Name Help: First SonName 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!

Kayla writes:

My husband and I are expecting our first on Valentine’s Day. We didn’t start talking about names seriously until after our ultrasound tech said that it’s a boy. (I had a hunch anyway!)

While I wouldn’t say we disagree on names, we don’t really agree, either. I don’t hate any of his suggestions, and he won’t rule out any of mine. But none of them feels better than the others. It’s almost like we could pick one from a hat.

So where do we go from here?

Our kids will have my husband’s last name, a very common, two-syllable, J-son last name. (This rules out John, but that wasn’t on our list anyway.) I do want the names to sound good together.

So far, we have the following lists.

HIS LIST: Ryan, Nolan, Austin, (maybe) Hunter, Ryder

MY LIST: Elliott, Miles, Cooper, Brooks, (maybe) Wesley

I don’t mind popular names, or at least I think I won’t mind a popular name.

My husband has a very unusual name, one that his parents made up by combining their names, and he really wants to choose a normal name.

Any advice?

Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.

Abby replies:

First, congratulations on your first!

There’s a subtle difference I hear in your two lists. Your husband’s list sound a little more 2000, while yours is far more current.

Here’s what I mean: Austin peaked around 1995/96; Ryan in the 1980s; Hunter right around the year 2000. Nolan and Ryder might still grow in popularity, but they’re firmly established names.

Turning to your list, Elliott, Brooks, and Miles are still very much gaining in use. Cooper and Wesley are a little more complicated, but overall, they still feel like very current choices.

There’s no good or bad to either list. In fact, sometimes I encourage parents to stick with names that have already peaked. After all, they’re broadly familiar – and unlikely to turn around and rocket to the top of the popularity charts. (Though anything could happen.)

But it does make me wonder:

Is your husband inclined to choose names he’s heard on real people – even if they’re just athletes or friends-of-friends’ kids? And maybe you’re looking at a different source – like name sites, apps, and blogs? It can result in two slightly different – but mostly compatible! – lists.

And that’s the thing: you’ve got lots of really good choices already, and it feels like it took some work to get here.

Rather than adding to your list, I’m going to suggest you check out Nancy’s Weighted Decision Matrix.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify traits that your ideal name will possess. Easy to spell? Reflects your heritage?
  2. Rate the importance of each trait. (Higher number = more important.) It sounds like your husband would put “familiar and accessible” at the top of his list, and maybe you’d agree.
  3. List the names you’re considering.
  4. Evaluate each name against the traits you’ve identified. If this feels a little squishy, well IT ISBut that’s the point. Filling in the matrix is all about turning our general opinions and feelings into data that can be ranked … kinda sorta.

I hear two clear criteria in your letter: first, you want a familiar, well-established name. Second, it needs to sound good with J-son.

I’m guessing there are more criteria once you talk about it!

And if you need a good starting place, for that conversation, consider this advice.

Without actually doing the math, I’d rank your choices something like this:


It’s just not great with J-son. I’d drop it to the bottom of the list.


A great choice with your surname. Familiar to most, but still gaining in use.


A good balance of all of the above.


Love the way it sounds with J-son. But would it bother you to spell it? (Elliott-with-two-Ts versus one?)


Like Cooper, I think the -r ending works well with an -r ending surname.


But again, like Brooks, I think the -s ending names are the best of all. Miles straddles the divide between current favorites and true classics. (Think Myles Standish from the Mayflower.)


It’s alright with J-son, but Nolan J-son repeats the rhythm and sound.


Same issues as Nolan.


I think Ryder is a little more modern than some of the names on your list, though overall seems to hit all the right notes.


An interesting choice. How do you feel about nicknames? Because both Wesley J-son and Wes J-son are great, but it seems likely that you could end up with a kid who prefers to be Wes. Is that a bonus or a drawback?

Overall, my favorites are Miles, Cooper, and Ryan.

That said, I love the rhythm of Elliott – with that extra syllable – combined with your surname.

I wonder if something like Miles Elliott J-son would appeal? Or Brooks Ryan J-son?

If you really do feel like all ten are equally good options – or maybe if you only narrow your list to two or three – picking from a hat (or flipping a coin) isn’t actually a bad strategy.

Remember: you don’t have to commit to the name that random chance assigns. But it helps you evaluate your feelings a little more closely.

Imagine you’re down to just Hunter and Ryan, and a coin flip decides his name is Ryan. If you’re feeling deeply disappointed, well, that might be a good sign that Hunter was meant to be your son’s name all along.

In brief: analyze. And then sit with the results and see if they match how you’re feeling.

Readers, what names would you suggest to Kayla and her husband? Any tips for narrowing a favorite 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. Consider going less common on the first name so that he’s not one of many with a common first and last name. Also, one way to narrow it down is to look at the meaning of each name and see how that feels. Good luck!

  2. Okay last piece lol Looking up names on Behind the Name by rating Ryan and Cooper appear on each other’s lists as do Nolan and Miles. What about Ryan Cooper or Miles Nolan? Not from your list, but from the similarly rated names that popped from both name sets: Caleb Alec. Brody kept popping up in the names from your husband’s list, and for sure goes with Cooper: think Olympian Brody Malone and brother Cooper.

  3. Your list looks great. I agree with Abby that -N ending names aren’t awesome with the surname. But the rest seem fine, with one exception.

    If I’m understanding the last name properly, I understand it to be slang for a certain piece of male anatomy. If so, Ryder is not a good choice. Maybe I misunderstood. But thought I’d add this, just in case.

  4. I like the process of elimination Abby suggested. If you’re not particularly attached to any of the names, cutting names by clash by surname sounds super smart. The N-endings are a natural cut. Although there are so very many names ending in N so that does narrow the pool.

    My only advice would be to consider future siblings. Do you have a girl name that it absolutely THE ONE and you’ll want to use it given the chance in the future? If yes, which names might be too similar or too stylistically different on your boy lists? In my experience, men are more likely to stick pretty traditional with boy names but be more open with girl names. Not that you couldn’t have a Desdemona and Hunter, just maybe that would narrow your family style to trying to stay with longer, romantic, nickname-ready names? Just an example.

    The other comment I have is that your lists actually don’t seem to be that far apart. I can see two sibling pairings I personally know using one name from each of your lists.

    If I were you, I’d focus on the overlap. His list is entirely two-syllable. You have a few two-syllable. You both have names that have usage as surnames. You both have -er endings. There are tons of ideas in this category, but with the surname I like:


  5. Definitely it is a different name situation now then when your husband was a child. My daughter is four, and has gone to daycare and now preschool with kids with a wide variety of names: Darren, Leona, Cruz, Oakley, Axel, Dash, Millie etc. Names are so unique now. I wonder if the middle ground is a “timeless” name with less of a time stamp. I think Elliott, Brooks and Nolan all accomplish this. Other names that might work: Henry, Zachary, Max, Benjamin, Peter, Nicholas, Frederick, Lawrence, Calvin, August.
    Good luck!

  6. Hmm I agree with Abby that you have a great list of names and that your husband’s names seem to be popular from 20 years ago (I’m a teacher who has yet to meet a student named Ryan even though it was so popular when I was in school) and yours are a little more contemporary. Maybe you could each pick a favorite from each other’s list and then put them in a hat? Or do the ranking method Abby suggested.

    Or if there is something in-between that you just haven’t quite thought of yet – I saw Logan and Wyatt mentioned above which feel like a nice mix between your styles. Or you could try to find something popular now that also feels pretty timeless like Jack, Andrew, or Lucas.

  7. While I totally get the desire for a normal name, I think going *too* normal (Ryan, for example) has the potential to be annoying later given the multitude of people who already have that exact name. What about something familiar but less common like:

    1. When i was looking up names by rating Piers/Pierce Callum/Cullen and Rhys/Reese kept coming up, as well as Max Alex/Alec and Caleb/Kaleb.

  8. I feel like Abby’s suggested method is logical but it also sounds like you need to maybe identify a mutually-appreciated list first. If neither of you are excited about the other’s choices, I’d say you’re not done looking yet. I’d recommend you each come up with 50-100 names that you like. Then compare your lists again. Do you have any overlap now?

    Some names that might split the difference between your styles: Declan, Logan, Grady, Christopher “Kit”, Wyatt, Graham.