It doesn’t matter if I’m at the dentist or the drugstore or Disney World, I’m always listening for names.

One of my favorites namespotting locations is Franklin’s, our local brewpub/restaurant/toy store – is there any better combination? – because, of course, we’re all chasing our children around while we wait for a table. The other night, I heard a dad calling Raleigh – but wait, no – he was calling Rally. After a few more rounds of “Rally, no you can’t have that fill-in-the-blank,” dad resorted to his son’s full name: Ralph. I’ve always wanted to like Ralph, but between The Honeymooners and the lack of a nickname and my sense that I’m not cool enough to pronounce the name Rafe, well … all of a sudden, Rally rescued Ralph for me.

Here’s a debate that I’ve long since quit, but find fascinating nonetheless: a thread on Nameberry’s message boards devoted to LEGITIMATE Alternate Spellings – emphasis theirs. Beyond the futility of telling people they can’t spell their daughter’s name Kaydence – because, really, they can and they do – I’m amazed at how much wrong information is out there. A few I noticed:

  • Rachael was dubbed a hyperforeignism. (That’s SAT-speak for attempting to apply the rules of one language to another and falling flat.) I prefer Rachel, too, but Rachael has a long history of use, probably by parents familiar with the perfectly English spelling of Michael;
  • While some embraced Katharine, one dismissed her as nothing more than an imitation of Hepburn. But that’s not so – plenty of Katharines pre-date the twentieth century, and in the nineteenth century she’s fairly common;
  • On Greer vs. Grier: “since it’s a surname, there can’t really be a legitimate spelling.” Surnames have been subject to the same forces as given names – respellings, adaptations into other languages, inadvertent manglings, multiple spellings applied to the same person over the years.

Spellings matter. Charlotte’s charm is sacrificed when she’s respelled Sharlytte, and I’m never sure is Mya sounds like Maya or Mia. And I don’t know that there’s much point in taking a really popular choice like Madison and swapping out letters to arrive at Maddasynne. But attempts to draw a hard bright line are futile. Language is ever-changing, a rushing stream, and the more I learn about names, the more I’m convinced that they’re a slippery fish. Which making writing naming rules something like trout fishing with your hands.

It also hits close to home – my cousin S. just welcomed a daughter named Alivia. It wouldn’t be my choice, but she’s a much-loved addition to the family, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t care less if she were named Chardonnay.

Ahem. I’m putting my soapbox away – promise – to look at what else was out there this week:

  • ForReal Baby Names spotted this one: Phantom Jack. Usually I like an offbeat noun name, but Phantom seems sinister;
  • Here’s a second one from ForReal: For all of those newborns named just Alfie or Bess, this one surprised me: Elissia Kath. Kate, sure. Kathy, of course. But Kath feels incomplete;
  • I loved this post at Swistle. The parents of Oberon Elwood are looking for a name for their daughter on the way. I loved their idea of Ursula, nicknamed Zuzu, but there were lots of great options suggested, like Thisbe;
  • You really should click through to this post at You Can’t Call It “It” just for the Mighty Mouse graphic. Okay, and for the list of three-letter names for boys, of which there are more than you imagine. Asa has recently become one of my favorites;
  • Here’s a great story from Nancy: the parents were rushing to the hospital, but baby #4 arrived en route, in the front seat of their Toyota Corolla. Instead of Cecilia Violet, their daughter was named – wait for it – Cecilia Freeway. Cecilia will never be able to give her full name without telling the story of her birth, but at least it is more subtle than naming her Corolla;
  • Nymbler’s July list is out: Lucy and Violet entered the Top Ten favorite names for the first time, and the five new search names were Annabeth, Adalaide, Arbor, Kensley, and Moxie. It’s easy to see the appeal of the spelling Adalaide, and Arbor is a natural addition to Willow and River. And I guess Penn Jillette gets the last laugh if Moxie becomes as common as, say, Sadie.

The big starbaby news was the birth of Amy Poehler and Will Arnett’s son Abel, a little brother for Archie, but there’s also:

That’s all for this week – as always, thank you so much for reading!

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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  1. I’ve always been impressed that the names of the classmates in my daughters’ daycare room are all so NORMAL. Some of them are definitely old-fashioned, but no kre8if spellings. 🙂

    I like Rafe better than Rally as I think of “monster truck” in front of the later. It may also be the way I pronounce the -al combo.

  2. For me Ralph will always be the name of Michael’s penis in Forever by Judy Blume. There is absolutely no escaping it!!!

  3. Mispelled names really bug me. I do appreciate foreign spellings or legitimate alternative spellings. For instance, I would not cringe if I met an Ellinor, Febe, Brigitte, Oliwia or Juliette, but it does bug me to see a Mikayla, Mya or Alivia (no offense to anyone). I pronounce Olivia (o-LIV-ee-ah) so the A spelling does not really make sense to me. I feel like Mikayla was created just to get the nickname Kayla out of it and Mya makes the parents look very uninformed.

    I don’t mind weirdly spelled nicknames, maybe because they are not official. For example, I would not be upset if a parent named their child Michaela but called them Kayla or Kayley for short. Or if an Aurora was called Roree/Rori for short etc. I think anything that goes on a birth certificate should be free of something that looks mispelled.

  4. I find Rally almost as objectionable as Ralph. Neither is handsome or sophisticated or even cute in any way. I could get on board with Rolf maybe, but it’s not great, either.

    The purposeful misspelling of names has really gotten out of hand, but I try to ignore because it’s the kind of thing, as you say, that we can’t do much about and so grinning (or faintly grimacing) and bearing it seems to be the most sensible approach. It is a drag when a name you like is perceived as a misspelling by most people, though. One of my most favourite girls’ names looks to most people like a trendy misspelling of a boys’ name, but it actually has a long history of use. I’m really torn as to whether it would be useable, or just wind up being a royal pain in the butt for any future daughter of mine.

    1. There’s a lot of that, Havoye. I always think of Noa – perfectly valid girls’ name, lots of history, common elsewhere on the globe. But mention it on a babynaming forum and the response is: “Changing the spelling doesn’t make it a girls’ name!” or “Noah would be a cute for a girl, but maybe spell it Noyah instead?”

  5. I’m perfectly OK with alternative spellings that are legit either by themselves or foreign versions. My own daughter’s middle name is Caron, pronounced like Karen. Caron is a name in its own right (unrelated to Karen, afaik) and I chose that spelling for a specific reason (honoring other people). I would not have chosen it if it had been an alternative spelling just for the sake of being “yuneek”. I rather dislike the creative spellings I’ve seen out there… Maddisyn and Allisyn come to mind among others. And Freeway? That’s Klassy.

    1. Smisar, I think a lot of people feel that way. But like I discovered with Madelon, it’s surprising how many variants have a history of use, especially if you look into the nineteenth century. I agree it isn’t very stylish to call your daughter Skarlytt.

  6. Annabeth Chase is a character in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. She’s basically that series equivalent to Hermione Granger, so I could see Annabeth becoming more popular.

    In college, I worked at a restaurant called Moxie’s, so it’s always “felt” like a name to me.

    Here’s an interesting article about the odds-makers betting on the name of David Cameron’s (U.K. Prime Minister) fourth child.

    1. Thanks, Julie – I had stumbled across that name when the movie was out, but it completely slipped my mind. She’s Athena’s daughter, right?

      LOVE the link about the oddsmakers taking bets on the next Cameron baby.

  7. Oooh, what’s Sea School? Aly is taking swimming lessons with a little girl called Mecca.

    1. Sea School is a preschool program at the aquarium here. It’s a great program! It’s preschool, but with extra nature and ocean stuff thrown in.

      Mecca? Hm. Well.

      1. That’s so cool – I want to go to Sea School!

        If the little girl weren’t so thoroughly appealing, I might have different thoughts about the name. But Mecca seems to suit her. I just can’t decide if it is too much more than a place name. I mean, Vatican City and Jerusalem strike me as loaded, and I think I’d put Mecca in that group, too. I wonder how a Muslim would perceive the name Mecca?

      2. Muslimah here. *waves* I like Mecca as a name, as long as it’s given with respect and knowledge of the importance of the place. As just a ‘Hey that sounds nice’ kind of name, no [same goes for Cohen]. If you really like the sound, name her Mechtilde and call her Mecha/Mecka as a nickname.

        And yeah, as a name nerd and spelling stickler, I was shocked when my brother named his daughter Breeana. Turns out the spelling was my husband’s idea! I wasn’t so surprised by the choice coming from my brother, seeing as all three of his sons have the same middle name [blasphemy in the naming world, as far as I’m concerned], but my own husband should know better by now. I would have preferred Briana and could have tolerated Brianna, but the ‘eea’ is just baffling to me. Doesn’t matter though, because I love her to pieces.

        1. Thanks, Panya! And I think that’s exactly the question that names like Mecca and Trinity and Cohen raise.

      3. I got the Muslim connection. But to me, it was akin to naming your child Cohen, Nevaeh, or similar.

        Sorry if my “Hm” and “Well” offended. My objections to the name were not based on the idea that Mecca has a Muslim connection.

        1. That’s exactly it, Photoquilty – Mecca seems much cooler to me than Cohen or Nevaeh, but it is high risk to name your kiddo something deeply spiritual.

  8. Now that there’s a Sienna minivan – whose commercials have been getting a lot of air-play – hopefully we’ll stop seeing so many baby Siennas. Please?

    I say Annabeth out loud and like it a lot more than the becoming-very-predictable Annabel. I definitely like it better than Bethany.

    I’d avoid Freeway as a middle name. It’s enough she’ll have a crazy birth story; does it have to be part of her name, too? She’ll always know she was born in a Corolla. Her name doesn’t have to announce it. Just my opinion.

    Names from Ethan’s Sea School class: Cornelia, Olivia, Lily, Gillian, Torsten and his sister Elsie, Teagen and her brother Aidan, Grace and her sister Faith. Can I just say how much I love Cornelia? Her older sisters are Madeline and Arabella.

  9. I love the way you put it – “naming rules something like trout fishing with your hands” – I’ve also gotten more and more tolerant over time… I still have likes and dislikes, but really, I’m plenty sure that the mother of baby Maddasynne or Kaydence is looking at my little girl’s name on the pre-school roster and thinking, “can you believe this!? Imogen? How do you even say that! Poor child!” So be it! And hyperforeignism?! I’ll embrace that over xenophobia any day.

    I like Ralph and Rally is a fantastic nn! I know Ralph means hurl, lose ones cookies, revisit lunch, but it’s such a fun name – and there’s also “A Christmas Story”… but Rally is way better than Ralphie.

    At least Cecilia’s mn won’t receive the comment, “Is that where you were conceived?” so Freeway is far better than Corolla on that criterion alone.

    Kath makes me think “Kath and Kim.” Klassy. But really, I like Kat fine and Kit (from a book I read in 4th grade, purchased from one of those book ordering circulars we used to get at school) especially, so who am I to say?

    1. I thought of Kath and Kim, too! Klassy sums it up. 🙂

      And yes – someone once asked me if I was still calling my daughter Clio. I replied yes, baffled – and then I realized she probably thought I was off my rocker and had repeated my daughter’s bizarre name to everyone she knows. So …

  10. funny you should mention legitimate spellings, it’s something that has been weighing on me recently. while i agree there are certain names that shouldn’t be touched (that charlotte spelling made me shudder a little) it never fails to annoy me when people try to correct that they percieve to be the “wrong” spelling of my full first name. add in the fact that two of our three finalist baby names this time have multiple spellings (somebody managed to tell me that spelling juliet with an extra t and e on the end was trendy rather than realising it was french) and you can understand why i’m a little peeved. rant over 🙂 thanks for all the names and news this week!