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 daughter in April. Our plan is to be one-and-done, so it feels like there’s a lot of pressure to get her name right.
We have a list of names that we like, but we’ve both agreed to name our daughter after my older sister, Jennifer. She was almost like a second mom to me, introduced me to my partner, and then passed away much, much too young.
But naming a baby Jennifer seems kind of like calling her Linda. Instead, we’re considering:
AVA JENNIFER – Maybe nicknamed AJ? Ava is my partner’s favorite. I think it’s okay. There are other names we could use with Jennifer as her middle name, but I don’t know if that feels like “enough” to remember my sister.
JENNA KATE – This might be my favorite. I think Jenna feels less dated than Jennifer, but it’s still connected. And there’s a Kate on my partner’s side who means a lot to us both. (Though maybe it’s too much to try to make the whole name after other people?)
GENEVIEVE – This seems to be the name everyone suggests instead of Jennifer, but is it too different? Or too long with her last name?
We keep going around with these three names, and I think we just need someone who isn’t us to help us decide!
Her last name will be hyphenated, two pretty ordinary last names, kind of like H@nn0n-M@rsh@11, but a lot of name when they’re put together.
Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Congratulations on your daughter! And I’m so sorry for your loss.
There are many good reasons to hand down family names. We connect our children to their past. It makes any name instantly meaningful. And it changes our feeling about the name, too. How could you ever regret remembering your sister with your daughter’s name?
Except … you still have to love the name. And I’m wondering if that’s the missing piece here? So before we get to my suggestions, I have a few questions:
Is your partner on board with Jenna?
While Jenna entered the US Top 100 in the 1980s, lifted by the runaway popularity of Jennifer, it remained a Top 100 pick into the early 2000s. Is it fading today? Yes. But does it still fit nicely with Emma and Nora and Stella? Also yes. So I agree with your assessment, but wonder if your partner is as enthusiastic about Jenna as you are?
Are you on board with AJ?
Ava Jennifer sounds perfect together. But do you like the name Ava? Or AJ? Or, I suppose, do you like it enough to go with your partner’s favorite name?
Because here’s what I’m thinking: you agree that you want to honor your sister’s memory, which is meaningful and right. But it sounds like you’re not focused enough on what you’re actually going to call your daughter, day after day.
It’s an easy trap to fall into! You’re thinking about all the right things. But the practical piece of how a name is actually used is the key to deciding. And it sounds like that’s where we need to do some more thinking.
I’m going to assume that you’re not wild about Ava and your partner isn’t sold on Jenna. It sounds like Genevieve isn’t a name that makes either of your hearts race.
So what if we agree that Jennifer is probably your daughter’s middle name, and we try to find a first – preferably one that could be a nickname with J? That means we’re looking (mostly) at names starting with A, C, D, J, K, M, P, R, and T … though I’ve heard SJ and other initial combinations, too.
Because you’re concerned about name length, let’s look at shorter, two-syllable names. Lastly, it seems like you’re leaning towards more mainstream picks – Ava not Andra, Jenna not Gioia. So we won’t venture too far outside the US Top 500 or so.
Well, okay, my first suggestion is on the rare side. But it’s familiar-ish, too. Anya is a Slavic take on Anna. (Spell it Anja, and it’s Scandi.) It’s almost like Ava, but just a little different, so I’m wondering if it might feel like a compromise?
There are lots of Chloes, but not quite as many as Ava. Plus, CJ is every bit as great a possible nickname as AJ.
A summery, cheerful name. More girls are Lily or Violet, but Daisy is just as wearable.
If your partner loves how current Ava is, but you’re wild about Jenna, I wonder if Gemma – originally an Italian name meaning jewel – makes a great compromise? The only hitch is that Gemma Jennifer might be a little repetitive.
A traditional Irish name with a sharp and distinctive sound, Maeve has been on the upswing in recent years. It’s a logical substitute for Ava.
A mini name that leads to the nickname MJ. Perfection if you’re fans of Spider-Man.
Rory is slightly more popular for boys (at #358), but it’s been a unisex possibility ever since Gilmore Girls was must-see TV.
Originally short for the so-traditional Teresa, Tessa now stands on its own. It feels like a successor to Jenna, with the same sort of sound, but a little more current.
So what name works best with Jennifer as a middle?
I think they all have potential!
That said, Maeve Jennifer H@nn0n-M@rsh@11 is my favorite. It checks every box and MJ is a great nickname. But Maeve could also be Mae – and really doesn’t need a nickname at all.
But I do have a dark horse to suggest: Kate!
Kate Jennifer H@nn0n-M@rsh@11 works every bit as well as Jenna Kate. And while Kate isn’t at peak popularity right now, it’s a timeless, classic name that works well with a longer surname.
Again, this might be too much honor name. But the sound is so great, I felt like it had to be considered.
Kate Jennifer. It keeps the integrity of the honor name in the middle, which doesn’t need to get daily use. Kate is short enough for being paired with a long hyphenated last name. What’s not to love?
For the record, Genevieve, Geneva, et. al. are NOT related to Jennifer. Jennifer originated from Guinevere. Major difference in origin etymologically.
How about Geneva?
I like Jenna Kate, Maeve Jennifer, Chloe and the suggestions of Juniper and Guinevere. If you like Juniper/Guinevere/Genevieve but it doesn’t feel like enough of an honor name, maybe you could also use your sister’s middle name? i.e. if she was Jennifer Lynn, then Juniper Lynn. I also think Jennifer is still usable if you like it (not as dated as Linda haha). Especially if you choose a middle name that’s popular now, like Jennifer Grace, Jennifer Kate, Jennifer Claire.
I love Jenna Kate, but if that doesn’t fit your taste, I’d like to suggest Gwen or Maren as short picks related to Jennifer. Jennifer is a version of Guinevere and Gwen can be a diminutive of that. Jennifer means “fair wave,” so a sea/water inspired name could connect your daughter to her aunt — Maren or Maris or Marina. I think Maren is particularly nice with the last names you’ll be using.
Wishing you so much joy as you honor one special woman and welcome another!
Above I suggested Junia Fern.
Other alternatives to Ava if you want to go that route but you’re not on board with Ava could be
Jennetta. I always loved this name.
If you chose this, you could use the nickname Etta.
Jenna Kate is a winning combo!
Just an oddball suggestion, was it here that someone honored an Imogene with an Emma Jeanne? I’m thinking Gemma Vera, or similar idea, could work if you think that idea’s as darling as I do.
Of course, I think your ideas are all lovely. I would consider elaborating the Kate to a full Katelyn or Kathleen, because I don’t know any context of this person and I happen to like longer middles, but Jenna feels nice and springy and not like it’s just a nickname. Jenna Kate Longmclongsurname! Jenna Longmclongsurname! She could be Jay if you want to nickname it down, Jay Longmclongsurname.
What about Junia Fern ?
Along these lines, Ava doesn’t seem that dissimilar to the second part of Jennifer.
Jen Ava … Jenn Ava … Jean Ava … Jeanne Ava … ? Maybe even called Ava ?
Also quite like Fern, as suggested, as a tangible link to Jennifer. Maybe even Jenna Fern.
I really love your idea of Jenna Kate! And as suggested by others, Genevieves are often nicknamed Gen or Genny, so I do think it is a clear honor for Jennifer.
Above all, honor names are in the intention. Whether you name her Jenna, Jennifer, Ava, Guinevere, or any number of names, she’ll know about the amazing woman she was named for, and that’s what matters.
So I come from a nicknamey family with a Jennifer, so I’m excited to join in this conversation! My favorite from your options is Jenna Kate FWIW.
If you want to name her Jennifer and call her a nickname –
Fern is really sweet nickname/partial anagram that is a bit more current (and is also what I called my cousin when we were kids!)
JJ could be it’s own nickname for Jennifer or sort of a “Jennifer Junior” nod (the baby wouldn’t have to be a legal Junior, of course)
Juniper is another cute nod, but I don’t know how much of an honor name purist you two are!
Erin Beth says
Guinevere is a form of Jennifer, and you both like Jenna and Ava. What about Vera? Vera Jennifer or Vera Kate or Vera June or Vera Jean.
Jennifer is also the Cornish form of Guinevere. The names Juniper, Ginevra, and Guinevere are all more closely connected to Jennifer than Genevieve, so if it were me, I would probably choose one of them or go with the previous commenter’s suggestion of Geneva since it almost blends Jen and Ava.
But you need to decide whether using a name that isn’t the exact honor name feels like enough of an honor, and if you want the honor name to be the one that you call your child by. If it needs to be the exact honor name but you just can’t use Jennifer for everyday use, then Jennifer needs to go in the middle or a nickname needs to be chosen. If you need the name you call your child to meaningfully reference the honor name, then I would pick the Jennifer variant that you like best or that feels the most like Jennifer without being Jennifer.
I love the Jenny/Jennie suggestions! If calling her Ginny is a possibility, I suggest Virginia, Ginger, or Geneva.
I actually kinda love Geneva because it sounds like a combination of Jennifer and Ava.
I think one honor name for each side of the family is perfect for a one and done. I love Jenna Kate or Kate Jennifer if you want to call her KJ. If you want something more hers perhaps Ginny or Ginevra. If you don’t feel you can find something that is enough her own and an honor name perhaps two middles with a first all her own. My kids have five names each, and I love saying that, as crazy as it is. If you do go that route the first and middle names need to have less than 24 total characters to fit on a U.S. passport card.
I think Jenna Kate is darling, as is Jennifer as a middle name, and I love the suggestion of sweet Jennie. While I love the name Genevieve, though, I don’t think it qualifies as an honor name for Jennifer. Congratulations, and best wishes, and I am so sorry about the loss of your amazing sister.
I like Genevieve nicknamed Gennie. Genevieve is a beautiful formal name and though long flows well with the hyphenated surname. The nickname is cute and would remind the parents of the one who they are remembering, yet it does not remind one at all of the dated name Jennifer, especially when spelled that way. My second choice would be Kate Jennifer. Kate is a classic.
I was coming here to suggest Juniper too @Iris! It feels so much like Jennifer, but way fresher. If you’re looking for more ideas that include Jennifer and Kate…
Tia (auntie – you can tell her she is named to honour one angel auntie and one ‘auntie’ – I’m guessing Kate isn’t your in-law?)
I love your whole list too. You can’t go wrong. To take pressure off maybe remember a name is just one way to honor people. You’ll be able to tell stories, hang photos, etc to keep those people in a special place for your child.
What about Gemma? Or Gia? I do like Juniper as well 🙂
I think Abby is spot on – figure out what at you want to call her, not name her. Maybe that is the same thing, but … maybe it isn’t.
For example, do you like the name Jenny? IMO Jenny is darling. And it fits with the nickname-as-a-full-name thing that is happening here in the US and especially in the UK so it doesn’t seem as dated as Jennifer. Once you both agree on let’s say Jenny, then does Ava Jennifer work for you? Because she is called Jenny, not Ava, yet your partner gets her favorite name as a first. Or Kate Jennifer, or Jennifer Kate. Or Jenny Ava Kate even.
Knowing what you want to call her may simplify this in an unexpected way.
C in DC says
My great-grandmother was Jennie. I was coming here to suggest Jennie if Jenna wasn’t right. Also, how about Nieve instead of Maeve? Jennifer->Nifer->Nieve was sort of how I got there. As a completely out there idea, how about Jennifer called Enya?
Congrats on the baby! I suggest Juniper Kate!