The Case of Joanna Gaines and the Matching Names
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.