Uncommon Baby Names
Separating the cool from the are-you-kidding.
by Paula Bernstein
When I call my 5-year-old daughter’s name at the playground in our neighborhood, it seems as if all of the girls turn around. That’s because my daughter’s name is Ruby, which may not be very popular nationwide, but is very trendy in my neck of the woods (Park Slope, Brooklyn). Although I love the name dearly (and have no regrets about her name), I can safely say it is no longer a “cool” baby name. Am I the slightest bit disappointed that Ruby’s name has only grown in popularity and is not as unusual as I had hoped? Perhaps. Why are parents these days constantly on the lookout for the next unusual name? In our individualist culture, being unique is generally seen as a plus. In fact, originality seems to be the key to baby naming these days. In Babble’s recent baby name poll, 90% of those who responded said that a name’s popularity would make them less likely to choose it for their child. And nearly 90% said that as long as they liked a name, they wouldn’t mind if it was “out of style.”
The researchers who analyzed baby name trends have attributed the increase in unusual baby names to a broader cultural shift from encouraging conformity to emphasizing difference.
Baby name guru Pamela Redmond Satran, co-author of Beyond Ava and Aiden recently scoured name statistics and came up with “100 Cool Uncommon Baby Names.” When she says “uncommon,” she means really rare – used for 25 or fewer babies in 2009. In other words, Ruby definitely does not qualify.
By sorting through 25,000 names, Redmond Satran came up with 50 boys’ names and 50 girls’ names that fit her criteria: “a name with a genuine provenance (as opposed to a jury-rigged Lizzeth or Zhane), that is attractive (sorry, Ethel) and feels contemporary (bye-bye, Ethelred), yet is used for only a handful of babies each year.”
I’ve sorted through Satran’s list and come up with my own lists based on her findings:
20 Uncommon Baby Names That She Calls Cool but Really Aren’t So Cool:
1. Jezebel – You might as well name your daughter Harlot.
2. Snow – She’ll be hearing jokes about her icy nature.
3. Dolly – Well, hello Dolly!
4. Tanaquil – Sounds like a cold medicine.
5. Olympia – I’d nix unless you’re planning for an athlete.
6. Toril – Huh?
7. Verena – Rhymes with Purina. And the nickname Very? I think not.
8. Sinead – As in O’Connor?
9. Lake – Why not just call her Pond or Water?
10. Isolde – Like the adulterous lover from the Wagner opera Tristan and Isolde, or else people will mispronounce it as “I sold.”
1. Kermit – As in the frog?
2. Cosmo – Reminds me of (Cosmo) Kramer from Seinfeld – or else the cocktail.
3. Win – Seems a little too competitive to me.
4. Jedediah – Too hillbilly.
5. Lorcan – Huh?
6. Ward – Can’t help but think of “ward of the state” or psychiatric ward.
7. North – Why not South?
8. Walden – A nice tribute to Thoreau’s Walden Pond, but Wall as a nickname?
9. Webster – Sounds like either an 80s sitcom or a dictionary.
10. Romulus – Would you name your son after someone who killed his twin brother?
20 Cool Uncommon Baby Names I Think Are Pretty Cool:
1. Franny – Like my personal favorites Ruby and Sadie, it’s a feminine old-fashioned name that is due for a comeback.
2. Elspeth – This sweet Scottish version of Elizabeth could be shortened to Ellie.
3. Valentine – A romantic sounding name, which can be shortened to Val for a cute nickname.
4. Lucienne – A solid alternative to Lucy.
5. Cicely – A Victorian name with panache.
6. Cornelia – The Latin variation of Cornelius has retro appeal.
7. Saffron – I’m just wild about Saffron (it’s spicy).
8. Ondine – Elegant and could be shortened to the catchy Ondi.
9. Sabra – A sweet alternative to Sarah.
10. Henrietta – This feminine variation of Henry has vintage charm. Plus, Hattie is a cute nickname.
1. Raoul – An international name that will work especially well for a jet-setting tot.
2. Rufus – It’s the name of Babble’s founder. Need I say more?
3. Maxfield – The epitome of cool. Plus, Max is an obvious nickname.
4. Orson – The name of one of the greatest film directors who ever lived could also make a cool name for a little boy.
5. Vaughan – Rare but classic.
6. Osborne – Because Oz is such a rockin’ nickname.
7. Stellan – If you like Stella for a girl, you’ll love Stellan for a boy. Plus, it’s Swedish!
8. Griffith – Griff would make an awesome nickname.
9. Malachy – Strong alternative to more popular Irish boys’ names like Sean and Aidan.
10. Balthazar – Granted, it’s a bold choice. But at least it’s a popular restaurant in New York!