Advice needed: picking a boy’s name

Thinga-googler Ed is in a debate with his wife over what to name his unborn child if it comes out sporting a penis. If it has a vagina, it’ll get his mother-in-law’s name. But the penis problem has Ed vexed.

It seems some of the more interesting names you folks suggested in my Name My Baby Boy contest caused the webpages to pop up in his search results. Or maybe he saw the Top Eleven Names I Wish I Could Give my Baby Boy. I will forever regret not naming my son Flynn.

Naturally, Ed turned to me as a sympathetic, empathetic voice in his battle over little Jasper. I mean Rufus. Or maybe Roscoe. Oh, but Ed really likes Grover. And how about the timeless classic Ebenezer? Hannibal? Homer?

I’ll let Ed explain, from his abridged e-mail:

“I have come upon your blog by way of google searches involving unusual baby names. Well, the masses may categorize them as unusual, but I prefer to think of them as awesome. As a dad who seems to share some of my fondness for names off the beaten path, I was wondering if I might get your thoughts on the matter.

My wife and I are expecting our second. Our firstborn is named after six generations of males on my side. Hence his name took little argument and caused little debate.

I am pushing for names that were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I like names like Jasper, Rufus, Roscoe, Grover, and Ebenezer. As the last two mentioned might indicate, the problem we’re having is perfectly good names with strong pop culture associations.

Why let Grover and Ebenezer be rendered useless by fictional characters. I suspect my son’s generation will not even know Ebenezer Scrooge or Sesame Street, so why give up on such wonderful names?

I run into similar problems with strong names from history like Hannibal and Homer. Yes, it rhymes with cannibal, but can’t we get past that? Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.”

I replied to Ed with my opinion of his favored names, but my response left him feeling betrayed as our seeming kinship in eclectic names was nothing but a sham. He may have found more sympathy in my wife. She is a big fan of Wilbur and Walter.

Ed explains further:

Part of me feels compelled to rescue these strong names from their pop culture contexts.

Grover and Kermit were once fairly common names. Fast forward a couple generations, and Jim Henson grabs these once-popular names to give his soon-to-be-monstrously-popular creations. Should those names be off limits simply because of a muppet or two?

By the way, my wife already vetoed Statler and Waldorf as potential twin boys.

I still contend that Ebenezer is a phenomenal name, and a hack like Dickens shouldn’t be allowed to take it from us. It would be a fantastic four syllable companion to my monosyllabic surname, creating the same rhythm that makes Indiana Jones such a pleasing sound.

C’mon, is it really so bad to subject a child to a few Scrooge references? I know many who have suffered far greater ridicule. I recognize I’m fighting a quixotic battle, but I think it’s a worthy cause.

I have Ed’s permission to seek your counsel on the matter. What say you Thinga-readers? What’s your opinion of Jasper, Rufus, Roscoe, Grover, Ebenezer, Hannibal and Homer? What other old time names stir your interest? Unless things have changed in two years, Nymbler is the spot to brainstorm names.


22 Responses to “Advice needed: picking a boy’s name”

  1. Tim says:

    My son’s name, Delton, seems to have peaked in popularity around the time his namesake great-grandfather was born.

    Aside from the many times it gets confused for Dalton, we love it. Save for an African-American college classmate of my brother-in-law, we have yet to encounter someone else with this name.

    I could get behind Jasper, Rufus, Roscoe and Hannibal. There’s no escaping the Grover, Ebenezer and Homer associations…not yet.

    July 16th, 2010 at 6:48 am

  2. Robin says:

    My son’s name is Jasper, and he gets compliments on a daily basis. I don’t think it’s in the same category as Ebenezer or Rufus, though. It’s a fairly well-known name. I liked Roscoe, too, but ended up naming my younger son Milo. Also unusual but not unknown. Love the name Maisie! The Baby Name Wizard has a blog–ask a question in the comments and you will get tons of great advice.

    July 16th, 2010 at 7:14 am

  3. adrienne says:

    We have a history of obsessing over baby names. With subsequent children, the decisions are getting more difficult.

    Kids will probably know of Grover on Sesame Street, but he’s nowhere near as popular as he was before the red usurper Elmo and the flighty fairy Abby. Grover’s at least “a fuzzy pal” rather than an iconic miser.

    Ebenezer on the other hand was used in one of the most popular seasonal tales ever written. Dickens may be a hack, but his story remains monstrously popular even today.

    It will also be a must-spell for the child’s entire life even if they choose the nickname Eben. Evan and Ebeneezer will plague the kid from preschool to the grave. I went by Ann throughout grade school because I was hurt every time some one wrote Adrian despite my protests.

    Jasper is booming with the Twilight series. Rufus has rhyming problems. Roscoe will elicit a few Dukes of Hazard references in certain areas. Hannibal will hear about fava beans every time he introduces himself for decades (trust me, I’ve been hearing “Yo, Adree-uhn!!!” upon introduction since Rocky came out in 1976 and my spouse, Jim Jones, consistently gets Kool-Aid remarks since 1978. It’s hard not to look dismissive or impatient when someone strikes upon these “comic gems” when you’ve heard them regularly since childhood.) Homer is just a Simpsons reference waiting to happen.

    A good name won’t embarrass or annoy your child at every introduction. It especially won’t draw fire from other kids.

    If you want to read my full naming manifesto, it’s located here:

    That doesn’t mean a good name needs to be common. My kids both have atypical vintage names.

    July 16th, 2010 at 7:16 am

  4. Jed G says:

    I was pushing for Ezekiel (“Zeke”) for our second (somewhat tongue-in-cheek, as it always sounds to me like the name of the guy who keeps the junkyard -er- depository of reusable and recyclable things). Ezekiel is a good old-fashioned name (Heb. “God will strengthen”), and the name of a prophet to boot! However, according to Social Security, it’s been on a nearly continuous (albeit slow) upswing in popularity since 1985 (up to 227th in 2009).

    I have slight giggle issues with Roscoe (‘Roscoe P Coltrain’ from the “Dukes of Hazzard”) and Rufus (‘Rufus T. Firefly’ from the Marx Brother’s movie “Duck Soup”). I also fear the cruelty of children – Ebenezer, Kermit, and Grover are still too popular and well known characters, and due to the reuse of old books for decades after their peak will continue to be known to this next generation. Besides, Ebenezer will be “Ben” quickly, and then will have to continuously correct his teachers (my given name is Jared but I almost never use it).

    Hannibal and Homer are fine – even though Homer Simpson will live in eternal fame and Hannibal Lector in eternal infamy. Hannibal son of Hamilcar Barca is less well known, plus he was a great commander anyway – elephants! in the Alps!

    July 16th, 2010 at 7:39 am

  5. Jen says:

    My son is named Kale. Unusual but plain and strong. In a weird twist, I am now the manager of a farmers market and everyone finds it hilarious that my son is named after a green leafy vegetable.

    I like odd names but Ebenezer just sounds whiny. Rufus and Grover I could handle. I just think that names need charisma and a lot depends on tour surname.

    July 16th, 2010 at 7:58 am

  6. PAUL says:

    If all else fails, go with the two Costanza fall-backs: Seven or Soda.

    July 16th, 2010 at 9:22 am

  7. Audi Shake says:

    I love unusual names, but if they are in our pop-culture I think that makes them “normal” even if they are infrequently used. I’ve named my daughter Ocean Jasper, and we call her Jasper. My second (boy or girl) will be Orion River and called River… Don’t give in to “John, Paul, Bob” if you don’t want to!

    As a secondary question, do you believe it would add stress to the brothers relationship, if one is named super classic AND is the first-born while the other gets to be more unusual, not part of the family names AND the baby?

    Speaking as someone who has changed her name, I believe that you become your name and that it shapes you more than you realize. (I found out AFTER I changed it at 18).

    Just some thoughts.

    July 16th, 2010 at 9:48 am

  8. Ed K. says:

    I appreciate the feedback, even though I’m not finding much support. I guess I’m a man on an island.
    Adrienne, thank you for pointing out that Jasper has a Twilight connection. I was unaware. I already fear the rash of Edwards soon to be roaming the streets, and I would hate to have two sons with connections to foolish teen vampire tales.
    I think it’s very interesting that a few commenters gave some degree of approval to Hannibal. I would see the name as a tribute to a great Carthagenian general, but I fully recognize the likelihood of the masses making an association with a certain Anthony Hopkins character. To me, that name carries a far more negative pop culture association than Ebenezer, but the comments thus far have universally panned the thought of a lil’ Neezy. Interesting.
    Thanks for the input, and thanks to thingamababy for entertaining and hosting the discussion.
    One other question: Any thoughts on the 4-syllable first name paired with a monosyllabic surname?

    July 16th, 2010 at 10:26 am

  9. Jennifer says:

    You ask, “Rufus, Roscoe, Grover, Ebenezer, Hannibal and Homer?”
    Sorry, Ed… as long as you and your kids live here, meaning on this planet, you won’t get away from the associations these names carry. Not for a very, very long time… at which point the names may well be trendy again. Until then – hold off and choose a nice produce-related name, like the poster above who chose Kale. Maybe Rapini… or Cress?
    All of the above would make excellent dog names, by the way. Pets can get away with names that would utterly shame their human owners. That’s just the way of the world. Don’t name your baby Rex and I won’t call your dog… well, Ed.

    July 16th, 2010 at 10:56 am

  10. Lady in a Smalltown says:

    I like Jasper, it was our second choice for a boy, but we went with Jackson (2 of our grandfathers were named Jack).

    I also like Ezekiel. I do have concerns about Ebeneezer, Grover, Roscoe, and Rufus.

    But please, what ever you choose, spell it the common way. As someone with a less common name, I know what it is like to go into a store and not be able to find something with your name on it. I think the only thing worse would be seeing things with a different spelling of your name.

    July 16th, 2010 at 11:07 am

  11. observer says:

    i love the name ebenezer. it means ” this far God has helped us” a good strong name, not used often, but a good name. it really does not matter what you call the child, other kids will always find something to tease, if not a name, then a trait. kids can be mean,but that should not stop you from the name you like. also jonah and justus are not overly common, but they are still good names

    July 16th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

  12. Victoria says:

    Jasper is a great one. Call him Jazz. And when he’s crying in the middle of the night for the 6th time you can call him Ex-Jasper-ating. :D
    Seriously, I really like the name Jasper.
    Rufus would be my second choice, although I would only suggest it if you are over 6 ft tall, 235# minimum yourself and your wife is 5’7″ or more. With a name like Rufus he’d need to back it up. Jasper is more artsy, musical, laid back, cool.

    July 16th, 2010 at 3:14 pm

  13. Tonia says:

    Out of all the names listed, I would lean towards Jasper. However, they are all wonderfully classic names that have strong backgrounds and are not common. But please keep in mind that there is always potential for ridicule with names that are unusual or associated with icon characters.

    We ran into the anissue with the naming of our child. Before we knew the gender we each wrote down a list, then fairly quickly tossed them out when my top boys name was also the name of a ceiling fan manufacturer. We decided that if the baby was a girl I would name her, if a boy hubby would name him. The one thing we both agreed upon was using his parents first names for the middle name. If we’d had a boy his name would Aidan. As it turned out to be a girl, I have an Aeryn.
    Will people misspell? All the time. But I grew up telling people how to not only spell my name but pronounce it as well and am proud of it. I’d like to hope my daughter will of her name as well.

    July 16th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

  14. Summer says:

    I second the agreements toward Jasper but also like Grover. I do think that Elmo is quite more popular from the Sesame street gang and an offspring wouldn’t get teased as much. And Super-Grover is awesome :-)

    Stick to your guns, go with something classic but unusual in this era. Our son is Tamlin, which was wicked popular in the 1500s!

    July 16th, 2010 at 5:56 pm

  15. anjii says:

    I also liked Jasper, until I learned of the Twilight reference. My vote is for Grover, which I agree with the last poster, is far less entangled in Sesame Street pop-culture than little Elmo. I also love SuperGrover ;)

    On the subject of unique spellings, I have to disagree with the earlier posters who say this should be avoided. I was born Angela, at the peak of it’s popularity (it was number 6 that year), and usually called Angie, as many of us were. By Grade 9, I was SO fed up with having so many Angies in my various school classes, so changed the spelling to Anjii, and it has become a big part of my identity, rather than an annoyance. I’ve never been one to be “like the crowd” anyways ;) In the age of the internet, I have unfortunately come across several others with my spelling, but for the most part, when I join a forum, create an email or user name, etc, I can use my first name, with no numbers and it’s VERY rarely taken… I love that!

    July 17th, 2010 at 9:57 am

  16. Penguinmommy says:

    Jasper, Rufus, Roscoe, Grover, and Ebenezer… I think any is A-OK. Sure, you’ll have those looks and double takes, but if you instill your child with confidence and a quick reference to the REAL name sake, it goes well.

    For example “Grover, as in Grover Cleveland.” Not that you’re naming your child for the president, but you get the idea.

    We chose Jax as our son’s first name because of a four syllable last name. Yes, just three letters, no it’s not short for anything… We took grief from the family for about a week.

    Maybe the grief had to do with his middle name being Meridian. I like it since it literally means middle and he’s the middle, or dividing point in our lives.

    We had a World Civilizations teacher in college who offered awesome names for kids every week. I think some of these types might work well for your quest, I mean, Hammurabi and Gilgamesh are pretty awesome, epic even! I do like “Gil” for short.

    July 17th, 2010 at 10:54 am

  17. adrienne says:


    It might be the 4 syllable, 1 syllable contrast you like, or it may be the pattern of the emphasis:

    EB uh NE zer [ONE]
    ([ONE]= your undisclosed last name)

    accent, unaccent, accent, unaccent, accent

    Similarly your other names are two syllable with the same symmetry (accent, unaccent, accent).

    GRO ver [ONE]
    JAS per
    RU fus
    ROS coe
    HO mer

    There’s an outstanding baby book that sorts names by syllable and accent pattern: Whitney Walker’s & Eric Reyes’ The Perfect Baby Name: Finding the Name that Sounds Just Right:

    Good luck!

    July 17th, 2010 at 3:34 pm

  18. adrienne says:

    BTW- what do you think of Archer?

    July 17th, 2010 at 3:35 pm

  19. Judy B says:

    Long names are bound and determined to end up as a one-syllable nickname. Every time my Emmett is called “M” by his grandparents I cringe.

    I have a new niece called Ainsley Brooklyn, which could be considered quite masculine if you like.

    Jasper was on my short list- and I hadn’t even heard about the Twilight books until Emmett was a few months old.

    My husband also loved Orson, but I just couldn’t do it. Our local radio host has an Atticus and an Enzo. Flynn, Griffin and Grahm are other names of newbies we know. I feel like I could to on and on….

    Good luck, keep us posted I hope!

    July 19th, 2010 at 11:15 am

  20. Tina says:

    Why not choose an 18th century name that is not so “main stream” now? Grover, Jasper, Homer, Hannibal, etc. and great names but if you are already thinking they will cause problems, why do that to a kid?
    Other great 18th century and 19th century names — Garrick, Mather, Pike, or Alger.
    Names are hard! My husband and I went around and around for months about naming our daughter. Good luck!

    July 19th, 2010 at 1:57 pm

  21. Ed K. says:

    I like the growing support of Grover. Again, I really appreciate the feedback. It’s nice to gain some added perspective. As we are all aware, my input in this decision ultimately carries little weight. I can suggest all I want, but if my wife vetoes, well, that’s that. A few clarifying points:
    My wife and I are both in agreement on finding a name that is not overused. There’s no need for our son to be the 6th Connor, Aiden, or Ethan in his class. However, we don’t necessarily need a “unique” name, either. We’re both averse to alternate spelling (sorry, Tonia and Anjii). We’re in the process of scanning our family trees for inspiration. Sadly, my Irish/English heritage has thus far offered little variety. There is the appearance of Aloysius more than once on my side, and it’s a strong middle name candidate. Interestingly enough, it’s also the little-known first name of Mr. Snuffleupagus, proving that Jim Henson and I must be kindred spirits. I love the name, I simply don’t like “Al” as a truncated version, which seems inevitable. There’s some more hope on the Scandanavian side of my wife’s lineage (Odin, anyone?).
    Some feedback (quid pro quo):
    Adrienne – Good call on the syllabic emphasis. I hadn’t picked up on that. And, I like Archer. Not a bad suggestion. I wonder if the new animated series of the same name is going to boost its popularity.
    Jennifer – Sorry, no pets… ever.
    Penguinmommy – I also teach Ancient History, and Gilgamesh was one of my first suggestions. I love it, and love the story. My wife? Not so much. Same with Sargon.
    In a few weeks we’ll know whether or not we’re having a boy. I certainly hope this discussion doesn’t become null and void. It’s pretty much my favorite game. Thanks for playing.

    July 20th, 2010 at 7:24 am

  22. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    We have Ebenezer as one of our possible middle names for a next son (because of the remembrance stone meaning) and I had not even connected it to Ebenezer scrooge until your post! So I guess I figure that’s a fine name :)

    Eleazar is another we are considering (With several possible “legit” spellings)

    Roscoe is a family name for us. Didn’t know it had other connotations. Another family name we are considering is Zebulon.

    I don’t think I could use Hannibal–ever. It’s like calling a kid “Adolf” Grover and Homer… probably would not. but not the same negative.

    Jasper is nice. No meanings to me at all other than the gem.

    July 21st, 2010 at 8:59 am