Unusual first name with classic middle name??

Hi! I’m new around here, and my husband and I are expecting our first in June...and still no clue on names! Our styles differ quite a bit in that he likes classic, traditional, professional-sounding names (e.g. Charlotte, Elizabeth). I’m a huge fan of non-traditional names (e.g. River, Avalon, Selah).

While hubby likes my names ok, he thinks they would sound horrible on a doctor or lawyer. I agree to an extent. I feel a name should be an expression of your personality though. And, I mean, what if my baby girl is a writer, or singer, or something like that and needs an artistic, memorable name?

So, we’ve come up with two compromises.

1. Fun first name, traditional middle name. That way, if our girl wants to be a politician or something she has her middle name to fall back on. 

2. Long traditional first name with an eclectic nickname

Please inspire us if you can! Opposites may attract, but they should never pick out baby names together! 

(Also, I forgot to directly mention: baby is a girl ;))


By EVie
May 13, 2018 7:23 PM

Many, many artists, writers and singers use pen names or stage names. If she ends up in one of those professions and feels she needs a flashier name, there are no barriers to her adopting one. Honestly, also, careers in the arts are always a shot at the moon (I say as someone trying to break into one of these fields). Most people in these fields actually have day jobs in boring, white collar or blue collar fields--including law and medicine. I would never, ever plan a child's life around the expectation that she will end up in the arts. Support her if she shows an interest, yes, encourage any and all hobbies, but don't make life decisions based on the chance of the arts as a career.

That's not to say that nontraditional names are always a bad idea, but I do think that both parents need to be on board. If your husband isn't comfortable with them and is going to feel self-conscious and embarrassed introducing his daughter as River, then it isn't the right name for your family.

That doesn't mean that Charlotte and Elizabeth are right, either, but there is a world of gray area between the most traditional Jane Austen choices and the most hippy dippy nature names. I think your husband is being overly conservative in his opinion of what will sound professional for a doctor or lawyer. River is a very cliché sort of hippie nature name, and Avalon has all the New Agey crystals-and-incense vibes that make them a little harder to take seriously, but Selah seems perfectly acceptable to me--I don't see any problem with a professional woman named Selah. By the time your daughter hits the work force, also, the range of names out there will be so wide that people will be a lot more accustomed to professional women with unusual names. 

Both your solutions seem promising, but I think for #1, a traditional first with an adventurous middle makes more sense. I'm actually a huge fan of this naming pattern, because the adventurous middle can be hidden away when convenient and whipped out whenever you want to show it off. I think #2 is great, if you can find a name that meets both your criteria, but if you want us to give you ideas, we need examples of the kind of eclectic nicknames that interest you, since none of the names you mention are nicknames. 

Also, more examples of what sort of nontraditional names interest you, since the range is huge. Are you interested in nature names (Juniper and Marigold)? Word names (Sonnet and Meridian)? Obscure mythological names (Hero and Iphigenia)? Rare names with a long history (Ysemay and Sidony)? Literary names (Cressida and Lavinia)? Names from other languages rarely heard in English (and if so, what languages)? Place names (Ravenna and Arden)? Surnames (Ellison and Everley)? If you give us a clearer direction, we can try to think of some that might be professional sounding enough for your husband. 

Another thing I recommend is that if you're picking a nontraditional name, you have a very clear reason for your choice. Don't pick Avalon just because it sounds pretty; pick it because you feel a strong connection to Arthurian legends, and be able to discuss them if engaged. Nobody is going to dig too deeply if you choose a name like Elizabeth, but if you choose Avalon and then run into an enthusiast who wants to discuss it with you, you'll feel really foolish if you don't know anything about it. 

May 13, 2018 7:51 PM

Yes, Selah is a Biblical Hebrew name. It's rare, but it has a long history and I cannot imagine anyone questionning how appropriate it is in a professional setting. (Sela is another ancient Herbew word/name with a completely different meaning.)

And you're so right. When we were growing up, "unusual" names were, well, unusual and thus more rare on professionals. Though come to think of it, my dad, a doctor, has a name that was completely unheard of when he (and I) was growing up and only gained popularity as a given name within the past decade or so. I don't think that anybody had difficulty taking him seriously because his first name was unfamiliar.

And on the other side, listen to EVie. Don't choose a name just because it's "different" and you want to be "unique". Choose a name because you love it. I also agree with EVie that a fun middle name is a great strategy. That way you're not limiting your first name options based on nickname potential. And you know, a fun nickname can emerge even if you use strategy #1 because sometimes, after the kid is born, a fun nickname that you couldn't have anticipated develops organically.

May 13, 2018 9:09 PM

Thank you for your response! I agree with a lot of this! I only think of the artsy thing because my parents gave my brother a very traditional, formal name (which, of course isn’t bad) and he’s found it doesn’t quite suit his artistic profession. But I could totally see that working the other way more often than not. Gosh, naming is stressful! Over all I just want to find a name we both love. So, as far as naming styles go, he doesn’t mind unusual names so long as theyre not silly sounding, and I don’t mind traditional as long as they’re not popular. I have a real soft spot for literary (biblical and legend included) names (Hence Avalon and Selah). And I have found that he’s cool with these too (if they’re, once again, not made up sounding or too hippie sounding) and I can totally roll with that. Selah is most definitely one of our compromise names; he Likes it, but it’s one of my favorites. We both like some place names, buy very few surnames. We both like names that definitely sound feminine. Hope this helps! :)

By EVie
May 14, 2018 3:31 PM

Well, I definitely think you should keep Selah on the list. Another option that comes to mind is Aveline as an alternative to Avalon. Similar sounds, but loses the New Agey associations and has actual history as a given name (it is a Norman name used in England in the Middle Ages, and the origin of the surname Evelyn, which later got re-adopted as a given name).

Other ideas from Arthurian literature:

  • Guinevere
  • Viviane
  • Lynette
  • Iseult/Isolde/Yseulte/Ysolde
  • Evaine
  • Igraine
  • Viviane/Niniane/Evienne or one of the many other variants of the Lady of the Lake
  • Laudine
  • Lynette or Linnet (I really like the second spelling because it also evokes the bird)
  • Enid


There are a ton of cool names from Greek mythology, but I'm not sure how they fit your style... River and Avalon both have a more sleek, modern vibe, while Selah obviously has that Biblical tone. Still, I'll throw out Ariadne, Selene, Calliope, Clio, Echo (maybe too hippie for your husband), Ismene, Leto, Niobe, Semele, Xanthe. 

Welsh mythology: Rhiannon, Ceridwen

Irish mythology: Maeve, Nessa, Niamh/Neve, Grainne

Shakespearean names:


So many good ones, but I would particularly pick out Celia, Cordelia, Imogen, Iris, Juno, Rosalind and Viola. 

From Roman mythology, Vesta, Pomona, Luna

From Norse mythology: Freya, Eir, Signy

I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to Biblical names, but one that jumps out is Tirzah. 

 Traditional names that are still rare (below the top 1000): Elodie, Flora, Theresa, Beatrix, Harriet, Cordelia, Rosalind, Celina,  Margaux, Nadine, Patience, Geneva, Winifred, Susanna(h), Linnea, Pamela, Althea, Lucinda, Damaris, Constance, Theodora, Justine, Sabina, Marguerite, Philippa, Augusta, Henrietta, Delphine, Dorothea. That's by no means a comprehensive list, but it takes a long time to browse through the full data set, so if you want to look further, here it is: https://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/limits.html  Picking out traditional names with unexpected nicknames is still really hard without more examples of what you like. Do you mean something like Susanna (which is itself highly underused) with Zanna or Zan or Zuzu or something like that as a nickname? And how traditional does traditional need to be? This would probably work better if you gave us an idea of the sort of nickname you like, and we think up traditional names that it could be used for, or you give us examples of traditional names and we think of possible nicknames. 

May 13, 2018 8:51 PM

Just thought I’d mention that the most “arts-suited” name I’ve heard in the wild was Ahead Of Its Time Biblical First Name paired with Unique Last Name. 

The name sounds perfectly respectful in pretty much all contexts, IMO, but what makes it is the first/last combo. Maybe quirky biblical names would be a good common ground for you? 

FYI the name didn’t stand out to me as amazingly artsy until I found out the guy was artsy. Then it’s just fit super well. Which makes me think the artistic quality comes from the person first, name second.

I also second that stage/pen names are always an option. Sometimes people go with them just because they want them, not because their name doesn’t “fit” the industry.

May 13, 2018 9:06 PM

You say: "I feel a name should be an expression of your personality."  But if that were how people named their children, none of us would have names until we were toddlers... and we would have to change them periodically throughout our lives.  You can't possibly pick based on the personality of someone who won't have developed one yet!  What if you choose a spunky name and she turns out to be quiet and bookish?  A sporty name but she's into glitter and makeup?  From this perspective, you're actually better off with a "blank slate" name - exactly the kind your husband favors.


That said, there's plenty of middle ground to explore.  You can find a name that is both uncommon/unexpected and traditional/conventionally accepted.  Start by each making a long list of names you would consider (even if you aren't sure you really love them), such as by going through the top 500* and deleting everything you dislike.  Leave the neutrals for now - the more names you each have on your lists, the more you will be able to identify where your preferences overlap.

*There are plenty of options below this, but it can be overwhelming to look through the top 1000 or beyond all at once!

May 14, 2018 5:33 PM

Well, I think it is hard to name a child by trying to predict their future profession or personality... You will drive yourself nuts because it simply can't be done! But it does sound like having your two styles both represented by each "getting" a first and middle name of your style could be a great compromise. I like the juxtaposition of names like this myself. 

I wonder about a name like Haven for you. My cousin recently named her baby this, and I think it kind-of matches what you are going for here. It can definitley fit into a lot of categories IMO- it's not too trendy, has the sort-of earthy vibe, but also can be seen as serious. 

Perhaps also: Eden, Sage, Juniper (nn June), Savannah, Maya


May 14, 2018 8:36 PM

I am a fan of having a list of names that could work and waiting to see your child/observe her personality before picking. I once read there was a person who name their child PJ and once asked what it stood for, they said something along the sorts of "she will decide on her name when she is ready and we will legally change it when it is that time, but keep her initials when it is time." I found this concept to be actually really cool. 

Anyways, below is a list of names that have some sort of spunk/quirkyness to them but also can be fit for a professional


Audrey, Adelaide, August, Corinne, Colette, Caroline, Claire, Clara, Estelle, Eliza, Felicity, Florence, Georgia, Grace, Greta, Gwen, Harper, Helena, Iris, Irena, Isla, Ida, Josephine, Jane, Kendall, Louisa, Lydia, Lillian, Miranda, Meredith, Maren, Maura, Mila, Maxine, Mia, Natalie, Naomi, Odette, Paulina, Quinn, Rosalie, Sonya, Sloane, Simone, Sienna, Tessa, Veronica, Valerie, Violet, Verity, Vivian

May 16, 2018 4:11 AM

For the record, I intentionally paired a rare, tricky-to-spell (Gaelic) first name with a top-20 middle name (which was also a family name) precisely so that if my daughter didn't like having a 'wierd' name, she had a 'normal' backup.  First and middle names do NOT have to match stylistically although in my case I think they do (unusual Irish first name + familiar Irish middle name).  So I think your logic is spot-on.

Secondly, you cannot predict whether or not your child will or will not like their name, nor what their profession will be.  And I would really focus on what is beautiful and meaningful to you about their name, and share it with your child.  It's not a marketing branding excercise!

All that said... I remember brainstorming names with my best friend while pregnant, and we had polar opposite naming styles!  It was kind of hilarious.  He liked traditional classics (whcih make me yawn) and I like you have more funky tastes.  With this in mind, I think you can mind some common ground and perhaps make a game out of finding it.  For example: you list your top 10 traditional classic names (I DO have a few although it's not my preferred genre) and husband can list his top 10 'out there' names.

There is also a lot of room for classics which don't sound ho-hum to you.  A couple of ways to do this includes:

- Look through history, literature, mythology.  This may lead to names like Judith, Vanessa, Calliope.

- 'Antique' names that are now rare and a bit funky.  Example: Idella, Zelda

- Names that are traditional in other languages but not common in English.  Examples: Solveig, Ingrid, Monique, Anaïs, Bianca, Renata, Siobhan

- Unusual (or at least less usual) feminine variants on common boy names.  Simone, Petra, Willa, Raymonda, Philippa

- Normal formal name with funky nickname or vice versa.  Example: Scarlett nickname Red, Desdemona nickname Mona

- Nature names that don't sound too out-there hippie: Sage, Laurel, Celeste, Stella, Marina, Ruby

- 'Ethnic' variants on names that are common in English.  Loretta, Josefina, Filipa, Catriona, Victoire, Svetlana