Name Help: A sister for IlariaName 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!

Brigid writes:

What the hell do we pair with Ilaria?

We have a beautiful baby girl, Ilaria Jacqueline, and her name a tough act to follow. Ilaria is exactly my husband’s style but it’s particularly meaningful to me. Jacqueline honors beloved great-granddad Jack. We call her IJ, Lark, and Doodle.

We lost a baby we named Maria Arsenia. The middle is an honor name. Maria is my husband’s very favorite name; it also cancels out Mary, my very favorite and a family name on both sides. He loves that Spanish “ɑː” sound, and I love the British “eə”.

He likes conventional/familiar/Biblical, and I like quirky literary names, with bonus points for florals.

I’m not sure what pairs well with Ilaria (and, ideally, Maria). I don’t want to go in the “international ultrafeminine” direction of Natalia, Sophia, Anastasia, etc. I also don’t want the sibset to be too fussy or precious, so I worry about more unusual names.

Our favorite boy name is Paul, after the other beloved great-granddad. He also likes Isaac, Elias and Luke, and I like Matthias, Basil, Arthur, and Benedict. But there’s a 99% chance we’d use Paul for a boy.

We’ve considered:

  • Rosalind (he’s unsure)
  • Theodora
  • Margaret (“too old lady” he says)
  • Rosemary (“too old lady” again)
  • Iris
  • Elinor (too common?)
  • Rebecca
  • Columbine (“are you out of your mind?”)
  • Anne (too plain?)
  • Juliana/Julia (again with our Spanish/Brit preferences)
  • Guinevere (“too medieval”, as if there’s any such thing)

Honor names to consider include Paula, Mary, Mae, Vera, and Pearl.

There is at least a little grief tied up in this whole problem.

Thanks for all that you do. It’s a joy to read your site.

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

Hi Brigid –

I’m so sorry for your pain. Pregnancy after loss is doubly challenging; there’s the normal stress of your life and body changing, and then all of the added anxiety.

I wish I could offer more than the support of this community. The one thing we can do is help alleviate your concerns about a name.

A Sister for Ilaria: Considerations

A few things leap out at me:

  • Ilaria seems like the outlier, doesn’t it? Paul makes for a perfectly traditional choice for a boy, and lovely, romantic Maria is a distinctive, but conventional choice for a girl. It’s lovely Ilaria that surprises.
  • “Old lady” is the least helpful term ever! It’s based so much on the names of our great-aunts and elderly neighbors, not on actual trends. Many would consider Margaret a classic that’s very much back in the mainstream. But if your 60-ish nursery school teacher was Miss Margaret back in the 80s? That image might prove impossible to shake.
  • So many of your names have deep personal meaning attached that choosing a name simply for sound and style might prove unsatisfying. If you’ve used up every one of your honor names, it’s as good a jumping off point as any. Still, it might be worth exploring whether there’s a hidden gem that you’ve yet to consider.

That last thought leaves me trying to pin down your style. I do think Ilaria feels international and feminine, but that doesn’t necessarily trap you into names like Natalia and Anastasia. Though it does seem like edging a bit more towards familiar names would please your husband. The strength of Ilaria is that even while it is rare, it feels very much at home with names like Sophia and Olivia, so I think you could go lots of directions and find a good sister name.

A Sister for Ilaria: Suggestions

Adelia, Adela, Adele Addie names dot the entire US Top 100 – and 1000, and beyond. That might make this category unsatisfying, since they won’t feel quite as rare as Ilaria. But in terms of numbers, Adelia and Adela fall outside of the current Top 1000; Adele sits around the #650 mark. The popularity of Addie names might make this category more attractive to your husband. Ilaria, Maria, and Adela sound like sisters.

Anthea – Theodora appears on your maybe list; would a similar-sounding name move to the top? Anthea comes from the Greek word anthos, flower. It’s an almost-cousin to Anthony, though Anthea feels far more rare than even Antonia. Like Ilaria, the sound fits in perfectly with current naming styles, but it’s far from common.

Blythe – As I’m sure you know, Ilaria comes from the Latin meaning cheerful.  Blythe comes from Old English, but carries the same meaning. Blythe feels tailored and unexpected, but sidesteps the international/ultra-feminine sound that you might dislike.

Cosima – But maybe the right pan-European feminine name would work? Cosima comes from the Greek word kosmos, meaning order, the same root for our words cosmos – the universe – and cosmopolitan. Ilaria, Maria, and Cosima sound like sisters – though perhaps this is exactly the style you’d like to avoid?

Geneva – I almost suggested Genevieve as a more mainstream alternative to Guinevere. Or maybe Gwendolyn? But then I thought of Geneva. It shares similar sounds, and has a history of use as a given name in the US. (Mamie Eisenhower was born Mamie Geneva Doud.)

Iris – It’s already on your list, and I find Iris staggeringly gorgeous. It’s a flower, obviously, but it’s also from the Roman name of the goddess of the rainbow. Other families have mentioned that Iris feels especially meaningful after a loss. I’d add this name to your list for lots of reasons, but that might make it particularly significant. one downside: Ilaria and Iris would share a first initial, and some parents very much prefer to avoid repetition. But that’s a preference, not a rule.

Jacinta, Jacinda – The downside: this feels a bit like an international girls’ name, too perfect a match for your girls’ names. Except it’s a great, underused botanical. It comes from the Greek word for hyacinth, and, depending on the color the flowers represent constancy or sincerity.

Marguerite – Marguerite reminds me of Guinevere slightly – both names sound both elaborate and tailored. If Margaret is too old lady, does Marguerite feel fresher? The other advantage: in French, marguerite is the name for daisies, which is why the flower and the name have become paired. Ilaria, Maria, and Marguerite sound different, but right together.

Rosalie – If Rose names appeal, would Rosalie offer the perfect compromise? While it hovers around the #250 mark, it doesn’t feel overly popular.

Vesper – How ’bout a Latin or Greek word name? Vesper means evening; Lux means light; Flora refers to flowers. I like Ilaria and Vesper or Ilaria and Flora better than the shorter picks, like Lux.

Usually I like to end with my top suggestion, but this time I’m struggling to choose! I think it’s important to balance your husband’s wish for a more familiar name with your preferences. That makes me think that Iris and Rosalie are the better choices. But since he did agree to Ilaria, perhaps there’s another unexpected name that will win him over a second time.

One final thought: do you intend to reserve Paul for a possible future son? It’s a tough call. We saved a name for a son and never had a chance to use it. Because Paulina reminds me of Juliana, but comes in around the Top 700 in the US – a distinctive, slightly different name that might work well for a daughter.

Readers, what would you suggest as a sister for Ilaria Jacqueline?

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. Lissianna, Apolline, Corisande, Lucienne, or Isaline are all unique choices and go well with Ilaria.

  2. Ok I know I just commented yesterday, but this letter keeps turning in my mind. What about Maeve? If not for a first, maybe a middle? It occurred to me because it would hit honor names Mae and Vera. It is a fun sound (like Ilaria) and more common now than it used to be.

  3. I wondered last night about Emily. It’s pretty and feminine like Ilaria without any fuss and would tie all your names together nicely (if you ever need to):

    Ilaria, Maria, Emily and Paul

  4. I love Iris and Adele.

    I would like to add Zareen to the consideration list. I love this name. It does have a slightly international feel, but I don’t think it has any preciousness, in the same way that both Ilaria and Maria do too. I know a little Zareen and sometimes she goes by Zizi which couldn’t possibly be cuter! I also like that all 3 of your girls would have that “ar” sound in the middle of their names–it’s not distinct and no one would notice it unless they really thought about it (or they were name geeks like us!) but it really makes it sound like a sibset. I think it’s a little bit unusual for your husband’s tastes possibly, but everyone would know how to pronounce it if they saw it written, and I think most would easily guess how to spell it if they heard it.