistic about Elliott. And, again, not sure how you feel about an ends-in-y name.
- Drew – Yes, we’re borrowing names from Hollywood again. And Drew is more aggressively a borrowing from the boys – it’s not in the girls’ Top 1000 at all, but between Andrew and Drew it is well established for boys.
- Quinn – I’m always surprised by this fact: Quinn ranked #118 for girls and #356 for boys in 2013. It’s much more popular for girls. Unlike Blake and Drew, there’s no huge celebrity namesake – and by the time your daughter is old enough to know these things, Glee’s Quinn Fabray will be as distant a memory as Daria Morgendorfer’s sister on the animated MTV series. My only hesitation? Quinn Victori@ might be a little too regal!
- Marlowe – Trying out one more different ending sound with Marlowe. It wasn’t in the US Top 1000 as of 2013, though it is bound to be there when we get the updated stats in May. Still, Marlowe remains under-the-radar. Like Harper, Avery, and Eden, it is gender neutral but more likely to be worn by a girl. And while it shares the long ‘o’ sound with Nol@n, Nol@n and Marlowe sound compatible rather than a little bit too close.
Overall? I think my favorites are:
- Jordan – Jordan comes first, because it is one of your favorites, and your only hesitation seems to be that it doesn’t feel fresh and surprising. True – it’s falling in use for boys and girls. But it remains a well-established given name, and I think The Great Gatsby connection and the so-very-famous river lend this one a certain literary, nature/place name appeal that makes it more evergreen.
- Linden – Slightly softer than Logan, but in the same key. Much less common than most of the names on the lists, but still very wearable. Like Elliott, carries an easy, feminine short form if one is ever required.
- Parker – Assuming you’re not avoiding ends-in-r names for a reason, I think Parker deserves a good look.
- Marlowe – It seems like you’re really drawn to the long ‘o’ sound. Marlowe has it, but Nol@n and Marlowe remain distinct names that don’t feel too close.
But it does seem like Ryan is pretty high on your shortlist, and I think we should ask about that one specifically:
What do you think of Emilie’s shortlist and my suggestions? Are there any that stand out to you? Would you add any others to the list?
Update: She’s arrived! Welcome to the world Sullivan Kate, called Liv. What a gorgeous, gorgeous name. Congrats to Emilie and her family!
Katie Mae says
My cousin named her son Riley. The name seems more often associated with girls than boys, at least in his school, and her son hates that. In 2006, it was ranked 56 for girls and 101 for boys. Not that Riley was on your list, but just food for thought with unisex names and where they’re currently placing in popularity.
Friends of ours really liked the name Emerson for a girl, and I grew up knowing a boy named Emerson. Emerson could be shortened to Emmy and neither clashes with Nolan.
I’m from Chicago and have trouble associating Jordan with anything other than the basketball player.
My vote is…
My suggestion is Frances/Frankie. Or maybe Joey or Billie. How would you feel about something like August/Gus?
I think overall, with a brother named Nolan I prefer the unisex names that aren’t primarily surnames for a sister. That said though, Riley seems like it might be good for you…similar to Ryan but not the name of a famous baseball player.
Oh and I also like Blake. I have no idea who Blake Lively is, but Blake was a female character on the soap opera Guiding Light and I always thought the actress who played her was very pretty.
I know a group of girls who are Jordan, Peyton, and Chandler. I think Chandler might work with your Charles connection. I also second Morgan as a good option, and perhaps also Madison or Cameron? I know siblings Cameron and Madison—Madison is the brother, Cameron, the sister. One more: I had a college professor whose name was Evan, while her mother’s name was Michael. Pronounced just like the traditionally male name! I thought it was brilliant.
frankie (frances) or joey (josephine)?
I think Eden is lovely. My first thought was Morgan, given that you like Logan. It also seems like a compromise between Logan and Abby’s suggestion of Marlowe, which I think is a great suggestion. If you like Blake, what about Blair? I also know a little girl named Barclay which I think is quite refreshing (and I’m not generally a fan of gender neutral names!).
Oh, and I am from the US, West Coast. =)
I love so many of your choices! I think Blake, Jordan, Dylan and Elliott are my favorites and would all work wonderfully with Nolan, which I love by the way =). My 18 year old sister is named Jordan and she wears it very well, doesn’t seem boring at all on her! Also, if I had been a boy my mom was going to name me Blake, and while I love my name sometimes I just wish she had, it sounds great on a girl! Of Abby’s list I absolutely adore Marlowe!
For what its worth I am a 28 year old Ryan and have never heard of Nolan Ryan. Definitely not the biggest baseball fan ever, but there you go. As far as your concern with gender neutral names, being a female Ryan I really only had a problem in middle school with teachers pairing me up with male buddies from different classes. This of course led me to dislike my name, but honestly I think most kids go through a spell of disliking their name for one reason or another, and I definitely outgrew it quickly and love my name. In my adult life I have had very few problems other than the occasional second glance when people read/hear my name, but I am used to it and it is still the odd occurrence. Good luck with your new baby!
Can I suggest something a bit bold?
It was used for girls in the Middle Ages in England, derived from Benedict/Benedicta. I think it’s quite cute, and Benny/Bennie would be a adorable nickname.
To me, having two kids named Nolan and Ryan says that either you’re a super-fan, or you’re not from the US. If you are super-fan of Nolan Ryan or you don’t mind people thinking you are, then go for it. Otherwise, I’d probably go for one of the other names. I like Blake and Eden the best for you, because they sound like they go with Nolan without being too similar. (I also like Dylan, for example, but I personally would get mixed up between Dylan and Nolan.) I also think Quinn, Linden and Marlowe go with Nolan nicely.
I don’t see why Ryan should be dismissed as a “boy name on a girl.” Didn’t it originate as an Irish surname, which by definition is gender neutral? That said, Nolan/Ryan on siblings is a bit wacky IMHO.
Also, I have loved the idea of using Dylan on a girl for years. On a boy it’s not so fresh anymore, but on a girl it is. I also like Marlowe (prefer the Marlow spelling), Rowan, and Ellery.
Oh, I also think Robin is a great suggestion. Robbie or Bobs would be a really cute nickname for a little girl!
Oh dear, Quinn Victoria is laughably bad. Please don’t go there. Rory Victoria is also rather silly-sounding. I actually like Victoria better than any of the names under consideration and think Nolan and Victoria sound quite nice together.
Otherwise, I like Eden, and will add the suggestion of Alix. It isn’t ranked for girls or boys in the US but is considered a unisex name in France.
I know what you mean about Quinn Victori@. But I wonder if that’s the kind of thing that lots of people are willing to overlook and/or find charming in a sort of quirky way? I know a Quinn Elizabeth, and her parents rather liked the idea that it could misheard as Queen Elizabeth. (And in their case, Elizabeth was a family name, just as Victori@ is here, and so non-negotiable as a middle.)
Rory is also a nickname for Victoria.
I like Charlie, though, and I think it would age fine. Other ways of getting to Charlie:
Charlize, Carol/Carroll, Caroline/Carolyn, Carla, Carlotta, or even Catherine.
Eden is my favorite of your list, hands down! That said, I think Ellis/Ellery, Emory/Emerson, Riley (but not Ryan–too “baseball” with Nolan), Linden, London, Harper, Hadley, Berkley, Sutton, Averil, Quinn, or Paige would all be great choices
I was going to add Ellis to the Elliott/Ellery.
Also feminine with a unisex feel might be Flannery.
I don’t like Linden, but only because I can’t hear it without thinking Lyndon. My friend just named her daughter London which I like better.
I’m not a fan of masculine names on girls, and the sibset seems silly, even if you’re huge baseball fans. I would suggest a feminine leaning neutral name, like Reese, Finley, Ellis, or Willow. I adore Rowan, but I think Nolan and Rowan are tough to say together. Have you considered a frills free feminine name, like Maeve, Neve, Iris, Daphne? Abby has a great post about those type of names, although I’m on mobile and can’t link.
I grew up with a female Rian. While sound of Nolan Ryan is there,
Spelling is gone.
I don’t know about wacky, but I would definitely assume you were huge baseball fans, and probably fans of one of his favorite teams. If that’s not you, I’d go for something else. My favorite is Marlowe, although I prefer the Marlo spelling myself.
What is the purpose of using the @ sign in place of the a? Just curious, am I missing something?
It’s a technique to make names less easily found in search engines.
Megan M. says
I’m not a huge sports person but I absorbed enough about baseball growing up that I would immediately think Nolan Ryan whenever I heard your sibset. The library manager where I worked was a woman named Charlie. I don’t think that nickname names or unusual names hold people back from anything.
I do love Dylan on a girl, but I agree with the commenter who said it’s really a boy name on a girl – as is Ryan. If you’re really going for “gender-neutral” then I would choose Jordan or Rowan or something along that vein.
The only issue I have with Nolan and Ryan is that they are both male names. You can wave statistics in my face all you want, but Ryan just isn’t a girl’s name. I like Parker or Marlow for Nolan’s sister. Those at least are debatably unisex.
I really like Eden, Dylan and Blake! Though I do think that with Eden and Dylan being 2 syllables, it goes much better with Victoria than Blake does.
Zena Eve says
I love the idea of Carmen for you. I’ve seen it used on both boys and girls, it has a similar feel to Charlie (especially if you end up using Carly as a nickname) but is still distinctive. Carmen Victoria would be lovely.
I know one thing about baseball and that one thing is Nolan Ryan.