Name HelpName 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!

Emily and her husband are expecting their second son, a little brother for William August.

She writes:

With our first son, we didn’t know his sex until he was born. The girl name (Alba Josephine) came easily, but we didn’t have our boy name until after he was born.

Most people, including us, call him Will, but he has a Grandpa that has never called him anything but Gus, which I love.

This time we know we are having a boy, but still we struggle. Obviously, I want a name that goes well with William, but William can go a few different ways. Royal, cowboy, American traditional …

Emily explains that she loves lots of qualities about her son’s name, and would like her next son’s name to share the same traits:

  • Timelessness. Yes, William is common/popular – but it’s always been common/popular. It’s not something older that we’re bringing back.
  • William is a great formal name, and Will is a perfect short name.
  • Will feels modern, but William is classic and traditional.
  • His middle name is a nice balance between current trends (word names, nature names) but is still a traditional, older name.

This one seems easy, right? But wait for the list of names that have already been eliminated, either because a family member has used it, or Emily or her husband have another reason for putting it on the “no” list:

  • Malcolm
  • Arthur
  • Milo
  • Calvin
  • Samuel
  • Louis
  • Jack
  • Oliver
  • Nicholas
  • Lucas/Luke
  • Marshall
  • Charles/Charlie
  • Gordon
  • Henry
  • Alexander
  • Benjamin
  • Thomas

Names that seem to fit their criteria, but don’t feel like The Name:

  • Michael
  • Matthew
  • Jacob
  • Joseph
  • David
  • James
  • John
  • Christopher
  • Daniel

Emily adds that they’d like to avoid overly Biblical names, and concludes by saying:

Are there any names left? We are stuck!

I will end with saying that a lot of the names I have discarded in my mind I could see myself falling in love with. When I was pregnant with my first, I never thought I would grow to love the names William and August as much as I do now. So maybe there’s hope!

Read on for my answer, and please add your thoughtful comments, too!

Hi Emily –

It’s true that you’ve got one kiddo with a great name, and a list of very specific criteria that could make it tough to choose some equally appealing for his brother.

Here’s the beautiful thing about baby names: the well never runs dry. There is always another name to consider.

And yet, I’ll admit that most of the names that came to mind while I was reading the first part of your post – Henry called Hank, Jonathan called Jack – did appear on your “can’t use/already discarded” or “nope, not into them” list.

You’ve mentioned that you might be persuaded to reconsider some of those names, but for my purposes, I’m going (to try my very best) to rule them all out.

Some first names that you haven’t discarded:

  • Owen – Does Owen feel modern? This name has history galore. Henry VII had an uncle called Owen Tudor, who died in the War of the Roses. An Owain is one of King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table. Owen ranked #38 in the US in 2013, but if you’re not fussed by William charting in the Top Ten, I’m guessing this doesn’t much matter. William and Owen, Will and Owen. One drawback? There’s no obvious short form, save for possibly O. But that’s not the same as Will.
  • Andrew – Andrew has been around longer than William, and while there are saints Andrew, it doesn’t feel like a particularly religious name. Drew is a great short form, too. William and Andrew, Will and Drew.
  • Nathaniel – This name has a certain literary vibe thanks to Nathaniel Hawthorne, and yet it’s very wearable for a real boy.  William and Nathaniel, Will and Nate. They seem nicely matched. Another thing I like about them? They’re not both kings or saints. Nothing wrong with naming your kids William and George or William and Henry, but it does have a rather British royal family feel.
  • Theodore – Another one that came to mind early – Theodore, nickname Theo.  William and Theodore, Will and Theo. Or Teddy – I know a few Theodores who have been Teddy as babies and Ted when older. Theo reminds me of Leo, but it’s harder to nail down a formal name for Leo. (Though possibilities abound.)
  • Edward – William and Edward sound like a pair of princes. I’m not sure that’s the vibe you’re going for – especially since the name you have in mind for a daughter is more daring. But I do like Edward’s friendly nickname Ned, and Will and Ned sound like such a cheerful, carefree pair of brothers. One hesitation – Ned isn’t as much of a default nickname as Will for William, and you may find that some call him Eddie or Ed instead.
  • Hugh – Strictly speaking, Hugo is a form of Hugh. But it might work as an upbeat nickname. William and Hugh, Will and Hugo. Hugh is much less common than William, but has just as much history.
  • Julian – As with Hugh/Hugo and Edward/Ned, possible nicknames aren’t quite as immediately obvious. But Julian could be Jules or possibly Jude. (It’s said that the Beatle’s enduring song “Hey Jude” was written for John Lennon’s son, Julian.) William and Julian, Will and Jules.

William AugustNow let’s take a look at some middle names that have the same feel as August – modern and slightly unexpected, but with more history than you might guess.

  • Jasper – Jasper is part-nature name, part-ends in ‘r’ favorite. And yet, it’s been around as a name forever.  I like the sound of Andrew Jasper. William August and Andrew Jasper.
  • Nicolo – Nicholas is on your ‘no’ list, but how about Nicolo? Something like Edward Nicolo could hit that unexpected/classic mark very nicely.
  • Felix – Happy Felix has such a stylish sound, thanks to that ‘x’ ending. It’s close to Phoenix, but far more traditional. Owen Felix, maybe?
  • Asher – Another possibility with the same feel as Jasper. This time I’m thinking about Hugh Asher. William August and Hugh Asher, Will and Hugo.
  • Phineas – This one caught my eye because it gives Grandpa another secret name – Gus and Finn. I like the combination Nathaniel Phineas best of all.  William August and Nathaniel Phineas. Will and Nate. Gus and Finn.
  • Henry – Okay, I lied. I know Henry is on your ‘no’ list, and I know I promised not to talk you into the ‘no’ list. But I tried lots of ends-in-y middles and kept coming back to Theodore Henry. Others along similar lines: HarveyWesley, Grady, Crosby. Not sure if any of those seem like they have more potential, but if you’re open to an ends-in-y name, the list goes on and on.
  • Ezra – Let me end with my favorite combination: Julian Ezra. Yes, Ezra has Old Testament roots. But I think of Ezra Pound and Ezra Jack Keats well before the Biblical prophet. And I think that’s true for many. Plus, Ezra’s razor-sharp sound seems very modern, hitting the same sweet spot as August.

Let’s have a poll on the combinations:

Are there other combinations you can suggest for William August’s little brother? 

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. Wow! Thank you, Abby, and everyone else for commenting! I have renewed hope that there IS a name out there for our next son. You all have given us some new, fresh ideas. I will let you know what we finally decide on. Thanks again!

  2. Benedict, Will and Ben
    Randolph, Will and Rand/Randy or Will and Dolph
    Ebenezer, Will and Eben, not overtly religious but has longtime usage
    Leopold, Will and Leo
    Montegue, Will and Monty

  3. I like Owen Felix for the question, and I love Nathaniel Phineas for myself but I like Biblical names. I love Hugh and Asher separately but not together, and Andrew ruins all combos for me even though I like Jasper.

    Jonathan – A lot of the stuff Nathaniel has going for it, plus it opens up nicks like Jon, Jonny, Jonty and you can still use the Nathan- ones if you want. William and Jonathan seem well suited to me. Jonathan Philip? Jonathan Wyatt?

    Can I throw some love at Vincent? It’s traditional, it’s never gone completely away, and it’s got a certain level of quiet confidence and just suits William to me. William August and Vincent Jasper? Vincent Hawthorn?

    William August & Isaac Griffin? Ike stands up to Will pretty well I think. Admittedly both Isaac and August are names on my own boys list so hello bias…

    Mix-and-match-mangling poll choices gives me Nathan Jasper, which I quite like.

  4. My boy names that will never be used: Gregory and Peter. Both classic, not overtly Biblical, international (Pierre, Gregorio, Pedro, Gregor – all of those would be in my rotation, with exaggerated accents. I like to play with names.).

  5. My first thought was Andrew! Andy or Drew are short and everyday, but Andrew is classic and iconic.

    And if you used a middle name that began with a W, your boys would have inverse initials. Kind of fun! If August could go “retro” or “cowboy”, then Andrew Walter has the bygone era feel, and Andrew West has the adventurous nature feel.

    Best wishes! Please let us know when your charming son arrives!

  6. Can I suggest Maxwell nn Max? I don’t think I saw him mentioned, but he’d be great! William and Maxwell, Will and Max. And the double “L” in both is a nice coincidental link. Maxwell Jasper would be my pick from Abby’s great middle name suggestions.

    Or maybe Patrick? You could use nn Rick if Pat, Patty or Paddy feel a bit aged. Otherwise I’d suggest reconsidering Sam/Samuel. I see he’s on the No list but think he fits so many of your criteria, and would be darling with William. Will and Sam would be so cute as boys, but still work perfectly on adults (ditto for Will and Max).