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Do you remember Catherine? She wrote in about six weeks ago for opinions on Lucia, a name on her current list, and must have found it helpful enough to give us another shot.

Catherine and her husband Daniel are expecting their first baby next year. Catherine is a dyed-in-the-wool name nerd, and has always loved making name lists, but is finding doing it for a real baby a much more difficult task! There are so many things to consider, and even her favourite names seem fraught with potential problems.

This is her name list, complete with all the possible issues. Catherine and Daniel have an unusual and rather aristocratic sounding surname that’s vaguely similar to Barntread.


Margaret (nn Mattie, Maggie, Meta, or Greta)
A name from the family tree that seems to hit the sweet spot. It’s got plenty of nickname options, and it’s familiar but not common. Catherine has been very taken with the idea of a daughter named Mattie since reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, which has a character named Miss Matty (short for Matilda). As Matilda can’t be used by Catherine, Margaret seems like a possible formal name for Mattie instead. However, is it strange to have a daughter named Mattie when there is a close family member named Matthew (never Matt or Matty)? Catherine thinks it is a nice shared link, but wonders if other people will just think it’s strange. Catherine loves the idea of calling her daughter Magpie as a pet name – is that weird? Catherine is concerned her family will think Margaret is old-fashioned and frumpy, although she can see it fitting in quite well with her husband’s family.

Lucia (pronounced LOO-sha)
Loves the name Lucia, and loves the meaning (“light”), but has ongoing concerns in regard to pronunciation. Would be okay with others shortening it to Lucy, although wouldn’t do so herself. Strongly dislikes Lucinda and Luciana as alternatives.

Henrietta (nn Hattie, Etta, Harry, or Harry-O)
A name that Daniel suggested. Catherine doesn’t it love yet as much as Margaret, but it is growing on her, and it could be a compromise choice if they decide not to go with Margaret. Her favourite thing about it is that it is a name from the family tree, and she likes the nickname Hattie.

Genevieve (possibly nn Evie)
A name Catherine has always loved, but it seems frillier than their other choices. Would consider Evie as a nickname, but it is very popular.

Another way to get Mattie as a nickname.

Mary (possibly as a nickname for Margaret)
A pretty, underused classic name from the family tree. Catherine loves it, but something makes her hesitate. Perhaps it is because she has trouble reconciling the nerdy Mary from Pride and Prejudice with the glamorous Lady Mary from Downton Abbey. She also worries about “Virgin Mary” as a tease name.

A name Catherine has always loved, and it reminds her of the pioneer Georgiana McCrae, and Miss Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. She dislikes the idea of people using Georgie as a nickname, and would consider George, even though that seems quite masculine. She thinks Georgiana might work better as a middle name, if the first name was a family name.

Her clear front runners so far are Margaret, Henrietta, Mary, and Lucia. Daniel hasn’t indicated any preference as yet, but Catherine isn’t worried by this as there is still plenty of time for him to decide.


Benedict (nn Ben)
Catherine and Daniel love the nickname Ben, but would like something more substantial on his birth certificate, and aren’t so keen on Benjamin. Catherine has some concerns about “bendy dick” as a tease name, and isn’t sold on the alliteration of Benedict Barntread. An attraction is that Saint Benedict is the patron of beer, and Daniel is a professional brewer, so it seems very fitting.

A long time love, but is highly popular. The association with Thomas the Tank Engine (a favourite of the children in the family) makes her hesitate.

A family name, with Ted used as the nickname before, but not Ned, as far as Catherine knows. The only thing putting her off is the association with Twilight, although she likes the connection with Edward from Sense and Sensibility. Also, does it sound weird with their surname – is ED-ward Barn-TREAD one too many Ed sounds?



A name she has just started to love, and reminds her a bit of Lucia. However, she can’t have a Luke and Lucia, so she’s aware that choosing one will automatically cancel the other. Unlike Lucia, there are no spelling or pronunciation issues with familiar Luke, but there are so many babies called Lucas now ….

John (possibly nicknamed Johnno or Johnny)
A new name on the list, which Daniel and Catherine both thought of independently, which seems like a good sign. It’s a family name, and is very familiar without being highly popular. However, they know tons of Johns, and don’t want them thinking the baby is named after them!

A name that appeals as something nice and different. Catherine is concerned that the name is too “soft”, while Daniel thinks it is the opposite!

Catherine is finding it harder to connect with boys’ names. She wants something traditional, but not too common, which seems to put names like Thomas, Fionn, and Henry in doubt. She wants something strong, solid, and manly – nothing too “nerdy” sounding (which makes her most nervous about Margaret and Mary).

Melba (tribute to Melbourne)
Jennifer (honouring family member)
Victoria (tribute to home state)

Holmquest (family surname)
James (honouring family member)
Felix (tribute to home state)

Henrietta Louise
Henrietta Rose
Lucia Margaret
Margaret Felix (likes this as something fresh and modern, but worried people will think it is strange)
Margaret Jessie (is Mattie Jessie too much?)
Margaret Louise
Margaret Melva
Margaret Rose
Margaret Victoria
Mary Georgiana
Mary Victoria

Benedict Matthew James
John Patrick
Luke Alexander
Thomas Holmquest

Jessie would be in tribute to a relative who has passed away, but she hated her name Jessie, saying it was a cow name. Problem?

Holmquest would be in tribute to a family maiden surname, although Catherine has discovered that there was someone on the family tree actually called Tom Holmquest. An issue?

Girls: Beatrix, Bonnie, Claire, Daisy, Elizabeth, Emma, Helen, Ivy, Julia, Katharine, Matilda, Rosie, Violet
Boys: Charlie, Cody, Douglas, Hamish, Hugo, Lachlan, Max, Nicholas, Noah, Oscar, Victor (so vexed an issue it even makes Victoria a bit difficult to use), William

Catherine and Daniel’s families and friends have very wisely refused to make suggestions or take part in any name debates, saying that they are looking forward to the name being a lovely surprise.

Even though this gives them a big gold Baby Name Etiquette Star, Catherine is frustrated at not being able to bounce all her ideas and concerns off everyone she knows. She would be extremely grateful to hear what other people think.

* * * * * * * * * *

Catherine, I do sympathise with your realisation that there can be such a difference between planning a list of names for a completely imaginary maybe-one-day baby, and an utterly real due-in-a-few-months one.

What I took away from your name list is that you are very sensitive to names and words, and form an intense emotional response to them. Then the intellectual side of your brain chimes in and picks them completely to pieces. Of course it’s necessary to think logically about the names you love, but you are second-guessing yourself to the nth degree.

I think you are worrying far too much about what people might think of your choices. I wonder where this comes from, because it seems as if your friends and family, far from being harsh critics, have been studiously hands-off.

I would say that at least 99% of things you are worried about other people thinking goes under the heading of None of Their Business. If people think it’s strange to have a Mattie and a Matthew in the same family – who cares? If they think it’s weird to call your daughter the sweet little pet name of Magpie – to heck with them!

I’m sure your family chose their own children’s names because they liked them, and not to please you, so why should you worry if your child’s name isn’t completely to their taste? It doesn’t sound as if you are surrounded by mean, judgmental people, so even if they don’t love the name Margaret as much as you do, most likely they will be fine with it and say all the right things.

As for the teasing worries, I don’t dispute that some names are sure fire tease-targets. If you name your child Firkhead or Boobialla, at some point they are likely to get some unwanted comments. But you can’t avoid completely normal names like Mary and John just on the off chance that someone might come up with a silly tease for them.

For what it’s worth, all the names you are considering seem perfectly lovely, and suit your preference for something solid, traditional, familiar, yet not highly popular. There isn’t one name that I would say needs to be crossed off the list, or has too many problems.

What comes through very strongly is your preference for Margaret. You wrote much more about that name, and you’ve considered many more name combinations for Margaret. I wonder if that is the name that deep down you have already chosen if you have a girl? It does seem to tick all your boxes, and gives you the option of having a little Mattie and/or a little Magpie. I love the idea of Margaret Felix – it does seem fresh and unexpected. If you and Daniel like it, then I wouldn’t worry about what other people might think.

With the boys, I don’t think there is a name which you are ready to choose yet. I would say if I had to pick one name which ticked all your boxes the best, it would probably be John. I wouldn’t worry about all the other Johns in your life thinking they are the inspiration – if you pick a classic name that’s been common for over a century, of course there will be many others with the name.

I’m not usually a fan of alliterative names either, but Benedict Barnstead does have a nice ring to it, and the saintly connection is pretty cool. And to me, Edward Barnstead is maybe a bit too ED-heavy, but the more I say it the more I like it; it sounds so definite. Edward from Twilight was partly named after Edward from Sense and Sensibility anyway, so perhaps the connection isn’t as ghastly as you fear.

Daniel hasn’t expressed any preference yet, and it would be very convenient if he could develop a favourite boy’s name, as that might make the decision a lot easier for you!

I think you are doing just great, and have nothing to worry about, despite your concerns. I hope all the over-thinking and worrying is something that you are secretly rather enjoying as part of the name choosing process!

UPDATE: The baby was a girl, and her name is Margaret!

POLL RESULTS: The public’s choices for the baby’s name were Margaret for a girl, and Benedict for a boy, with both gaining one third of all votes.