First son's name not in top 1000. Considering a top 100 name for #2?

I've been lurking here since the forum format was introduced and have been so impressed with the generosity, knowledge base, and taste of the readership of this site. So, I thought I'd at last sign up and put forward my own question to the NE sages, which is: Is it completely off to give a second child a top 100 name if the first has a name that's never made the top 1,000?

Specifics if they're useful:

First son's name is L3v. It seems to suit him well, has a connection to the family, and works well in both Russian and English (the languages we speak). For the second, we've returned to our original list and are really stuck on the idea of using the name Max. Like L3v, it sounds good with our last name, has positive associations for us, and works well in both Russian and English. And, I think, aesthetically, Max and L3v are a nice sibset--kind of punchy, single syllable names with high-value Scrabble letters. 

The only thing that's holding me back is the fact that I started reading this site a while back and am incredibly aware of the disparity between the two names in SSA rankings. Max is currently ranked 105, but I'm certain that, combined with Maxwell, Maximus, Maximillian, etc., it's effectively much higher. Practically speaking, it doesn't bother me if Max shares the name with a boy or two (or even girl!) in his grade. And we have a couple of young (under 5) Max's in our extended circle. So, I feel like I'm going in eyes open.

The only shadow of doubt is that this difference may be a little unfair. When L3v is introduced, about half the time people stumble over it. I think the popularity of Olivia affects this--strangers are not sure what to make of a little boy who seems to be called "Liv". People sometimes also hear "Love" when the name is said with an American accent. None of this is an issue with teachers etc. who see the name written down, but it was a slightly surprising consequence of using a name with which some part of the population is unfamiliar.

Anyway, does this strike anyone else as a dealbreaker? Is it odd to have one boy with a name that will be confidently repeated by everyone who hears it and one with a name that trips some people up?


October 9, 2013 7:10 PM

I quite like Lev & Max together.  It's especially nice since both names work in Russian & English.  They are also short & snappy and have high scrabble value letters (V & X).  I don't think the populartity of Max should concern you too much (and I am usually one who considers such things). 

I'm surprised that people mishear Lev so often.  Love I could sort of almost understand, but the "i" in Liv and the "e" in Lev sound totally different to me-and I have one of those vague midwestern accents that seems to slur a lot of sounds into just one.  FWIW, I'm saying Lev to rhyme with rev, as in "rev your engines."


October 9, 2013 7:19 PM

I can see how people who say "pen" to sound like "pin" (or those used to dealing with that accent) could mishear Lev as Liv. However, I'm highly familiar with the name Lev (a big fan, actually,) so it surprises me that so many people haven't heard of it.

The name Max has never been my cup of tea, but I have absolutely no problem with brothers named Lev and Max. Yes, their popularities are very different, but they do have a similar feeling, are both one-syllable, etc.

October 9, 2013 7:44 PM

@Karyn, I was a bit surprised to discover how many people seem to be unfamiliar with Lev, too. Sometimes I wonder if it's just the fact that it's short--people who aren't accustomed to encountering the name can't process that information in a single syllable, perhaps?

October 10, 2013 12:30 PM

Funny that you mention pen/pin because I do say them the same (both are pin).  However, Lev would be Lev, just like rev is never riv.  I would also never say unleavened as un-liv-end.  Perhaps part of the problem is because some people who blur the way e/i sound don't do it consistently?  I can see how that would make people question what they heard, particularly with a name they weren't familiar with.  Though, I am surprised more people aren't familiar with Lev.  Sounds like the OP encounters a lot of people who have never heard the name. 

October 9, 2013 7:44 PM

Yes, when we pronounce it in English it rhymes with "rev". I completely agree with you--I'm not sure how anyone ever gets to Liv, but it's happened a handful of times.

I'm not always sure what the confusion is, but 50% of the time, when a stranger asks: "Hi, there. What's your name?", is told L3v...the response is, "Hi there--" accompanied by a lingering pause and a slightly blank look on their faces. So, something's going on with the name!

I'm glad to hear you see the parallels I see between the names. I may be overthinking this because I've spent some time poking around the site and am accustomed to seeing Max in the company of Storybook names in this context.

October 9, 2013 7:50 PM

I'm curious.  Are you saying Lev to rhyme with rev, or Russian style, roughly Lyev--or sometimes one and sometimes the other depending on context?  If I ran into someone named Lev whom I knew to have a Russian background (like Lev Tolstoy), my personal default would be to say Lyev until I was told otherwise.  As for little brother, what about Maks, which is a more accurate transliteration of the Cyrillic.  Same pronunciation as Max (although K is only mid-value on the Scrabble board), but less common and more "Russian-y" to go with Lev.  Bottom line: however pronounced/spelled, I think they're a great pair.

BTW aren't people of your acquaintance familiar with the actor Liev Schreiber?  He's had some pretty high profile roles recently.

October 9, 2013 10:15 PM

When speaking Russian we say, essentially "Lyef". The "L" sound hits mid-palate, not behind the teeth as in English. (Though since he's still a little boy he's mostly "Lyovochka" to Russian family.) Rightly or wrongly, I find the Russian pronounciation sort of awkward to do when speaking English and it feels like a lot to expect of others. Liev Schreiber would be a helpful reference point except that, as I understand it, his name is pronounced as two syllables. Lee-yev, something akin to Liam with an "M". But that's a very good idea to bring him up to people who seem perplexed by the name. After "Ray Donovan" and Naomi Watts, I think a lot of people should know who he is!

And, yes, you are absolutely right that the "ks" is a better transliteration of the Russian. My hesitation with that is that we have a few older relatives who transliterated their names that way (Aleksandr, for example) and, I think, outside of the community, it comes across to others as kreative spelling. I can absolutely imagine eyes rolling at "Maks" without the cultural context--and I also don't want to set him up to correct spelling for the rest of his life.

I'm very reassured to hear that you think they're a good pair. I think so, too! I think I was just looking for confirmation that I'm not naming one kid Pilot Inspektor and the other John or something!

October 9, 2013 10:58 PM

We older ladies are very familiar with Maksim (Aleksandrovich) Chmerkovskiy, otherwise known as Maks, the ballroom dancer on 'Dancing with the Stars'--and this old lady's idea of a pin-up.  He and his younger dancing brother Valentin (Val) have made their names quite familiar to the viewing audience.

As far as spelling goes, I have a plain as dirt, VERY common surname with an obvious spelling, and people still get it wrong.  I think there is no point in worrying about the fact that people can't spell and don't know the difference between accurate transliteration and kre8tive spelling.  Long ago I just learned to spell my name right off the bat even though the name is roughly on the level of simplicity and popularity of Smith, Jones, Johnson, Jackson, and Brown.

October 10, 2013 12:01 AM

Oh, that's a great point. I've never watched "Dancing with the Stars" and even I know of Maksim (though the brother Valentin is news to me). Interesting to know that the name will be familiar to a lot of people through the show--and indeed, it looks like Maxim first registers on the NameVoyager in the mid-2000s, perhaps thanks to Chmerkovskiy. 

We'll have to consider whether we want Maxim/Maksim on the birth certificate. Even though it's a nn, I think I might like the symmetry of a 1 syllable name.

October 9, 2013 8:42 PM

Seriously, I wouldn't worry about it at all. The outer reaches of the top 100 are less common than you think. Doing some quick research, fewer than 1 out of 500 boys were named Max in 2012. He might not even know another Max growing up. Back in the 80's (when I was growing up), the popular names were much more popular than they are now. There's been a lot of fragmentation since then, so even a #1 overall name like Jacob in 2012 only accounts for 1 out of 100 boys.

My advice: if you like the name, pick it and don't look back.

October 9, 2013 10:35 PM

Okay, yes, I think we will just go with it! Thanks for the reassurance that the difference between a relatively popular name and an entirely "unpopular" one is not *that* great. 

And even if he does know a few other Max's--and he will, since we know 4 little ones already--that's not the end of the world to me. I like the name that much. 

October 9, 2013 11:08 PM

I am also acutely aware of popularity so it is something that would concern 'me' but I don't think it's necessarily an issue. I have quite a few friends who have 1 child with a very uncommon name and the other with a top 100 name and it doesn't seem as odd in practice as it does on paper.  

I also think Lev and Max work well together and Max is common but I only actually know a couple of them so it's not a Liam/Joshua/Ben type name as far as popularity.  It's certainly well known and he is likely to share his name with some class-mates but it's not the end of the world as it's a name that works well for you.

I'm one of 3 kids and me and my brother both have names that are top 5 for our birth year. My younger sister has an extremely uncommon name and has never even known anyone with her name.  She always wished she had the more common name and I wished I had the uncommon one, but that is more about our personalities than any specifics of the names.  I think boys tend to be less worried about things like that, in general!

October 9, 2013 11:53 PM

Now that you mention it, my siblings and I do not have at all equally common names. I suppose before the internet aggregated that kind of data, parents just kind of took the plunge. This feels like further proof that I'm overthinking it as it has never before concerned me that my name was more popular than my sister's.

October 10, 2013 1:37 AM

Another vote to go for it!  I think it's a great pair.

We know a family with four sons named Josh, Alex, Ben, and . . . Nazarre.  And yeah, that is weird.  You are nowhere near that kind of territory!

This post helped me too--I have a son with a name in the mid 200s and I am thinking of going more popular, like 30ish, for number two.  I was worried about that and now I'm not anymore. So thanks for posting! :-)

October 10, 2013 12:21 PM

Okay, I kind of love that sibset. There must be a story behind what feels like a huge stylistic departure for the fourth kid! 

Thanks again for the confirmation that this pairing is not bizarre. It actually feels really *right* to me--the hesitations were all intellectual. And good luck with your naming process! 

October 10, 2013 2:39 AM

No, not a dealbreaker. First son's name inspires that blank moment of panic when introducing, second son's name (while well out of the top 1000) is familiar. It's totally fine. If you feel the need to balance it out, you can give Max a more challenging and obscure middle name, but it's really not a problem. I like the names together!

October 10, 2013 10:58 AM

We did the opposite here--DS has a top 20 name while DD has a 300ish name. That wasn't on purpose, but what we could agree on. :-)

They have the same weight and feel to the names though, which I think Lev and Max also have. I think they would make a great sibset!

By EVie
October 10, 2013 1:40 PM

Come to think of it, my sister and I have names that differ in popularity as well—or at least, her name is an alternate spelling of a super-de-duper common name, and mine was in the 400s. That happened because my mom chose my name, and then my dad got to choose my sister's name, except my mom thought it was too blandly American and so changed the spelling to a European variant (my mom is not American). The discrepancy certainly never bothered me, and I don't think it bothered my sister, either (particularly as she ended up going by a nickname her whole life, so she didn't blend into the crowd anyway). 

I think Lev and Max are a great set. I actually really love the longer Maxim, though the magazine association is annoying—my preferred association is Maxim de Winter in the novel Rebecca.

October 10, 2013 2:02 PM

I can empathize!  I have a Cherokee, Raine, Symphony, and Ian.  I feel like I have to explain how I ended up with Ian after all those unusual names!  (It is from a family naming tradition.)

But each child is their own person, and will follow their own rules, so your naming should, too.  I've known of plenty of families with mismatched-popularity names:

Sundae & Christopher

Cherokee (a different one!) & David

Harmony, Crescentia, & Megan

Doug & Zora


I wouldn't worry about it one bit.  :)

October 10, 2013 3:37 PM

Wow! You run in very interesting name circles! The most unusual names that I know are Earnest and Foster (not related to one another.)

October 10, 2013 2:56 PM

I think you're overthinking it. =) Unless the number of Max-es you know actually bothers you, I wouldn't worry about it's popularity. 

My son's name was #198 the year before he was born (it shot up to #178 the year he was born); we're due in 9 weeks with our daughter and the name we've picked for her is #529 right now; we'll see what it winds up being for her actual birth year. While not the same difference between outside the 1000 to the top 100, it's still a big gap and I don't really think it makes a difference.

I adore Lev and Max (I actually prefer Maks with your family speaking Russian) and think you should go for it!

Good luck and congratulations! 

By mk
October 10, 2013 3:29 PM

Like others have said, you are overthinking it. Choose the names you like. No one is going to care if one name is more popuular than another. And you never know what will end up popular in your child's class.

I can think of lots of top ten names, including my own, where I actually know few to no one with the name. And several less popular names according to lists that to me, seem everywhere.

October 10, 2013 4:57 PM

Not remotely a deal-breaker! I love the sibset and think they go perfectly together. Love both names.  

October 10, 2013 8:01 PM

I think they're a great combo!

Personally, I associate Maxim with the, "Men's," magazine that features scantily clad 19 year olds, so I'd prefer just Max or one of the other variants, but that's just me.

October 11, 2013 12:59 PM

Yes, agreed, that association dominates for me, too. The Maksim spelling gets around it a little, I think. But, regardless, I imagine almost always using just Max. Maxim/Maksim would be a birth certificate/first day of class thing only.

October 10, 2013 11:16 PM

I rather like Lev and Max together. They may not share popularity, but I get the same feel and vibe from them. I think the popularity of the similar Levi, currently at 55, helps make Lev a lot more approachable and wearable next to Max as well.

October 11, 2013 1:03 PM

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for weighing in. You've lifted the little doubt that was preventing me from committing totally to the name. I feel very confident that we will have a little Max soon!

Thank you!