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!

Should she talk to her ex about this naming decision?

Tee writes:

Before I begin, I think I know the answer to my question is going to be no.

My ex-husband and I are the parents of Abigail “Abby” and Lillian “Lily.” We divorced when the girls were four and two. It’s been two years, and things have gone pretty well. I even like my ex-husband’s new wife, who I’ll call Kay. She’s good to our girls and we all live reasonably close by and share everything 50/50.

Now my ex and Kay are expecting a child together, and my girls are referring to the new baby by his name.

When we were together, our boy name was always Henry, for my ex’s dad. I’d sort of braced myself to hear that they were going to name a boy Henry, and I think it might have hurt a little, but I would know I was being unfair.

Instead, they’re naming him William Henry.

It turns out that Kay’s sister has a son already named Henry. William is my ex’s name, but he’s always gone by Will.

They’re calling their new baby Billy, I assume so there aren’t two Wills in the house.

So what’s the problem? When they’re with their dad, it will be Abby, Lily, and Billy. It feels really unfair to Lily. And maybe confusing, too. Our town is small, and assuming we all stay here, Lily and Billy would probably have many of the same teachers, etc. They will have the same last name, so imagine it’s like “Lily Smith and Billy Smith.”

I know I really can’t say anything, but I wonder if I owe it to Lily to raise the question? Or at least say something like, “I know this isn’t my decision, but do you think it might be awkward for Lily if the baby’s nickname rhymes with hers?”

If it matters, Lily is never, ever referred to as Lillian, and I really can’t imagine calling her that to avoid confusion. (Though I guess she could make that decision.)

Abby’s take: Yeah, it’s not your call. But you already know that, so …

Tee, I’m sorry you’re wrestling this!

It seems obvious to me that Lily’s brother shouldn’t be Billy. Lillian’s brother could be … Liam, maybe? Or any other nickname related to William Henry. Though I suppose the mainstream options are pretty limited, and Will is taken.

But can/should you say something? It depends.

You’ve described an amicable co-parenting arrangement, which probably takes some effort and deserves acknowledgment. Parenting is hard work! Figuring out how to parent in two separate households can be a high-wire act.

So, yes, I think you’re wise to lean towards not raising the question.

But I do wonder a few things.

First, who have they told?

If your girls are the only ones in the know, then it’s less awkward to bring it up.

But if Billy is already painted on the baby’s nursery wall and they’ve announced the name at a shower? That’s a different scenario.

Assuming you’re closer to the first case than the second, there might be a minute to mention your concern.

Is it possible they haven’t considered the clash?

It sounds crazy, but maybe they’ve really never said Lily and Billy together.

She’s a first-time parent, right? It’s possible that she’s not engaging in that mental exercise we do when we add a child to our families. “Abby, Lily, and Maggie … hmmm, I kind of like that … Abby, Lily, and Millie … nope, won’t work.”

It’s easy to focus on choosing The Name and not think about all the ways it might be used in daily life.

Because if Kay wasn’t willing to have two cousins share the same name? And didn’t her son to share his dad’s name? I feel like she’d be open to the idea that Lily and Billy are too close for siblings.

Is it possible they think the shared nicknames are sweet?

Of course, there’s no actual rule that says siblings can’t have rhyming names. A generation of twins who answered to things like Tracey and Stacey are here to tell you that it was once considered cute.

Lots of cultures do use similar sounds in their children’s names.

So be prepared for the possibility that Kay and your ex have already discussed this and decided it’s fine.

Which will be hard, because you don’t get a vote. And Lily? Probably doesn’t have a strong feeling about sharing her name at this point.

Ultimately, I think you’re wise to focus on how Lily might feel.

It’s not necessarily about the immediate future. My sense is that little kids are mostly thrilled about a new baby. (Well, except for when they’re not.)

Still, this feels more like a concern that could surface as the kids get older.

So if you do feel like a) the name choice hasn’t been widely shared; and b) it’s worth raising the potential awkward rhyming nickname issue, then that’s the only thing you can focus on.

Because the new baby isn’t your responsibility. Lily’s feelings, however? Those are always going to be your concern.

Assuming you don’t raise the issue, or you do and nothing changes, then your role is to help Lily frame any potential awkwardness. Maybe she’ll see it as a sweet bond with her new brother; maybe she’ll need to be reminded that William and Lillian don’t sound very much alike at all.

So yes – it’s worth considering the possibility of speaking for future Lily. But it’s also perfectly reasonable to shrug it off as awkward, but understandable, and move on.

Readers, I’d love your insight. Do you think Tee should say something?

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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. Okay. My siblings are, let’s say, Nathaniel and Katarina. Let’s say Katarina went by Kitty from birth and Nathaniel just went by Nathaniel. Nathaniel started to go by Nat in junior high. Years later, Katarina felt Kat was more adult after college. And now my parents have Nat and Kat, and when I mentioned they chose rhyming (or rhymable) names my parents were like … what do you mean? All that is to say that yes, it does feel plausible to me that they didn’t realize it. I’d point it out in the least-mean way possible, like “so is Lily excited about being Lily and Billy?” Then they’re on notice if they hadn’t realized it and the choice is all theirs.

  2. I think the chances are it’s already crossed their minds and they think it’s no big deal. Their reasoning might include any of the following:
    1) The name William Henry ‘Billy’ feels like the one
    2) They are entitled to use family names
    3) They don’t love any other nicknames
    4) Lily and Billy are “just” their nicknames
    5) It’s a sweet connection for step siblings
    6) They’ll only be spending half their time together

    I would give them the benefit of the doubt that they already know the nicknames rhyme and withhold any comment. Vent to a friend if you need and stay open to the possibility that it could turn out fine in the end.

  3. I think whether you can say something will depend on how close the relationship is. William-Henry and Lillian are completely fine. It is the nn which no one controls long term. I think noting how close the two are is fine, so long as you complement long version. Something along the lnies of, “what a great name that honors so many men in his life. And Billy is darling, but of course I’d love it — it sounds so similar to Lilly.” And see where they sit. See if they note any concerns or surprise or acceptance of that similarity.

    And with whom you have this conversation matters too. Not sure if Kay or your ex is the better approach. It is possible she nixed Henry as the main name due to her sister so other options are likely William related vice Henry derived. Liam is the only mainstream nn alternative right now, unless they go with William in full.

    Ooh. What about Winn?? It is kind of of like a contraction of the two? Abby, Lilly and Winn.

  4. No, I would not say anything. Billy is the baby’s nickname, all but set in stone since they’ve told his sisters, and you will not make anyone happy by offering an opinion. Lillian and William might be their preferred forms in later childhood or they might acquire different nicknames from friends. It’s not that big a deal.

  5. Hi! My dad is a William Henry and he has gone by Bill since childhood. It suits him though…not sure if it would seem too formal to some. Also, maybe the cute nickname Hank could come from Henry. I know that might be a little confusing, but it is such a vintage gem of a nickname, I think!

  6. I think Abby got it bang on here. And I assume if they’re telling a 6yo and 4yo, chances are it’s hard for those ages to keep it a secret and it’s probably more widely known. It would be sooo much better if they came to this conclusion on their own. I wonder if they call Lily ‘Lil’ more often? I know a Lillian who was Lily until she hit kindy then she’s been Lil ever since. Lil and Billy is a bit less matchy.

    The only acceptable comment I can think of for you to offer them is saying “Hey, love the name choice! When I refer to him though with the girls, I think I’ll probably call him Junior or maybe Bill? Cause Billy is way too close to Lily for me to keep straight.”

    Have you asked the girls if they like their brother’s new name? And who told you the name choice? There has gotta be an organic time for someone to say “Soon you’ll have an Abby, Lily and Billy… heh” But like Abby said maybe they really don’t care. It’s hard for name nerds to ever conceive of that, but there are many less-than-ideal sibsets out there.