Name Help: Strong Modern Boy NamesName 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!

Roma and her boyfriend are expecting a son early in 2016. She writes:

My boyfriend doesn’t seem to be as interested in exploring unique name options as I am. He has a very short list of names: Nolan, Logan, Mason, maybe Scott. He really likes Nolan. I don’t mind that first name, but all of his options are in the Top 100. It is important to me that our son is not Mason #3 in school.

I want a strong but unique name for our son. Some of my favorites: Orson, Kane, Duncan, Hudson, Dane, Cove, Julian, Everett. I am open to a wide variety of suggestions.

A bit about us:

I am a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter. My boyfriend is also a grappler and a fly fishing guide. We both love the outdoors.

The baby’s last name will be S1del1nger (normal pronunciation as the 2 words “s1de” and “l1nger”) so I think names ending in “s” or “er” are out.

I would love your help with name suggestions that might make both of us happy! Thank you so much in advance.

Hi Roma –

Congratulations on your baby on the way!

For what it’s worth, there’s almost always one parent who is much more interested in names than the other – but that doesn’t mean that the less-interested-parent won’t want to veto suggestions, which makes it challenging.

The good news? Your lists aren’t miles apart. In terms of sound, Nolan, Logan and Cove share a long ‘o’ sound. Scott, Kane, Dane, and Cove are short and complete. Mason, Kane, and Dane have that bright long ‘a’ sound. I’d call most of the names modern in spirit, and I think strong is another good word to describe all of your choices.

There’s also more overlap in terms of popularity than you might think. Let’s take a closer look.

  • Names currently in the US Top 100: Nolan, Logan, Mason, Hudson, Julian
  • Names currently ranked between 101 and 250: Everett
  • Names currently ranked between 251 and 500: Scott, Kane
  • Names currently ranked higher than 501: Orson, Duncan, Dane, Cove

And yet there is a key difference between your list and your boyfriend’s list. Scott is unusual for boys born in 2016, but it’s been very, very popular for decades. Logan, Mason, and Nolan feel like solidly established names. Your list tends towards the less recognized – Duncan and Everett are rising, but they’re not widely familiar as given names.

This makes me think that there are two directions you can go:

  • Choose a name like Scott, that is very familiar as a given name, but would be shared by very few children born in 2016.
  • Keep adding names to your list that feel similar to Nolan, Logan, Mason, and Hudson but aren’t nearly as popular, until one feels right to your boyfriend.

Incidentally, the odds of your son being one of three any name are slim these days. Forty years ago, four of every 100 boys born was named Michael (the #1 name), another four were Jason (#2), and three were Christopher (#3). Today, less than one of every 100 boys born is Noah (#1) or Liam (#2), and an even smaller percentage are Mason (#3).

Now, on to my suggestions:

Ronan – It’s an awful lot like Nolan – strong ‘o’ sound, Irish roots. But it ranked #366 in 2014, making it far less common than Top 100 name Nolan. One downside? Rowan, Roman, and other Ro- names are equally popular. Roman might be an equally appealing choice, one that brings to mind the mighty ancient empire, though at #113, it’s more popular.

Donovan – Another surname name, this time with the ‘v’ of Everett and the three-syllable rhythm of Julian. Donovan ranked #284 in 2014, making it less popular. Another bonus? Nothing really sounds like Donovan, though other D- names, like the Irish Declan and Scottish Duncan, are also trending.

Reed – Reed ranked #317 in 2014, and Reid was #259. Either spelling shares some qualities with names on your list, like Kane and Cove, but it feels slightly more expected, closer to your boyfriend’s suggestion of Scott. I suspect that you might like Reeve even better – it’s an occupational surname for a royal official in medieval England.

Royce – If not Reed, maybe Royce? At #475 in 2014, it’s less popular than most of the names on your list. Another surname name, this one is associated with Rolls-Royce automobiles, but doesn’t feel nearly as out-there as naming your kiddo Chanel or Armani.

Gray or Grey – Sticking with short names, how about Gray? Grayson is a Top 100 fixture, while Grey comes in at just #911, and Gray has yet to crack the US Top 1000. The downside, of course, is that you might be asked if you’re a big Fifty Shades fan. And yet, I think this color name has enough of an on-trend sound and pre-movie momentum to be used for a child in 2016. I think it strikes the middle ground between Scott and Kane.

Will or Willem – William is probably much, too much of a buttoned-down classic for you, but what do you think of just Will? It feels like a strong name, as in willpower. And it has some of the same appeal as Scott. If just Will seems too short, there’s always Willem, the form of the name used in Dutch, and made familiar by actor Willem DeFoe. Just Will ranked #761 in the US in 2014; Willem does not appear in the Top 1000.

Xander – Your husband seems to respond to names with more history of use, but you prefer names that are less conventional. I wonder if Xander could be the perfect compromise? Alexander has been a Top Ten choice for the last few years, and a Top 100 staple for even longer. Xander could be short for Alexander, but it also stands on its own as a given name, and it feels thoroughly modern. At #211 in 2014, it’s slightly more popular than most of my suggestions, but still well outside of the Top 100.

Garrett – In the 1990s, Garrett was a Top 100 name, peaking at #74 in 2000. And yet, it never felt too popular. It has a sort of Old West swagger – Pat Garrett was the sheriff who shot Billy the Kid. I wonder if it might hit the right note for two reasons: first, it shares the ‘tt’ ending of Scott and Everett. Second, it ranks #236 today, making it relatively unusual for boys born in 2016, but has enough history of use that it might feel comfortable for your boyfriend.

Overall, it seems like you’re open to a great many names, so it’s a really a question of finding one that will satisfy your boyfriend’s tastes. Names like Garrett and Xander seem like the best choices to meet him in the middle.

But if those just fall flat to your ear, I wonder if your boyfriend would be willing to examine why he’s drawn to Nolan and Logan and Mason. If it’s important to him to find a “normal” name, it might be worth sitting down with the current popularity list. Since one of his favorites (Scott) ranks all the way at #425, it seems like he might be willing to take another look at your choices, like Everett, that are actually a little more conventional for a boy born in 2016.

Readers, what would say to Roma and her boyfriend? Are there some great strong, modern choices for a son that you would add to this list?

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. Here’s the thing about the popularity thing – you just don’t know. My friend was so cagey with her baby name before her Hudson was born 6 years ago, and it was a very unique name at that point. But now, I know 3 Hudsons under the age of 6, and there were 2 at our relatively small preschool. OTOH, I only know one Nolan under 10. Names can go in clusters, and you have no control over that.
    Scott does feel like an underused classic. I wonder if Wyatt might be a middle ground?

  2. I love Scott. A classic that feels surprising in 2016. Maybe paired with an adventurous middle or nickname could be a good compromise?

    Otherwise how about Cole? Same sound as Nolan but more timeless and strong IMO.

  3. I don’t think the ends in-er issue is an issue! I like the slight alliteration and it opens up a whole host of strong modern boys names. I’d let a name like Hunter or Wilder hair sit with you a little bit before ruling it out. Many many people have alliterative names. Even Sawyer S1del1nger sounds awesome to me.

    Two other non -er ideas that also don’t end in n to help keep things fresh are Wyatt and Malcolm. I love Marshall too, but then that echoes your profession which is either awesome or not.