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Boys’ Names: 8 greats under the radar

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Many people—berries included –sometimes complain that it’s harder to find names for a boy than a girl, that we’re running low on male names that are usable but not overused (outside of or as far down the Top 1000 as possible), interesting, distinctive, appealing, and authentic—names that would fit into our old Fitting In/Standing Out category.  But don’t give up the ship—there are still any number of names that belong in that golden triangle, and here we offer eight of the best underused boys’ names.

1. Auberon/Oberon—This pair of boys’ names is actually a twofer, because though they sound the same, they have somewhat different visual images: the Au-beginning lends a certain softness that the starker O-starter doesn’t have. Auberon might be a variant of Aubrey—the grandfather of writer Auberon Waugh’s (son of Evelyn), for example, was called Aubrey. Oberon is the Shakespearean spelling, used for the King of the Fairies in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, based on a thirteenth century French fairy character. Both versions have a strong but creative feel, and could go by the attractive nickname Bron.

2. Benno –Here’s one lively o-ending boy’s name that’s been overlooked, despite the familiarity of its ben beginning.  A German name meaning ‘bear’ and also a novel variant of Benjamin, it came to attention in the U.S. via the father and son duo of Benno Schmidt Sr and Jr. Senior was the venture capitalist who invented the term venture capitalist and Junior was the President of Yale University. Benno is also a saint’s name, belonging to the twelfth century Saint Benno of Meissen, the patron of fishermen, weavers, and the city of Munich.

3. JabezJabez has a rare combo of three appealing elements: a Biblical heritage, a captivating Southern accent, and a jazzy feel.  It was popular with the Pilgrims and on into the nineteenth century (there have been four U.S. Congressmen named Jabez), but it hasn’t been in the Top 1000 since 1880.  In the Bible, Jabez was referred to as “more honorable than his brethren.”  There are characters with this name in a Kipling short story, a Sherlock Holmes mystery, and The Devil and Daniel Webster. Possible downside: a literal meaning related to sorrow; compensating upside: the nickname Jaz.  Bonus: Two other biblical boys’ names with z-energy that we like are Ozias and Boaz.

4. Lorcan—Despite being a Harry Potter name (twice), and among the Top 100 in its native country, Lorcan is one Irish name that has never cracked the US Top 1000.  Lorcan has a rich background in Irish myth and history, as the grandfather of the great hero Brian Boru.  Lorcan O’Toole is the patron saint of Dublin—so it’s not surprising that Irish-born actor Peter O’Toole named his son Lorcan.  Strong, easy to pronounce and spell, Lorcan is an Irish name that would stand out from the more common crop of Connors and Liams.

5. Loyal. An upstanding, admirable virtue name we noticed when we were perusing the popularity lists of a century ago, in which Loyal ranked (in tandem with the less virtuous Royal) in the five hundreds, until it fell out of sight completely in 1948.  Even more rarely heard outside the United States, Loyal probably originally signified devotion to country rather than person, but in either case, fidelity is a great attribute to impart to a child.  And, hey—Loy could be the new Roy.

6. MaguireAnother Irish entry. Although Maguire is such a prominent  Irish surname—it ranks in the Top 40 in the Emerald Isle—this lively and cheerful family name has rarely been used as a first, unlike more familiar examples like Ryan, Riley and Reagan.  The powerful and distinguished Maguire clan was known for their courage, leadership and resilience.  Its many notable associations include the unionizing Pennsylvania coal miners known as the Molly Maguires, actor Tobey Maguire, the eponymous movie Jerry Maguire, the Disney Channel TV show Lizzie McGuire and baseball player Mark MGwire. Bonus: Two other handsome Irish surnames are Malone and Magee.

7. MercerBoth Mercer and his cool, sophisticated short form Merce project a super creative image via their artistic namesakes: Johnny Mercer was a charming and talented songwriter/singer who composed the lyrics’ for more than 1,500 songs, including ‘Moon River’; Merce Cunningham (born with the French version Mercier) was a highly influential avant garde dancer-choreographer and his name still resonates with an aura of bold originality.  An occupational name (it means merchant) that doesn’t sound like one, Mercer was used by jazz great Duke Ellington for his son—who became a respected musician in his own right, and Stone Temple PilotsScott Weiland’s son Noah was given Mercer as  his middle name.

8. SlaterIf you think all the occupational/er-ending names have been taken, never fear– there are still a few fresh choices in this category.  Not surprisingly, this English surname (represented these days by actor Christian Slater) refers back to its original bearer, someone who made roofs of slate. There were Slaters who emigrated to the New World as early as 1617—one John Slater settled that year in VirginiaSlater has a particularly upbeat sound, and the sleek short form Slate brings it into the gem and mineral category, also evoking nostalgic images of old-fashioned school blackboards.  And if ithe name Slater sounds familiar, you might remember that the Mario Lopez character on Saved by the Bell was called by his surname—Slater.  Bonus: Another undiscovered surname-name we like is Wheeler.

Your turn! What’s your favorite undiscovered boys’ name (that you’re not keeping secret until you can use it, of course)?

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