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!
My partner and I are expecting our first child together in September. He has two children from his first marriage. Their names are common, Top Ten choices with traditional middle names. (Changed for privacy, but similar to Mia Katherine and Liam Joseph.)
They’re nice names, but that’s not my taste at all. I always thought I’d name my child something different, partly because I’m a teacher and I’ve heard every name. Briony had been my favorite since Atonement, but I’ve taught a lot of Briannas, so now I’m less sure about that.
Haven was on my list, too, but now there’s one at my school. (Though I haven’t had her in class.)
While he had some ideas for boys, my partner is open to pretty much every name I suggest for our daughter.
This might be our only child.
I don’t want to be insensitive in any way, but I don’t feel like matching the older kids’ names is necessary. Right?
We are not interested in using honor names/family names, etc.
Her last name will be Edward-with-an-s.
Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Congratulations on your daughter!
I think it’s smart and caring to consider your stepchildren’s names. After all, they’ll be a part of this child’s life forever, and it’s good to practice saying the names ensemble.
When it comes to half-siblings, though, I think there’s far less pressure to match. Instead, the focus should be on avoiding awkward repetition. Mia’s half-sister shouldn’t be Leah or Mila. Could Liam have a half-brother named William and called Will? Sure. But it seems WAY too close.
That’s the test, then. Not “does Briony/Haven sound like Mia and Liam’s sister” but “does this name sound awkward/problematic with Mia and Liam?”
It’s a much lower bar – and that’s freeing!
So let’s focus on finding some great, underused names like Briony for your daughter … and you can evaluate them for potential clashes with your stepkids’ names.
DISTINCTIVE and DIFFERENT GIRL NAMES
While it’s the name of a green gemstone, Beryl isn’t nearly as obvious – or as popular – as Ruby, or even Pearl. Early aviator and adventurer Beryl Markham lends some vintage appeal and a certain boldness to the name.
Ties to both dolphins and the delphinium flower make this a nature adjacent name. It’s also tailored and French, just like current favorite Josephine.
Sparky, high-energy Dinah is the kind of name we’ve overlooked for ages, but would be amazing on a child today.
Straight out of ancient Rome, there’s a sophisticated sharpness to Flavia. Fictional detective Flavia de Luce lends the name some additional appeal.
The medieval English equivalent of Jasmine, just a little more lush and unexpected. Jessamy is a related choice.
A surname name with a distinctive sound.
Like Langley, Romilly is probably best thought of as a surname. But it also reads a little like a Rose-Milly mash-up.
A poetic word for valley, brief and complete Vale fits right in with Sloane and Wren, but is rarer than either.
I keep coming back to Romilly. It shares the same rhythm as Briony, and has history, too. But there’s something a little bit modern and cool about the name, too, which reminds me of Haven. And while I imagine you’ll eventually teach a kid named Rose, Rowan, or Millie, Romilly still seems distinctive and fresh.
I really like Briony. If it’s your favourite, I’d use it despite the Brianna connection: Brianna has been steadily falling in popularity over the past 20 years, and the chances that your Briony will know someone the same age named Brianna are less and less each year.
You could use the spelling Bryony, which is equally traditional, and a bit more distinctive.
You’ve had lots of great alternatives suggested so far (I love Verity and think it would be the perfect replacement!); here’s some other ideas:
Dimity, Felicity, Eugenie, Fiona, Xanthe, Ivory, Phoebe, Bridget, Harriet, Rhiannon, Imogen, April, Philippa, Rosemary, Temperance, Amity
Alison Doherty says
As a teacher, I totally understand how it can change the way you view names. If you love Briony, I say go for it! I also loved Abby’s suggestion of Romilly! I also thought of Elodie for another French name!
Erin Beth says
Love the suggestions of Sybil and Verity! A few other ideas:
Other rarities from literature:
Aravis (The Chronicles of Narnia)
Setha/Sethe (Beloved; feminization of Seth)
Eppie (Hephzibah or Elspeth) (Silas Marner)
Other rare names not from literature:
Also, I have an older adopted daughter whose name I did not feel obligated to match with my bio baby. I didn’t choose her name, and I didn’t feel the need to make my choices match someone else’s choices.
C in DC says
Flavia (flah-VEE-ah) is one of my favorite names! Beryl brings to mind Peridot (pair-uh-doe), with possible nn of Peri or Dot, all of which are unusual.
I love the name Pearl, and it’s not very common, but also doesn’t share similar sounds with currently popular names (Haven might blend in with names like Ava/Avery/Evelyn or she might even get called Harper, which I feel you may be trying to avoid, since you worry that Briony is too similar to Brianna).
I also thought of Clemency (similar rhythm as Briony and the “merciful/mild” meaning kind of connects with Haven).
Then that also made me think of Verity – which is also quite rare but very pretty and distinctive.
Some options that might be less common than the other students’ names:
Celeste / Celestine
I like Abby’s reframing of the sibling pairing. And without knowing the kids exact names, I’ll just throw out some nature-inspired tailored names, cause that’s the vibe I got from Briony and Haven!
Romilly and Thessaly are super awesome too!
Cecily — Very Importance of Being Earnest with a three syllable sound pattern.
Elodie — Reminds me of Melody, even though they’re not related.
Hilary — I really think this name deserves more use and it has the same mid-20th century British feel for me that Briony does.
Leonie— French name, same three syllable sound pattern as in Briony.
Lilia — a more unusual form of Lily.
Marjorie — Classic, less common form of Margaret or Margot, same rhythm as Briony.
Ottilie — Rising Brit favorite. I would probably pronounce it Oh-TILL-ee, which is closer to the way the name was said by some of the German or Bohemian women with the name here. The Brits say Otta-lee.
Romilly is a good suggestion. It’s quite British and feels similar in tone to Briony.
Rosalie — a little more common than the others but very pretty.
Tamsin — Form of Thomasin or Thomasina, British favorite from the 70s, on American family trees going back to the 1700s or 1800s. It always reminded me of Briony because they were popular in the UK around the same time.
Thessaly — Same rhythm/sound pattern as Briony, has kind of a nature vibe for me even though I think it’s actually place name.