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It’s almost absurd of me to write a review of this blog – and a bit cheeky too, since it’s a long-established part of the blogosphere, and I’m just a noob. I feel like the stereotypical MC who introduces an honoured guest with the phrase, “This is someone who needs no introduction,” and then goes on to say rather a lot about them. However, I have to start somewhere, and this one is at the top of my Blog Roll.

Abby has been blogging for more than three and a half years, and as she is an entry-a-day writer, that’s an impressive amount of name information that’s been released. Her blog is called Appellation Mountain, which is a pun on the Appalachian Mountains – a conceit I’m not sure would be immediately apparent to someone outside North America. (At least, it took me a moment to figure it out.)

And that’s basically what you get at Appellation Mountain – a mountain of names. Its subtitle is Where every name has a story, and whereas many of us have gone into niche name blogging, the turf of Appellation Mountain is every name out there. It’s an almost staggering aspiration – like someone casually announcing they plan to build a full-scale model of the Great Wall of China in their backyard. Yet Abby is patiently making the mountain higher each day by adding another name to it.

At Appellation Mountain, you can learn about classic names like Henry and Jane, popular names like Ethan and Willow, modern names like Indigo and Madison, old-fashioned names like Donald and Lois, ancient names like Alaric and Hypatia, and exotic names like Zoltan and Sumarlina. Each entry looks at the history of the name and how its fits into our cultural consciousness; meaning is discussed, but is less important than the story of the name. Modern names often turn out to have surprisingly long heritages, and common names to have fascinating stories attached.

Each entry ends by examining how usable the name is, what advantages and drawbacks there are, and what kind of person may be drawn to the name. These conclusions are always well-balanced and thoughtful, and often creative. Abby is a brilliant and witty writer with an almost flawless prose style, and she is very convincing in her persuasions to use or not use a name.

A big part of the fun of Appellation Mountain is the community aspect, because the blog has a legion of dedicated fans who love to express their opinions of, and share their experiences with, each name. I’ve learnt a lot from informative comments, and found others delightfully humorous. If you would like to follow Abby all over the Internet, she writes for Nameberry each Monday, and she is also on Facebook and Twitter, although I don’t see anywhere on the blog where you can easily find that out. Not that she needs to attract extra fans, but I like a nice big dumb button that you can press to get you to someone’s other webpages.

You can also contribute to Appellation Mountain by sending in your own name story detailing how you chose your child’s names. And of course, you can suggest names for Abby to profile by e-mailing her; she tries to take two names from each person, no matter how short or long their lists. Be warned though – she is booked up for months in advance; a mountain cannot be climbed in a day! I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I read in a name forum that boy’s names are especially welcome, as fewer are received.

As well as the name entries, each Sunday there is a generous weekly round-up of interesting posts spotted on other blogs. I can never resist clicking on these, and as a result, have been introduced to some great blogs that I visit all the time. These Sunday Summaries included celebrity babies born that week, but recently Abby wrote that she has new plans for the blog, and I think part of that is making “Starbaby Announcements” separately, as there was one this morning for Tina Fey’s daughter.

As well as her recent posts on Nameberry being catalogued on her blog, Abby also has a list of articles she has written on naming, and these give excellent advice, presented in a clear and intelligent way. This isn’t the usual repetitive bunkum about “You can’t use a name from the Top Ten because if two people called Emily are in a room together, the universe will explode”, or pie-in-the-sky stuff telling us that Quinkalaria is the new vogue name and you should get on board now lest you miss this cool trend. It’s sensible, it’s funny, and best of all, it’s encouraging. (Have you noticed how discouraging naming advice often is? Don’t do this, and don’t do that, and you must not ever!)

There are also some lists of different types of names, such as nature names, saints names and French names. I notice these seem to be heavily weighted in favour of girls names; I hope some boy’s name lists can be added later. By their nature, blogs are a work in progress, not a finished product, and not every single article is yet indexed, so don’t be afraid to look around or search the site. I remember an article Abby wrote for her 1000th post about what she had learned about names through blogging; she probably doesn’t think it counts as a “proper” article, but I’d like to see it added to the list because it was very interesting.

I can’t really tell you all to get on over to Appellation Mountain, because let’s face it, you’ve already been. You’ve already subscribed, or at least are a dedicated lurker. You already know what a fantastic blog this is, and what an institution it’s become. I can only encourage you, for those who have only wandered amongst the foothills, to climb higher up the mountain – contribute comments, send in your name stories, suggest names, follow Abby on Nameberry, Facebook and Twitter.

Most of all, don’t take this iconic blog for granted. Everyone who goes to Paris visits the Eiffel Tower – that doesn’t make it any less a marvel, or any less thrilling to climb.

Q & A WITH ABBY

Name: Abby Sandel. Well, if you’re going to steal my identity, you should know that it is Amy Abigail Sandel. My bank and insurance company seem to think that this means I’m Amy A., while the rest of the planet understands that I’m Abby.

What began your interest in names?: I was born Amy in 1973. There were always other girls named Amy – in kindergarten, at summer camp, in my neighborhood. Even at a very young age, I understood there had been this opportunity to choose something else, and I was not consulted. My mother’s name is say-that-again rare, and our last name was equally distinctive. She thought it was a kindness to give her daughters short, perky, cheerleader names. I found her baby name book not long after I learned how to read, and ran around asking if she’d ever thought about Hephzibah.

How did you start blogging?: I found myself writing the same thing, time and time again, in message board comments. Collecting my thoughts meant that I could link somewhere instead.

Your favourite entry on Appellation Mountain: In Defense of Ethan and Emma: Ten Good Reasons to Use a Common Name. Much as I like unusual names, I hate the idea that parents eschew their favorite name for fear that it will become “too popular” – our son’s name is very common, but it is also his grandfather’s name, and the name my husband had always imagined giving to his firstborn son. That meant more than any ranking.

Your pet naming peeve:I rather dislike the idea that there is a single valid spelling. Don’t get me wrong – I wince when I stumble across a kid called Khaedin or Eighmei, too. But aside from some truly outlandish – and very rare – extremes, most of the time there’s not much harm in calling your kid Coltyn or Cait or Jayne or Reece. Not my personal style, but I’ve gotten over the idea that your child will be kept out of Harvard because you spelled her name with a y instead of an i.

Your favourite names: Troi for a girl. Hallow. Jonathan, nickname Jono. Ask me again next week, and it will be whatever I wrote about most recently. (In fact, I’m presently in love with Bert and Eiffel.) Longer term, I’d say that I have long harbored an affection for Octavia, Mariel and Hester, and I’d love to have a son nicknamed Huck.

Names you dislike: I’m frustrated by names that are super-fluffy and don’t age well. As a nickname, Candi is sweet. But as an independent name, Candi gives me a toothache. Names that are hyper-masculine give me the same feeling. What if Slade grows up to be a sensitive poet? Every name should leave some space for the possibility that your kid will turn out to be wildly different than you first imagined.

Names you love, but can’t use: Since our last name ends in –el, anything that ends in –el. Like Mariel.

Your children’s names: Alexander Arthur is six-going-on-seven, and Claire Caroline Wren, called Clio, is two-going-on-three.

Did you and your husband have any issues agreeing on names?: Oh boy howdy! Yes, yes we did. We brokered the Great Naming Compromise years before we had children. Our first son would be named after his father; our first daughter, after my mom. In our son’s case, that’s very precisely true. My daughter’s name required some creative license. My mother didn’t love her unusual name, and didn’t want us to pass it on.

What’s the ONE piece of advice you would give to someone who was choosing a name for their baby?: One piece of advice? Hmmm … I know parents who have gone mad considering and re-considering the merits of Piper versus Grace. Still, I think I’ll say this: don’t settle. You get to choose your child’s name just once, so I think it is worth mulling it over until you’re sure. Or until you absolutely, positively can’t enroll your child in school without a completed birth certificate. Whichever comes first.

Many thanks to Abby for agreeing to this review and for answering all my nosy questions!