When It's Not Really About the Names

Apr 6th 2017

Names are important. Choosing a name can be remarkably difficult. But if your baby naming conflicts are keeping you up at night, I'm going to suggest something that sounds like heresy coming from a Baby Name Wizard. Maybe names aren't really the issue.

Names tap into a lot of deep, emotionally fraught social currents. They reflect culture, ethnicity, gender, religion, taste, values and family. That makes baby naming a natural point for latent relationship and family dynamics issues to bubble to the surface. If there's a broader problem to address, no name alone can solve it.

Asier Romero/Shutterstock

How can you tell if your apparent naming dilemma is really a family or relationship dilemma? As long as your angst is focused on finding or choosing the right name — even if you and your partner have wildly conflicting tastes — chances are you're just in routine baby-naming purgatory. Don't worry, that's what we're here for at BNW. If your problem sounds more like one of the situations below, though, you may need to take a step back.

"He won't help think about names at all. It's like my job is to suggest idea after idea, and his job is to say no."

"My family doesn't like the name I've chosen for my daughter and they've vowed that they won't call her by it."

"She says that since she's the one who has to give birth she gets to choose the name, and I don't have any say."

"I just learned that my sister-in-law is planning on giving her baby the same extremely unusual name as our son, and she didn't even ask us about it."

"His parents are from a different culture and expect us to follow their totally rigid naming system, and even though neither of us want that he won't tell them so."

I've heard stories like each of these many times. If you read over them again, you'll find that none of the parents are asking for name suggestions. They're asking for guidance in navigating the rocky waters of relationships and family.

Most importantly, none of the conflicts they describe are likely to stay within the boundaries of baby naming. Choosing a name is a kind of trial run for the many difficult decisions you'll have to make throughout a lifetime as parents. Partners have to be able to brainstorm, negotiate, and compromise together. Extended families should support and respect and listen to each other, and understand the limits of their control.

As fraught as a name choice may be, it's still a relatively small sandbox that gives you a chance to work out better ways of interacting. If you can make this trial run a model for future decision making, you'll all be happier for it. Better yet, you'll have a chance to make the baby-naming process what it really should be: a joy.


Nifty Norse Baby Names

Apr 3rd 2017

Names from Norse mythology has been given a popularity boost in recent years. From television shows like The Vikings to the blockbuster films Thor and How to Train Your Dragon, American audiences have embraced the inspiration of Asgard.

The names below range from trendy to unusual to downright rare, but their sounds are all strong and unique. All have roots in Nordic and Germanic languages, with many found directly in mythological stories. Let’s take a look at fourteen uncommon choices influenced by Scandinavian lore!


Thor. Mighty and memorable, Thor is a classic in Norway that’s begun to find favor in the United States - thanks especially to the film series starring Chris Hemsworth. This thunderous choice may be a lot to live up to, but with Messiah and King on the rise, why not pick an equally bold name?

Astrid. Derived from old Norse for “divinely beautiful,” it’s no wonder that Astrid has fans all over the globe. It’s vibe is smart and savvy, and it’s the kind of name that will age well along with your bright and beloved little one. Namesake Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking, is an excellent literary connection, too.

Soren. Already Americans have embraced the subtle and stunning Soren: it currently ranks at #577 on the top 1000. It’s still relatively underused, but Soren’s attractive and accessible sound make it a fantastic choice for those who want something familiar but not trendy.

Valka. Never recorded in the United States, elegant Valka made a recent appearance in How to Train Your Dragon 2 (voiced by star Cate Blanchett). It’s derived from the same root as Valkyrie, but its simple form and feminine style help Valka feel more glamorous than fantastical.

Gunnar. Some may choose it as a spelling variation of Gunner, but Gunnar has deep roots in Scandinavian legend. It was worn by a king of Burgundy, and fittingly holds the meaning of “warrior” - perfect for those who want a thoroughly masculine name.

Liv. Small yet sophisticated, Liv works well as either a nickname for Olivia or a formal choice on its own. It’s derived from a few etymologies relating it to “life” and “protection,” imbuing this compact name with a sense of strength and adventure. It’s already begun to rise up the top 1000, partially inspired by actress Liv Tyler.

Magni. One of the sons of Thor in legend, Magni is a name that sounds both modern in its individuality and classic in its historical authenticity. With the meaning of “mighty”, Magni is a tenacious pick for all kinds of personality types, from the sympathetic to the strong-willed.

Ingrid. Long associated with classic Hollywood star Ingrid Bergman, this gorgeous name actually comes from the Norse god Ing. While Ingrid gained fans in the US in the 1960’s, it was never overly popular. Polished and chic, Ingrid could attract attention today for its trendy I-beginning and fabulous namesakes.  

Odin. Handsome Odin has quite a lot going for it: from its similar sound to Owen and Aiden to its powerful divine connection, it’s only natural that the name has already settled into the top 500. Odin is friendly with an eccentric streak, and its eponym is a favorite in Scandinavian and Germanic culture - interestingly enough, Odin is also the source of the word “Wednesday”.

Saga. Though it’s reminiscent of a word name, like Story or Epic, Saga is actually the name of the Norse goddess of poetry and history. It’s concise, beautiful, and unforgettable, already a favorite in Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. While it may raise some eyebrows, Saga has the substance to back up its splendor.

Viggo. Another name associated with Hollywood via actor Mortensen, Viggo fits in with today’s trends while still maintaining its rugged uniqueness. It’s not too far off from O-factor favorites Leo, Hugo, or Diego, but it has an energetic and suave vibe that sets it apart.

Freya. Incredibly popular across the pond, feminine Freya - and spelling variants Freja and Freyja - has begun to be discovered by American parents. It’s a pretty and positive name originally attached to the goddess of love and beauty in Norse mythology. Despite its background, Freya has only become a well-used choice in recent years.

Loki. Though he’s a villain in the Marvel films, Loki has captivated audiences with his wit and cunning - enough to motivate an increase in baby boy (and girl) Lokis. This fun and boisterous name fits in formally with Biblical options Levi and Eli, but adds an element of mischief - as any trickster god might!

Signe. While it may be confused with similar-sounding Sydney, this ethereal name has a more quirky personality. Signe has a few connections in mythology, and comes from the meaning of “new victory”. It’s been recorded in the US since 1884, thanks to its appealing and graceful aura.

Every Single 1920s Baby Name with Comeback Potential

Mar 29th 2017

As the 21st Century marches ahead, the names of the early decades of the 20th Century have renewed appeal as "antiques." 1920s favorites in particular are finding a new life: names like Vivian, Iris and Max have come charging back into style. What '20s names might yet be waiting in the wings, undiscovered?

Here's an attempt to answer to that question as thoroughly as possible. I've combed through the historical name stats and tried to identify every popular name of the Roaring '20s that hasn't yet come back but maybe, possibly could.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

To qualify for my list a name had to be:

• At or near its popularity peak in the 1920s
• Much less popular in the second half of the 20th Century, so that it now sounds suitably old-fashioned
Not among today's top 500 names for boys or girls
• A feasible fashion choice based on contemporary tastes

The last item is the tricky one. Taste is subjective, but I followed current style by ruling out names that are particularly dense with consonants, like Bernice and Durward. Next to go were names that are so unfamiliar today that they sound merely surprising rather than antique, like Hulon and Trula, and names that have crossed the gender divide since the '20s, like Meredith for boys. Other factors were less cut-and-dried but could tip the balance against a borderline name, like the "yoo" sound in Buford and Eunice.

The end product is a list of well over 100 uncommon throwback names worth thinking about. Not every one hits the fashion bullseye. Chances are that most will still sound outmoded to you. But if you're drawn to old-fashioned names, I'm guessing that a few on this list will strike you as pleasant and intriguing surprises. I certainly have my favorites, and I'm curious to hear yours. 

1920s Names with Comeback Potential
Adele Albin
Althea Alton
Antoinette Alvin
Antonia Arden
Avis Boyd
Bette Buck
Betty Burton
Billie Carlyle
Clarice Clyde
Cleo Conrad
Delta Cosmo
Dorothea Dempsey
Dorothy Denver
Eloisa Earl
Faye Edison
Fern Elden, Elton
Garnet Ellsworth
Geneva Emory
Harriet Florian
Iola Forrest
Iona, Ione Gardner
Irene Garland
Jean Gaston
Josefina Giles
Lenora, Lenore Glendon
Leora Hardy
Lois Harlan
Lorraine Harris
Louise Haskell
Maida Herschel, Hershel
Margery, Marjorie               Hollis
Marguerite Howell
Marian, Marion Jennings
Marietta Jules
Mavis Kermit
Maxine Lambert
Millicent Lawton
Odessa Lionel
Opal Llewellyn
Petra Lowell
Reba, Reva Lyle
Roma Mack
Rosemary Mahlon
Sibyl, Sybil Manley
Theda Merrill
Theodora Merritt
Thora Meyer
Una Ned
Verona Newell
Virginia Newman
Vita Olin
Winifred Orin
 Zenobia Otis
  Roland, Rowland