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How Common Is Too Common?

I'm having a baby soon, a girl. I love a lot of popular names, like Emmy and Avery. But if I use one of them, I'm thinking of spelling it differently (like Emie or Avri or Abbi) because I have a very common last name. Also, I really like "i" at the end of girls' names to replace "y" or "ie," but I don't know if that will work.

–Worried Mother

Will it work? That depends on what you're trying to achieve. If you simply like the ends-with-I spelling, then using it works for you—no problem.

But let's talk about using an alternate spelling to make the name more unusual. Whether that "works" rests on the concern you have about common names. Let's say your last name is Smith. Are you worried that your daughter Emmy Smith will be confused with another Emmy Smith? Or do you simply not want her to be one of several Emmy Smiths that she knows? Do you want her name to be unique enough so that it’s Google-able (meaning that someone searching her name will find her, and not another person with the same name)? It's worth noting that some parents actually would want the opposite!

"Common" today is not the same as it once was. There is so much diversity in baby-naming that even top 10 names are used far less frequently than high-ranking names of the 1980s and earlier. (Here's how that works for the popular boy's name Jacob.)

Day to day, a little Emie or Emmi Smith is barely distinguishable from an Emmy Smith—except for how often people misspell her name. In a classroom, she'd probably be "Emmi S." instead of "Emmi with an I." But would that really be a problem? Parents often worry that their child's name is too common, but really, so what? Your Emmy may be one of a few in her school or classroom or sports team, but would that be so bad? She might even enjoy sharing a name with a pal.

I think there's a way to have the best of both worlds, though—a lesser-known name to pair with a well-known surname, plus a name with the sounds and spelling you prefer. Look to a longer, less commonly used first name, then add a nickname spelled however you like. For example, Averil or Avril, called Avri; or Emmanuelle or Emlyn, called Emmy or Emie. The Baby Name Wizard's Advanced Name Finder tool can help.


Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

February 9, 2015 12:46 PM
By Helena (not verified)

In addition to your child always having to correct people's spelling if you make it "unique", there's also the issue that the names you list look a little childish with those spellings. Avri is super cute as a 6 year-old, but may wish for something more substantial to fall back on as an adult.

This could very well just be my opinion and I'd love to see other people's thoughts.

February 9, 2015 2:43 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Nope, I agree. Avri looks like a nickname or diminutive, which can be difficult for some people to carry as adults. Avery sounds the same, but looks complete.

I have an unusual name & one of the biggest issues I've had with it is spelling. It's frustrating when nobody gets it right. I can't imagine what having a common name with an unusual spelling would be like. At least my name is unusual enough people have to ask. I suspect most people will just assume Avery, without asking.

February 9, 2015 3:25 PM
By moll (not verified)

I didn't even realize Avri was supposed to be Avery until I read the comment above me. I truly thought it was AH-vree, like Avi with an R in it, or a short form of Avrielle.

February 9, 2015 5:16 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Good idea, save her the trouble of coming up with a stripper name. A misspelled name shows you have no higher aspirations for her.

February 9, 2015 7:14 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Please spell the name the traditional way. When said Emie is no different than Emmy, but she will have to correct people's spelling and possibly pronunciation. Many people when faced with an unusual spelling try to come up with a different pronunciation (like the above poster's confusion with Avri).

If her having a common name is an issue for you, don't choose a common name.

February 10, 2015 1:19 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that you should go with the standard spelling. When the name is spoken, the standard and goofy spellings will sound the same anyway, so save the kid a lifetime of frustration and spell the name correctly.

February 10, 2015 2:20 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

The Name Lady here is being very tactful. Just know that there are many people out there who think that coming up with a kreative spelling will just make you look illiterate and comes across as tacky. Can you image President Emie? Justice Emie on the Supreme Court? I can't. There's evidence that people with misspelled names on their resumes don't get called in for interviews as often as people whose names are spelled traditionally.

If you like the nickname Emie (even spelled that way) you should still put Emily or Emma or, as the Name Lady suggested, Emmanuelle, on your daughter's birth certificate. Have some aspirations for your kid! I have a friend called Ashli, and while she's a wonderful person, I still wince every time I write her name and silently wonder how her parents could have done that to her.

February 10, 2015 3:17 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I just came across an Arynn. I pronounced it Are-en. Oh, it is supposed to be Erin? Then spell it that way!

February 10, 2015 3:44 PM
By caitlyn with a C and Y (not verified)

I grew up with a common name spelt different and only found it annoying, I shared my name with normally atleast one girl in my grade irritating as a child but you get it, but I also could never find my common name on those cups, key chains ect it was always spelt wrong. To this day I am correcting spelling of my name I have never had anyone spell it right the first time. It does not make a name more unique but just more often spelled wrong. Although spelt different my name is still the same common name.

February 10, 2015 6:19 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

My first name became common over my lifetime, though it is rare for folks my age. (Megan - 1970). Combined with my common last name, it makes me hard to Google, which adds to my privacy. I am very careful at the pharmacy though as they frequently have several people with my name and I have been given the wrong meds.

Don't mess with spelling. It just adds complications to your child's life.

February 10, 2015 11:19 PM
By Debbie S. (not verified)

I have a not-unique name, but unique for my age bracket (Debbie - 1980's) so I didn't grow up with any other Debbie's. However, I'm in a sketch club now with a bunch of slightly older ladies and there are 4 Debbie's in the class! Since I'm older I really like it -- it's been fun suddenly being part of a group that I was never in before. So maybe the key is having a unique name as an adolescent but a name that is classic enough to work as an adult -- and guess what, kids can pick whatever nickname they want to stand out! You don't have to do it for them. I agree with the Name Lady -- if the point is for the name to stand out, you might have to go with another name. If the point is that you love the names with the -i ending, go with that!

February 11, 2015 1:44 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I would never have thought to pronounce Emie as Emmy. Never. Eemi? Eh-mie rhymes with pie? Emmi or Emmie if you must but better have pity and name her a name that naturally ends in I or use it as a nickname.

February 11, 2015 6:55 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I don't have a problem with uncommon and different spellings as much as other people it seems. Language differences lead to different spellings and nice people don't freak out about Luka/Luca. Then again I am also a Katharine Hepburn fan. (Her spelling isn't the most common, you know.)

I like the suggestions for a longer name because really, Emmi and Emmy are not different names. The spelling only counts in record keeping, not in conversation.

February 11, 2015 9:29 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

Spelling rules are often broken in our culture, but if you have to come up with an alternate spelling for a name, please follow them. If you want a vowel to be short, it needs to be followed by two consonants. If you only have one consonant after vowel, and then a vowel, the first vowel is long. Therefore, both or your examples, if pronounced as they are spelled, would be 'incorrect' to what you intended. Emie would be --rightfully-- EE-mee, and Avri, would be AHv-ri.

Hard truth, and I really don't want to be offensive, but you need to consider this. I have had to consciously stop myself from assuming children are unintelligent because their parents clearly did not understand basic spelling rules when choosing names. You don't want people thinking that of you, of more importantly, of your children.

I once had a law student roommate named Jacqueline. She spelled Jackie, 'Jaci" and got very upset with people who pronounced it with a soft 'c'. It made her look very foolish.

other examples:

Charkia, pronounced shaREEka

Devanne' (accent mark over the terminal e, a boy who said his mom wanted "that little line over the 'e' because it makes my name look important") pronounced DeVON

Charkia, by the way was a brilliant child. She did not even finish high school and I suspect part of her problem may well be that people misjudged her ability on account of her mother's poor literacy skills.

February 11, 2015 9:36 PM
By Pamela S (not verified)

or... Avri might be pronounced to sound like a nickname for "Average". You sure don't want that.

February 12, 2015 1:23 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I think there is a difference between choosing Luka over Luca for cultural/language reasons, and choosing Avri over Avery just to be different.

February 12, 2015 2:51 PM
By Anonymous

If there is a legitimate story behind a creative spelling, go for it. For example, changing Emily to Emma-leigh because her grandmas are Emma and Leigh could help to legitimize a kre8ive spelling. If you don't have a story like that, spelling changes don't make a name unique, but just look ignorant.

Ending a name in "i" is fine if it is a nickname. Nicknames are inherently personal, so go nuts with creativity. I knew a girl named Alexandra who went by Axi. She still has a good name for a resume, but a fun nickname that goes with her personality.

How about Emmaline, Emilia, or Emerson, with an unique nickname spelling? Emmi (or another spelling) is fine for a nickname, but just know that if there's another Emmy in her class, there will be "Emmi A" and "Emmy B".

If you really like the "i" ending, how about Naomi? You're not likely to know another child with the same name.

February 13, 2015 12:39 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Wow, I thought Avri was Ah-vree and was going to say that it's pretty, unique, and people might think it's foreign. Avery is a fairly unique name in its own right. It doesn't need a new spelling.

Now to get to my original point. You can spell a common name a LOT of ways and that will not make it a less common name. It will just be a common name that gets misspelled a lot. While that's pretty normal now (spelling names differently) and it's not as new a concept as people think it is (learned this while studying genealogy), if you're child is Emmie or Emmi and there are five Emmy's in her class, she is going to be Emmy B. She is going to turn her head every time someone yells, "Hey, Emmie" and the spelling is not going to make a difference.

Now I have a unique name and you can teach people how to spell a name. But you cannot make a common name noticeably different by changing the spelling.

February 13, 2015 12:47 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Also, I would ignore all the rude and judgmental people saying that it makes you look illiterate if you spell a name differently. If they had done their own research, they would know that there is no such thing as "traditional" spelling. Not in the sense that they mean it. At least in the USA, names were spelt however the person felt like spelling it for a very long time and eventually settled into what were the most "common" spellings.

Name Lady, if you see this comment could you do a piece on this? Surely you know what I'm talking about.

February 14, 2015 5:42 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with Pamela S. The name Diane seems incorrect unless spelled with two "n's"--Dianne--creating a short "a" sound, like that found in the name Anne. With one "n," it seems it should be pronounced with a long "a" Di-ayne. I once knew a woman named Rubby, though it was pronounced like Ruby. Her parents just didn't realize their error.

February 17, 2015 4:00 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

To me, Emmy is pronounced like the TV awards show. Emmi makes me want to say "eh-mih." Same with Avery and Avri. the i on the end makes me say ahv-ree. Make sure the pronunciation is the one you want.

BTW, I find that most people make themselves unique by attending to the development of their character, not having a cutesy name spelling.

February 17, 2015 4:28 PM
By Mo (not verified)

If you really just like the "i" ending might I suggest spelling the beginning of the name more familiar: Averi or Emmi. This would cut out pronunciation errors and limit misspells.

February 18, 2015 4:35 PM
By Christi with an i (not verified)

Please don't change the spelling just to change the spelling. Speaking as someone with a relatively common name but with an uncommon spelling it's not worth it. All that it will mean is that you can't get personalized stuff unless you order it specifically and virtually everyone will misspell your name. When I graduated from high school we had a class t-shirt. During the process of getting it to the printer one of the teachers looked at my name, decided that it was misspelled and changed it to how she thought it should be. I have totally given up on having anyone outside my immediate family spell my name right. As a nickname it would be fine but for a given name?- Go with something more formal.

February 24, 2015 2:32 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Don't do this to your child. Do you know who spells names with an i when they are supposed to end with a y? Strippers.

February 24, 2015 9:23 PM
By Karo (not verified)

Wow!! I think the hate and judgment on this column alone might be all you need to know. This is kind of like whether or not to name your child after British nobility because it might give then a boost at elite colleges. Some folks find that to be perfectly reasonable criteria and then some of us think that's absurd.
Judgmental people are going to judge your daughter. And apparently you. And they're going to find some reason to do it regardless of what you name your daughter.
Here are some women I've known. Great people all. Mostly these names are out of fashion now -- and probably someone advised their moms against weird spellings, too.

March 1, 2015 6:06 PM
By Anonymous (not verified)

Here's another angle of being given a name that is easily mispronounced because of spelling, if a child is shy by nature it can add to their feelings of awkwardness when someone, particularly a new teacher, mispronounces their name in front of a large group of kids.

And to Karo, I don't think any of the previous commenters were speaking from hate but just passionate about their points of view. I'm sure you weren't meaning to judge them, either, though.

March 7, 2015 2:28 AM
By Taylor (not verified)

Taylor is was a common name the year I was born ('93) my mom changing the spelling would have not changed how common my name was. There were three Taylor's in my kindergarten classroom. I would have just had to correct a lot of spelling mistakes but still would have turned my head every time someone said my name. There was a girl in high school with hers spelled "Teighlor" it's just odd and I can promise you she will never find anything with her name on it without having to custom order it. Its easier to find her on Facebook though. Just try to find a less common name or go with the typical spelling is my opinion. Then again your child your choice.

March 7, 2015 9:11 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have an accepted spelling of a classic but unusual name (Frances). I have spent my entire life correcting people's spelling of my name. The most common is Francis, but I've also gotten head scratchers like Fransesse. It's annoying but it's also not the most annoying thing in the world.
I'm not into creative spellings, but give the kid the name you want to give her. She'll be fine.

March 7, 2015 9:12 AM
By Anonymous (not verified)

I have an accepted spelling of a classic but unusual name (Frances). I have spent my entire life correcting people's spelling of my name. The most common is Francis, but I've also gotten head scratchers like Fransesse. It's annoying but it's also not the most annoying thing in the world.
I'm not into creative spellings, but give the kid the name you want to give her. She'll be fine.

March 24, 2015 2:50 PM
By Jenna (not verified)

I'm laughing at all the people calling out others for saying that misspelled names are for strippers and uneducated people. Whatever. You know it's true. At the end of the day it ultimately doesn't matter. But when I see emmi or avri or wyndi (really?!?) I automatically think stripper and /or airhead. I just don't say it out loud. But we're allllllll thinking it.

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