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!

The dilemma: She can choose almost any name …

Samantha writes:

We have an adorable daughter named Penelope Jane, called Penny and Nellie and PJ and lots of other nicknames. Our second baby will be here this summer. If it was a girl, I had a long list of names my husband I agreed on – Vivian, Juniper, Georgia.

But this baby is a boy, and we’re trying to work with a family tradition on my husband’s side.

The firstborn son is always named John, but called by his middle name. (My husband is John Kyle, known as Kyle. His dad and grandfather are also John Middle, and his great-grandfather was just John, as far as we know.)

I don’t want to break the tradition, and I do appreciate that we can choose almost any name we agree on and it will work.

But our list is all over the place, and we could use some help narrowing down our choices and maybe coming up with some new ideas, too.

One other thing: our last name sounds like Paris with an H. Funnily enough, my maiden name was Paris-with-an-H-plus-son. Also, Jane is from my mom’s name, Janelle, so while I liked the idea of using a name from my side, I feel like we’re already covered, if that makes sense.

Names that we both agree on, but can’t choose between:

  • Asher
  • Beckett
  • Carter
  • Dean
  • Dominic
  • Cameron
  • Crew/Drew
  • Elliot
  • Finn
  • Jesse
  • Lennon
  • Ryder
  • Shepherd
  • Zachary/Zachariah

We don’t really care about popularity. We’ve never met another Penelope, even though everyone says her name is really popular right now.

My husband is pretty easy going and would be content with (probably) any of these names if I could choose a favorite.

I do worry about nicknames a little. I really don’t like being called Sam, but so many people just assume that’s my nickname. But lots of names we agree on are longer, and I know we’d call Zachariah Zach for short, so I guess it really depends on the name/nickname combination!

Any help would be great!

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

The challenge: working with a long list and few criteria

Abby replies:

Congratulations on your new son!

This is a little bit of a puzzle, isn’t it? Because the middle name has to sound right with John … even though you’ll (almost) never use it. In addition the right name:

  • Should sound right with the surname Paris-with-an-H
  • Should be compatible with big sister Penelope Jane’s name
  • Should either be nickname-proof or have a nickname you like

Plenty of names could fit these criteria, so let’s start by considering your current list.


Let’s start with the names I think you should drop: all the one-syllable names. There’s no reason your son couldn’t be John Dean. But I feel like it’s not the most promising option, especially with a sister with a longer name. So taking Dean, Crew, Drew, and Finn off your list is a good starting point.

Next, I feel like John Lennon is a non-starter. He’s a worthy namesake and it’s a great name, of course. But there’s something a little over-the-top about it as a name.

Now this one might just be me, but I think John Jesse isn’t a great pairing. (Though the world is full of men with J.J. names, so it can work.) Still, dropping Jesse feels right to me.

That cut the list down to nine names:

  • Asher
  • Beckett
  • Carter
  • Dominic
  • Cameron
  • Elliot
  • Ryder
  • Shepherd
  • Zachary/Zachariah

Let’s see how they measure up.


While it’s not as extreme as John Lennon, there is a fictional character named John Carter. And it feels like a very common combination, so I’m putting it last. Also, there’s not an easy short form – which could be a bonus, but I’m not sure it moves this name up the list.


Both of these names shorten nicely but something about R ending trips up my tongue when said with Paris-with-an-H. It works fine, but if they’re not your favorites, I think we can keep looking.


Actually, the more I go through this list, the more I suspect that I’m really drawn to three syllables for your son. It gives you a lovely one-three-two rhythm for his first, middle, and last names.


In fact, Elliot was one of my favorites for you. But then I wondered about nickname options. Eli and even Lio work, but they’re not quite as easy as the Penelope nicknames you enjoy.


I like both of these quite a bit with John as a first name. In fact, I know a family with a John Dominic called “John Dom” for fun, which is the kind of combination that just makes me smile. But I think they fall short. In particular, Zachary/Zachariah is pretty much always shortened to Zach – and it sounds like that might not be your preference.


With all that said, I think Cameron is the perfect parallel to Penelope. It has that same easy nickname, while also being regularly used in full. The three syllables work well with John and your surname. And it’s similar in terms of popularity, the kind of name that feels traditional, but very current in the 2020s.



Of course, like the Zach names, these are almost always shortened to Ben.


I wonder if Finn would work better as a nickname for something longer? Options abound.


Gabe is great, and I love the combination John Gabriel.


Penelope and Theodore feel compatible for lots of reasons – shared Greek roots, long names with great short forms, currently quite stylish. And I think Penny and Theo are great together.


I know I struck a lot of two-syllable names from your initial list, but I do like John Wesley quite a bit, and the nickname Wes is tough to beat.

Overall, I’m drawn to John Cameron from your list, and John Wesley from mine. I also wonder if John Finnian, with the nickname Finn, would appeal? I think that’s my favorite overall.

Readers, over to you. What would you name a brother for Penelope Jane, with the first name John, but called by his middle?

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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. Cameron stood out to me as a winner, too! John Cameron Paris-with-an-H sounds wonderful. And Cameron goes nicely with Penelope.

    A similar option would be Connor, which has a lot of the same appeal.

    Dominic is my second favorite from your list!

    I also love Abby’s suggestion of Theodore, which matches Penelope really well.

    Alexander, Damian, and Constantine are also Greek-derived possibilities.

    Like other commenters, I have to vote no on Wesley (despite loving the nickname Wes). John Wesley may not be quite as universally famous as John Lennon, but in certain circles, he’s a huge deal. To those in the know, the name would definitely be interpreted as a tribute.

    Overall, I think Cameron is the name to beat!

  2. Not on any list, but a similar style and feel to many that are, I like John Everett.

    I like the full John Everett (and would be tempted to use it in full on occasion). I like Everett with Penelope & with Penny and Nellie. I like the idea of Nell & Rett. I like Everett (P)aris and John Everett (P)aris.

    I’d also suggest John Miles, which I like, but not as much.

    All the best!

  3. I’m drawn to John Dean (J.D.) if you use both names (calling him John Dean instead of just Dean). I also think that Dean Paris works. John Paul, John Peter, John Luke, etc. all work as double names too.

    John Wesley was a cofounder of the Methodist church, if that matters to you.

    John Nicholas, called Cole, would work. As would Sebastian, Jamison (nod to your surname; JJ or Jamie), Frederick, Alistair (Jace/Alic), Philip.

  4. I love John Elliot and John Asher.
    A few others:
    John Luke
    John Leo
    John Julian (I can’t decide if it’s too much)
    John Barnaby nn Barney
    John Graham
    John Wyatt
    John Samuel (for mom)
    John Frederick nn Freddie
    John Malcom
    John Carson

  5. I love to see Shepherd on a list! I’d choose that in a heartbeat.

    I also love Elliott but it feels too close to Penelope if you call her Nellie. But how about Everett? I think that would be amazing with Penelope. Penny & Rhett?

    Would calling Dominic ‘Nico’ make that one more magical? Kinda cute to be Nellie & Nico!

    I actually really like the idea of John Jesse called JJ.

    A one-syllable name feels like a nice pattern (yourself and your daughter have the longer names, but dad and son can share one-syllable.) Dean is great. How about Flynn? or Jude?

    How about Grady?

  6. My best advice for you is to Google any name you consider pairing with John to make sure there aren’t any associations you’d prefer to avoid.
    Names I like:
    John Albert — these are the first/middle names of former Bronco quarterback John Elway.
    John Bennett — the first/middle names of Matthew Perry’s dad. Also, close to JonBenét Ramsey.
    John Oliver — British comedian
    John Parker — several athletes with this combo. You may not want to repeat the initial P, especially if you plan to have more children.
    John Reid — the real name of the fictional character the Lone Ranger. IRL, John Reid was a music manager and close, personal friend of Elton John; there’s also an NFL cornerback named John Reid.
    John Tyler — 10th U.S. president
    John Vincent — BASE jumped off the World Trade Center, Gateway Arch, and more, BUT there’s also Jon Vincent, an adult movie performer.
    John Walker — a character in Marvel Comics. Johnnie Walker Scotch whiskey might be too close for comfort.

    From your list, I like: Beckett and Cameron.
    Best wishes to you!

  7. Oh I really like the idea of Zachary! I never meet little Zachary’s anymore and it’s such a a lovely name.

    John Zachary and Penelope Jane! I love how the names almost mirror each other with John and Jane both being short J names and Penelope and Zachary both being 3+ syllables and ending in the -ee sound.

    Penny and Zac, PJ and Zac, Nellie and Zac.

    I know you’re hesitant about a short form of a name like Zac for Zachary but if Penelope has a bunch of nicknames then I think it would be sweet for your son to have some options too! 🙂

    I also think John Elliot and John Cameron would be great as well although I wonder if Penelope and Elliot would get a bit tongue twistery when said together due to the shared -el sounds. John Cameron “Cam” is so dashing. Penny and Cam! PJ and Cam!

    Beckett and Elliot and Zachary on your list made me think of Isaac. John Isaac. Isaac and Penelope. He could go without a nickname or easily be shortened to Zac if you decided you did want a nickname. Penny and Zac ❤️ Isaac means “laughter” so I think it’s a great choice!

    Also I love Abby’s suggestion of John Wesley but just want to point out that the founder of the Methodist Church was named John Wesley and that there was an infamous outlaw named John Wesley Hardin so maybe John Wesley Paris with an H would be a bit too similar. I’m not sure how many people would know the reference though but just something to consider. Usually I’d say who cares, nobody will know his full name but in your situation it might be more relevant.

  8. Hi! From your list I like Elliot and Cameron the best. I also like Theodore. I prefer more of a substantial middle name for you with John, but this is just my own preference. Here are a few other ideas: Montgomery (Monty), Beauregard (Beau), Frederick (Freddie), Elijah (Eli), Caspian, Lennox (instead of Lennon), Maxwell (Max), Percival (Percy), Desmond (Des), and Rockwell (Rocky). Congratulations & best wishes!

  9. Penelope is 4 syllables so I don’t think 3 or 4 syllables with Paris with an H is too long.

    John Sebastian?
    John Rafferty?

    I like John Cameron and John Elliot from your list and John Theodore from Abby’s list.

  10. I disagree with Abby about crossing out single-syllable names, and 3-syllables actually seems a bit long with Paris-with-an-H. I do agree that the ones ending in -r don’t sound as good with Paris-with-an-H and agree about running out Lennon.

    Overall, my favorites are Dean and Cameron, which I pronounce as 2-syllables.