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 husband Mark and I are expecting our second daughter, who will be joining Harriet Coleen (middle name after her grandmother). Our daughter is three and we love her name more and more every day. We are looking for something similarly strong and feminine for her sister.
I am American, and we live in the US. Mark is Australian and British. He likes more mainstream names while I prefer more unusual. When we decided on Harriet he had no idea how uncommon it was here.
If I’m being really picky I would also love the first, middle, last to have 3-2-1 syllables like Harriet’s name, since I love that flow.
I feel like we’ve been through all options with few sticking:
– Harper is the current front runner, but doesn’t get me excited. Our last sounds like Birch and I worry together they are too harsh. Also worry about echoing the “Har” beginning. My husband is entirely sold
– Helena (hel-AY-na). I love it, he insists it sounds too Germanic.
– Margaret. I love the strong and feminine connection but a few negative personal associations are holding us back.
– Charlotte. He loves this. I feel it’s too dainty and perfect for a real girl.
Help! Or help me understand that sometimes it’s okay not to have a name that you are head-over-heals I love with.
Read on for my response, and please share your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Dear Kelly –
Congratulations on your second daughter!
Almost everything about parenting is easier the second time around, but somehow naming? It gets tougher. You’re wise to recognize that you may choose a name that you like a lot, but don’t absolutely love. Happily, it doesn’t mean you won’t fall more and more in love with the name as your child grows. There’s something about having an actual child wearing the name that changes our perception, and takes it from name-that’s-just-fine to name-of-my-cherished-daughter status.
That being said, let’s try to find some options that do knock your socks off!
I share all of your hesitations with Harper, plus one more: it is very popular. If it were your all-time favorite, maybe it would be worth overlooking that it’s quite close to Harriet. While it’s undeniably strong and smart, it’s also modern and unisex – which means while it’s very close to Harriet sound-wise, but it also miles apart style-wise – so far that I’d be surprised to hear them as sister names.
Still, if you loved it, these things would be features, not bugs. And you’d be over on Etsy ordering personalized name art for Harper’s nursery, instead of writing to me.
Helena, Margaret, and Charlotte all seem much closer to the mark, but again – they’re not The Name, are they?
I’m going to cheerfully ignore the “too Germanic” comment. Our partners, even when their backgrounds are very similar to our own, come at naming with their own sets of assumptions and experiences. Helena is decidedly not Germanic – it’s the Latinized form of a Greek name, used in nearly every Northern and Eastern European language. So I’m going to hear that as a general “I don’t like it” statement and blithely suggest some names that do, indeed, have Germanic roots.
So let’s look for strong, feminine names, almost certainly with three syllables, that sound like Harriet’s sister. The name should be familiar, but preferably not too common.
Adelaide – Because Harriet isn’t Hattie, I assume Adelaide would not be Addie? Because Addie names are common, while Adelaide remains relatively rare. (It ranked #258 as of 2016.) Yes, it comes from Germanic roots – the two name elements mean noble and type, which is a pretty cool meaning. It’s been worn by saints and queens, and has a strong, distinctive sound.
Beatrice – I feel like you must have considered Beatrice, right? At #559, it’s nicely uncommon, but still generally familiar. It has the same vintage qualities and strength as Harriet.
Caroline – If Charlotte seems too dainty, does Caroline satisfy? They’re both feminine forms of Charles, but Caroline is less popular – #56 to Charlotte’s #7.
Eleanor – Eleanor is the epitome of strong girl names. I mean, Eleanor Roosevelt! I’ve written a series about similar names. (Read Part I here and Part II here.) And yes, Harriet is on that list, and Margaret, too. At #41, Eleanor is far more common than Harriet – but still feels like a pitch-perfect sister name.
Emmeline – Just like Adelaide could blend into all of the Addie names, Emmeline might get lost with all of the Emmie names – but only if you shorten it. Otherwise, it seems like an obvious sister name for Harriet. It appears on this list of Suffragette Names. So does Constance, which I would have suggested save for the three-syllable preference.
Matilda – Matilda is far more popular in the UK than the US, so perhaps that will appeal to your husband? It also reminds me of Helena in many ways. Plus, the meaning? Strength in battle. That’s a worthy sister for Harriet!
Meredith – Some dismiss Meredith as dated, and it did peak in the 1980s. But Meredith never even reached the Top 100! It’s nothing like, say, Brittany or Heather. It’s Welsh in origin, and has a strong, but still feminine sound. At #531 in 2016, I think it’s one of those overlooked names that everyone recognizes, but no one uses.
Vivian – The downside is that Vivian is much more popular – it ranks #95 as of 2016. And yet, I don’t know if that’s too common at all. The meaning – alive – is appealing, and the sound is powerful.
A few choices that didn’t make the list include names like Evelyn and Amelia. I’m not clear if you want to avoid popular, but since they’re Top 20 names, I’ve decided to leave them off.
I’m not sure if you have a family member to honor with your daughter’s middle name, but I wonder if Charlotte or Harper might work as a middle name?
I like both Vivian Harper, Matilda Harper, and Emmeline Charlotte quite a bit – but I think there are lots of combinations that could work nicely. And, of course, if you have a family middle waiting, I’m sure there’s a great combination with that name, too.
Now, lastly, a note on whether it’s okay to like, but not love, your child’s name.
The short answer- yes! Absolutely. I was talking with a group of experienced moms the other night, and one described naming their younger son this way: “It was the best name we could agree on.” So simple, but so true. Naming is almost always an act of compromise – but then, so is everything in a successful marriage. And there’s power in knowing that. Will you have the most swoon-worthy, Instagram hashtag-worthy name for your child? Maybe, maybe not. But finding a name that you and your partner can give together, in love and optimism for a long and happy life? That’s enough.
I always say “use the name you love.” What I mean by that is this: do not get talked out of your top choice because others say it’s too weird, or too popular, or you kid will hate you someday. Such prognosticating is pointless, and it tends to be shorthand for “that’s not the name I would choose.” But it also does not mean that you MUST love the name on the day you bestow it. Choose a name with good reason and enough information to know it satisfies your wishlist, and understand that your love for the name will grow with your child.
Readers, what would you suggest for a strong, but feminine, name for Harriet’s sister?
Yseult or Isolde,
I like Golden as your daughter’s middle name, or Marie,
Miriam, and you could use the adorable Mim as the nickname,
Deirdre for a middle name
I would def nix Harper. I think Harriet pairs best with:
So many good suggestions! While I personally love Adelaide and Emmeline I think Beatrice and Mathilda fit superbly! I also like Ramona/Romola (almost suggest Romilly which someone else did, but I think maybe it’s too different?), Rosalie, Josephine (which I saw got nixed), Eliza, Winnie, and Rebecca. I actually KNOW a baby Helen haha! Her twin brother is Ronald!
C in DC says
3 syllables: Lydia, Juliet, Julia, Claudia, Marisa, Marina, Ramona, Elisa, Bethany, Annabelle, Gwendolyn, Caroline, Justina
2 syllable middle: Marie, Charlotte, Susan, Julie, Elise, Lisa, Rachel, Rosa, Laura, Mabel
My daughter is Margaret, so I vote for that. If your negative associations are family members, you should probably ditch it, but if they’re people squarely in your past, maybe you shouldn’t let them ruin a great name (and no one gets to own a name with that much history and widespread use).
Others from our shortlist that you may like: Cecily, Eliza, Louisa and Louise (which my husband inexplicably vetoed as “too masculine”), and Helen – close to Helena, but maybe different enough for your husband to accept? I love Helen because it’s so spare and classic, and I’ve never met a small kid with that name.
I love so many of the suggestions. My favorites are Beatrix, Imogen, Ramona, and Meredith.
I immediately thought of Rosalie. Three syllables, not super popular, and has a similar vibe to Harriet.
I thought of Madeline. Always loved that name.
Harriet and Madeline.
My first thoughts were Millicent, Genevieve, and Eloise. But I LOVE Matilda Harper!!
Marie – it’s everyone middle name and no ones first name.
Matilda was be first name I thought of too, and then Ramona. Matilda Harper and Ramona Harper are both pretty darn good!
When I see Harriet, I think of Georgia.
Agatha or Agata (3 syllables)
Renae Stubbs says
Anneliese (with the American pronunciation, it has 3 syllables)
The Mrs. says
Harriet and Irene.
Irene means ‘peace’. There’s not much stronger than that!
Irene Harper would be lovely.
(A note about Charlotte: every Charlotte I’ve met, from elderly to baby, has had a strong will. I’m sure there are some out there who are compliant and passive, but I have yet to encounter them! The Charlottes with whom I am familiar have been mountain climbers in the 1920s, WWII welders, outspoken authors, and inventive artists. Much like Alices, Charlottes are I-do-what-I-want girls… for good or for trouble.)
Best wishes to you and your family! Congratulations on your new daughter.
Erin Beth says
My first thoughts on reading the question were Emmeline and Adelaide, so I want to enthusiastically endorse those suggestions. I also like Matilda with Harriet. I think Emmeline and Adelaide are especially good choices for this family because they both shorten to nicknames that are familiar and on-trend in the U.S AND they coordinately wonderfully with Harriet. Good luck!
What about Florence? It seems feminine and strong. It’s mainstream in Australia, but unusual here. Or maybe Wilhelmina? It’s unusual, but with Willa and Willow be somewhat popular, it doesn’t seem to un-mainstream.
Harriet has Germanic roots 🙂
I think Adelaide, Beatrice, Matilda and Eleanor are wonderful with Harriet.
If your husband has spent time in Australia, the place association might be quite strong with Adelaide. That said, it’s a fairly popular name here (and Matilda is very popular).
Some of my suggestions have already been made, so I’ll just add:
Gwendolen / Gwendoline /Gwendolyn
Also, Abby- I love your remarks about falling in love with your child’s name (especially when compromise is as strong deciding factor)!!… As a mom of five I can attest that some names I have been over the moon for right away, and others I have fallen in love with more as time passes. I’m never sure if it’s the name itself, or that this person I love so much wears the name, that makes those feelings evolve… either way, it’s so true!!
My first thought before reading Abby’s suggestions was Elinor/Eleanor! Harriett and Eleanor get my vote as favorite combo…
I also love Matilda Charlotte.
I wonder, if you went with Harper and maybe had another girl, then would you feel compelled to pick another H or HAR name??
Good luck chosing the name for your next strong princess, and congrats!! 🙂
I like the idea of Marquette for the middle name
We have a 4 year old Harriet! A great name, of course! We have two other girls, Elle and Georgia. We just had a boy, but he been a she, we would have used Octavia. I’m not sure if that helps, but some ideas for you. Of your choices I really like Margaret, but all are beautiful!
Thanks! We’ve considered Georgia, and also like Elle, although baby will have an aunt Elle.
Louisa! Harriet and Louisa sound great together – it’s not too popular and it has three syllables like you want.
Zena Eve says
You seem to like solid, sturdy feminine names. Shame that the husband doesn’t like Helena, that’s practically perfect with Harriet.
I personally love Harriet and Leona!
I nannied for twins Agatha and Harriet 🙂
The first name that popped into mind as a sister to Harriet is Hermione!
I know it’s only two syllables but how about Constance instead of Charlotte?
Elizabeth nn Eliza?
I also second Winifred!
I just thought of Deborah!
Like Jean C my first thought when I saw Harriet, great name by the way, was Matilda. I think it is a name to consider. I personally thing Matilda Harper is great possible name for the little sister of Harriet Coleen. Another name to consider for the sister of Harriet is Winifred. It is my middle name, and while I disliked it as a kid I love it now as an adult. If I were to have a daughter I would consider naming her it. Winifred Harper is also quite strong yet still feminine.
On another note my first thought when I saw Abby’s list was, “Hey, isn’t Adelaide a city in Australia?” Personally I think that adds to the name’s appeal if it even appeals to you.
I love the name Adelaide and the connection with the Aussie city, but since he grew up in another city and had no connection to Adelaide it feels odd for him to use that name.
Jean C. says
As soon as I saw the name “Harriet,” I thought “Matilda!” and I’m happy to see it was on Abby’s list. My other favorite from the list is Beatrice, although I personally like Beatrix (like Potter—the author and scientist!). I have a Gloria and it feels like that could be a good match with Harriet as well, and I also love the reader suggestions of Mabel and Martha. As an American, I’m not sure how wearable Martha felt to me until I saw a very young and endearing Martha on the Great British Bake Off. Now I’m obsessed. I guess this really goes to show you how much the wearer of the name influences how you feel about it—so whatever name your daughter wears, you will love more and more every day, just like Harriet.
^also Harriet and Matilda have the “fun and spunky children’s book characters connection!
Jean C. says
Oh and Ramona! Another fun and spunky children’s book character.
Edith would be a match, but it’s not two syllables. Also Marion, Althea, Philippa, Josephine, Barbara, Agatha, Deirdre, Frances, Ramona, Flavia.
Harriet is lovely. It’s a tough act to follow. (From another mama of two girls.) What struck me reading your letter is how different Harper and Charlotte are (his faves) in terms of popularity here. So I perused the Top 50 in England and Wales and lo and behold Harriet, Harper and Charlotte are there. So I found others that struck me as strong and feminine yet less common in North America:
I know you’d love the 3-syllable first so how is Harriet & Imogen? I love that they’re both buttoned up and stylish, yet come with a multitude of nickname options for versatility! Good luck!!
Hello from a fellow British Australian.
Mabel seems exactly right with Harriet.
Mabel with a family name for her middle name, like her sister (maybe from your husband’s side this time)
Mabel Margaret (love the Edwardian alliteration)
Harriet and Mabel
(The little Mabel in my extended family is Mabel Grace.)
Agree with everything Abby says!! Love Beatrice, Matilda, Caroline and Eleanor SO much! Only one other idea: Josephine.
I LOVE Josephine (I fought for it last time), but my husband’s dad used to have a silly saying with it that he can’t get passed.
I’m from Aus and have a Harriet and a Susannah … I wonder if you’d like that?
Harriet Coleen & Susannah Charlotte.