You choose a name you love for your first child. For your second you choose a closely matching name, sticking with the sound you like best to create a “set,” and hopefully a special bond between your kids. Then comes baby #3, and you reach a point of reckoning. Is the theme still working for you? If not, can you escape it?
Fixer Upper reality tv stars Joanna and Chip Gaines are facing this point, times two. They have two boys and two girls: Drake and Duke, Ella Rose and Emmie Kay. That’s two matching pairs with very strong sound and spelling themes, and notably different male vs. female styles. To make the stakes even higher, in their housewares business they’ve named collections after their kids, so each name is a brand as well as a baby name.
The Gaines family is now expecting baby (and presumably brand) #5, making an ideal case study in the pleasures and perils of matching names. Let's walk through the decision process, starting from where they stand now.
Joanna and Chip Gaines. Image via joannagaines/Instagram
With a matching theme as tight as Drake and Duke, you have three possible paths for the next name:
1. Go all-in. You’ve defined the recipe for your sons’ names. Commit to it by sticking with a single syllable, initial D, final K sound, and macho style.
Top Options: Dirk, Dax, Dex, Dock.
Pros: Like matching uniforms, fully matching names achieve full consistency, equality, and team identity.
Cons: Starting with a super-small set of options that fit the theme, you’re now down to your third choice – and the core rule of theme naming is that each name you choose should be one you love for itself. Also, three names this similar are begging to be mixed up, and inviting others to assume that your kids are equally similar. What’s more, none of the options include a subtler fourth element of Drake and Duke: a long vowel sound.
2. Blow it up. You chose Drake and Duke because they were your favorite names. Look for another name you’re just as excited about, and to heck with matching.
Top Options: Wide open, in theory
Pros: You get a name you love, and a signal that your child is an individual with the right to forge his own identity.
Cons: One of these things is not like the others. The further removed the new name is from the old in sound and style, the more you’re setting that child apart and suggesting different expectations of him. You don’t have to match, but you don’t want to clash.
3. Pick your theme’s “core values.” Identify the elements that make up your theme and declare some of them essential, others optional. For instance, you might require a swashbuckling one-syllable name because that’s your style, but drop one or both of the letter requirements. Or if you’re committed to matching initials, open your options to two-syllable names.
Top Options: Dash, Dade, Dane; Deacon, Dixon, Decker; Gage, Steele, Burke, Locke, Colt, Ace, Reeve
Pros: Balance options and individuality with cohesion. The names still share a common sensibility that reflects the qualities you prize in a name.
Cons: Drake, Duke and Reeve may be a fine group of names, but there’s no way around the fact that you’ve broken up your perfectly matching set.
We can apply the same principles to Ella Rose and Emmie Kay, though this pair of names is a little more flexible given the lack of a shared ending sound. The new elements are the initial E, smooth sounds, two-part names, two + one syllables, and a cuddly vintage style. (While we’re on the subject of sibling matching and the signals it sends, choosing sleek and swashbuckling boys’ names and cuddly vintage girls’ names certainly signals disparate expectations.) In considering the options, I’m going to look only at the first name. The choice of middle name will depend on the sounds of the first.
1. Go all-in: The challenge is to find a name that isn’t too close to either Ella or Emmie. One trick is to choose a name that starts with a long E (pronounced like the letter), to keep the matching initials but open up new sounds.
Top Options: Eva, Evie, Edie, Effie
2. Blow it up: As the options above show, you’re fishing in a mighty small pool at this point. Maybe it’s time to broaden your horizons.
Top Options: Theoretically open, but realistically, a trio of sisters named Ella Rose, Emmie Kay and Hendrix will raise some eyebrows.
3. Core values: The key decision point is whether to stick to the sweet old-fashioned style. If you change up on style, the sound elements become virtually non-negotiable.
Top Options: Eden, Ember, Esme; Eliza, Esther, Eloise, Evelyn; Sadie, Ada, Lena, Ida, Billie, Nellie, Nora, Molly, Millie, Cora, Winnie
If I had to bet: It’s hard to give up the swift stroke of a single syllable boy’s name, but Deacon preserves the D and K sounds and the swagger of Drake and Duke. Better yet, it offers the secret weapon of a third long vowel sound that both follows the pattern and makes the names less likely to be confused with each other. For girls, the field is more wide open. But the long E of Evie or Edie lets the parents hew close to their theme without repeating themselves.
What baby name trends will be setting the style for the year ahead? To predict future directions, I look for names with popularity acceleration. Individual names on an accelerating rise are not only trendy on their own, but can point to whole styles on the way up.
I screened the statistics for names that have risen in popularity at a growing rate for for the past three years in a row. Then I looked for common themes. The six styles below leapt out again and again. The specific names listed all have individual momentum, and you can expect to see more of other names in these trending styles as well.
Names from Other Worlds. With names from imagined realities of movies, tv and books, parents are turning fantasy into reality.
BOYS: Anakin, Atreyu, Caspian, Castiel, Finnick, Kaladin, Lando, Oberon, Riddick
GIRLS: Arya, Astraea, BriarRose, Lyra, Storm, Vesper
Surnames ending in S. Once the stuffiest style for boys, these names are now gruffly charming.
Ames, Banks, Briggs, Brooks, Fields, Hawkins, Hayes, Riggins, Stiles, Welles, Wells
Creative Word Names in Traditional Categories. Nature names, virtues and terms of inspiration get an update.
BOYS: Bodhi, Brave, Canyon, Cedar, Cypress, Knowledge, Legacy, Legend, Linden, Majesty, Victory
GIRLS: Amethyst, Aspen, Blessing, Copper, Harbor, Harvest, Infinity, Legacy, Lilac, Loyalty, Majesty, Maple, Marigold, Meadow, Onyx, Primrose, Silver
Fun & Funky O Names. They're little, retro and full of energy.
BOYS: Arlo, Cleo, Enzo, Hugo, Jethro, Leo, Milo, Otto, Renzo, Theo
GIRLS: Cleo, Jo, Margo
Names from Classical Mythology. It's not just Diana and Jason any more.
BOYS: Apollo, Ares, Hades, Hercules, Jupiter, Orion, Achilles, Atlas, Zeus
GIRLS: Andromeda, Ariadne, Astraea, Athena, Aurora, Calliope, Gaia, Artemis
Aaira, Aamiyah, Aanaya, Aaria, Aariah, Aarya, Aeliana, Aella, Ahlani, Ahmina, Aila, Ailani, Ailany, Aily, Aiyla, Alaia, Alaiah, Alani, Alaya, Alaylah, Aleina, Aliyanna, Alonni, Alora, Aluna, Alylah, Amaia, Amaira, Amalia, Amara, Amarah, Amari, Amarii, Amarri, Amayah, Ameera, Ameila, Amelia, Amiah, Amileah, Amilia, Amiliah, Amina, Amira, Amiyah, Amori, Amyrah, Anah, Analeah, Analeyah, Anaya, Anayla, Anaelle, Annaliah, Annalina, Annamae, Annora, Anora, Anyeli, Ari, Aria, Ariah, Arina, Ariya, Armani, Arya, Aryia, Aulani, Aurela, Aurel, Auriella, Aurielle, Aurora, Aya, Ayaana, Ayla, Ayra, Ayumi, Eila, Eimy, Eira, Elani, Elania, Eleanora, Elena, Elonora, Eliana, Elianna, Eliyanah, Ellanora, Ellia, Ellianna Ellie, Ellieanna, Elliemay, Elloree, Elora, Emilia, Emerie, Emery, Emilia, Emmarie, Enna, Era, Eulalia, Illa, Ilyana, Irina, Laelah, Lailani, Lara, Laya, Leia, Leilani, Leilanny, Leni, Leona, Leora, Leyanna, Liah, Liana, Linna, Liyana, Lorelei, Lori, Lyanna, Luella, Luna, Lyra, Malani, Maiara, Malani, Malya, Malyah, Mariana, Marianna, Mayeli, Mayla, Mila, Milani, Milena, Miliyah, Mira, Mirai, Moriah, Myra, Murah, Naina, Naira, Nala, Naomi, Nia, Nilani, Noa, Noella, Noni, Nora, Nori, Nuri, Nyanna, Nura, Ora, Oriana, Raeya, Ramona, Rayla, Ralei, Rea, Reia, Remi, Remy, Reya, Reyna, Rhea, Riyah, Romi, Romy, Rona, Rory, Runa, Yalena, Yareni
Every month, thousands of BabyNameWizard.com readers search our Namipedia for girls’ names starting with Ken, Jeff, Tom, and other masculine nicknames. Searches for boys’ names with those beginnings are much scarcer. What’s the story? Should we expect a coming generation of little girls name Jeff and Tom?
I believe the phenomenon actually arises from a more traditional naming impulse. Our readers are looking for namesakes.
Ken, Jeff, Tom and friends are (sorry) “grandpa names” – nicknames for super-popular male names of the 1930s-1960s. In particular, they’re grandpa names with no popular female counterparts. If you want to name a daughter after Grandpa Stephen, you have easy choices like Stephanie and Stevie. A Grandpa John might be honored with a little Johanna or Jane. But what about Grandpa Tom? What’s a female counterpart to Thomas? Or Jeffrey? Or Kenneth? The answers aren’t obvious, so parents come to us seeking namesake inspiration.
[In case you’re wondering: nope, there is no corresponding trend for boys' names to remember a Grandma Susan or Deborah. It appears that even when it comes to honoring our beloved relatives, we're much more willing to name girls after males than boys after females. Anyway…]
We’re here to help. Below are female name possibilities for seven of the male name roots that parents of girls search for most.
|To Name After a...||Try...|
The Hebrew word Ben means "son," so no girls' names share the root. Allowing some space between the Be- and N offers: Bethany, Berenice, Bettina, Belinda, Bethan
Calla, Calista, Callie, Calliope, Calanthe, Calais, Caelia
Jamie, Jacqueline, Jamesina, Jamila, Jamaica, Jamiya
OK, there is no girl's name close to Jeff (or Geoff). But the "frey" part of Jeffrey could yield Freya, and it comes from the Germanic "frid" meaning peace, also found in Frida and Frederica
Kenna, Kendall, Kendra, Kennedy, Kensington, Kenya, McKenna, Kenzie, Kinneret, Kinsley
Mattea, Matilda, Mattie, Maddie, Madeline, Maddalena, Madison, Matisse
Philippa/Pippa, Philomena, Phyllida, Phyllis, Ophilia, Theophilia
|Tom/Thomas||Tamsin, Thomasina, Tomasa, Tommie, Toma|