In The Hospital with a Short List - Please Help


My wife and I are having a hard time picking a name for our newly born son.  Here is the list we are considering:

1. Liam - concerned it is too popular

2. Oliver - Mom likes, Dad thinks is ok (concerned maybe not as masculine as other options)

3. Caelan - spelling would need to be clarified frequently

4. Ian - Dad likes, Mom thinks is ok

We are obviously considering a variety of options.

Middle name would be Thomas, last name starts with a T.

Thoughts would be appreciated.


By Fly
July 5, 2015 4:31 AM

Liam is not a name I've heard very often, although it is 2nd on the Social Security lists in the USA.  I like it, but I guess this is a name that will be popular among the under 5s in the next few years. It's name cousin, William, is also high on the list at number 5.

Oliver is definitely a masculine name, and one of my favourites.  No one would confuse an Oliver for a girl, unless they thought you said Olive or Olivia.  It is 32 on the SS list.

Caelan- yes, I agree about spelling needing frequent clarification.  This name is probably the most gender-neutral of the four you've suggested, at least when said aloud; I would probably assume a Caelan was a female 'Kaylinn', or Caitlin without the T.  I did once know a little boy named C@el, pronounced like the "power" vegetable, Kale.

Ian feels like a little bit dated to me, like a 'Dad' name.  It is 77 on the social security list.  You could use Ian as a short form of Sebastian, Julian, and other names including 'Ian'. Sebastian and Julian are also in the top 100 however.

Each name has its pros and cons, but the thing is to pick the one that fits him best.  Have you tried trying each one on for an hour? Calling him by each name and see if one feels like it fits?  Or you could do as others (I think it was HNG) suggest, roll a die and see how you feel about the random decision.

July 5, 2015 10:00 AM

I really like Liam, but I would definitely avoid it due to popularity.

Oliver is a really great boys name. I tend to think of it as an underused classic, though popularity has been rising in recent years. Even so, it's not comparable to Liam in that sense. I think your concerns about masculinity are unfounded. With female forms Olive and Olivia, no one is giving their daughters the name Oliver. If you search it on here, there's no entry for Oliver as a girl's name, and the NameVoyager will show you that is hasn't been in the top 1000 for girls at any point that we know of (and we have data going back to the late 1800s). I searched on WolframAlpha- 13 baby girls a year are being named Oliver, versus 9365. Masculinity is a harmful social construct, anyway.

Caelan is a nice name. I went through school with a boy who spelled it the same way. He constantly had to clarify the spelling and was given a lot of crap on the grounds that it's a "girly" name. With Kaylyn and other variations become more familiar for girls, if you're so concerned about masculinity, I would steer clear.

Regarding Ian, you should both like or love the name. If your wife just thinks it's okay, then I think you need to go with something else.

July 5, 2015 10:28 AM

It's between Oliver and Ian for me.  Liam is very popular, and Caelan looks made up and feminine (like Kaylin or Caitlin). Oliver is very masculine. If that is the only concern, I think Oliver is a great choice.

July 5, 2015 10:37 AM

Thank you all for the responses.  They have been very thoughtful and helpful.

I probably didn't describe my thoughts on Oliver very well.  It is definitely a boys name, one that I like.  It just doesn't sound as manly as some other names.  It feels more academic / bookish.  Which is fine.  I just don't want him to not like it later in life.

July 5, 2015 1:24 PM

There is no way you can guarantee that your child will like his name at any stage of life.  I didn't like my name when I was a child (I thought my sister had a nicer name and was jealous).  Now (at age 70) I think my name is excellent.  BTW being an academic does not make a male automatically less manly, far from it.  The finest specimen of manhood I ever met is an academic--his name is Jack, which is, I guess, as manly as any.  If mom and dad like Oliver, don't give newborn's preferences a thought, since you can't predict what they will be and since they are likely to change over time any way.  If it turns out that the name you choose at birth somehow doesn't fit the personality that develops, a more fitting nickname will likely present itself.  Example: Marion Morrison>John Wayne>Duke.

BTW Oliver Cromwell, whatever he was, he was so not a wimp.

July 5, 2015 3:46 PM

Bruh. Come on. Don't parents want smart kids? Like honestly, masculinity is totally relative and just because you know you're having a kid with a p3nis doesn't mean you're having a boy, anyway. As others have said, there is no way to be sure that your kid will like their name. I mean, my parents picked a lovely, classic name for my sister- Caroline- which means little and womanly, but she's fiery and opinionated and really not the sweet southern belle most would imagine. They picked what could be called a "sweet spot" name for me- Alexa- in that it was gaining popularity, but not rapidly, is familiar, and peaked a few years ago at #52, so I'm not constantly meeting other Alexas. Thing is, I barely respond to that name. I go by Lex exclusively. There is no guarentee your kid will like their name, or even feel that it's appropriately gendered. If you like the name, chill and stop coming up with problems.

July 5, 2015 4:59 PM

Caroline, like all of the Carl/Charles/Charlotte/Carol/Karel names, derives from a Germanic word (Karl) which means 'man' in the sense of human male, not 'man' in the sense of human being/someone. Cf. with housecarl/huscarl/huskarl which means bodyguard. Another word from this family is churl (ceorl) which originally meant "male human" and then free man of the lowest rank, free peasant, in contrast to eorl/thegn (male aristocrat) or thrall (slave).  Over the centuries churl has undergone pejoration and now means something like a lout.  (Other words for agricultural laborer which have similarly undergone such pejoration include boor, villain, heathen, and pagan.) Unlike Charlotte, Caroline is not a diminutive, and it sure as heck has nothing to do with "womanly."  I have a feeling that it might amuse you to think of your fiery, opinionated, non-southern-belle sister bearing a name that, having wandered through Latin and French, traces back to a root which was also applied to the elite bodyguard of a Viking chieftain.

July 5, 2015 5:04 PM

Ha! That's new information. My mom has been telling the wrong story for 15 years now. I'll have to pass that on :)

July 5, 2015 4:34 PM

This is a sentiment I've heard about Oliver a fair bit. I wonder if some of the blame can be laid at Charles Dickens' feet?

In Oliver Twist, when Oliver's (then unwitting) grandfather introduces him to his friend Mr. Grimwig, they have this conversation:

"I never see any difference in boys. I only knew two sort of boys. Mealy boys, and beef-faced boys.'

'And which is Oliver?'


It's not "The Law is an ass!" but it's still a somewhat memorable quote.

This quote also made it into the musical, and the stage and screen Oliver! has generally been portrayed as a slight, sweet boy, meek of aspect if strong of character, as opposed to the more rough-and-tumble, "beef-faced" type of boy as often personified by the Artful Dodger.

(Worth noting, though, is that in the same chapter as the above exchange--Ch. 14--Oliver states that he'd rather sell books than write them, so the character isn't actually bookish.)

The association has hung on for a long time, but I agree that it could be diluted quite a bit as the name becomes more popular and is given to many different (or at least both) sort of boys.

July 6, 2015 1:15 AM

I have been hearing Oliver all the time lately. They all seem to have a brother named Henry, and additional brothers have included Jasper. It's definitely more of a gentlemanly naming style, not quite Maverick and Ryker or Wyatt and Colt.

I am a bookish nerdy sort of person, so I tend to think that this isn't an insult at all, but I agree with you that it's important to have names that suit a wide variety of personalities. To me, Oliver meets that criterion -- for example, when JK Rowling (who has a generally impeccable sense of names) was naming a sports-obsessed, burly character in the Harry Potter books, she named him Oliver Wood.

July 5, 2015 4:41 PM

I know what you mean...I like the name Julian but to me it wavers on that artsy line. On the other hand, I have an Oliver who is 4 and at least currently he loves his name. We're trying to pick a name for the next kid and when we vetoed his suggestion of Ollie he announced that when HE'S a grown up he's going to name all of his kids Ollie and his cats and his dogs. Because it is in the top 50 now I think there will be enough of them around as they grow up that there will be athletic Olivers and bookish Olivers and artistic Olivers and the kids won't be pigeonholed based on their name. Probably the same for Julian but I'm not there yet :-p

July 5, 2015 6:01 PM

I have a book recommendation for your son: Fifteen Animals by Sandra Boynton. It's set to music in the book-and-CD collection titled Philadelphia Chickens. (Who knows: fifty years from now, the name Ollie may feel just like the name Bob feels to us now.)

July 6, 2015 10:58 PM

We have that book!

By mk
July 6, 2015 1:51 PM

Well, since it is all subjective, all of your names sound academic/bookish to me.  And why can't someone with an "academic" name be manly too?  That said:

I'd go with Liam because you don't mention either of you thinking it is just ok, and since it is first one the list I am asusming it is the top choice. Popularity is not a big deal unless there are tons of kids in your town named Liam. I have met 1, maybe 2, in my life. Plenty of people with popular names have met very few  with their name.

July 5, 2015 2:46 PM

Just out of curiosity, where are you from? Location makes a huge difference in what's popular. My opinion is based on American baby trends. 

1) Liam -- I agree. It's too popular.

2) Oliver -- I really love Oliver. It has gotten very popular very quickly, but it's because a lot of people like the name. The nice thing about it getting more usage is that it won't be a pigeonhole name anymore. There will be a wide variety of Olivers, so he won't be stuck with a certain persona. 

3) Caelan -- 2 syllable names ending in n, where the first syllable rhymes with "hay", are EVERYWHERE and are unisex. The way you spell Caelan is unique, but on the playground Caelan could easily have friends named Aiden, Jayden, and Mason, with a girl in the class named Kaylin. I don't think it's worth the trouble of having a hard to spell name when it doesn't stick out anyway.

4) Ian - I like it a lot. It peaked in 2005, but hasn't really fallen much since then. I think it hits a good spot of being a known name without being incredibly popular. If you can get mom on board, this is my favorite. Like a previous poster said, you could use Ian as a nickname for something longer, like Julian. 

Since you've both agreed on Thomas as a middle name, is it possible to move it up to the first position? Perhaps that would be the easiest answer to your naming dilemma. (I know your last name starts with a T, but alliteration is not necssarily a bad thing.)

July 5, 2015 3:08 PM

Oliver is without a doubt, my favorite on your list.

July 5, 2015 3:58 PM

All of your names except for Oliver are Irish or Scottish (mostly Irish). I wonder if that has something to do with your feelings about Oliver, and also if you'd be generally happiest with an Irish or Scottish name.

Callum or Callan would be more straightforward alternatives to Caelan. Neither is super popular at the moment, but you should be aware that both are rising sharply. Conall is slightly further afield, and I think hasn't made it onto the charts yet.

Instead of Oliver, you might like Owen (Welsh, but also apparently an Anglicization of Eoghan). It's more popular than Ian, but less than Liam (and much less than Liam and William combined). Oran/Orin/Orrin would be a more unexpected option, though obviously with the potential for some spelling issues.

Good luck!


July 6, 2015 1:32 PM

Owen! It's a perfect cross between Oliver, Liam, and Ian. I hope it will hit the sweet spot for this family and be a name that everyone can love. 

July 5, 2015 4:19 PM

Well, popular names aren't what they used to be. As I've mentioned way too many times, my boys have popular names, and it hasn't been a big deal.

But, if You want to avoid a name that is popular, then I would rule out Liam.

You could, of course, use William, and then use Will or Billy if it turned out there were too many Liams or Williams. 

I love Oliver. I do think it's a more bookish name, and my husband had exactly your feelings about it. I do think it's a great name, though. If you had a nn like Oli/Olly would that help? Or something using his mn....OT? Otis?  I think that it was used for the name of the sterotypical, "Nerdy," kid in one too many books or movies, because I've never known one irl but do very much understand your feeling about it. I think as old-is-new names are more popular now, its, "Reputation," will change. Soon, the football AND chess teams will be awash with Henrys, Olivers, and Arthurs, after all! 

And, of course, there is nothing wrong with a name that sounds suited to the more cerebral (sp)?-mainly just wanted to chime in that I get where you're coming from.

Caelan is just meh for me. Nothing wrong with it, just similar to a whole style/trend that is a bit overdone in my book.

I like, but don't love, Ian. 

I think Oliver sounds like your best bet right now. 

July 5, 2015 4:54 PM

Dad doesn't like Oliver, mom doesn't care for Ian.  I'd vote for eliminating both of those.

Caelan has some pretty serious spelling & pronunciation concerns.  Since you mention you don't like Oliver because it isn't as masculine, I'll point out that Kaylynn/Kaelyn/Caylin/etc.  is popular for girls.  People may assume Caelan just another variation of the girl's name.

You both like Liam & your only concern seems to be popularity.  All that means is people will think you have great taste in names!  Popular names aren't what they used to be back in the days of Jennifer & Michael.  I say go for it.

By rooo
July 6, 2015 2:04 AM

I completely agree with this. What is wrong with your son having a popular name? Will he be any less special if there are few hundred other kids running around with the same first name? If you both agree on Liam, go for it.

If popularity is a problem for you, go with Caelan. The difference between the other names isn't that significant that your son would notice throughout his life. Like many other posters, I don't really the name Caelan. But that will be the case with many less popular names.

I would eliminate Ian because I don't like the initials IT or ITT.

Oliver I like, but you are the ones who have to like it and if you don't, let it go. If you are wanting to get on board with it, look at real athletes' names - Adrian Petersen, Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson... it doesn't take a stereotypical tough guy name to actually be a tough guy.

July 6, 2015 3:11 PM

I'm sorry, rooo, but your comment is very offending to my friend zeta and her sisters aurelia, india, emberley, and lavinia, because you diss unique names! aka "unpopular'

July 6, 2015 5:29 PM

I disagree that rooo was disrespectful toward unique and unpopular names.  I think rooo was just making a case for popular names.  If unpopular names were liked by everyone, they would become popular names.

By rooo
July 10, 2015 12:21 AM

Hi Nicki,

I apologize if I offended you. I personally think all of those names are quite lovely. While some of my favorite names are at the top of the popularity charts, many are at the bottom. My point was that if you choose a name at the top, more people are likely to say "ooohhh I love that name" and if you choose a name at the bottom, more people are likely to say something snide like "what an interesting choice". I'm sure your friend has experienced this and it's not fun, however a lot of people still want unique names in hopes of the occasional "that's an awesome name! I've never heard it before." I don't see anything wrong with any of the options, it's just a personal preference. I think the name itself and its meaning to you and the child is more important than its current popularity, but I understand everyone has their own priorities based on their personal experiences. I hope that clears things up.