why naming a second child is harder and how to fix itNaming a second child can be harder than naming your firstborn.

Which doesn’t really make sense, does it? After all, experience is usually a good thing, and parents are often more relaxed and confident with their second – or third or fourth – child.

So what is it that makes naming a second child more challenging?

It depends on your circumstances, but here are the reasons – the stories, really – that come up most often.


So often we have One Perfect Name. Maybe two – one for a son and one for a daughter. We’ve imagined using those names for years and years, since we were old enough to imagine having children. Or at least since we first met our partner.

Like sea glass, we wear these names into an appealing smoothness. The Name starts to feel natural, inevitable. So when our first child is born, the name isn’t just a name. It becomes a birthright of sorts, a promise we made to ourselves about the kind of family we’d have someday.

It’s a tough act to follow, and your timeline for baby number two’s name? That’s almost always shorter than the first time around.

The Fix: Recognize that your timeline is shorter, and that some of the process of falling in love with your second child’s name can happen after the baby is here and named.


Maybe you always knew that you wanted to name a daughter after your beloved grandmother. Or your husband is Charles Evans Smith III, and you loved the idea of having a Charles IV, complete with a distinctive nickname you chose just for your kiddo.

This is just like the first problem, but with added complexity. Do you need to find another family name for your second child? And if it’s not a family name at all, then what makes it The Name? Will your younger kiddo feel slighted if his name is one that you just happen to like?

The Fix: Start by looking for family names. The best approach is often to consider names from the other side of the family, though there are no rules! Take a creative approach to honor names, and recognize that a great middle might be more than enough to satisfy. Or maybe you really are done with honor names after your firstborn, and it’s time to start fresh.


Sometimes this problem is a consequence of using The Name, or more often The Family Name. But not always! Plenty of parents have a shortlist that spans styles, from maximalist and baroque to  tailored and spare, the super-traditional and buttoned-down to the wild and Western.

If you choose a name that, for whatever reason, is at one style extreme of your list, it can feel like you’ve ruled out other possibilities. And there’s something to be said for balance. Arabella and Delaney might be better sister names than Arabella and Sloane.

But it’s also possible that two names that appear mismatched are actually perfect together. And it’s worth thinking about the many, many couples and families with names that don’t go together … until we get used to it. And we do get used to it!

The Fix: Don’t rule out names that don’t immediately feel like a fit. Consider finding a name that shares some qualities with your older child’s name. Be flexible – things like syllable count, origin, or many other qualities can balance out two names that don’t immediately feel like a match. And even if your favorites end up feeling very different, be confident that time and repetition will help.


Maybe you named your sons Jackson and Julian, and now wonder if your daughter has to have a J name, too. Or everyone in your family has a super-Italian name. If you break this pattern or end this tradition, won’t your new arrival feel like the odd one out?

Maybe. It’s possible that you’re the only one picking up on certain things. True, Beatrix, Eleanor, and Frances are all seven-letter names for girls with a classic feel that happen to be in alphabetical order. But betcha that the parents are the only ones who notice the letter count and the alphabetical order parts. There’s no need to start a name search for baby #4 with the letter G or H.

But it’s also worth noting that the period of time we’re introduced with our siblings as a group is brief. Even if you really are deviating from a pattern, like naming Jackson and Julian’s new sister Kinsley instead of Jasmine, it’s mostly an issue only in the first dozen years of life, give or take a few years.

The Fix: Unless you’re planning to start a family band, chances are that more subtle patterns will never be noticed outside of your family. Feel free to let those kinds of quiet requirements go if they don’t lead you to a name you love. And even if this child will be the first one in two generations to not get a J name? If it feels like the right choice, it’s still okay to start fresh.


Something happens when you become parents. Even if you didn’t know a lot of young children before you welcomed your firstborn, you almost certainly do now. You also hear more names – in your older child’s nursery school or playgroup, at swim lessons or church. Henry seemed like a reasonably uncommon name when you chose it – but now he’s one of three in your extended circle of friends! Even worse? One has a brother named Max, and the other has a sister called Sadie – both names on your original shortlist.

The Fix: The bad news? Many of your favorite names might feel off limits in this situation. The good news? If you know your style, it’s easy to search for substitutes based on those names. Max might be gone, but Jude and Kai could still be options. And there are dozens of names similar to Sadie, but not yet taken. Of course, if the name is really popular, there’s nothing that says you can’t still use the name.


Most of us would probably agree that sisters should not be named Daisy and Maisie. Madeline and Matilda or Leo and Theo would be downright confusing.

How do you know if two names are too close? I have a quick checklist here, but there’s plenty of gray area. And everyone draws the line in a different place. Some parents won’t repeat a first initial; others like the shared sounds of Emmett and Emily.

The Fix: If you’ve checked the list and concluded that your names are too close, the solution is the same as above. Start with the names you like, and build from there. Madeline’s sister can’t be Matilda, but could be Adelaide or Josephine.


Sometimes our first child’s name is too perfect. And sometimes we realized that we didn’t get it exactly right when naming our firstborn. Maybe you like the name just fine, but dislike its popularity. Or the spelling and pronunciation are more problematic than you expected. Maybe there’s a nickname that stuck, one that you never imagined you’d choose.

As with everything in parenting, there are plenty of ways that our children surprise us. If your firstborn’s name hasn’t worked out as you’d hoped, there’s reason to be apprehensive about naming a second.

The Fix: It’s okay to admit that you wish your first child’s name was different in some ways – longer or shorter, nickname-proof or nickname-able. Whatever the qualities that you’re missing with your firstborn’s name, keep those in mind when naming future children. You can learn from the experience, and find a great sibling name that meets a few more of your criteria. It doesn’t diminish your love for your first child in any way – you’ve just learned some things since you became a parent – of course!

Now it’s your turn: in what ways was naming a second child harder than the first?

First published on July 1, 2016, this post was revised and updated on July 10, 2023.

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. Coming back to add: sibling names can be chaotic. Don’t let finding the perfect sibset ruin your search for a good name. My sibs and I have names that are very different in style, etc. Other than being 2-syllable names, they share nothing in common.

  2. I have twins. One daughter’s name is one we loved for years, along the lines of Olivia. Finding a 2nd name with a similar weight was *hard*. We found the 2nd name by converting baseball players’ names into girls’ names: Brian became Brianna, etc. When we landed on the 2nd name, along the lines of Erica, my spouse was on board immediately. I had concerns about “Erica” – was it too old-fashioned/not on trend; I had a doll named that as a kid, etc. Also, how do you tell one twin their name was one you loved forever and the other twin she’s named by chance after a baseball player? In the end, we used Erica. Not only is it the perfect name for her, she’s the one who chose the name. When my spouse asked which twin was which, I pointed to her (kicking my ribs) and said this one is Erica. “Olivia” is well suited to her name, too, but Erica’s name is perfection.

  3. We struggled with a lot of these issues when naming our second after a cruisey time with our first, a name we felt was almost perfect. It was agonising deciding which style to cement for our sibset, and which name was as magical as our daughter’s, and we were both totally sick of the discussions, even though I’m a mad name lover. In the end we found it so helpful to write down the 5 things we wanted in a name (many characteristics we appreciated in our first’s name) and give each name we liked a rating out of those 5. We tried the name that got 5 stars, and though it was technically right in all ways, it felt wrong…so we chose a 4.5 star first name that felt right, with a 5 star middle. Later on I went to an old diary about my first pregnancy…written next to our firstborn’s name was our 4.5 star name. We had totally forgotten that it had been our favourite long ago, and so it seemed very right in the end.

  4. I know this is a few years old now but i have a similar problem to Renee. I’m struggling with the guilt that I knew i absolutely loved my firstborn’s name but now I can’t find anything I’m as confident about for my second. I feel guilty that I will just end up ‘settling’ for a name – and to me that doesn’t seem fair on my unborn second. Probably just hormones!

  5. My all time “whoops, can’t use my favorite girl’s name now” comes from a friend whose first is named Sam. She’d always loved the name Ella, and thought she’d use it, until she said the two together Sam n’ Ella.
    Ben(jamin) is a top boy name for me, but my husband’s name is Jim and my eldest is Gwen, and hooboy, that wasn’t happening.

    On the pattern thing – I know the number of letters gets discussed a lot on naming blogs, but really, it feels so esoteric to me. If you go all Bridgertons on me, I’m likely to notice. But I’m a self-described name nerd and Ive never once found myself counting the number of letters in a baby name when I hear it. I think parents end up seeing patterns that the general population doesn’t notice.

  6. I feel like I had all of these issues. You did talk me through some of them! I’d like to add – name regret. I think it’s even more prominent the second time around. There just isn’t enough time to weigh and research and even toss names around, and after one kid, you hear so many more names out and about. I know lots of people who have felt more rushed and not exactly right about #2. It’s not something to plan for, but something to be aware of. I went through a few months of huge doubt at having broken some of my ‘rules.’ Not easy to talk about, but once you do, you hear how common it can be. Maybe a few tips on how to feel at peace with your choice once it’s made? 🙂