Name HelpName Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every Saturday, one reader’s name questions will be discussed. (Wait, you say, it’s Sunday! Right you are. Thanks to March Madness Baby Names, these posts are moving to Sundays temporarily.)

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!

Kate and her husband Michael are expecting their first baby in just a few weeks!

She writes:

I’ve always loved baby names, maybe that’s the problem – it’s so hard to pick just one! There are so many wonderful directions to go: traditional, family, unique, trendy, up and coming. We are not sharing names with friends or family so outside opinions are so very needed at this point. Throw in a desire to wait until our sweet little one is born to hear the words “it’s a…” and now we are stumped! I will bring you up speed on where we are currently with the process.

Kate and her husband have a good shortlist for a son or a daughter, but narrowing it down is tricky. Read on for their lists – and my response! And please remember to add your comments and ideas, too.

If it’s a girl:

  • Kirra – The spelling comes from Kirra Beach in Australia. Dad’s suggestion, and probably their #1 choice right now. But will that unusual spelling be a problem? Kate would prefer to drop an ‘r’ and spell it Kira.
  • Mckenna – Dad’s full name is Michael Kenneth. Kate writes “Love the father-daughter tie. Might like the link more than the name.”
  • Linley – A combination of family names Linda and Lee. I agree with Kate’s take on this one – it’s a modern name with a unisex feel, but I’d guess that Linley was a girl.

If it’s a boy:

Kate adds her instincts tell her she’s having a boy! And while she wants something outside of the US Top 25, it’s hard to “see many of the names like on a man, not just a little boy.” They initially narrowed the list to Will, Lucas, Cooper, Beckett, Emmett, and Elliott. Now it’s down to:

  • Will (or maybe William) – It’s a huge name in Kate’s family, and her husband’s family, too. Kate says: William is such a strong family tie – melts my heart. But popularity is a concern. Plus, what middle name works with Will? Will Michael, Will Kenneth, Will Howland (from the place where they got engaged)?
  • Luke (or maybe Lucas) – A name that Kate just likes, and less popular than William. Another bonus: Kate, Mike, and Luke all have a strong ‘k’ sound, but aren’t too similar.
  • Cooper – Less traditional and less common than Will/Luke. It’s also the name of a favorite island Kate and Mike recently visited. But is this more of a dog’s name? (Kate’s met a few canine Coopers.) And how ’bout the fact that it rhymes with pooper?

They’re also open to new suggestions.

Before we get to the names, here are a few things that jump out at me:

  • It seems like the best possible names for you have some personal significance. Even Luke, which you initially say is a name you just like, makes for a pleasing trio with Kate and Mike in a way that feels meaningful.
  • I hear your concerns about popularity, but just looking at the Top Ten or Top 100 isn’t always enough to understand just how common (or unusual) a name might feel. More insights here.
  • Back in the 1940s, Gary was a child’s name. There were almost no grandpa Garys. Now the situation is reversed – Gary is the grandpa to Logan or Benjamin or Jack. That means that names popular today will eventually sound like respectable names for a grown-up, if only because all of the kids with those names will, in fact, grow up.

In brief: we’re looking for a modern meaningful name for your firstborn.

Looking at your girls’ list:

  • I love that Kirra is a meaningful place name, but I share your hesitation over the double-r spelling. Then again, your daughter will have to spell her name anyway. (Keira, Kiera, Kyra, Ciara …) And so it’s not the end of the world to consider an alternative spelling. If you do spell the name Kira, you can still claim inspiration from the beach.
  • Mckenna is such a clever way to honor your husband! But if popularity is a concern, Mckenna may very well disappoint. Mckenna has been steadily popular since the late 1990s. Factor in the equally popular spelling Makenna, and I think Mckenna feels more popular than the numbers suggest.
  • My favorite from your list: Linley. I love the smoosh quality of the name. It also brings to mind Viscount Linley – the son of the late Princess Margaret. And it is a real surname, too. So Linley is rare, but feels like a stylish possibility rich with potential. Kaylee, Hadley, Presley, Marley … Linley. Novel but perfectly wearable.

And now, the boys’ list:

  • Cooper ranked in the US boys’ Top 100 in recent years. It’s definitely a name I’ve heard around the playground. It probably feels rarer because you likely didn’t know anyone named Cooper growing up – in 1990, the name ranked #706, and was unranked for most of the twentieth century.
  • Luke is actually much more popular than Cooper. So is Lucas. It’s a great name, and have that subtle k in common is a fun way to link your names.
  • My favorite from your list: Will. Just Will. I’m the nicknaming-type, but there are plenty of good reasons to skip the formal name. Will Howland is my favorite combination from your list, but Will Kenneth and Will Michael are equally strong possibilities.

It’s tough to suggest names in this case, because you’re drawing from personal history and places of significance – and I think that’s a great way to choose a name. So let’s say this: if you love Cooper’s ends-in-r style, but fret about possible rhymes, there are tons of ends-in-r names for boys. Archer, Parker, Thatcher, Walker? Looking at Luke and Will, I think you might like a single-syllable name, too. Finn, Nate, Kai?

Girls’ names ending in -ley are also a big list: Kenley, Hadley, Waverly. If one of those strikes a chord with you, I think they’d be good alternatives to Linley. (Though Linley is still my favorite.) Other names that honor dad: Mika, Kenley, Micah.

Let’s have two polls, girls first:


And for the boys:

Update: He’s here! See Kate’s comment below about how they chose William Michael, called Will, for their son. What a handsome, meaningful choice for their family!

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. Thank you all for your thorough and thoughtful name help! Sorry for the delay in reporting back on the name we chose for our first sweet baby BOY!

    Our son, William Michael, was born May 2015. We decided to name him William after his maternal grandfather and Michael after his paternal grandfather – both grandfathers were moved to tears when they heard the news! We call him Will almost exclusively.

    Will is now 7 months old and the baby name planning begins again as we start to think about a sibling for our son.

    We love the suggestion of Linley McKenna for a girl. For a boy, his middle name will be Patrick but his first name still eludes us.

    Names I currently like for a boy but have no specific significance:


    Girl names I like:


  2. I love Kirra. Also love the beach in Coolangatta. Kirra. – i would not change the spelling. What about a middle name? Any more suggestions?