Ms. Smith and her husband Mr. Jones have a baby, Little Timmy. What should Timmy's surname be?
The situation is common, the answers many and contentious. In some cultures Timmy would simply use two surnames, but the United States expects him to have just one. The two most common approaches for U.S. parents are to hyphenate (Timmy Smith-Jones) and to choose one parent's surname, most often dad's (Timmy Jones). A scattering of parents combine their surnames in other ways, or use mom's surname as a first name, or give mom's name to daughters, dad's name to sons. Same-sex couples may face different social expectations for their surname choices, but their actual options for kids' names are much the same.
Whatever answer you might choose for your own family, you can probably see both the positives and negatives of each approach. For instance, using Dad's surname is simple and traditional, but it cuts out mom in a way that's unequal in the present, and an echo of historical disempowerment. Hyphenating is fairer, but it creates awkward surnames that match neither parent, and has the effect of passing off the problem onto your kids. (What happens when it's time for them to name children?)
A perfect solution may not be possible, but parents struggling with the standard options might be interested in a compromise that’s popping up on more and more school rosters. I'll call it the "three name solution": call one parent's surname a middle name and the other a surname, but use them both. So Little Timmy is "Timmy Smith Jones," known as...Timmy Smith Jones.
There's nothing groundbreaking here. The double surname with one part optional is familiar in the Spanish-speaking world. Even in English, using mom's surname as a middle name is an age-old custom and including that middle name in your self-identification is a classic way to highlight your family connections. You might think of it as a throwback to the age of men like Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a scion of the influential Cabot family on his mom's side. Yet you might also hear a link to a very different three-name style: that of women like Hillary Rodham Clinton, for whom the extra surname underlines their independent identities and accomplishments.
You could argue that the three name solution combines the drawbacks of the more common approaches. It still makes only one surname the heritable family name, and it still makes the kids say both surnames. What's more, it introduces new potential for confusion in a society that's accustomed to ignoring middle names.
Yet the virtues of the other approaches converge here as well. Timmy gets a simple, punctuation-free surname that he shares with one parent, and his name reflects his relationship to both. On an emotional level, that may feel more balanced. On a practical level, it should help ease the familiar irritations surrounding "I'm Ms. Smith, Timmy Jones's mom." For parents torn between hyphenating and not, that may be a welcome compromise.
When it comes to the sound of modern boyhood, British and American parents just don't agree. American boys' names are getting more and more formal. U.S. parents even [LINK] invent new "formal" extensions for full names they consider too short. As for diminutives, you doubtless know families that correct any attempt in that direction: "It's Thomas, not Tommy." Even classic male names that end in a -y may be seen as too cutesy or feminine.
Meanwhile in Britain, it's a cute nickname carnival. The given name Charlie is five times as popular as Charles; Frankie five times as popular as Frank. And the -y ending is so hot it's sending names as stylistically diverse as Oakley and Barnaby soaring up the charts.
If you're an American parent, "cute" may not cut it for you. But other British name trends point to fashion opportunities your friends and neighbors haven't discovered yet. Read on for fresh ideas from the England & Wales top 100. (And be sure to check out the girls' list, too!)
While American parents get [LINK]ever more formal with male names, British parents are embracing fun, boyish nicknames.
A -y ending is increasingly feminine in the U.S., but plenty of masculine standbys remain.
Finley (34; Finlay ranks #87)
Your passion in life may be art, music, writing, crafting, acting, designing, decorating, cooking, or making really great animal shapes out of balloons, but it really doesn't matter—all of us have a creative streak. And even if your baby isn't the next Picasso, your little one can proudly wear a name that hints at artistic talents and an inventive spirit.
But what makes a name express creative qualities? Classic names in particular can conjure up so many different associations, that it's difficult to say whether a William is worthy of a sonnet-writing British baird or an average bloke. So we browsed distinctive names of famous creators and places throughout history, as well as name meanings and associations, and what Namipedia users rated as the most creative sounding names.
Sometimes there's a clear connection, other times it just seems like a girl named Fiona might be more creative than one named Murphy. (A statement brought to you by the users of Namipedia.) But we aren't here to judge, just inspire—and that's exactly what these names do! We feel like breaking out a beret already.
Allegra: We have decided to take this gorgeous name back from the pharmaceutical industry. It's got a beautiful meaning (Italian for "happy") and reminds us of the music tempo allegro, even the literary term allegory. It was also the name of the stepsister of "Frankenstein" creator Mary Shelley (who was born "Wollstonecraft Godwin"). But perhaps our favorite use belongs to renowned ballerina Allegra Kent.
Ansel: Ansel is a German name meaning "God's protection" that brings to mind the striking black and white images of photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams. Ansel sounds chic and down-to-earth at the same time, it's a fresh take on the ever-popular "A" beginning, and we can't help but envision it on a gallery nameplate.
Aria: Aria comes directly from the world of opera, as a term for an accompanied solo. In Italian, the word aria means "air". And it's trending in pop culture, too: A character from the TV show Pretty Little Liars recently gave this name some much-deserved attention.
Auden: Poet W.H. Auden is one of the most celebrated American writers of the 20th century, and his surname hits a sweet spot for poetry lovers. (A little bonus name trivia: W.H. stands for Wystan Hugh.) Actor Noah Wylie has a daughter named Auden, and model/actress Amber Valletta has a son with this name.
Bronte: Undeniably literary, this name comes from those famed sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë who each penned timeless classics in the Victorian era. This smart, classy name is unusual but not unheard of. (Remember the movie Green Card?) In case you're not sure what to do about that umlaut, don't let it hold you back—it's purely optional.
Cadence: A rhythmic flow applied to both poetry and music, Cadence rose to fame quickly in 2004 after the movie American Wedding was released. But Cadence has proven to have staying power, and it feels like a musical twist on Candace or even Constance.
Calliope: This Greek muse of epic poetry has a fantastic name that's perfect for a young artist. Variations like Callie and even Poppy help it feel more playground ready, and the character from Grey's Anatomy gives it a bit of a boost as well.
Coraline: Author Neil Gaiman brought this name to our attention after his novel of the same name was published and a movie release followed. This name sounds like an oceanic sibling to Caroline, and it comes with a few hot short forms like Coral, Cora, and Corrie. Namipedia users say this name sounds creative, and we can see why.
Harper: Famed author Harper Lee has a name that means "harp player," giving it a twofold creative punch. Harper is a celebrity (and non-celebrity) favorite, chosen by the Beckhams, Neil Patrick Harris, Bill Hader, Jenna Fischer, and more.
Hendrix: This name rocks. It has roots in the name Henry, but the guitar-solo twist (with an x!) brings it up to contemporary standards. It sits nicely alongside other rock star names like Axl and Phoenix.
Leonardo: Decidedly creative, thanks to artist da Vinci and famed Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci. Actor "Leo" DiCaprio, making the short form known the world over, has done nothing to hurt this mellifluous name, either.
Lyric: A term from both music and poetry, Lyric is a fitting name for a tiny troubadour. Parents are choosing this catchy name with more confidence in recent years, and it's steadily climbing in popularity as it's sitting in the top 300 names for girls.
Memphis: This bluesy American city is home to many different genres of music and launched the careers of countless artists, including Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley. Memphis is chosen more often for boys than girls, though it works for either gender. Last year 385 newborn boys were given this name.
Monet: Softer and more modern than Mona, Monet evokes impressionistic paintings of lily pads and country cottages. We picture this name on a girl wearing a smock with a paint brush in hand.
Piper: We chose this name for its musical meaning (one who plays the pipe), and Namipedia users agree that it's fit for a boy or girl who is both creative and friendly. Piper hasn't looked back since it hit the airwaves on the TV show Charmed, and it's now a top-100 name for girls.
Riordan (REER-den): An Irish name meaning "little royal poet", Riordan is a unique choice in the US. Best-selling author Rick Riordan is giving this name even more of a creative feel, and made it more accessible to Americans.
River: This fashionable name is inspired by nature, with undercurrents of rock music and acting genius thanks to Rivers Cuomo and Phoenix. Singer Kelly Clarkson and her husband recently chose this name for their daughter.
Rome: The Eternal City and one of the famed locations of the Italian Renaissance, Rome has global appeal and a sturdy sound. It strikes us as a more straightforward alternative to Romeo and Roman.
Sebastian: Thank goodness Bach used his middle name! Sebastian is also a character in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and a musical crab in Disney's The Little Mermaid, and there are many more famed references to this name in pop culture and literature. We think this sophisticated name would be great for a music-loving family. Potential nicknames include Bastian, Bash, Seb, and more.
Story: This pretty name doesn't beat around the bush at all, and we love how it seems to find a balance between spunky and free-spirited. It's contemporary sound reminds us of names like Stella, Stormy, Cory, and Rory.
You can get creative in your baby name hunt by using our Expert NameFinder and playing with the sliders on style preferences. Looking for more reading on names with creative qualities? Check out The Jane Austen Name Report, and Knock Knox: The X & O Roundup.