The Case of Joanna Gaines and the Matching Names

Jan 10th 2018

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.




January 10, 2018 2:09 PM

Etta is the first name that occurs to me for the girls.

January 10, 2018 3:05 PM

I laughed about this several years ago when I saw their close sets of names, joking to my hubby that naming their surprise baby was going to be a challenge! 

According to the book, "Capital Gaines", Chip's full name is Chip Carter Gaines, and Joanna is Joanna Lea Stevens. The full names of the oldest kids are Drake Stevens, Ella Rose, Duke Camden, and Emmie Kay Carter.

Boys names are the toughtest. I don't think Dixon will work for them (Disclosure: I LOVE the name, its my DS1's name) and here's why: They also use nicknames for the boys (I heard "Drakey" on their oldest who looked at least 8 years old in the episode I'm recalling) and this pattern would make it "Dixie", now a girl's name.

I think that Dare, Dane, Dash, Dean, Drew or Dexter nn Dex would be great. Or they could go completely in another direction and name a boy Charles or Christopher (Chip is traditionally the nn for those) and call him Charley or Kip. Carter would be nice, after dad and tie him in to his sister. Or name him Silo, after those big ol' silos they have their shop in!

Girls names like Effie, Echo, Edie, Elsie, Ever, Etta or Eva seem like good matches in either style or sound.

If they want to keep the pattern just a bit, they could go with Evangeline nn Evie, or if they went completely off pattern, something like Magnolia, with Maggie an easy nn...or just Maggie Lea, after mom and the business! 

I can't wait to see what the name the newest!

Thanks for this article, Laura!




January 10, 2018 4:46 PM

I'd like to suggest a fourth path: Use the oldest son or daughter's name as the head name, and pick a name that shares elements with that one, but not necessarily with the second child's name.

For example, Drake could lead to Jake, Rock or Ryker; Ella could lead to Millie, Liza, Lillie or Lola.

This way, the first and third child's names go together as a pair, just as the first and second child's names do. It still creates a cohesive set, but without having to choose a name that adheres tightly to the style of both preceding names.

My bet is that the Gaineses will pick a name that fits stylistically, but doesn't necessarily share the same sounds. Deacon, Evie and Edie definitely make sense as suggestions, though.

January 10, 2018 5:02 PM

If her decorating style is any indication, once she finds a style she likes, she keeps with it, (shiplap, anyone?), so there's a good chance that they won't completely blow up the existing patterns. A good bet is a D- name for a boy, an E- name for a girl (possibly with a double letter), and 1-2 syllables.

His name really is just Chip? I've been wondering about that for ages! Interesting that the fourth kid has her dad's middle name a second middle (unless Emmie Kay is a double-barrelled first name, that is). They probably thought that she was their last chance to use it.

January 10, 2018 6:37 PM

"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."

This is the biggest thing that stands out to me here. None of the names are my taste, but the gender disparity irks me more than individual name choice.

January 11, 2018 12:43 AM

Karyn - Good point about her decorating style!

withanfnotaph - Unfortunately, from what I've seen on the show, they do seem to apply stereotypical gender-based expectations to their sons and daughters.  Chip does "guy stuff" with their sons and Joanna does "girl stuff" with their daughters.

January 11, 2018 9:22 PM

I'm sure they're perfectly nice people,  but I really dislike this naming style, including the gender stereotypes.  Ella Rose is a fine name in itself,  but otherwise, not my cup of tea.

January 12, 2018 2:34 AM

Staring with your lists, by the time I got to the end of the post I was thinking Deacon and Evie. And here we are! :) (As far as gender disparity, I’m not going to judge them... that is just what the camera is telling us, plus editing, they both seem like hands on parents who spend quality time that interests the kids too. Balance is evidence they’re lettin go of the show for family changes.  

January 16, 2018 10:33 PM

Drake and Duke are also noun names so Deacon makes sense to me here as well, and for a girl I'd guess Etta.

January 19, 2018 12:16 AM

These all girls name "Eva, Evie, Edie, Effie"very unique. After read this i think Eva is best and sutable name to my new born baby girls.

January 21, 2018 8:26 PM

I only know one Effie and it's pronounced like the letters F-E. Which does habe a long E sound, but not at the beginning...


Etta and Drew were the ones that popped to mind.

August 6, 2018 1:30 PM

Looks like they decided to stick with the core "swash buckling, single syllable names" for their new boy, and dropped the D and K sounds. His name is Crew Gaines.