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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

What's in a Name: Ellen Cecilia

It probably won't come as a surprise that the topic of baby names has been on my mind lately.  And it's definitely a subject of discussion around here, what with baby number 2 due to arrive in less than three months now.

Oh, and speaking of baby names, if you haven't read the post How to Name a Baby from Wait by Why, you should.  Humorous, interesting, and with cute stick figure sketches... what more could you want?  Read it.  Really.

{this picture was taken while I was in labor with Nell; Nathan was doing some last-minute considerations!}

I have a few general considerations in mind when trying to choose baby names.  I find myself drawn toward names with either different number of syllables in the first and the middle names, or with the emphasis on different syllables.  Maybe this is in part because my parents chose names for myself and my siblings that follow this pattern:

EM-il-y ANN-e
SAR-ah ma-RIE
JON-a-than DEAN
CHRIS-to-pher ED-ward

I am personally somewhat less drawn to names where the first and middle names are both two syllables, and both with the emphasis on the first syllable.  I think maybe a lot of people think this way, either consciously or subconsciously.  And since probably a majority of names have emphasis on the first syllable, I think it makes sense why so many parents choose middle names like Marie or Elizabeth, names that switch up the emphasis in the overall flow of the name.

So, when Nathan and I were working on choosing names, this was a definite consideration in my mind.  And I must say, I'm rather pleased with the outcome of Ellen Cecilia!

Another important thing to us is the meaning of a name.  Sometimes I forget that this isn't an important consideration for everyone, and not everyone is weirdly obsessed with looking up names and their meanings like I am.  But meaning was definitely an important consideration for us.

And a third consideration for me is the popularity of a name.  I tend to want to avoid the top ten list, and in fact, the top twenty, and probably even the top 100.  In fact, when I find a name I like that barely registers on the (my favorite baby name website!) name voyager graphs in recent history, I'm pretty pleased about it.  I usually like classic names, and quite a few 'old-fashioned' or vintage names, but tend to avoid not only the currently popular names, but also any names that sound trendy or modern or androgynous.

{Just my personal opinion here, folks!}

I had heard the name Nell as a given name, and really liked it.  I remember suggesting it to Nathan early in my pregnancy.  His response was, "Nell?  That's not a name."  I pointed out that it was, indeed, a name, and looked it up on to show him some name stats.  He didn't seem to like it, though, so it fell by the wayside in our name conversations.

Months later, I mentioned a violin student of mine by the name of Nell.  Nathan commented, "Nell.  That seems like a name you would really like, babe."

"Well, I do really like it... I've told you that!"

He had no recollection of our previous conversation.

Together we ended up deciding that we'd use Nell as a nickname for Ellen, but curiously, we first agreed on Nell and then decided on her given name of Ellen, which means "light."

We often get asked about using Nell as a nickname for Ellen.  Apparently a lot of people assume it's a nickname because it is close to Ellen spelled backwards.  Umm, actually, that has nothing to do with it.

Nell is a medieval nickname for Ellen in the same way that Ned can be a nickname for Edward; they come from the old-fashioned endearments "Mine Ellen" or "Mine Edward," abbreviated: Mine Ellen > minellen > Nell.

And yes, we do call her Ellen and not just Nell, and no, we don't only call her Ellen when she's 'in trouble'!

As for middle names, we were still undecided about Nell's middle name when I went into labor.  We talked about it some during the labor, and in the end, we didn't settle on it until after she was born.

Nathan was suggesting Jane.  I liked Cecilia, who is the patron saint of church musicians.  It seemed fitting, given that Nathan is a church musician, and also, that my processional at our wedding had been Handel's "Ode to St. Cecilia's Day."  I actually can't remember when or how the name Cecilia occurred to me, or whether I liked the name first or thought of the patronage connection first or what.  But somehow, it became my top middle name pick.

{Despite the fact that the meaning of the name Cecilia is 'blind.'  Maybe not the nicest name meaning ever.  So we like to just think of the saint reference and kind of sweep the actual meaning under the rug in this case.}

In the end, since I had just given birth and since my friend Story was there agreeing that Cecilia was a beautiful choice, I won on the middle name front.  Actually, Nathan really likes it too.  So, we both won.

Now the question is, will we be able to come up with something we both like as much for the new little lady joining the family?  And if we're not in total agreement, whose vote should carry the most weight? I think it should be the one doing all the hard work in this whole baby-growing process, ahem, but oddly enough, Nathan thinks his opinion is equally valid.  Men... who can understand them?!

What do you think?  Share your favorite baby names, your kids' names, your future kids' names, and your name-selecting wisdom with me!


  1. I love the name of your little girl and am pretty much with you on all baby name considerations - I like to keep it classic. Plus we have a clunker of a last name so I've tried to go easy on the poor kids with first names. We have an Amy Jean, Donald William (the third - therefore called William) and Caroline Grace. I also don't like shortening names. Look forward to knowing what you decide!

    1. I hear you on having a 'clunker' of a last name. I sometimes use this fact to try to convince my husband that since I've got to deal with his last name I should get to pick the first names. ;) Not sure why he doesn't go for that logic! I love the name Caroline and it's been on my list of favorites since before Nell came along! Does anyone call your Caroline 'Carolyn'? I recently had someone tell me people wouldn't know how to pronounce Caroline, but I've always believed the two spellings indicated completely different names, and it never occurred to me someone would call a Caroline Carolyn instead!

    2. Yes, I think of Caroline and Carolyn as the indication of two completely different pronunciation... (e at the end means long I, people). Oh, and I meant to clarify - I don't like shortening names (William is William, not Will, just as I am Susan, not Sue) - but I LOVE nicknames that have some long-standing tradition behind them, such as you explained for Nell/Ellen. My grandmother Margaret was always known as Peg... though I don't know how to explain that one :)

  2. I love Nell's name. And I love the nickname, too. And I'm not usually a huge nickname fan! We have a rather drawn out naming process because I'm a name nerd. I have pretty similar taste to you, I think? I prefer to stay away from top 100 names, modern or androgynous names, nicknamey names, surname names, etc. I love classic, slightly quirky, preferably with a literary tie-in. I guess I'm picky :)
    We ended up with Margot Jane (MAR-go JANE). Margot because I mentioned it at some time to my husband and he couldn't shake how much he loved it. Jane because I'm a huge Janeite. I have a pretty big Nameberry list going of names I like for future kiddos, if we're blessed with them.
    I can't wait to hear what you come up with for baby girl #2! I'm so excited.

    1. My husband is a huge fan of the name Jane, too! It's at the top of his list. :) I love your daughter's name... definitely has a beautiful flow to it! I'm sort of new to using NameBerry but made an account recently and am enjoying it.

  3. Naming is fun - but HARD. I was more stressed out about naming our child than almost anything else. I love how you broke down your considerations - sound quality, meaning, and popularity (or obscurity!). We have an on going "Baby Name Game" at our house... Names that sound awesome - names that have meaning (either with etomology or family history)... I know you and Nathan will have a beautiful, interesting, and meaningful name for Baby #2.

    1. It is fun and hard, yes! I remember the first couple of days after Nell's birth felt kind of surreal in that regard, like wait, is she really Ellen? Just because we say so? That's kind of... a lot of responsibility for parents to have!

  4. I had almost an identical conversation with my husband about the given name Nell. :)

  5. I would have named Michael "Emmelyn Elizabeth," especially since we didn't know which we were having until the birth! Like "Nell," it is old-fashioned and unusual. I had forgotten that Ellen is Nell's name! The syllabication aspect I had never considered. How very musical of you!