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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.

Most old-fashioned name are actual revivals from an earlier era, but fashion doesn't always conform to history. A name like Ava can sound old-fashioned even though it only became popular in the 21st century. A boy named Royal can sound boldly modern even though the name is a 19th-century throwback. And parents who like "turn-of-the-century names" look right past most of the distinctive names of that period, names like Virgie, Wilbert and Albertha.

While most of the -belle names hit the antique style bullseye, a handful like Clarabelle, Maybelle and Idabelle conjure up a past that's too mundane. Your friends hear these names in a flat farmland twang, rather than an elegant drawl. In other words, they sound old but not antique; second-hand rather than vintage.

As a rule of thumb, choosing a name that your friends all loathe is a bad move. They represent the community that's going to be reacting to your child's name as she grows up. Yet given the rise of the "belles," there's a chance that you're just a step ahead of the curve with this one, and that Clarabelle will find its fashion footing soon. It certainly has all the right ingredients. If you really love the name, the spelling Claribel might be a middle ground to help people see it in a new light.


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June 23, 2014 11:17 AM
By Lindsay (not verified)

While I love and appreciate both of your name choices, I also think that Gwendolyn and Clarabelle are very, very different and evoke different feelings. Gwendolyn feels like a high class, elegant lady while Clarabelle feels more downhome, fingers in the dirt sort of gal. Both are good, but maybe its the difference in the two that people are reacting poorly to?

If I really loved Clarabelle, I would be tempted to use Rosalyn or Opaline as a match because for me, they have the same feel as Clarabelle.

If I really loved Gwendolyn, I would be tempted to use Marielle or Rochelle because I think they mesh better with Gwendolyn.

June 23, 2014 11:33 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

What about Clarabella? Too musical? I think you could also get close by changing a letter. Change that b to a v and you gave an identical name that sounds fresh and feminine, Claravelle (and in Spanish would still sound identicle to Clarabelle). Or, consider dropping that L and making the name Carabelle. Similar, but distinct from cow-referencing Clarabelle.

June 23, 2014 11:44 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I know people who do not like Clarabelle for the cow reference, and they are young enough that you would think they wouldn't know it. I know also people who don't like Clara for the same reason. So yes, it is still a strong enough reference to turn people off. Whether or not it will eventually fade, I don't know. You have to decide how much the reference bothers you.

The suggestion of Mirabelle is lovely.

June 23, 2014 12:18 PM
By JenJen (not verified)

Gwendolyn is a great name. As others have said, Clarabelle is a cow. Alternatives:


Or just go with Clara. They don't need to have the same number of syllables.

June 23, 2014 1:39 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Clarabel is also the name of one of the carriage cars in the Thomas the Tank Engine series. She's not as cute as some of the other trains in the series. :)

June 23, 2014 3:44 PM
By Ailsa (not verified)

I live in the UK. I LOVE Clarabelle, and think it goes superbly with Gwendolyn. Go for it! x

June 23, 2014 5:37 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

What about naming her first name Clara with her middle name as Belle?

June 23, 2014 6:53 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

You could shorten both to Clara and Gwen.

June 24, 2014 7:31 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

As a previous commenter mentioned, even people who are too young to really know about Clarabelle the cow still have that gut reaction. I'm in my early 30s, couldn't tell you a single thing about Clarabelle, but I still had that automatic reaction. Clarabelle is a cow. I wouldn't use it. It also doesn't go well with Gwendolyn.
I would pay more attention to what you like about Gwendolyn (the popularity, trendiness, length, nickname options, etc.) and try to find something similar for the other name, not just "something that ends in Belle, even if we really didn't like the name, just because they're both trendy endings." Of, if you really do like the Belle ending, go with a name like Anabelle, which I think goes well with Gwendolyn (much better than something along the likes of Campbell).

June 24, 2014 10:42 AM
By Annee (not verified)

Gwendolyn and Annabelle
Gwendolyn and Arabel (or Arabella)
Gwendolyn and Christabel
Gwendolyn and Rosabelle

Good luck!

From the list above, my favorite is Christabel ... ;o)

June 24, 2014 12:04 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Clarabelle is a beautiful name. We picked an unusual and old fashioned name, many of our friends/family were not "in love" with the name. Like Clarabelle the name allows for a shortened "nickname" that is totally cute, and this is what those friends call our daughter - acceptable to us as we also use the nickname. If you and your husband both love the name, go for it!

June 24, 2014 12:22 PM
By Kel (not verified)

I agree with pretty much everyone's take on Clarabelle - due to the cow imagery that is roused and definitely the sound byte that comes to mind. It automatically sounds back hills or Southern drawl to me. The poster from the UK loves it because she only "hears" it in her accent. ;) which most names if said with a British accent, sound lovely.
That said, perhaps Gwendolyn (which, is precious) paired with Claire...
If you must* find a 'belle'..
I would be inclined to vote for Mirabel (Mirabelle) or Annabelle. Best wishes!

June 24, 2014 12:28 PM
By Charly (not verified)

Clara and Gwendolen (yeah, I know I'd have to fight for the Importance of Being Earnest spelling) are both on my short list. My sister has a -belle name, which isn't my taste, anyway.

June 24, 2014 1:48 PM
By Jennyg (not verified)

Thomas the Tank Engine's two coaches which someone mentioned are Annie and Claribel, which is a sweet pair of names, but people might make the connection :-s

For my money the nicest -bel or -belle name is Amabel. It's an old name but uncommon and very pretty. The meaning is gorgeous too ("loveable") and you can use Amy for short.

Gwendolyn might be ok if only it didn't suggest Comedy (thanks, O. Wilde) as strongly as Clarabelle suggests Cow

June 24, 2014 3:29 PM
By another anon (not verified)

There's no reason for twins names to match. You could choose Gwendolyn and Pat for twin girls and it would be great since they are separate people and will spend the majority of their lives addressed singly.

If the "belle" is what you want there are tons of other options. Or just go with Belle/a.

Corabel is similar to Clarabel in sound but without a cow character.

June 24, 2014 3:40 PM
By L. Smith (not verified)

Why follow trends at all? Your girls may grow up to appreciate it if they don't have names that sound like everybody else's. Given that your preferred names aren't a really good match (one sounds high class, and the other sounds rural and country), maybe it's time to think outside the box and start from scratch.

June 24, 2014 5:00 PM
By Nedibes (not verified)

In the U.S., compound names still have a little whiff of the déclassé to them (Bobbi-Sue, Hetta-May, etc.) even if the components are popular, so I think Clarabelle is probably facing one strike against it even without the cow associations. In fact, that's probably why it was picked for a cow in the first place, and why it sounds so "right" as a name for a cow. And not a sophisticated, city cow, but a gangly, knob-kneed, country cow.

Isabella avoids this because Izza isn't a name on its own; Anabelle probably because it has such a long history as a single name (and by dropping an n from Anna). But Clarabelle sounds like Clara Belle no matter how you write it.

All that said, I think compound names are pretty trendy in the UK right now, and the cycle may be turning back that way on this side of the pond before TOO long, so if you absolutely love it, go for it. By the time she's naming her own children it may sound fresh and elegant!

June 24, 2014 6:20 PM
By Maria (not verified)

How about Claire or Clara and just give her the nickname Clarabelle?

I always think of the cow, but I like the cow. Clarabelle sounds pretty to me and is much better than many many weird or misspelled or quasi-insulting names that I have seen. If you like it, you should use it. People will grow to love it when your baby arrives.

June 24, 2014 6:29 PM
By tiktok (not verified)

I concur with previous commenters that Gwendolyn and Clarabelle are quite different. Gwendolyn is full of very sweeping, graceful sounds, and Clarabelle is, bookended by strong, awkward consonant sounds and is comparatively clunky. When shortened, the distinction is just as pronounced - Gwen and Clara do not sound like sisters.

If I was going to pick a name to go with Gwendolyn that fell into the "bell" trend, I would work backwards and pick Bellamy.

June 24, 2014 7:12 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I know this isn't popular but -lyn is ugly. It sounds like a grunt. Belle sounds southern. Why not Clara and Gwenyth.

June 24, 2014 7:37 PM
By Christy (not verified)

I'm 31 years old and when I hear "Clarabelle" I think cow. So, apparently, that imagery has not yet faded. And note that the other character you found is a clown, also silly. There's a reason for that. The name is a little bit comical. I'm in the process of coming up with names too, so I know it's hard. But I'm just being honest about my reaction to the name to give you some insight.

June 25, 2014 8:16 AM
By Kate (not verified)

The first poster is correct, Clarabelle the cow is back on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse currently. I do like it, but it is a reference that children of this generation would know. I like Mirabelle. Or Corabelle or Sybelle?

June 25, 2014 11:07 AM
By Angela (not verified)

I've never seen the spelling "Clarabelle" before. I'm used to "Claribel" -- which I prefer, and which is what Behind The Name has.

I think it's a lovely name! I hope you'll consider the traditional spelling.

June 25, 2014 9:20 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

Sorry if this has already been suggested, but I don't have time to go back and read all the other posts.

What about Bella-Claire or Clairbelle?

June 27, 2014 10:12 AM
By AJD (not verified)

Gwendolyn is full of very sweeping, graceful sounds, and Clarabelle is, bookended by strong, awkward consonant sounds

I don't get comments like this. Gwendolyn and Clarabelle are extremely similar in their phonetic profile. They've both got two stop consonants, they're three syllables long with stress on the first, they both begin with a velar stop + sonorant cluster, they both end with a sonorant consonant, they both have short vowels—I can't see any way in which Gwendolyn has more "sweeping, graceful" sounds than Clarabelle or Clarabelle has more "strong, awkward consonants" than Gwendolyn. This sounds like you're taking your holistic feelings about the names and projecting them backward onto the sounds, rather than just accepting that the name itself is what you're reacting to.

June 29, 2014 11:43 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Clarabelle the cow is in fact on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and my two year old knows and recognizes the character. While I think it is a nice name and would go well with Gwendolyn, I would worry that she might be teased by her peers since the character has made a comeback in the Disney scene. I think it's a cute idea to have "matching" names that don't rhyme for twins. I'm currently trying to find a name for my second daughter that will go well with her big sister's name, so I understand the difficulty in trying to find that perfect name to make a good match. I agree that there are several alternate -belle/-bella names that would go nicely with Gwendolyn. There have been lots of nice suggestions. Good luck finding the perfect name! :)

June 30, 2014 10:21 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I don't have time to read through all the posts, so I don't know if this has been mentioned: Clarabelle the cow is still very current -- she's a recurring character on both Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Minnie's Bow-Toons, both of which my preschooler watches incessantly on YouTube. (I think they're shown on one of the Disney channels on TV, but we don't have cable.)

July 1, 2014 1:04 PM
By Canterbury Lady (not verified)

I named my daughter Gwendolyn and although she hated her name when she was in elementary school (too long and hard to spell), once she reached middle school she loved it and now that she is a young woman she still loves it.

I am having a hard time thinking of any name ending in -belle that does not sound old lady-ish.

Names that I think might go well with Gwendolyn are

Clara (especially with the British pronunciation ah rather than the American ay)




July 1, 2014 2:54 PM
By With an "E" (not verified)

I have known exactly one person with this name (and she's about 37 now): Chalcedony (kal-sidney). It's a pretty semi-precious stone and Biblical too. I think it goes very well with Gwendolyn or Genevieve.

July 3, 2014 2:20 AM
By Z6 (not verified)

I just wanted to let you know that what you do really affects peoples lives and that people - like me - truly appreciate it.

July 5, 2014 3:54 PM
By Sarah (not verified)

Just go with Clara. It is lovely and old-fashioned and doesn't sound dumpy or country at all

July 6, 2014 9:15 PM
By Master138 (not verified)

It's a pretty semi-precious stone and Biblical too. so I don't know if this has been

July 15, 2014 5:02 AM
By Lena (not verified)

I love Isabelle. Izzy for short.
Gwendolyn is lovely call her Dolly <3

August 9, 2014 6:22 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Um, Clarabell Cow enters my house daily on Mickey mouse clubhouse (a current show on Disney channel) and my kids know exactly who she is (an unattractive, clumsy cow, goofy's girlfriend). There are plenty of beautiful names without negative connotations!

August 18, 2014 9:24 AM
By Joanne (not verified)

I agree with the poster who said that the names just don't "go" together. Gwendolyn and Clarabelle don't have a nice flow and evoke two different feelings. You need something more sophisticated to go with Gwendolyn. And I also agree that Clarabelle reminds me of a cow. Currently, I think Mickey Mouse Clubhouse has a Clarabelle cow.

Gwendolyn and Clara work better or Gwendolyn and Clarice (although that conjures up Silence of the Lambs).

August 19, 2014 2:07 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)


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