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

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I'm Getting Married, Do I Need To Change My FIRST Name?

I've always looked forward to ditching my unwieldy last name for something short and sweet. I'm getting married next summer, and my fiancé has an awesome last name that I happen to love. Yay!

The problem is, it basically rhymes with my first name. I don't want the actual name printed, but think, "Ashley Blimey."

My middle name is Laura, which could sufficiently break up the rhyming. Should I change my first name to Ashley Laura, and introduce myself as such -- even though it's a mouthful and risks annoying people or coming across as pretentious -- or just include Laura whenever I say my full name, and risk people leaving it out and calling me "Ashley Blimey?" Are there other solutions I'm not thinking of?

- The Future Mrs. Blimey

When we name babies, we custom-select first names to pair attractively with our surnames. Marital names, though, are pot luck. The wheel of romantic fate spins, and the new name candidate may be lovely, ridiculous, or anywhere in-between.

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Is This Name Too Dark For My Daughter?

All my life I've known I wanted to name my daughter Leila. My husband is totally on board with the name, too! But I just recently looked up the meaning of Leila, "dark-haired beauty," and now I'm second-guessing myself. With our genetics, it's highly unlikely our daughter will have dark hair. How important is it that the name's meaning match the child?

-- Too Pale for Leila?

Would it reassure you if I told you that Leila doesn't really mean "dark-haired beauty"?

Baby name dictionaries aren't like the dictionaries we're used to, that describe what a word signifies and how it's used. Instead, they burrow into history to find the name's linguistic roots. Imagine looking up the word "spoon" in Webster's and getting the definition "splinter of wood (Proto-Germanic)." That's the baby name dictionary experience.

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Why Can't I Make a Decision?

We picked out a girl's name months ago and were just struggling on a boy's name. But now that we decided on a boy's name, I keep going back and changing my mind on the girl's. I thought it was because we decided so quickly and really didn't look at other names, but now I seem to be coming up with another name I love every few weeks. I feel like I am confusing myself and my husband seems to be getting frustrated with me. Why can't I make up my mind?

--Nameless Mom

If it's any comfort, many parents-to-be share your struggle. Naming a baby is a challenge, especially today. Just a generation or two ago, most expectant moms and dads chose from much shorter lists: perhaps family names, saints' names, or commonly-heard-in-our-neighborhood names. Now that names are so diverse you have a wealth of options, which makes your decision much more difficult. 

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Are These Initials a Tease?

I love the name Lillian Adele E. for my daughter, but her initials would be LAE. Do you think kids would tease her and pronounce it "lay"? Teasing could get worse in high school, I presume.

- Cautious Dad

I spend my days obsessing over baby names from every angle. So when I say this, please take it to heart: you are seriously overthinking this name.

Yes, the wrong set of initials can be a problem. In the past I've advised parents to reconsider name choices that resulted in monograms like PIG. But your choice is far from that level. LAE doesn't even spell a word, and the "ae" combo is unusual enough to keep most people from reading it as one. Your daughter's initials just look like...initials.

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Aren't These Old Lady Names?

I've recently encountered two baby girls in the 4-6 month age range named Beverly and Nancy. Are these babies out-of-sync-with-their-generation anomalies, or the bleeding edge of a new revival of old (but not too old) lady names? Or are "Beverly" and "Nancy" not even in the same category with each other?

- SF Trend Watcher

You're right that a new round of "old ladies" is about to find the baby name fountain of youth. As a rule of thumb, it takes about four generations after a popularity peak before a name is ready to return. By that time, the name has passed beyond "old" into "antique."

Today's schoolyards are packed with girls' names from the late 1800s (like Grace and Amelia) through the 1910s (Ruby, Evelyn). The names of the 1920s and '30s, then, should be right around the corner. That's the generation of Dorothy, Shirley, Betty, Marjorie, Norma, Joan, and yes, Beverly and Nancy.

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Is It Bad Luck To Change Your Name?

Is it bad luck to change a first name? My name is Emma Grace, but I wish it were Mary Grace.

-- Emma, For Now

I'm glad you phrased your question the way you did. It's a simple, honest statement of a very common feeling.

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How Can This Name Have No Nicknames?

Q: What's a good nickname for Jeremy?


Jeremy is kind of a stumper, isn’t it? When you see a long, traditional boy's name, you assume it will trim down neatly. Christopher becomes Chris, Benjamin goes by Ben, Nathaniel shortens to Nate, and so on.

But that’s not typically the case with Jeremy. In theory, the name does offer some nickname options. Jem is a potentially fashionable choice; Jerry is a natural but a bit out of style today; Remy is a possibility, though seldom heard. A Jeremy could also go by Jay, or add his middle initial and be called J.T. or J.D.

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Why Isn't This Name More Popular?

We are expecting a baby girl later in the year. I have stumbled across the name "Hartley" which just feels special to me. I love the idea of the nickname "Hart." It's just surprising that it's so uncommon. Am I missing something obvious as to why we shouldn't use it?

- Perhaps Hartley's mum

Many parents worry about a name being "too popular." You're smart to be worried about the reverse -- a mysterious lack of popularity. It's like a seeing a product advertised for a ridiculously low price. You figure there must be a catch.

Often, a name that other parents have passed on does have a hidden flaw. Maybe it's the name of a movie villain, or maybe it sounds like some rude slang term you're not familiar with, or maybe it just sounds unattractive to everybody else.

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Why Doesn't Anybody Like This Name?

For our twin girls, we're looking at names that are trendy, but not too popular. Specifically we're thinking at the "lyn" and "bell" trends.

Following the girls we know named Madelyn, Brooklyn, and Ashlyn, we're really liking Gwendolyn. This has been met with mostly positive responses from our family and friends.

Inspired by Bella, Anabelle, Campbell, and many versions of Isabella, we're thinking about naming our other daughter Clarabelle. Our friends overwhelmingly don't like it.

I've been trying to figure out why a name that clearly fits in naming trends isn't a hit. The only 2 Clarabelles I can find are a cartoon cow from the '30s and a clown from the '50s. It's been more than 60 years since those characters were on TV--are they really strong enough to taint this name? If we use the name anyway, does she stand a chance at overcoming people's negative associations with the name?

- Puzzled

I'm not surprised that you're puzzled. The fashion math doesn't seem to add up. If Clara is rising in popularity and names ending in "belle" and "bella" are red hot, why is the combo so much less than the sum of its parts?

The answer is that in the realm of style, illusion can be as powerful as reality. The -belle names have soared due to their antique charm. "Antique," though, turns out to be in the eye (or ear) of the beholder.

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Does My Mother Just Have a Dirty Mind?

My husband and I are expecting a sweet baby boy in a few months. We are seriously considering the name "Peter." My mother, heaven bless her, insists that our son will be teased since Peter is a slang word for penis. Is this true? I've never heard anyone else say this, but if it is I don't want to inflict that on a little boy. What are your thoughts? Will he be teased?

--Potential Parents of Peter

Grandma's got it both right and wrong. While it's true that the word "peter" was occasional used in the way she fears in the past, the slang is no longer current today. You could even say it has "petered out." After all, you've never heard that usage, which should be reassuring.

Peter is a classic name that might appeal to you because it's familiar, yet not common. It peaked back in the 1950s, and now sits comfortably in the 200 ranks in popularity. It's traditional, masculine, and solid. That's what people will hear when they hear the name.