Baby Name Advice Column: Ask the Name Lady Baby Name Blog

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What's the Right Way to Pronounce This Baby Name?

My husband and I like name Lena. He says "Layna," however, and I say "Leena." Either way, we still like the name, but I was wondering if you could provide some insight as to which way is more widely accepted. Thank you!

–Tomato, Tomahto

While it's tricky to pin down, "Leena" (as in Lena Horne or Lena Dunham) is much more frequently used in the U.S. and Canada, while "Layna" is standard in Europe and Australia. So if you live in North America, you could use the "more common here" argument to break the tie in your favor.

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Is This Sibling Name Pair Unbearable?

My son is named Amos, and I am now pregnant with a daughter. My husband and I both love the name Annie, and would be ready to commit to it except for one problem. When you say "Amos and Annie" together, it sounds an awful lot like the old radio show "Amos 'n' Andy." That show was blatantly racist and is now considered outrageous and offensive. Would it be in bad taste to name our kids something so reminiscent of the show's title? Or are we overthinking it and it's really no big deal?

–Claire

I do think it's a problem. A cultural connotation that links a pair of names is hard to shake, even decades after the fact. "Amos 'n' Andy" went off the air in 1960—likely well before you were born—yet you know about it, and it comes to mind right away when you hear the similar-sounding combo of Amos and Annie. Each name is just fine on its own, but put them together and you have an issue.

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Will Everyone Hate This Baby Name?

We are having a baby boy and my husband wants to call him Fox (middle name will be Nicholas). We like names that are a bit uncommon, but I'm worried that this name is a bit too unusual and that he will get the nickname "Foxy." I also think my family will hate it, give that foxes are pest animals here in Australia. I prefer the name Lex, but my husband hates it! What are your thoughts on the name Fox? Is it a bit too out there? Or am I overthinking it?

–X-hausted Mom-to-Be

In the United States today, Fox would be a bold choice. It would come across as a bit uncommon, as you prefer, but also as appealing to many with its confident sound and origin in a nature word. Short, brisk word names are on the rise, and Fox fits right in with them.

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Can We Leave One Grandma Out of the Baby Name Game?

I have always loved the idea of honoring a family member by giving a child a meaningful, family middle name. My husband and I both like my mom's name (think "Jane") as a middle name, and had agreed on that if we were to have a girl. Turns out we are having twin girls! Neither of us loves his mom's very '50s name (think "Cheryl"), but we can't exactly name one child for my mom and not name the other for his … can we?

For me, the symbolism of naming our girls after our mothers is more important than loving the name itself, but my husband feels the opposite: Why give your child a name that you don't like, even if it is your mom's name? Do I try to convince him, or do we start over and give up using my mom's name?

–Mom in a Middle-Name Muddle

Your question made me think of President George W. Bush’s twin daughters Jenna and Barbara, each named after a grandmother (they even got the grandmothers' surnames, Welch and Pierce, as middle names). Stylistically, the names are quite different, but as you point out, their symbolism can outweigh the style difference and make them a cohesive set.

But your husband has a point too. He doesn't want to feel locked into a name choice because of the symbolism. I don't believe either of you should try to badger the other into making a choice you don't feel good about.

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I Need a Girl’s Name with European Flair!

I am expecting my second child. My firstborn is a son named Enzo. I'm looking for a similar, two-vowel, girl's name with the same international feel. Any suggestions?

–Mama Needs Advice

By "two-vowel," do you mean starts and ends with a vowel, like Enzo does? If so, that's a fun challenge for us to take on. Enzo is an Italian name (a shortening of Lorenzo) that has actually topped the charts in France, giving it a strong European vibe.

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Is Winnifred a Winning Baby Name?

We have pretty much settled on calling our daughter Winnie, and we like the longer name Winifred as well. The dilemma comes in that I prefer the spelling "Winnifred," which is actually how I thought it was spelled before I looked it up! The reasons I like it better are a bit trivial, but at the same time, they feel important to me.

On the other hand, our two older children have very straightforward, obvious-to-spell names, and I don't want to saddle the baby with a name she'll always have to explain ("it's with two Ns"). I would love to get your opinion!

–One N or Two for Baby Three?

All you need to do is spend a few minutes at Starbucks to know that every single name has the potential to be misspelled, misheard, or mistaken. Laura becomes Lara or Maura or Lori before you can say "grande half-caf skinny mocha." But everyone gets their coffee and life goes on.

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How Can I Support My Wife's Baby Name Choice?

My wife is African-American and I'm white. My family had a hard time with our marriage and now that my wife is pregnant, they can't agree on anything. My wife wants to name our daughter after her late mother, Lillian, but my mother hates it and says it's too old. How should we handle this?

–Stuck in the Middle

You ask how to handle your mother's disapproval of your wife's preferred name. I can reassure you that your mother is far from the only grandparent I've encountered in this column to complain about the name of her grandchild. The vast majority of them (eventually) learn to keep their complaints to themselves.

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Is Harlee Hardly a Boys' Name?

Is Harlee a boy or girl name? I like it spelled Harlee for a boy, rather than Harley. It sounds more masculine to me.

–Boy Mom-to-Be

I'm afraid you are an outlier on this. The majority doesn't share your instinct: The spelling Harlee is overwhelmingly female. There were 300 baby girl Harlees in 2014, for example, and just 10 boys. In the same year, 407 boys were called Harley (along with 940 girls).

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I Can't Name My Baby After a Spider ... Or Can I?

I found a name that I loved as soon as I saw it: Aranea. Since I learned of it from a video game ad, I looked it up and found out it's the name of a villain. That part doesn’t bother me, but it does bother me that Aranea is a genus of orb-weaving spider. It's such a pretty name, and with so many nature-inspired names out there (I've met a Bear, a Cove, and a River), does it matter much that my daughter might secretly be named after a spider?

–Spider-girl's Mom?

Loving the sound of a name, but not its meaning, is a tough spot to be in. After all, name meanings are tricky to pin down and can be misunderstood. And the sound is what you hear every day when you speak your child's name. Thousands of parents every year choose names based on sound, without giving meaning much thought—otherwise, would anyone choose a name that's said to mean "crippled" (Claudia) or "unlucky" (Mallory)?

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This Nickname Needs an Even Better Nickname!

Can you please give me a nickname for my friend Maggie?

–Friend in Need

Not really—for starters, Maggie is already a nickname—but the good news is that you're well positioned to give your friend a nickname yourself. This is just what friends are for! Does she need a nickname because she doesn’t care for Maggie? Or just for fun, as a symbol of your close relationship? Let's look at each possibility in turn.

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