Name Help: Brother for William, James, ElizabethName 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!

Katie writes:

My husband and I like very traditional, classic names. But we’re naming our fourth child and third son, and I’m worried that it sounds a little … pretentious? Stiff? Boring? We know lots of little kids and I like the names that everyone is choosing better than ours! But my husband says it would be weird to have Will, Jamie, Beth, and Maverick. (Not that I really want to use Maverick.)

All of their middle names are family names. We alternate sides. This baby will probably have the middle name Hunter, my grandmother’s maiden name, or Anthony, my grandfather’s name, but only if the initials don’t spell anything. Our last name is like MacMillen, and we almost named our firstborn William Anthony M- until we realized he’d go through life as WAM. We didn’t like JAM any better for Jamie, either, LOL!

Here’s our list:

Charles – It’s a lot of royal family names, right? Also, I love Charlie for a baby and a kid, and maybe a teenager. But Charles does nothing for me. Chuck? No.

Henry – We know three boys with this name, though I guess none of them are super close to us. I’m not sure how I feel about Henry Hunter.

Max – But Maximilian is crazy, and sort of sing-songy with our last name. I’m not sure if any of the other longer Max names “go” with our other kids’ names, though I think I like Maxwell. Just Max seems too short.

Michael – I love Michael, but Mikey doesn’t appeal AT ALL. But can we really call a sweet little baby Michael all the time?

Thomas – I think this might be the name. Except Will is obsessed with trains, including Thomas. Will it be like we named our son for a talking train? I’m not sure if it ruins the name for me.

My husband is Matthew, and his brothers are Nicholas and Joshua, so those names are out. We don’t want to repeat initials. (Another reason we’re thinking maybe Max and Michael are out.)

If we have a girl, we’d probably name her Mary Katherine, though I’m beginning to have the same worries about girl names, too. Maybe even more! (Katherine would be for me. I’m Kaitlyn, but I’m always called Katie/Kate.)

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

Dear Katie –

Congratulations on your new son!

Let’s start with a few ideas.

Bigger families have different rules.

This is baby four, and it sounds like you’re open to having more children, right? That qualifies as a bigger family. You have a choice: stick with all of your rules, even if it means picking a name you love less. Or be a little more flexible, and maybe find a name that you adore – even if it bends (or breaks) some of your rules.

Patterns matter more.

When you have two kids, no one really worries too much about patterns. Their names both start with E? Oh well. They both share their names with iconic Hollywood screen legends? Shrug. There are only two. It’s not enough to see them as a series, right? But somewhere around the number four, things do change. Ella, Emma, and Edward really might push you to insist on an E name for your fourth child. And if your older three have family middles, then you really can’t drop it now.

But it’s never too late to break them.

If you have a bigger family, it almost inevitably means you’re naming children over a decade or more. How many of your favorite things from ten years ago are still your favorites? Some things endure. And other favorites? Well, we move on. It’s perfectly fine to do this with names, too. What you interpret as a sharp departure in style will probably go unnoticed by most of the world.

So yes, Maverick might be a little extreme. But you could name your son something more current … Cameron, maybe? Harris, Sebastian, Everett … and some people might notice. But after a few months, it would sound perfectly natural.

Now, let’s talk about names.

I’m going to suggest some J names. Because while you could, in theory, have 24 kids before any one in your family needs to share an initial, it’s worth considering whether you want to stick with that rule.

ALEXANDER – A long name that shares Maxwell’s X, Alexander manages to be classic enough to fit with brothers William and James, but slightly less to-the-castle-born.

DANIEL – If you like Tommy, how ’bout Danny?

JONATHAN – A nickname rich possibility, longer than John, but still in the classic camp.

JOSEPH – The first name I thought of, and the reason I think it’s worth revisiting the repeating-initials rule. Joey is darling. Joe is a rock solid name for any age. And Joseph? An unassailable classic.

MAXWELL – I agree that Maximilian is a lot with your surname, and maybe Maximus is just a lot. But Maxwell could be great.

PATRICK – Patrick is handsome in full, but I’m guessing you might not be wild about Pat. But what if you called him Patch instead? It’s sweet on a baby, wearable on a teenager … and I like Patrick in full for a grown-up.

THEODORE – Along with Henry, Theodore is one of those classic names that feels traditional and stylish at the same time.

But if I none of these appeal – or if I haven’t convinced you to re-think the letter J – then let’s look back at your original list. Because Thomas? Is pretty much perfect.

We, too, went through a train phase that felt endless. We tripped over tracks. We spoke of “confusion and delay.” But a) the phase doesn’t actually last forever and b) one of the strengths of classic names is that no one else assumes you named your kiddo for a tank engine. That means your train-loving kiddo gets to enjoy his new brother’s name … but very few adults will assume you were thinking of the Island of Sodor when you chose it.

So I’m tempted to put Thomas Anthony MacMillen at the top of my list. From my suggestions, I wonder if you’d like Alexander? But if I could talk you into Jonathan – Johnny, Jono, Jack, Nat, Nate! – that might be my favorite of them all.

Readers, what names would you suggest for Katie’s new son?

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. I’m with you on no repeat first initials (although that could preclude Mary Katherine if you include you and your husband’s initials on the no list).

    With William, James and Elizabeth I like:

    Nathaniel, nn Nate

  2. Going out on a limb and suggesting Hunter Anthony or Anthony Hunter. I think Hunter blends well with WilliaGoing out on a limb and suggesting Hunter Anthony or Anthony Hunter. I think Hunter blends well with William and James. Ham as initials isn’t horrible, and if you pronounced Ham like Haim/ Hamish, it could make for a cute nn, even though Hunter is fine on its own.m and James. Ham as initials isn’t horrible, and if you pronounced Ham like Haim/ Hamish, it could make for a cute nn, even though Hunter is fine on its own.

  3. I think Thomas Anthony is the winner from your own list.

    Other options for Anthony
    Christopher nn Kit
    Francis nn Frank or Frankie
    Laurence nn Laurie

    For Hunter
    Artemis nn Artie or Art

  4. I think Thomas sounds perfect too! But if you want something still traditional but a little less common to shake up the pattern I think Phillip, Louis, Simon, Frederick (little Freddy), Sebastian, and Hugh or Hayes all would fit nicely with your family. I also think Anthony Hunter is a fantastic name!

  5. Love the suggestion to go withThomas. I agree it’s classic and perfect for your family.

    Here are some other classics:


  6. Paul is a long-time favorite of mine (really, it’s probably my first name crush; I remember liking it in elementary school!) so I give that a strong second. I also love Thomas and don’t think you can go wrong there. Patrick called Patch is wonderful. I can’t believe that never occurred to me! I like Patrick but dislike Pat. Patch changes that whole dynamic for me.

    I know it’s a departure, but what about Dean? I like it with your last name, it sounds good with Anthony, and it works with your other kids’ names.

    I’ll close with saying that I think Mary Katherine is perfect for a second girl. I know a little Mary who’s in maybe second or third grade, but she’s the only one I know who’s under 50!

  7. I love Peter and also the suggestion of Paul. From your list Thomas is great. And Alexander is perfect too.

  8. If “Charles” doesn’t do it, what about “Carl”?

    Another very classic but quite underused name that would fit here is “Paul”.

    Or, what about using “Anthony” as the given name? It fits really well with the other names, and something like “Anthony Michael MacMillan” or “Anthony Charles MacMillan” doesn’t have the acronym issue that some of the other combinations do.