Name Help

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!

Dee writes:

My husband and I are expecting our first child in a few months. We are planning on keeping the gender a surprise.

I have loved, studied, and obsessed over names for as long as I can remember. My husband only likes names he is familiar with and don’t “sound made up.” We both like classic names, and I would say my ultimate name goal would be described as a “fit-in, stand-out” name.

I would like to honor my grandparents with our children’s middle names. Their names are Charles, Patricia, and Frank. My grandmother’s middle name is Ann so I would also be willing to use a variation of Ann to honor her.

If this is a boy, his middle name will definitely be Frank, as that is also my mother-in-law’s maiden name.

Names we’ve considered for boys:

  • My husband’s favorite boy’s name is Oliver. I like Oliver but I don’t love it.
  • My favorite boy’s name is Gabriel, but my husband doesn’t like it at all.
  • We’ve also discussed Julian, Samuel, and Elliot.

Names we’ve discussed for girls:

  • My husband’s favorite girl’s name is Charlotte. While I do like the name because it honors my grandfather, Charles, it is way too popular for my liking!
  • My husband also likes Violet, but our last name is a gem name that starts with a D.
  • We’ve also talked about Sophia – but it is even more popular than Charlotte!

Every name I love for a minute, I find an issue – no nicknames, too unusual, too common or doesn’t age well – or my husband doesn’t agree. I believe Lucy would be perfect for us but our last name causes an issue. I try to draw inspiration from my nieces names, which are Valerie, Delilah, Amelia, Bria, and Vienna.

Names that we’ve already rejected include:

  • Lila – too close to niece’s name, Delilah
  • Siena – rhymes with Vienna
  • Lydia – I feel like I should like it, but I just don’t!
  • Olivia – again, too common

I’m so overwhelmed with names at this point.

Please help!

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

Hi Dee –

Congratulations on your baby-on-the-way! You’ve identified another baby naming syndrome – when we love names, glorious names, it can feel impossible to choose just one name for an actual human being, right?

The good news? You know what you want in a name, and it seems like you and your husband aren’t miles apart style-wise, which is often a big part of the challenge.

You’ve rejected Charlotte, Sophia, and Olivia for popularity, but many of the other names on your lists are reasonably familiar. Is it fair to say that Top Ten names are out, but you’re open to something in the US Top 100? It seems like less common names – Cambria or Roland, say – definitely wouldn’t appeal to your husband no matter their history, and might not be your cup of tea, either.

So we’re looking for a name that is:

  • Probably – though not necessarily – around the US Top 100, but not the Top Ten.
  • Has nickname potential.
  • Could incorporate a form of the names Charles, Patricia, Ann, or Frank.
  • Feels traditional, or at least traditional-ish.
  • Isn’t a word name.

Before we go forward, a brief public service announcement about popular names: if you find yourself rejecting your favorite name because of its rank on a chart, it might be a good idea to stop and reconsider your hesitations. There’s something to be said for choosing the name that you love – even if lots of other people know how great it is, too!

Names for Boys

Name Help: Stands-Out/Fits-InPatrick – Patricia is dated, and Pat feels decidedly middle-aged. But Patrick – used in full, no nickname, has potential. It’s been hovering around the #150 mark in the US for the last few years, which seems like it could definitely be your sweet spot in terms of popularity. And it’s traditional without being overused. The only drawback? There’s really no other go-to nickname besides Pat. (Rick? Trick? Maybe not.)

Theodore – Names like Charlotte and Sophia always make me think of Theodore. It’s a storied classic, with a long history of use. At #126 in the US, it’s more popular than Patrick, but still out of the super-popular camp. For comparison, Oliver ranked #32 in 2014. When it comes to nicknames, Theodore really shines. There’s old school Ted, adorable Teddy, and the spirited Theo. Of course, you could put just Theo on the birth certificate, too. Another name in this category? Leo, along with Leon, Leonard, Leonardo, and my personal favorite, Lionel.

Maxwell – Maxwell feels like a logical member of the Oliver-Julian-Gabriel club. Just as Gabriel shortens to Gabe, Maxwell can be just Max. At #107, Maxwell is fairly popular, and there are a lot of Max- names in use. But I feel like it’s such a good fit for your overall style, that Maxwell bears a mention.

Isaac – Isaac is about as popular as Gabriel and Oliver, so I’m not sure if that’s an issue. And I almost didn’t suggest Isaac. Except the nicknames are so great – Ike and Zac. It’s Biblical like Gabriel, but has plenty of other associations, from Sir Isaac Newton to musician Isaac Hayes. Here’s the funny thing about Isaac: nothing really sounds like Isaac. So even as it becomes more popular – we have two in our extended family! – it still doesn’t sound very common, does it?

Miles – Something keeps whispering to me that Miles could be the name for you. Again, at #108 it’s in that familiar-but-not-overused space. It feels like a brother for Oliver, which makes me think it might appeal. And, like Isaac, it’s versatile, bringing to mind musicians and Pilgrims alike. Nicknames aren’t plentiful, but you could use Milo.

Emmett – Let’s call Emmett traditionalish. It’s a surname rather than a conventional given name, but it has a history of use in the first spot. And while it’s not easy to nickname, there’s something friendly and straightforward about Emmett that reminds me of the other names on your list. I love Emmett Charles together, but Emmett Frank works, too.

Names for Girls

Caroline – There’s an obvious alternative to Charlotte: Caroline! It’s also related to Charles, and while it’s popular, it isn’t at the dizzying heights that Charlotte seems destined to reach. Caroline is also nickname-friendly – Carrie, Carly, Charlie – though I’ve known plenty of Carolines who were nickname-free. Caroline ranked #58 in 2014, so well below the Sophia-Charlotte threshold, through still on the popular side.

Francesca – There are so many great Francis names! Since Frank is a significant name in your family, it seems like a Frank- name might be the perfect first name, choice. Francesca is the least common name on this list, but it feels familiar. Frances is a possibility, too, but while Frances feels gentle, Francesca is energetic – which reminds me of your nieces’ names, especially Bria.

Genevieve – Charlotte hits that feminine-but-tailored sweet spot exactly. And Olivia’s ‘v’ sound is irresistible. Put them together, and you’ll have Genevieve. Very nickname-able, from Gen to Vivi to Eve. At #210, I’d say Genevieve is a great stands-out/fits-in choice.

Georgia – Amelia always makes me think of Georgia. A few points in favor of this name: nicknames galore! At #243, it’s a great stands-out/fits-in choice. And it has a certain spirit that reminds me of your nieces’ names. One drawback: it could sound the tiniest bit like a phrase with your gemstone surname. But Georgia has such a long history of use as a given name that I think it’s a minor consideration. Georgia Annalie, maybe?

Annalise – I was tempted to suggest Annabelle, but I think it’s a little too popular. And then there’s Annevieve, but maybe that’s just too obscure? I settled on Annalise as the middle possibility. In Germany, it’s Anneliese – pronounced like Annalisa – and a smoosh of Ann and Elizabeth. In the US, it’s a novelty, but one that’s heard more and more often.

Cora – I considered suggesting Claire and Clara before landing on Cora. Cora is a vintage name that’s risen quickly – thank you, Downton Abbey – but still hits that stands-out/fits-in mark. It’s a traditional name, but not one that we’ve heard everywhere in recent years. Cora Patricia might be a great combination!

Readers, I’d love to hear your suggestions for stands-out/fits-in names that have a more traditional feel to them!

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. I made huge lists of names of 3-10 letters that you could spell combining the letters of the names you want to honor, but I’m guessing most of them would be unusable for you. I’ll post mini-lists here, but let me know if you’d like the whole lists. 🙂

    Charles + Frank…
    5+ letters + spellcheck-approved [i.e. wasn’t underlined when I typed it out 😉 ]:
    Frances, Frankel, Franker; Archer, Caesar, Carlen, Chanel, Clarke, Farrel, Franck, Fraser, Hansel, Harlan, Harlen, Haskel, Karlen, Larsen, Nasser, Rafael; Aaren, Aksel, Ansel, Arlan, Arlen, Asher, Cesar, Chane, Chase, Clare, Clark, Clear, Crane, Earls, Elnar, Farah, Fares, Feral, Franc, Frans, Kaela, Karel, Karen, Karna, Lance, Leach, Learn, Rakes, Rance, Rares, Sacha, Saner, Saran, Shaka, Shale, Shane, Sharl, Shela, Snare

    5+ letters + in top 1000 [*English words] (ranking in 2014):
    Archer* (303), Harlan (936), Rafael (293); Asher (93), Casen (610), Cesar (279), Chase* (78), Clark* (382), Kasen (472), Lance* (541), Shane (277)

    Patricia + Ann…
    4+ letters + spellcheck-approved:
    Catarina; Caitrin, Catrina, Patrica; Anitra, Ariana, Carina, Carita, Catina, Tricia; Anica, Anita, Atria, Capri, Caria, Carin, Irina, Irita, Nanci, Raina, Rania, Ranna, Tania, Tiara, Traci, Trina; Ania, Anna, Anni, Apia, Aria, Arin, Cain, Cara, Cari, Cati, Inna, Iran, Nair, Nana, Nani, Napa, Nara, Nari, Nata, Nina, Nita, Para, Pita, Rain, Rana, Rani, Rica, Rina, Rita, Tana, Tani, Tara, Tina, Tran

    4+ letters + in top 1000 (ranking in 2014):
    Ariana (37); Ciara (673), Raina (960), Tiana (554); Anna (34), Aria (31), Cara (672), Nina (295), Tara (912)

  2. Ooh I think Patrick’s a winner! I know a couple little boys nicked Paddy, and I even knew once of a Patrick nicked Trick! But my fave nicks for Patrick are Patch and Packy–I think either one as a nickname for the very handsome Patrick achieves that very well-worded “fit in/stand out” criteria. (I love all your other suggestions Abby! Some of my very favorite names on here.)

  3. The “stand out/fit in” girl name that kept occurring to me as I read this post was Louisa, which may not even be in the top 1000 at the moment – or if it is then it’s just come back in this year. Which constantly amazes me, because it fits in so well with so many super-popular names right now (and no one will ever try to tell you that Louisa isn’t a “real name”!!), and yet it’s so so uncommon in actual practice. But if you love Lucy but can’t use it because of the surname, maybe Louisa is what you’re looking for? You could even use Lucy as a pet nickname for Louisa, which could be really fun with what I’m guessing your surname is.

  4. Thank you so much, Abby! Also, a big thanks to all the commenters- your suggestions are great. I will definitely talk to my husband about these names! I especially like Cora, Georgia, Caroline, Penelope, Sabrina and Juliette for girls. I do like Sylvia too but my phone once auto corrected it to saliva and that’s stuck with me! For boys, I really like Miles, Griffin, Isaac, Jasper and Theodore and I have a feeling my husband will really like Max. It’s funny that you mention Trevor, The Mrs., because it was my first name love thanks to a MaryKate & Ashley book I read when I was 10! Maybe I should revisit some 5th grade copybooks. I also like Dean but my siblings and I all have D names, so I am trying to steer clear of them! I can’t thank you all enough for the suggestions and I will definitely keep you updated.