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!
Our first baby, a girl, is due at the end of November. My husband’s list of favorite names is straight outta the 80s. He likes Allison, Amanda, Rebecca, Kimberly, and Melissa.
My thought was “Wait, what? You want to name our baby after the cheerleading squad at my high school?”
My second thought was, “Wait, some of those names aren’t that bad.”
He also pointed out that one my favorites, Sloane, is pure Ferris Bueller which is pretty darn 80s. Other names I suggested are Hadley, Rory, Piper, Margot, and Quinn. He doesn’t hate them, but he keeps going back to his list.
So maybe we’re doomed to relive the Reagan era? Should I get the baby some little legwarmers and a scrunchie and call it good?
Please read on my for response, and share your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.
Hi Rachel –
Congratulations on your new daughter!
I think you’re in the toughest place right now: there’s no obvious overlap in your lists. It’s like you’re saying “I’m good if we paint the walls light blue, light green, maybe a pale gray …” and he’s saying, “Orange! Let’s go with bright orange. Or maybe fire engine red!”
Neither style preference is wrong, but at first glance, there’s no obvious middle.
The good news is that it’s also a really common place to be, and pretty much every one of those kids ends up with a name. I don’t know of a single child who was still nameless at her first birthday party, so … it can be done.
For reasons I can’t explain, fathers often seem to like names that were current during their own childhoods. Maybe those names strike them as an acceptable shortlist of “normal” names. Maybe they’re not paying attention.
Or maybe they are great names, and there’s no reason to drop them from our shortlists. I have a soft spot for Allison. And I tend to agree that Amanda should be timeless, even if every Amanda I know is thirty-something.
Forget about popularity, though, and here’s what strikes me about your two lists:
- Your husband prefer longer names. All of his suggestions are three syllables. And while Amanda was often Mandy and Kimberly almost always became Kim back in the day, I wonder if he prefers those names nickname-free?
- Your list feels much more brisk. It’s slightly more unisex – though Piper and Quinn are much more popular for girls, and Rory feels well-established as a girl’s name, too. And while Margot has history galore, that upbeat ‘o’ eating makes it feel very 2016, too.
Let’s look at some possible compromise names:
Sabrina – Some names rocket into the Top Ten and feel tied to their generation. Linda just retired from your office; Sophia just started kindergarten. Other names prove elusive. Sabrina appeared in the US Top 100 – very briefly – in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. Seldom heard before the 1950s, Sabrina can’t be pegged to the 1980s. And yet, it reminds me of Melissa and Rebecca. I think you might like it because it can shorten to breezy, modern Bree.
Delaney – Three-syllable, ends-in-y names are an enduring presence in the US Top 100. But the names themselves change quite a bit. 1930s Dorothy gave way to mid-century Beverly. Twenty years later, Kimberly and Stephanie reigned. Today, the equivalents might be Avery and Everly. But I think Delaney makes a good familiar, but not too popular choice. It reminds me of your husband’s Kimberly, but also Hadley from your list.
Valerie – Valerie reminds me of Margot – modern in feel, but not at all new. The name boasts a long history of steady use. With three syllables, I suspect it might please your husband. But the V makes it very modern, a sister for Ava or Olivia.
Vivian – While we’re working with the letter V, Vivian also strikes me as a middle ground name. Strictly speaking, Vivian languished in obscurity during the 1980s. But in 1990, Julia Roberts starred as Pretty Woman’s Vivian, and the name began a steady rise.
Paige – Let’s look at compromise names based on Quinn and Sloane. I briefly considered Brooke, but maybe Paige is a little less obviously tied to the 1980s? That’s because the name became a 1990s favorite. Supernatural series Charmed ran from 1998 through 2006, featuring sisters called Piper, Prue, and Phoebe. In 2001, Paige replaced Prue. That reflects the trends as much as it sets them. Paige is fading today, but I don’t think it feels dated.
Lorelei – Maybe it’s because I binge-watched Gilmore Girls this summer, but Lorelai, nickname Rory, lately seems like a very appealing name. I’m not alone, either – the name currently ranks in the Top 500, it’s most popular ever. Lorelei is a three-syllable name, so that might appeal to your husband – but it opens the door to using Rory from your list, too.
Laurel – Laura and Lauren dominated the Top Twenty in the 1980s, tying the sound to the decade. Nature name Laurel caught on, too, but it never reached the same heights as the other Laur- names. Because nature names are huge today, it still feels current.
Juniper – Maybe this is a long shot, but Juniper comes to mind. It has the rhythm of 1970s chart topper Jennifer – which remained a Top Ten pick through 1991. Juniper shares the energy of Margot and Piper, and feels thoroughly modern.
At the end of the list, I’ll admit that I’m stumped.
Part of me agrees with your buy-the-legwarmers suggestion. If you decide to go that route, may I suggest Allison? It remains in the Top 100, where it has ranked every year since 1974. That makes it more of a modern staple than a former favorite. We’re constantly coming up with new names like Allison – Madison, Emerson, Ellison – but Allison stays in the picture. Credit to Elvis Costello’s ballad, maybe?
If you try to build a compromise list, I think there are dozens of possible suggestions to ponder. And so, let’s throw it open to the readers.
Would you stick with a name from the 1980s? Or are there more great compromise options to consider?
I wonder if the 80s names might be more usable for you with less traditionally 80s nicknames?
I’m an 80s baby, and went to school with a Rebecca who went by Reb (and Rebel, for a while).
Amanda could be Ada or Ama as easily as Mandy or Manda.
Maybe Melissa could be Mia, or Mess 🙂
Or, if your husband can be convinced to use a less dated name, you could try one if those that people often call “classic”, and use an un-80s nickname
Elizabeth & variants (80s nickname =Liz):
Beth, Bess, Lisbet, Lilibet/Lilibeth, Liza, Elsie/Elsa/Ilsa, Babet/Babette (French/Dutch. Pronounced similarly), Libby etc
Catherine & variants (Kate):
Cato (Dutch), Cadi, (Welsh) Kit/Kitty, Kip/Kipper (normally a nn for Christopher, but he gets Kip and Kit, and Catherine has Kit, so maybe not too much of a stretch), Katya/Katja/Katje (whole bunch of European languages. Last one’s Dutch) , Kasia (Polish), etc.
I think as I was compiling my list of names, other people replied with some of the same (or they are in Abby’s comments) but I’ll list them again.
You seem to like the tailored unisex names that maybe were once surnames that feel fresh today while your husband seems to like names that are solidly girls names that might feel dated to you. My immediate thoughts when I was reading through your letter and Abby’s response is that if you could find some unisex names that feel like a spin on the girly 1980’s names and have solid girly nicknames, you might find a compromise for the two of you.
Here are some thoughts:
Ellison (sounds like Allison) with the nickname Ellie
Emery or Emerson (both sound like Emily) with the nicknames Em or Emmy
Ellery (sounds like Emily) with the nickname Ellie
Madigan (sounds like Megan) with the nicknames Maggie, Meg, Maddie, Addie, Aggie
Bellamy (sounds like Bethany or Brittany) with the nickname Belle
Betony (sounds like Bethany or Brittany)
Hartley (has the -ly/-y of names like Kelly, Ashley, Tiffany, Stephanie…)
Shay(e) (fresher approach to Shannon?)
Jessamine (fresher approach to Jessica?)
Ashlynn (fresher approach to Ashley?)
Cory/Corey/Kori (compromise for your Rory?)
C in DC says
In my family, we have cousins Allison, Alyssa, and Alicia, so if you like the Al- names, there are lots of choices. They range in age from 9-15.
I’ll add Lydia (Beetlejuice) and Claire (Breakfast Club) as subtle ’80s names.
Lauren strikes me as an 80s staple the nonetheless feels fresh today. Also, any interest in Mariel? It’s in the Margot “camp,” but the Mariel Hemingway association might bring your hubby back to his safe place era. : )
I’m late on this one, but a friend of mine just named her baby Lauren. I was surprised, because it struck me as dated, compared to the name of her older daughter (Kerrigan) which is very on trend. I’ve gotten used to it very quickly and baby Lauren seems totally appropriate now.
Miranda could be a good compromise.
The Mrs. says
I kept thinking about your letter last night. So this is an add-on to my earlier comment. 🙂
Mallory (nn Meg, Lori, Maggie, Mali) It’s got three syllables, ends in ‘y’, and an 80s vibe with a Sloan-ish feel.
Vanessa (nn Nessa, Ness, Vani, Vanna, Essa) This name goes WAY back, but the Cosby show floats it in the 80s. It’s also a three-syllable classic.
Claudia is tailored but feminine. Cici, Leah, Dee, or even Claude could work as a nickname.
And, finally…Beth. Bethany was an 80s staple. But with her history of use from Elizabeth, she’s clean, recognisable, and simple. Beth doesn’t end with a typical feminine ending (ah, ee, ay), so she doesn’t sound like everyone else in her class. These days Beth can be a nickname from botanical Betony to Nordic Elspeth.
Again, best wishes!
My husband was similar with his likes for our newborn – he wanted Rebecca or Jennifer, but I have always liked names that are both strong and feminine. We agreed on Meredith as it has a more tailored sound, it was familiar without being too popular, and it has a family connection. It didn’t scream 80s baby either even though it peaked then. Merry is an obvious nickname but we went with Minnie. Our narrowly beaten out second choice was Margaret, nn Margo.
What about Naomi or Catherine?
My hubby was the same. We ended up using ‘classics’ that have been always been top 1000 (nameberry has a list of those I think). In fact our names have always hovered in the top 100 (think William or Joseph), I was worried but it is fine really and there haven’t been heaps of double-ups at school or anything.
Have you had a look at your family tree – finding a family link might bring him to something a little closer to your style?
I had a couple write in to my blog in the same situation: dad wanted names from the 1970s, mum wanted something more contemporary.
In the end they compromised by choosing names that were popular in the 1970s, and are still popular now.
It’s harder for girls’ names, but that would leave you with Elizabeth, Sarah, Emily, Katherine, Anna, and Victoria. If you went with a longer name re: dad’s style, maybe you could get a funky nickname from it that mum likes.
Maybe Katherine “Kit” or Victoria “Tory” if you wanted a unisex-style name.
I think Allison amd Amanda are more than wearable today. I think something like Kirsten, Kimber, Samantha, Juliana/Julia or Victoria would work! Or Brooke, Blair or maybe Corinne?
I am a huge Allison fan as well, and I do like Veronica, too. I am laughing a bit because Valerie seems much more 80’s to me than the other choices, but given my record, that means it will be a top 50 name in the 5 years.
Elena (Lane, Laney)
Miranda could also be a lovely compromise.
I vote for Rebecca! I think that name is timeless too, and you could go snappier with the nickname. Becks not Becky or Becca for example. Even nickname her Rebel. Or heck why not a nickname of Rory? For a middle I’d do Quinn from your list. I like those assonant “k” sounds. Ooh and off track but lovely is my favorite Romilly. Nickname Romy? Like a blend of a satirical 80s movie and some extra syllables for your man. Love.
As an 80’s Allison, I have noticed that a current naming trend is just “Allie” or some spelling of it. I know a few baby Allie’s and it’s a pretty cute!
If that’s a no-go, there’s always Addyson or Reagan.
The Mrs. says
Melisande could be inspired by Melissa.
Likewise, Amoret could take note from Amanda. Amy is about as timeless of a nickname as you can get.
Rebecca reminds me of the trendy Breck.
Jessica could morph into Jessamine.
Kimberly could be Emberly… nickname of Emmy or Ember.
How does Gemma strike you two? Jem is intrinsically tied to the 80s, but Gemma has a familiar sound and is feminine without being frilly.
Rachelle was a minor name in the 80s, but it doesn’t carry the same time stamp as Rachel or Michelle. Shell makes a soft nature nickname.
There seems to be an “-acy” name for each generation. Tacy, Stacy, Casey, Lacey, Macy, Gracie, etc. Maybe a new iteration would work for you? Dacey? Nacey? Pacey?
As a wild suggestion, how do you feel about Roxanna? Roxy seems SO 80s, but it also feels cool with the X. It’s almost aggressively feminine, yet it has an exotic flavor and a simple, classic ending. Ro or Annie could easily be nicknames as well.
I actually like Melissa, so of your husband’s ideas I’d pick that one.
Letter writer, you are hilarious. I agree that Allison is the best of your husband’s choices. It really is a lovely name, though a hair popular for my tastes. Though I often think of the Elvis Costello song, which to me is a WONDERFUL association. Thinking of Elvis Costello and Abby’s V names makes me remember Veronica, which is a name I love. Maybe you both would too? Lots of great nicknames: Vera, Ronnie, Vee.
I also think Laurel could be great for your daughter.
Let us know what you decide.
I’d vote for Sloane.. It’s on your list and might the ferris bueller tie in be enough to get him on board? I also love the previous suggestion of Jillian
I think Valerie (nn Val) is a great suggestion.
Other thoughts: Jillian? Simone/Simona?
What about “Reagan” itself? 🙂
I vote Natalie or Penelope as great compromise names that aren’t 80’s but still feel like his style and have lots of nickname options for you.