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two sisters

Kelly and Adam are expecting their second child in about a month, who will be a sister for their daughter Olive. Choosing Olive’s name was a breeze – the name clicked for both of them early in the pregnancy, and although they considered other names, never loved any of them as they did Olive. As soon as Olive was born, the name suited her perfectly, and both parents are extremely happy with their choice. Kelly loves her daughter’s name so much that the occasional negative comment about it doesn’t bother her at all, and she appreciates that the name is simple and easy to spell, and is neither extremely rare nor very popular.

The family surname is a one-syllable familiar English vocabulary word, such as Hall or Young, and Kelly thinks it needs a first name to match it which isn’t too common, and has more than one syllable. Ideally, Kelly would like a two-syllable name, so that everyone in in the family has the same syllabic pattern in their name, and she wants the whole name to be used, not a shortened nickname version, to keep this pattern. Kelly and Adam aren’t planning on having more children, so it would be nice if they could have a two-girl sibset which feels complete.

The middle name will be Julia, which is a family name; Olive also has a middle name which honours a family member.

At the moment, Kelly and Adam have a clear front-runner for their second daughter’s name – Xanthe (which they happened to see on the blog). They immediately had the same “clicking” feeling they had when they heard Olive, Kelly thinks that Olive and Xanthe sound good together, and she likes the way that Xanthe sounds with their surname. This all made Xanthe seem like the perfect name.

However, as time went by, they started to have a few doubts. Kelly worries that Xanthe will always have to spell her name for people. Kelly can’t stand it when she has to spell out her own name, in case people think it is Kelli or Kellie, and the lack of spelling issues with Olive was one of its main attractions. She’s also worried that people may not know how to pronounce Xanthe (which they are going to say ZAN-thee), and that Xanthe – and her parents – will get sick of constantly correcting people.

The only other name they have really considered is Clementine, and they’ve ruled this out because they think it will be frequently shortened by others, and because it seems too matchy with Olive, as both have a fruit/flower connection. For the same reason, they have ruled out other botanical names such as Violet or Ivy. Kelly really loves the name Freya, but isn’t sure about how it matches with their surname, and she also loves Stella, but Adam doesn’t share her feelings.

Kelly wonders what people think about the name Xanthe as a sister to Olive, and if it will be as problematic as she fears. She would also be interested in hearing other names which fit all her criteria.

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My initial thought on reading your email is that you have probably found the right name – it’s very encouraging that you got the same feeling from Xanthe that you did from Olive, as if the name had “clicked” into place for you. I think Olive and Xanthe sound great as sisters – they’re completely separate names with their own particular image and feel, and yet they seem to “go together” beautifully, making a rather hip and quirky sibset.

I think you’re right that Xanthe will probably have to correct people on the spelling and pronunciation of her name from time to time, and you know that’s a common thing, because you also have to sometimes explain that you are Kelly, not Kelli/Kellie. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Xanthe will find it as annoying as you do.

I’ve noticed that the people who get most irritated about having to spell out their names tend to be those who have traditional names with the standard, or most usual, spelling. Michelles and Kates don’t like to be asked if they are Michele or Cate, parents of Alices and Jaydens get a bit miffed if you spell their child’s name Alyss or Jaedyn. When you have a popular name with widely accepted spelling, you don’t expect to have to explain it to people.

However, when someone has a less common name with less intuitive spelling, they are usually fairly resigned to having to explain spelling and pronunciation on a regular basis. Niamhs and Joaquins mostly don’t feel it’s unreasonable for others to ask for clarification on the spelling and pronunciation of their name, and I think Xanthe might fall into this category – it’s more of a Niamh than an Alice.

On the plus side, I think Xanthe is much better known than it used to be: there’s some famous people with the name, it’s a celebrity baby name, and I’ve even seen it as a product name on furniture and homewares. It’s fairly easy to explain the ZAN- pronunciation too, because the names Xander and Xavier are popular for boys. There’s even the Australian grass tree, whose scientific name is Xanthorrhoea.

And finding a not-too-common name with no spelling or pronunciation issues isn’t that easy anyway. You’ve also considered the name Freya, but I’ve seen people spell that Freyja, Freja and Frea, so a Freya might have her name queried too.

The reason that Olive doesn’t present any spelling or pronunciation problems is because it is a traditional name, and also a vocabulary word, like Ruby or Hazel. Your surname is also a vocabulary word, and although teaming it with Olive has worked out, it might seem a bit obvious if you did the same thing again (not to mention how hard it is to think of a traditional name that isn’t also a colour or plant like Olive).

I’m struggling to think of another name like Xanthe that is neither rare nor common, isn’t a vocabulary word, has two syllables, isn’t a nickname form or can be easily turned into a nickname, sounds good with Olive, and with the middle name Julia, and with your surname, yet presents no spelling/pronunciation issues. Umm …. Astrid?

I think you and Adam have chosen a great name for Olive’s sister which ticks almost every box on your list. Maybe it isn’t perfect, but very few names are, if any. You got very lucky with Olive’s name, and it’s probably too much to expect that kind of good fortune again, where you both love the same name instantly, and it has absolutely no issues, and even the issues it does have aren’t really issues because you love it so much.

It would be wonderful if you meet your new daughter, and Xanthe is so obviously the perfect name for her that the choice is easy, and you love her name so much that explaining it every once in a while doesn’t bother you at all. Could you get that lucky again? I hope so! And you seem like the kind of people where lightning might strike twice.

Please write in and let us know if Xanthe was the perfect name after all, and whether the spelling turns out to be less of a problem than you thought.

Readers, what do you think? Is the spelling and pronunciation of Xanthe too much of a problem? And does it make a good sister to Olive?

UPDATE: The baby’s name is Xanthe!

POLL RESULTS: Most people didn’t foresee major problems with the name Xanthe. 42% thought the name Xanthe would need explaining sometimes, but nothing that couldn’t be coped with, while 31% thought it would need occasional explanation, the same as any other name. A sanguine 12% didn’t see any problems at all with the name. Only 15% thought there would be significant issues attached to the name Xanthe.

It was a definite thumbs up for the sibset Olive and Xanthe, with 79% of respondents approving of it – and a full 50% thinking it perfect. Only 6% of people thought Olive and Xanthe was a mis-match as a sibset.

(Painting shown is A Childhood Idyll by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1901)

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