Naming my first (and probably only!) baby

Hi all,

We found out that we are having a girl this week, and even though I had a name picked out for either a boy or a girl before that, I am starting to wonder about my choice.

I really want to give the baby a name with family connections, and I want a name that is semi-German/Hebrew/Biblical to represent my heritage, without being used only in that context (since my husband, and the baby's last name, are Korean). Also, since the last name is very common, I also wanted the name to be slightly distinctive without being so uncommon that anyone could track everything about them on Google. I kept my maiden name, and it is uncommon enough that, according to Google and Facebook, I am the only one with that first & last name combo in the world... which I've found kind of frustrating because everyone can find me instantly online. Finally, like all Korean last names, the last name is very short and one syllable, so I wanted a first name that was longer than one syllable so that it wouldn't sound too clippy.

So... for a boy, I was very set on Michael. Stylistically it's a little too plain for me, and Mike broke the no-one-syllable-names rule, but my brother, who died several years ago, was named Michael and I really wanted to name a boy after him. But since we're not having a boy, it doesn't matter.

For a girl, I had decided on Madgalena, my great-grandmother's name, and the nicknames Maggie or Lena. My husband's last name starts with an L, and I thought the alliteration of Lena was pretty. I still really like both Maggie and Lena, but I am not sure that I am in love with the whole name, Madgalena. I like it, and I like the history of it (both in my family and overall), but I feel like it's a little clunky.

There aren't really a lot of other great names in my recent family tree... there's Mary, several times and in several combos, as well as Theresa, Alice, Virginia, Alta, Mae, and Rita. I like Mae, but I thought it was too clippy and would sound like one word, given the baby's last name. My middle name is Ann, and so is my mother's, so I also thought about Anna (maybe too plain, given the last name) or some Ann- or Anna- combination, like Anastasia (a little too Russian) or Annabelle (but the -belle trend, plus the Edgar Allen Poe poem, ruled that out). I thought about Annamae, but that was the name of my grandfather's girlfriend, after my grandmother died, and although everybody liked her well enough, I think it would be a strange choice to name a baby "after" her.

So... two questions:

(1) What do you all think of Madgalena (nn Lena or Maggie)?

(2) Looking at the names above, is there anything that I have missed that's a possibility?


May 5, 2012 2:37 PM

P.S. I also like that Madgalena/Lena/Maggie are not so cutesy that they wouldn't sound fine on an adult or on a business card, and I like that they are not so trendy that it's obvious which generation / time period the baby was born.

May 5, 2012 5:16 PM

Just to confirm-the name you are considering is Madgalena and not Magdalena?  Madgalena is not familiar to me, but it would also give you the nickname Maddie if you wanted it.  I actually really like the nicknames Maggie and Lena-from my husband's German family, I gather Lena would be more familiar/authenically German which seems to fit one of your criteria.  If you aren't sure about the first name, I think Lena works well as a stand alone name.  You could also use Alena or Elena.

Theresa sounds a little dated to me, but Tess/Tessa as a nickname or in place of Theresa freshens it up a lot.  Alice is lovely, as is Virginia (I know some people don't like the "virgin" reference though).  Mae could give you Maisie, but that might be too cutesy as a given name.  It could also work with Maeve, but that doesn't fit the Hebrew/Biblical/German criteria-though you like Maggie, so maybe?

Anne/Anna and Lena make me think of Annaliese.  Some other Anne/Anna names besides Annabelle and Anastasia-Susanne/Susannah/Hannah which would hit the Hebrew/Biblical, Annika, Julianne/Julieanna.

Margarite is kind of a Magdalena + Rita mash-up with several nicknames like Maggie, Rita, Maisie/Mae, so it could cover a lot of bases at once. 

May 5, 2012 5:54 PM

Whoops! No, we would use the traditional spelling. I just can't spell today, apparently!

I don't mind Maeve, but I don't really love it either... and I probably wouldn't pick it just because one of my close friends named her dog Maeve. (That's also the only reason I know how to pronounce it, and I see people having trouble with that.) I agree that Maisie is too cutesy for long-term use. Margarite (or Marguerite) is pretty but very French, and it also reminds me of alcohol (margarita).

I've thought about Annaliese before. I worry that many people would mispronounce it, and I also worry that it's too matchy with the last name (L33). What do you all think? This is also why I haven't wanted to go with Lena as a stand-alone name... it's very cute, but I liked that Magdalena gave her other options. (That, and Lena by itself was my great-aunt's name, so it wouldn't be obvious who we were naming her after anymore.)

My husband appears to have no opinion on most names. He'll veto something occasionally, but otherwise so far he seems happy to let me pick. It's kind of nice for the most part, but it's hard not to get any feedback sometimes! I think he might have more of an opinion come August or September, though.

May 5, 2012 6:30 PM

Honestly, my first thought was Michaela, which in English is typically 3 syllables and in Hebrew is 4. This is a name with Hebrew origin that would allow you to still honour your brother. It's distinctive yet known, and relatively uncommon (it ranked 392 in 2010). Many of the nicknames for Michaela are 2 syllables, which would adhere to the no-1-syllable guideline, and to me, Michaela doesn't feel as stylistically plain as Michael does. Unless you were planning on saving Michael for a potential future boy (ie., just in case this isn't your only baby), it seems to me that it's more meaningful to name your daughter after your brother than looking in the family tree for someone with whom you may not have been as close.

May 5, 2012 6:40 PM

I really like the name Magdalena, and have actually considered Magdalene myself.  It does seem to work a little oddly with the last name, though.  I don't know how to describe it.  I think it has to do with having the internal L sound with the simple L last name.  I guess it feels "bouncy" to me, for lack of a better word.  Michaela does it less, and I agree it would be a great way to honor your brother.  

My middle name is Michelle, to honor my father, Michael.  I don't know if that would be appealing to you, though.  

A totally off-the-wall suggestion, but have you considered Matilda?  

May 5, 2012 8:39 PM

Magnolia has a similar sound as Magdalena, and would give you the nicknames Maggie, Nola, Lia. 

You could use Maelys, Maelle, or Mabel and call her Mae. 

Alice is adorable and classic as a first or middle. 

By mk
May 5, 2012 10:46 PM

Personally I prefer Lena as a name on its own, but I saw you prefer not to do that. I've known several Annalieses and I don't recall any major pronounciation issues. Of the other names, I love Alice and Theresa (without a nickname). But I also agree with other posters' suggestion of considering options to honor your brother. Michaela is a good one.


By hyz
May 6, 2012 12:36 AM

Magdalena is fine--uncommon but familiar.  I do agree that it is a bit clunky, which I usually like, although Magdalena isn't one of my personal favorites.  I do like the nns of Maggie or Lena, though.  If I were pulling from your list, I would totally do Virginia Alice L__, which I love.  Or just Virginia or Alice, if you are not giving an English middle name.  I know a young Virginia, nn Nia, if that does anything for you--but personally, I love the full name best.  Theresa nn Tess or Tessa would also be cute.  Though I love Anna, I would shy away from that with the surname--Anna L__ sounds a bit too close to anally for my comfort.  I do love Anastasia as well, but if you planned to shorten it to Anna you'd be back with the same issue.

If you are considering going with names inspired by the list, rather than those exact names, I like the suggestion of Matilda, and would add Marguerite (a two-fer, with a nod to both Magdalena and Rita), and Margot.

By Guest (not verified)
May 6, 2012 1:11 AM

I really like Magdalena, and I love the nn Maggie.  But I also think Michaela would be a good choice, to incorporate your brother's name.  

May 6, 2012 10:28 AM

Incorporating Anna:


Johanna (Jo-Hah-Nah/Jo-Ha-Nah)

I like Magdalena A LOT.  :)  I don't think it is clunky.


May 6, 2012 10:55 AM

Marlena is what instantly struck me. i love the nn Lena and the whole name and it is less clunky than magdalena. i haven't read your other posters suggestions yet. so i hope this is a fresh idea!

May 6, 2012 3:17 PM

How about...




By Guest (not verified)
May 7, 2012 2:05 PM

Congratulations on your little girl! My first thought, like Karyn's, was to suggest Michaela after your brother. It's probably more meaningful than digging through the family archives to find a connection to a relative you weren't as close to, and it fits your Germanic/Hebrew/Biblical criterion. I know all the Makayla etc. variations are really popular, and they introduce annoying spelling confusion, but Michaela has a classic elegance. There are other options you could consider along these lines, too. I'm not a big fan of the way Michelle runs into Lee, but I wouldn't rank that as more important than honoring a loved one. Completely different derivation but sounds similar - does Malkah do anything for you? Does your brother's middle name offer any appealing options or seem like a compelling namesake?

A few general thoughts and questions: Lee doesn't sound distinctly Korean - in fact, a study I read about a few years back claimed it was the most racially/ethnically ambigious common surname in North America, in the sense that you can't predict at all from seeing it on a resume, etc., what sort of person you're likely to meet. (Obviously the choice of first name can clarify that: I would expect a Eunice Lee to be Korean and a Lakeesha Lee to be African-American.) Are you using a Korean middle name or making any other choices to reference your husband's heritage more directly? Do you need to or want to pick a name that can be easily pronounced by Korean-speaking relatives? I am no expert here, but I do know L's and R's can be difficult, which is relevant to a lot of the choices on your list (I became "Roller" to one of my Korean friends who got L's and R's reversed, a source of much mutual amusement.) One of the regular posters here, hyz, has paired non-Korean with Korean names for her kids and thought a lot about balancing the two sides of their family heritage, so she could probably offer some useful thoughts if any of this is on the table for your family. Are you Jewish, and if so are there important naming traditions you want or need to follow there? Maybe you'd like to pick name(s) for your daughter that match the meaning and sound or initials of your brother's religious names or secular names. I'm wondering since you wanted Hebrew names, but several of your family names (Theresa, Virginia) as well as Magdalena lean slightly Catholic to me.

OK, onto thoughts on the specific names on your list. Magdalena is a little clunky, sure, but I actually like that about it. Maggie and Lena are both easy, contemporary nicknames. However, I don't love the flow of MAG-duh-LEE-nuh LEE - it seems a bit sing-songy. Or are you pronouncing it LAY-na? This would be the traditional German pronunciation. It does raise the point that whichever you go with you'll need to correct people who make the wrong guess. Of course, another version of Magdalena is Madeleine (or any of its many spelling variations) - this has a smoother flow with Lee and is certainly a popular, easy-to-wear name for a little girl today, but the expected nickname would be Maddie, which you may not like as much.

I would forgo Anna with Lee for the aforementioned teasing potential, and in general I think you have to be a little careful of Lee sounding like an adjective ending -ly tacked onto the first name. Mary Lee = merrily is at least a good association but it could get irritating having it pointed out all the time. Any name ending with an unstressed vowel after a stressed syllable (e.g. Theresa Lee) will echo this effect a bit; I wouldn't call that a deal-breaker, but if I didn't love the name in question that might be enough to cut it from the list. Mae does seem too short to me, Rita Lee makes me th think of Ritalin, and Alta seems both unusual and unplaceably ethnic and thus a distraction in the context of your child's actual heritage. As much as I like Virgina the combination with Lee reminds me too strongly of the Confederate general, commander of the Army of Virginia. Alice works well for me, assuming pronunciation isn't a concern.

The suggestions of Marguerite and Margalit do sound like good options to get several namesakes at once, but my general thought with namesakes is that if you're using a family name because it's a family name, the family member(s) in question and your relationship to them shoud be more important than the name and its various style considerations.

How about Miriam (a version of Mary, meets your heritage criteria)? Annemarie (very German) or Marianne? Amalia, Annika (more Scandinavian, but well-used in Germany and derived from Anne), Naomi, Rebecca/Rivka, Sarah, Susannah? (Also thought of Abigail, Adelaide/Adele, Esther, Eva, Frieda, Greta, Hannah, Leah, Ottliie, Rachel, Rosa/Rose, Ruth as names that seem to match your requirements but am ruling them out for flow with Lee.)

Hope some of this is helpful!

- kalmia (not logged in)

May 7, 2012 3:11 PM

If you love Lena with your last name, I would suggest naming her Lena, which stands alone just fine as a name.  It would still be honoring your great-grandmother.

By Guest (not verified)
May 8, 2012 3:56 PM

To be honest, I don't love Magdelena.  It's also not very Biblical/German.  I do like other suggestions of Michaela or Michelle.  FWIW, my daughter's name, Miriam, has gotten a lot of very positive response (moreso than her sibling's name, alas).

May 8, 2012 4:14 PM

Magdalena is most definitely biblical--if one accepts the Greek scriptures as part of the Bible, and it's also definitely German (among other languages).  It is a toponym, meaning "person from the village of Magdala."  Of course, the individual referred to in the Gospels by this toponym was actually named Miriam.  And, I agree that Miriam is a fine name.  In the interest of full disclosure, however, I must admit that as a child I hated my name.  I wanted a "princess" name, and in those days Daphne was at the head of my princess name list, not, of course, that I had ever come across a real Princess Daphne.  I have long since grown into my name, and now I think it a splendid choice, light years better than the others my parents considered: Myra and Myrna.

May 9, 2012 1:19 AM

Michaela was the first name that jumped into my head as well.

By Guest (not verified)
May 9, 2012 3:07 PM

If you like Lena, I would try to choose a name that doesn't stress the L-sound in the long version - the double L-sound is pretty strong and your daughter might enjoy having a name to fall back on without this sound. Have you though of names like Valentina and/or Helen or Helena, which also give you the nn Lena? Both also work great in German (though not Hebrew I believe).

Of course, you could also just combine Anna and Lena - Anna-Lena and Annalena are popular names in Germany, with Annelene being a slightly older variant.

Other variants of Anna popular in Germany are Anja and Annette (though Russian and French in origin, respectively).

And if your ln is what I expect it is, I wouldn't worry about a name being too uncommon.

By Guest (not verified)
May 10, 2012 11:26 PM

If you're still looking for other options which would give you Lena, there's also Helena.

Apart from that, the only names that occured to me are Marianne, Marion, and Mariana, given the family names you list. Mae would work well as a nickname for any of them, too :)

Marion is one of my top ten favourite names, but I think the subtly different pronunciation and your family names would make me lean towards Marianne (plus with that one she would have an excellent Austen namesake).  Google says there are 25 women with Marianne + your last name on LinkedIn, which seems like enough to cover her on the internet while still being distinctive. Both Marianne and Marion have been out of the top 1000 for about 20 years, so it would be fairly unique among girls her age. And having written all that, I'm remembering just how much I really do like Marion (and Marianne, but since my name is Anne, I'd go with the -ion option)!



May 10, 2012 11:28 PM

I wrote the reply above. I forgot that I wasn't logged in, sorry!