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!
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/
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.
- Rosalind (he’s unsure)
- Margaret (“too old lady” he says)
- Rosemary (“too old lady” again)
- Elinor (too common?)
- 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?
Carina, Sienna seem to fit
I like the suggestion of Paulina.
Harriett? Matilda? Lenora? Tula?
Lissianna, Apolline, Corisande, Lucienne, or Isaline are all unique choices and go well with Ilaria.
Jean C. says
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.
Zena Eve says
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
Similarly, Louise could work in the same way.
Jean C. says
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.
The Mrs. says
Ah, there’s also Iona. Ilaria & Iona.
Providence, Aloise, Avril, Charis, Corinne
Aurelia, Camellia, Dacia, Hestia, Verbena
Oh, Abby, thank you. You have nailed my style, and his. But most of all you understand the heart side. Thank you, thank you.
Adele is gorgeous. Blythe I’d thought about, but not Cosima, and I like both. Paulina, though–I hadn’t thought about a Paul feminine for a first, and I really like that. This also got me thinking of more tailored femme names like Constance or Elise.
My daughter is Adele, and we adore her name.
A few more came to mind: Sybil, Elodie, Regina and Colette
As someone has already suggested, Gwyneth is the first name that comes to mind. It’s a lovely, less common Welsh name with a similar meaning to Ilaria.
Anouk is the Dutch/French version of Anna, and it strikes an exotic note like Ilaria but without seeming “plain” as you mentioned with Anne. Its meaning, “grace,” also resonates with the loss of a child: much grace is needed to heal.
Paloma and Calanthe would flow beautifully
Amaryllis, Arietta, Calla, Estella/Estelle, Evangeline, Flavia, Ginevra, Ianthe, Ione, Rosalba, Verbena, Xanthe
Candide, Candida, Capricia, Fiore, Chiara, Fiorella, Fiamma, Fiametta, Fia
The Mrs. says
She means ‘cinnamon’, brings to mind the constellation Cassiopeia the Queen, AND feels as exotic as Ilaria but as feminine as Maria.
Ilaria & Cassia
Or how about Jacaranda? It’s a lush, heavily-laden purple floral tree. She has four syllables like Ilaria and a similar individuality.
Ilaria & Jacaranda
Then there is also Serenella.
She means ‘lilac’ in Italian and has as much romance as Ilaria and Maria.
Ilaria & Serenella
Best wishes! Please let us know what you decide!
Cassia is an awesome suggestion! Serenella is very pretty! Never heard of it before.
Catherine, occasionally called Kit 🙂
I wanted to add Camille. And also to point out that Daphne has a floral connection with its meaning.
I think Margot or Daphne would pair nicely with Illaria and perhaps with Paulina (or Pauline or Paulette as the middle)
Or you could go with Paulina as the first name, nn Paulie/Polly/Lina or Paulette, nn Paulie/Polly/Etta/Lettie, etc.
I also like the suggestions of Rosalie and Iris.
Colombe! Meaning “dove”, the bringer of peace. I feel drawn to names with a meaning for you, considering the loss of your sweet Maria.
Ilaria, Maria and Colombe
Or what about Joy?
Ilaria, Maria and Joy
There are lots of beautiful suggestions above, too!
Oooh I like Columbe and Columba too!
Oh, that’s lovely. I deeply wish Columbine weren’t ruined in the US, because then we’d get dove and the flower.
My first thought was Giselle.
Or what about Florence? Then you’d have Lark & Wren 🙂
Lark & Wren!!! LOVE this suggestion! Renata nn Wren maybe too!
Lark and Wren! Oh, YES. It makes me think of other word-nickname pairings–like if we used Estelle (suggested here), we could have Lark and Star. Or Roberta becoming Robin or Birdie, Catherine called Wren, Margaret called Daisy, Rebecca called Echo, etc.
I also really love Flora.
Briana Valencia says
What about Iona Pearl? Too similar to Ilaria?
C in DC says
We have a -ia and an -ee. If we’d had a third girl, we were looking at -ette and -elle endings for something still traditional feminine, but with a different sound. Juliet, Harriet, Paulette, Claudette, Muriel, Isabel, Gabriella are some of the names we considered. Anais comes to mind as an Anne-like name. If Maris and Marina are too close to Maria, how about Ramona or Cordelia? Good luck.
Alexandra, Azalea, Azura, Benedicta, Cassandra, Cecily, Delilah, Emilia, Federica, Frederica, Frances, Françoise, Ginevra, Harriet, Helena, Laura, Mary Claire, Mary Lou, Mattea, Matilda, Ophelia, Polina, Rosa, Sylvia, Veronique
Cecily! Frederica! Frances! Helena! Rosa! Sylvia! You’ve listed SO MANY that I adore.
I like the suggestions of Adela, Daphne and Camila. I’d add:
Oh, Beatrice is a great one! I wonder what my husband will think–it’s familiar, and we don’t know any 80-year-olds with the name, unlike Margaret.
Paloma is lovely (and nearly a sound-alike for Paul as an honor), but we’re not Spanish at all, so I hesitate taking the sibset in that direction. But it’s so pretty, and I love the “dove” meaning.
theodora is perfect! I love it. I also love Paulina! I think it’s fabulous and underrated. It’d also make a great middle. Love Anthea, Marguerite, and Cosima!
Felicity (I like that this also means happy)
My #1 suggestion for you is Gwyneth. I think it’s unexpected with Ilaria but they complement each other in the best way! Gwyneth doesn’t rank in the top 1000 but it’s familiar. Ilaria, Maria and Gwyneth. Gwyneth helps ground Ilaria and steers away from the ultrafemininity you’re trying to avoid. overall I like using a more “tailored” or frills free name with Ilaria that’s still clearly feminine.
Oh, what lovely suggestions. A tailored name is exactly what I’d like–Gwyneth, Lenora, and Carys are all especially appealing.
I really like Marguerite as well, partly for the nickname Daisy which seems to fit right in with Lark as a fun, light nickname for your girls.
Margot is more spare and delightful as well.
Althea hits the same style notes as Abby’s suggestion of Anthea but adds the meaning of healing-I think after an herb the Greeks used by the same name?
Anne is plain, Annemarie perhaps too intensely similar to your daughter’s name, but Anneliese or Annevieve or Annabeth?
I love Julia and Julianna. Also Johanna? Cute nicknames from that…
I love Althea! As a child I spent hours trying to figure out whether I liked Anthea, Althea, Philothea or Theodora better (and the answer was “all of them”), so it’s a treat to see Anthea and Althea mentioned here.
I thought of Marguerite even before reading on to Abby’s suggestions – and I agree with pretty much everything she mentioned there.
Camilla. I think Ilaria, Maria and Camilla sound like sisters. Best wishes!