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047728-bcabc874-5cb4-11e3-8eb9-1c57f26bd260Fiona and Brent are expecting their fourth child next month. They had no problems choosing names for a baby girl, but have found it more difficult to agree on names for boys.

Fiona and Brent want many of the same things in a name: it must be easy to spell and pronounce, it must be recognisable as a name to everyone, it must have a long history of use, and it must have an established nickname. The trouble is, they don’t always see eye to eye on what those things mean.

Brent only likes names that he is familiar with from people of his own generation – the names of people he went to school with. His choice would be a name like Peter, Ian, Jason, or Nicholas.

Fiona doesn’t want a dated 1970s name for her son, although she would be happy with a classic name that has always been popular. She would like a religious association for the name, but could gain that from the middle name. Her choice would be a name like Owen, Dominic, Patrick, Luke, or Silas.

As a result, Fiona and Brent are left with a very short list of compromise names which are classics, and could belong to someone of any age. So far they have managed to agree on John, David, William, and Patrick.

Sometimes Fiona loves the idea of having a little Johnny, Davey, Billy or Paddy, and feels a compromise is absolutely fine. Other times she worries that these names will sound out of place on a baby born in 2014, and seem a bit old-fashioned next to the Lucases and Olivers who will be his schoolmates. These concerns are significant enough to keep her awake at night.

She wonders if there is any such thing as a classic name which is a safe and reliable choice, and yet still sounds fresh? Or have they picked out good names, and can stop looking for something else?

Fiona and Brent’s other three children have very nice classic names from the Bible. Fiona doesn’t care at all if the name doesn’t fit into a “sibset”, although the names they have already chosen do happen to sound good together.

The middle name will be John, unless they pick John for the first name, and the second middle name will be Francis.

The family surname is an unusual English one that is instantly recognisable as the name of an extremely famous fictional character eg Merlin, Batman. It tends to get good-natured teasing, and although it’s a nice surname with positive associations, they don’t want a first name which will draw further attention to it, or excite more comment.

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I was so interested to get your e-mail Fiona, because I quite often see women writing in to name forums saying that their partner only likes names from his own generation, and the advice often seems to be to wait until the next baby, because by then he’ll have realised that the popular names of today are Chloe and Mason, not Kylie and Jason. Clearly that doesn’t always work, since you are now up to Baby #4 and Brent hasn’t changed his mind.

If it makes things easier for you, it really isn’t that uncommon for couples to choose baby names from their own era. Many people like “normal” baby names, and for some, normal means the names they grew up with. I read birth notices every week, and you’d be surprised how many families I see where the children’s names could be people I went to school with: Emma, Natalie and Damien, or Penelope and Marcus, or Joshua, Sarah, Michael and Elizabeth.

I think you’ve come up with an excellent compromise in choosing classic names that feel familiar to Brent, yet remain common enough that they haven’t become dated. It probably suits your surname too, because if your surname is unusual yet highly recognisable from another context, a classic name gives it dignity, and even a bit of anonymity.

However, you did ask if there is a way to choose a classic name that feels fresh and modern, and to a certain extent, there is. Last year I wrote an article on classic names, which sorted them into categories, and the first category is Contemporary Classics, which are classics currently at their most popular, so that they feel traditional, yet also up-to-date. Boys names in this category which were reasonably common in the 1970s include:

  • Alexander (#69 in the 1970s)
  • Angus (#139 in the 1970s)
  • Lachlan (#137 in the 1970s)
  • Marcus (#109 in the 1970s)
  • Samuel (#83 in the 1970s)
  • William (#48 in the 1970s)

There are also the Up and Coming Classics, which are currently rising in popularity. Although a classic name can’t exactly sound original, Up and Coming Classics seem quite fresh and stylish. Boys names in this category which were reasonably common in the 1970s include:

  • Frank (#143 in the 1970s)
  • John (#14 in the 1970s)
  • Leon (#141 in the 1970s)
  • Patrick (#65 in the 1970s)

As you can see, three of the four classic names you are considering are actually quite fresh and modern, with William very popular, and John and Patrick rising. And David is still in the Top 100, and fairly stable, so it definitely isn’t dated. I don’t think these will stand out or seem strange in a future classroom.

I know you were a bit iffy about William, and whether it sounded odd with your surname, and I’m going to be the one who tells you: yes it does. Even though it’s a handsome classic, it does draw attention to your surname, in the same way Arthur Merlin or Robin Batman would seem a bit much (even if you called him Artie or Rob). I would cross William off your list.

I think John, Patrick, and David all sound really nice with the middle names you have chosen, and they all sound fine with your surname. Basically, I guess I’m saying you have already done a good job of choosing names for your potential future son, and there’s no need for you to keep looking.

I hope that you can now get a few good nights sleep in before the baby arrives!

Readers, which of the names on Fiona and Brent’s name list do you like best? And do you have any name suggestions for them?

(Photo shows 1970s bowler Jeff Thomson)

NAME UPDATE: The baby’s name is John Patrick Francis!

POLL RESULT: The public’s choice for the baby’s name was Patrick John Francis, with nearly half of respondents voting for this name combination.