Baby name consultant: Saintly, musical, Irish, not “plain”

Laura and her husband are expecting their second baby, a little green bean (=gender unknown). They already have:

Clara Louise

Which, beyond being just gorgeous, classy, and classic, is meaningful to Laura and her hubs because, as Laura writes,

St. Clare and St. Francis are very special saints to me, and I entrusted prayers for my husband and myself to them back when we were still dating. Clara is also a nod to my favorite piece of classical music, The Nutcracker. (Hubby and I are both musicians.) Louise is my maternal grandmother’s middle name. We call her Clara-Lou and Lou-Lou as a “nickname.” I had Clara picked out when I was 11! I loved the meaning: “clear/bright/illuminated famous warrior.””

Beautiful, right? Such meaning! Laura continues,

We’re not planning on finding out the gender this time around, and are just having an impossible time thinking of a girl’s name that we both like! What’s more, in all of my girl-name research, I’ve come to think my lined-up boy’s name is too boring.

Our top contender is: Rosalie Caoilfhinn (KEE-lin). I love that it’s a nod to our Irish heritage. (We’re both German/Irish). My husband is not totally thrilled with Rosalie, and I have my concerns about whether Rosalie is too cute for a teenager to wear. Also, I dislike Rosie, Rose, Lee and Ros, as nicknames.

My husband really likes Diana, for which I don’t care. It has too strong a mythology/princess connection for me.”

Some of the names Laura likes that her husband doesn’t include:

Anessa Coeli (“I love that Agnes is St. Clare’s sister, but Agnes is a tough name for a little girl. “Lamb of heaven” just tickles me pink but hubs thinks it’s horrid-sounding.”)
Maria Lise
Bonnie Josephine
Eithne (“Gaelic pronunciation of en-ya“)

And “names initially suggested by my husband, but when I reminded him of them, he hated them” (!):


For the boys, Laura says,

“… my first boy plan for forever was William Thomas. It’s in honor of both my grandfathers, and also my father, William “Bill.” I simply adore Saints Thomas More and Thomas Becket. “Will” was my planned nickname. Now, however, these names sound so…plain to me! And Liam is the name of a good friend’s son.

My boy name problem is the opposite of my girl name problem. I love too many! Arthur is a top pick if I have a second son. Pascal, Andrew, Paul, Bernard, Peter, Augustine, Éamon, Mark, George, Kieran, Kevin, Francis (though the F.F. is a big problem for my husband), Patrick, Seamus … I can’t even list all of the boys names that I like!

I don’t know about the rest of you, but not only is Clara Louise amazingly lovely, some of Laura’s other ideas had me practically drooling, they’re just so beautiful. Like Anessa Coeli! My husband wouldn’t go for a name like that either but it’s so my taste — a little offbeat, a great rhythm, and packed full of faith-y meaning. Love it! (It also reminded me of this consultation, with their Inessa.)

I love too that they’re into the Irishy Irish names, I would totally have gone that direction if my husband had been open to it (he’s not. At all.).

Rosalie Caoilfhinn blows me away with its beauty. What a great combo! However, I do think that a possible nickname is sort of a must, especially if they’re worried that Rosalie won’t wear well at certain ages. I was trying to think of alternatives to Rosie, Rose, Lee, and Ros and thought of Ree (like Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman), and also a traditional nickname for Rosemary is Romy, which I’ve always liked — Caoilfhinn is an awesome middle, but I wonder if they’d consider Rosalie M__ nicked Romy?

Another nickname idea for Rosalie Caoilfhinn, which may just complicate things rather than make them easier, is Róisín, said ro-SHEEN, which I like as a nickname for this combo because it kind of takes a little from Rosalie and a little from Caoilfhinn sound-wise. It’s an Irish name meaning “little Rose” and was used as a middle name by this family.

They could also do just Ro — I have a friend named Rosey who sometimes goes by Ro and I always think it feels really affectionate.

With the boy names, I kept coming back to Laura’s comment that her boy names now “sound so…plain to me!” so I focused pretty heavily on finding names that wouldn’t sound “plain” — to me, for a boy, that means “more unusual,” whereas for a girl I’d think it would mean “frillier” maybe. The fresher a name sounds — the more uncommon — I think the less plain it seems. So when I was thinking about boy names, not only did I have some name suggestions, but I also had some strategies that I thought Laura and her husband might find helpful. Like:

  • Alternate versions of names they like
    For example, Laura said the name she’s loved and planned forever is William Thomas — it has loads of meaning for her in her family and saint-wise as well. What if she considered Wilhelm or Willem instead? Or Tavish, Tam, or Tomek? I’d probably think of doing one “normal” paired with one “unusual” name, rather than have them both be alternates, like William Tavish or Willem Thomas. Wilhelm and Willem can both take her planned nickname Will as well, so it would only mean a slight tweaking of their plan and still a clear nod to Laura’s dad. Looking at the other names they like, Andrew could become Ander; Paul could become Pavel; Peter could become Pierce or Piers; with their love of Irish could totally do Caoimhín instead of Kevin … you get the idea, and there are other variants besides those I listed — and are great resources for that kind of thing!

(I interrupt this broadcast to tell you of a major name FAIL on my part, in regards to Laura and her husband’s name ideas: Their last name begins with an F, and all the while I was working on this for them, it never once occurred to me that William Thomas F__’s initials would be WTF. Fortunately, one of Laura’s friends caught it and pointed it out. You guys — I really think it’s important to run your name ideas by some people before birth! And not just me, clearly. Relying on my opinion/advice will apparently have your child ending up with initials that will torment him or her for life. :/ )

  • Unusual nicknames for “plain” first names
    Another way to jazz up names that you think are a little too plain is with an unexpected nickname. I was thinking about William and Laura’s idea of Will, and thought even if Will just changed to Wills, like the prince, it might provide enough sparkle for them to feel content with it again, you know? Wills is one more letter than Will, but it has a whole different feel to me — a little international and just … unexpected. I also saw that a Dutch nickname for it is Pim — I love that! I’ve mentioned here a bunch of times about Francis and Gregory, two names that I personally *intellectually* like — I know they’re great, traditional names with great saintly patrons — but if I were to use them I’d need just a little something, and the idea of the nickname Finn for Francis and Rory or Gus for Gregory does that for me. I’ve seen Packy and Patch for Patrick, which are so fun and different. And Pasha for Paul is so sweet!
  • Double names
    Double names are much more unusual for boys than they are for girls, and even pairing two “normal” names together really packs a punch — I’ve written about John Henry recently, for example. John Paul’s always a great example — on their own, John and Paul are solid and traditional and may even be characterized as somewhat “plain,” but put them together and it’s a totally different name. Mark Bernard’s striking me right now as kind of a cool combo from Laura’s list — I like the repeated “-ar” in both … double names can be a bit clunky for everyday, but Mark Bernard, for example, has less syllables than some of the really long boy names like Alexander or Nathaniel and is the same length as Augustine on their list.

Alrighty, on to my other name suggestions. As you all know, when I’m doing a consultation I almost always start by looking through the Baby Name Wizard, which has the amazing feature of listing, for each entry, boy and girl names that match the entry in terms of style/feel/popularity. I looked up all Laura and her husband’s name ideas for both boys and girls and wrote down all the style matches and then looked for patterns and overlap and came up with seven ideas for girls and eight for boys:

(1) Something to do with Anna
I always take notice when the same name and/or its variants starts showing up as a match for several of the names a couple likes, and in this case, it was all sorts of Anna versions. Anna itself was the one listed most often, but Anne, Anita, Annika, Annabelle, Amabel (which is not an Anna name but is where Annabelle most likely originated from, and has a great Marian connection as well), and Aine were also. The last one, Aine, really jumped out at me because of their love of the Irish names, especially Eithne, which is so similar, but maybe Aine is just different enough for Laura’s husband? They could spell it with a fada as Áine or without, or they could spell it Anya, which I don’t mind at all as it (1) makes the pronunciation more obvious and (2) I think it helps remind people that Clara has musical/balletic ties because Anya has a Russian feel which always makes me think of the ballet. (And now you’ve gotten a glimpse inside my weird namey head where associations make loads of sense to me and probably don’t to anyone else! Haha!) Something like Aine/Anya Roisin would be really pretty.

I was really interested to see Amabel and Annabelle listed because, first of all, as soon as I saw Annabelle I immediately thought there’s a good chance it’s the kind of name Laura would like. And Amabel, the origin of Annabel(le), is a medieval feminine form of Amabilis, which means “lovable” and was the name of a (male) saint. “Lovable” is such a great meaning for a little one! But wait — there’s more! “Mater Amabilis” is a title of Our Lady — usually translated as “Mother Most Amiable” but amiable literally means lovable — so Amabel (and therefore Annabel/Annabelle) can be considered Marian! I LOVE finding stuff like that out!

The other Anna names are great too, of course, but Annabelle and Aine were really the ones that seemed like great ideas for this family.

(2) Sylvie
Both Sylvia and Sylvie showed up several times in my research, but my gut is saying Sylvie is more their taste than Sylvia. I personally love Sylvie — I feel like it’s the Sophie less traveled — elegant but sweet.

(3) Juliet
Julia, Julie, and Juliet were all big winners here style-wise as well, but as with Sylvie vs. Sylvia, I suspect that Juliet would be Laura’s favorite of those. I think Clara and Juliet are amazing as sisters — even though Juliet’s a literary name rather than a musical name, I think it evokes a similar artsy, cultured, feminine feel as Clara. Love it!

(4) Harriet
I’m not sure what I think about this suggestion. It doesn’t feel like Laura’s taste to me, but the Baby Name Wizard is saying it fits her style. It tied with Anna as having the most mentions in the lists of names that were similar to the other names she likes! Behindthename gives the traditional Harriet nicknames as Etta, Ettie, Hallie, Hattie, Hatty, and Hettie, all of which I like on their own as a given name, so maybe Laura and her husband would prefer one of those? Or maybe they do like Harriet? I do think it’s one of those names that’s coming back on the heels of Alice and Matilda-type names, so we’ll probably see more little Harriets running around soon!

(5) Lydia
We talked quite a bit about Lydia recently! It’s not going to deter me from suggestions it though. I’ve always loved Lydia — it’s biblical (the name of a woman who sold purple cloth — how cool for a little Lydia girl to have a color of her own!), and the nickname Liddy is too sweet. It was also a style match for Clara (as well as others on their list), which was a great plus!

(6) Frances
I’m loving Frances recently. In Dwija’s consultation I wrote, “Frances [is] fairly uncommon for a first name for a girl as far as I can tell, though Francis is all over the Catholic name stats for boys. Frannie and Frankie are sweet nicknames, and the full Frances is serious and bookish in all the best ways. Frances can be a nod to any of the Sts. Francis, but of course there are loads of female namesakes.” That’s pretty much what I want to say here too! Clara and Frances seem so well matched to me as sisters too, probably because Frances reminds me so much of Frances Hodgson Burnett, who wrote The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, which makes me think of great books for girls, in which I include Heidi, whose beloved friend is Klara. So. Once again, the weird ramblings of my mind. 🙂

(7) Miscellaneous others
There were a lot of names I came upon that I thought would exactly fit the part of Laura that loves Anessa and Elsabeth and Eithne but they weren’t overall style matches, just names that might have been listed as similar to just one name that’s on their list, but I couldn’t not list them here, even just as a P.S. Interestingly, most of them were listed as style matches for Pascal: Allegra, Aida, Ariadne, Elodie, Melisande, Ophelia, and Esme. A few Irish names too, like Mairead, Eimear, Catriona or Riona, and Aoife — names I consider to be a bit more accessible because they don’t have any b’s or h’s and they’re not seventeen letters long, haha!

(1) Frederic(k)
Frederick was far and away the biggest hit for Laura and her husband in terms of style matches — it was listed as similar to Rosalie, Josephine, Frances, and Arthur. It reminds of Chopin (and his spelling, Frederic, is a nice one and a little different without being crazy, especially for musicians!), and it can take the German nickname Fritz, which could be really fun. I also know a little Frederick who goes by Erick.

(2) Gilbert
I’ve long loved Gilbert Blythe but not his name … but more recently it’s been growing on me. I love the nickname Gil, one of my faves, and there’s Gilbert and Sullivan too. (So sorry if my musical references are making you musicians out there roll your eyes — I’m not a musician so my thoughts are really amateurish! But I’ll offer any connections that come to my mind, just in case.)

(3) Jasper or Casper
Both of these names refer to one of the Three Wise Men, whose known by one or the other depending on what you’re reading. I love them both, and they’re certainly not “plain”! Jasper is similar to Augustine and Josephine, and Casper to Elsa.

(4) Oscar
Oscar is similar to similar to Clara (!), Elsa, and Alice, and it’s offbeat and saintly with both Irish and German usage — what a great option for this family! I spotlighted it here.

(5) Tristan
Tristan has always had an artsy feel to me, probably because of Tristan and Isolde but also because it’s one of those “softer” names for boys, which I quite like. It’s also Irishy, which is a great bonus!

(6) Tadhg
I already mentioned Caoimhín, and I thought I’d suggest my very favorite Irish boy name: Tadhg. It’s said like “tiger” without the -er, and Tadhg is sometimes Anglicized as Thaddeus (and sometimes as Timothy, but my favorite is one of the Irish Martyrs who’s known as both Bl. Thaddeus Moriarty, OP and Bl. Tadhg Moriarty, OP). Tadhg has such a cool look and sound to me, and I like that it can be a name on its own, or conceivably used for a “nickname” for Thaddeus or Timothy (or really a “call name,” since it’s not technically a diminutive of either Thaddeus or Timothy).

(7) Style matches for Elsa
Like with the Pascal matches for girls, I thought the boy matches for Elsa were all right up Laura’s alley (some of which I’ve already mentioned): Oscar, Leo, August, Hans, Felix, and Casper.

(8) Style matches for Pascal
And once again Pascal seems a great benchmark for what might be considered “not plain.” All these seemed like they might be intriguing to Laura and her husband (some I already mentioned): Alistair, Aloysius, Artemas, Atticus, Augustine, Cassian, Dashiell, Gideon, Joachim, Leander, Leopold, Matthias, Milo, Jasper, Orlando, Phineas, Raphael, Thaddeus, and Tristan.

And those are all my ideas! What do you all think? What names would you suggest as a little brother or sister to Clara Louise, based on all the characteristics Laura and her husband like?


37 thoughts on “Baby name consultant: Saintly, musical, Irish, not “plain”

  1. Anya was 100% the first thing that popped into my mind after reading through Laura’s whole email! Anya would just be perfect for them for a girl 🙂 I also like the Irish spelling but I just fear no one would ever spell it correctly or pronounce it correctly, which would be sad. I also like the Ania spelling! And lastly there’s the Anja spelling, which is German, like them!

    Your other suggestions are also wonderful for the girls. Fiona popped into my mind for a possible Irish name. It’s not necessarily super Catholic, but for some reason, all the Irish Catholics I know in my hometown have at least 2 Fionas in their family. Maybe with the right middle it could become super Catholic! Fiona Mary? Fiona Rose?

    I also thought of maybe Joanna? I don’t know exactly why, and I’m not 100% sure it fits, but Clara and Joanna just kind of seem like upper class British women to me, which, is kind of a nice picture to get.

    I’m gonna push for William Thomas for them for a few reasons. 1) William is my favorite boys name ever and it’s basically a criteria for my future husband that he agree to William for our first son’s name (I kid…kind of). 2) Laura has loved it for so long, and is just now getting second thoughts. There’s something to say about loving a name for a long time. 3) What is actually wrong with a plain name? I know it’s a huge thing right now in the naming community for names to be “different” but certain names (William included) have been used for so long for a reason: they’re lovely wonderful names!! 4) William Thomas has so much meaning for them, that even if it seems plain they won’t ever regret it.

    Though maybe instead of William Thomas they could go with Thomas William? Thomas seems actually kind of fresh to me right now, with all the Jayden, Brayden, Aidens running around, it would be a breath of fresh, classic air!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the way you think Grace! I’m loving the Anja spelling! And yes yes yes: “Maybe with the right middle it could become super Catholic” — love that! Fiona’s lovely.

      (I don’t know about William Thomas though … you don’t think the initials WTF are problematic?)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I didn’t realize that their last name started with F, my mind must have just skipped over that paragraph. It could possibly be a problem, but how often do you actually write out your full initials? If I have to write out my initials it’s just GH, never the full thing. And if things are monogramed then it would be WFT, so then it’s not a problem either.

        And who knows, WTF could go before little Will would even need to know what it stands for, with how fast language, texting and technology is changing. And if you take his initials backwards it’s FTW, “for the win” which is very fun!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I also started thinking about how many people I actually know their full initials for, and I think outside my family it’s like 5 people, so would it really be teasing potential? How many people are going to know his middle name beyond family?

        Liked by 1 person

    • We have thought about Rosalind; I love the dual German and Latin meanings! But Rosalind Caoilfhinn is a little odd-sounding. We thought Rosamund Caoilfhinn might fix that… It’s just a veeery long-looking name.

      Lindy is sweet! Rosalie also works as a nn to either of those names.


  2. I like a lot of your suggestions (and I’m dying over Fritz as a nickname for Frederick – I’ve always liked Frederick, but that makes it 100000 times cooler). I’d definitely go with your idea of one normal name paired with one rarer name, especially because it’s always a risk that the opposite problem will happen – instead of a boy having too normal a name, Clara Louise might be seen as the “normal” name compared to other Irishy name of siblings. (I wouldn’t call Clara Louise boring – I think it’s beautiful and not too common, but still totally recognizable and easy to pronounce.) Re: Rosalie, I knew a Rosalie growing up. She liked her name and she always went by Rosalie, never any nickname. It was good when we were kids and it suits her now as an adult, too. I also think the initials WTF, while maybe not ideal, would be the worst thing ever. In elementary school kids don’t really go by or answer to all three names, plus little kids probably won’t know the phrase. It’d probably come up in high school if he told people his middle name, but I don’t know if it’d be something he’d get made fun of for. If it were me I’d try to look for another option but if it was a family name I really loved, I’d probably go with it.

    Also, I looove the above suggestion of Fiona!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I like your point about not wanting Clara Louise to pale in comparison to her sibling’s name. I’m also interested that you don’t think those initials are a dealbreaker! It is true that middle names aren’t always known … they could also do two middles — William Thomas More F__, for example.


      • When I was younger one of my friends had the initials A.S.S. (I’m assuming her parents didn’t realize or didn’t mind, not sure!) It came up once, when we were all, “ha! your initials spell a-s-s!” and then it never came up again. (And I think it’s worse than WTF, since it’s a noun, not a phrase haha.) But I DO love your idea of two middle names if they have a boy.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow! I tend not to notice initials too much myself when I’m thinking of names, and I do kinda worry that I’ll miss something! We seriously considered Oliver Joseph for one of our boys and my brothers were like, “Oh no, not O.J.!” because of O.J. Simpson. It hadn’t once crossed my mind! We wouldn’t have called him O.J. but for my brothers, just giving him the initials would have been bad enough.


      • Oliver Joseph is awesome! I’ve always like Oliver James, but never thought of the OJ thing, ha! (And even when I hear OJ said aloud, I think of orange juice, not Simpson!) It’d probably be a bit safer to use now that time has passed. My current initial obsession is C.J. for a girl.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The first time I’ve seen my name mentioned here…even if it’s not the most favorably. I was hoping you’d come up with an amazing saint connection! (But it’s ok if there isn’t one…Marie is my middle so plenty there!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Diana! (And just saying that, I’m immediately transported to Prince Edward Island 🙂 ) You DO have an amazing name! How many people cam claim to be Anne Shirley’s bosom friend??!!

      Besides that though, Bl. Diana d’Andalo is a pretty cool Dominican blessed — she was a “beautiful, intelligent, and happy young woman” and went on to become a Dominican nun. Lovely!

      I tend to not spend much time on names that the person emailing me (usually the mom) has decided she doesn’t care for, so sorry you were disappointed!


      • Diana, Anne’s faithful friend, is definitely my first association with the name as well. Not the princess. But I may be the minority.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I love all the suggestions!

    A variant of Agnes that might hit the sweet spot is “Inez/Ines”. I also thought of Irene (virgin martyr) because the name is pretty and shares the ending pattern with Clara… -ara and -ene! I personally really like that!

    Our thought process/name list is surprisingly similar to the OP, and our son is Ephraim, which means fruitful. In addition to being a biblical name, it is the name of an important but obscure saint (St. Ephrem/Efrem), who is credited with bringing music and poetry to the Mass. Some of his works are used in Masses to this day!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m too tapped out to come up with anything more brilliant than the above (if I were able to anyway), but I just wanted to say this was a very juicy post and I really enjoyed it and all the comments! So many great possibilities!

    I can comment on one thing – if their kids will go to school and not homeschool it’s quite possible anyone/everyone in their class would find out full name and initials as it is printed on rosters and labels made from rosters and on report cards (outside addressed in envelope on label), and certainly by middle school they would. I am not saying it’s doom and gloom, but it’s very possible many peers would know! Hopefully that will have gone the way of NIMBY or something by then :o)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Not In My Back Yard” – we learned about it in US History and I can’t remember the context exactly – nuclear stuff? Atom bomb? I can’t remember the era…this refers more to like the politics of land use 🙂

    from Oxford




    1.a person who objects to the siting of something perceived as unpleasant or potentially dangerous in their own neighborhood, such as a landfill or hazardous waste facility, especially while raising no such objections to similar developments elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think it wasn’t mentioned yet, but I feel that if Laura loves St. Francis, she really should name her son Francis. For example, Francis Liam.

    And for a girl, I love the idea of Anna, since Clara is a version of St. Clare’s name, and Anna is the correspondent version of St. Anne’s name.

    I think both Francis+Clara and Anna+Clara are perfect sibling matches!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What about Aveline/Eveline Frances? Aveline is derived from Aibhlin/Eibhlin and means “wished for child”. It is my favorite girls’ name and pronounced Ave-leen (think Francince). Here it is on baby names of Ireland:

    I also really love Talulla. It is an Irish saint, who was a follower of St. Brigid. It means “lady of abundance”. Her feast day is Jan. 6.

    I also love Mary Ailish/Ailis. Ailish/Ailis means “noble”.

    Mona could be cute.

    Alannah/Alanna could be a nice Irish-German hybrid.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. So many amazing names in this post! Individual names, and name combos both. I don’t know how I missed it when it first posted. Anya Roisin sounds like a winner to me!

    I just had to comment on the mom picking Clara when she was 11: ME, TOO!!! I have yet to have a daughter, but cheers to that! We’ve considered Clara Joan, Clara Irene, and Clara Emmanuelle. I also love Frances, but maybe not as her only sister. Other sister names I’ve thought of: Marta, Greta, Ida, Anna, Lydia, Gloria. Probably more German than their style, but thought I’d.put them out there.

    For boys, I vote Theodore or Frederic. Thomas Wilhelm is great! Clara and Thomas. Tad or Thad as a nickname for either Theodore or Thomas makes them less plain. And Arthur is awesome (we have never met another little Arthur, other than our own).

    Liked by 1 person

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