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Sasha, Mars, and Wilburn: Strange names, or tomorrow’s Top 100?

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By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

The other night a friend asked me what happens to kids with really strange names.  Not made up names, or names with crazy spellings, he clarified.  Names like Apple.  Or Bartholomew.  Names that make you do a double take when you spot them on the birth announcement.  Names that make you say “Really?” when you should be saying “Congratulations!”

My reply?

Nothing.  Nothing happens.

Actually, everything happens – the kids grow up and have the same kinds of adventures and heartaches and triumphs and debacles that we all have from cradle to grave.  Their name is part of their story, but even if their name is Clove or Cashel or Cordelia, it is only a part.

Sure, Rambo and Rage don’t make a great first impression.  And really unusual names like Maximum and Fedora, Pretty and Kix do invite questions and comments.

But many names aren’t permanently different.  They’re just not common in our culture and language at this moment in time.

The unusual name you choose at birth could be quite stylish by kindergarten.  Harper born in 1998 would have been a standout.  Today she’s one of the crowd.  The same is true for so many names, once rare or all-but-forgotten, and now topping everyone’s favorites list.

Names go from out-there to everywhere, from clunky to cool, in just a matter of years.  This week’s baby names in the names are a mix – a few that would have been surprising in the 1980s, but now seem mainstream.  Others earn a raised eyebrow in 2014, but might seem pretty ordinary by 2030 or so.

The most newsworthy baby names for the last week of March 2014 are:

Eloise – Actors Grant Show and Katherine LaNasa welcomed a daughter, Eloise McCue.  No word on the meaning of the middle, but it sounds like a family name, doesn’t it?  Eloise is the perfect example of a former outlier name that took off.  Just 59 girls were called Eloise in 2000.  A dozen years later, that number was 850, enough for Eloise to rank #364 in 2012.

Tristan Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky have named their twin sons!  Joining big sister India Rose is Tristan, the kind of name that might have surprised in the 1980s.  Today he’s a Top 100 fixture in the US, boosted by Brad Pitt’s character in Legends of the Fall, but borrowed from the medieval tragedy and countless interpretations of the story, from Wagner to Hollywood.  It’s hard to call such a romantic name ordinary, but a friend did comment, “Oh, I’m so tired of Tristan.”

Sasha – The second Hemsworth lad has a very different name – and one that I really like!  He’s Sasha, a Russian nickname for AlexanderLiev Schreiber and Naomi Watts call their son Alexander by this diminutive, though Liev has Russian heritage.  I’m not so sure about the Pataky-Hemsworth family – Chris is Australian; Elsa is Spanish.  But I do like their daring reclaiming of a name that’s gone girl in the US.  Then again, who is going to quarrel with Thor?

Wilburn – If you’re known professionally as Ciara and Future, the pressure must be on to find a stand-out baby name.  The Grammy-winning singer was born Ciara Princess Harris.  Her rapper boyfriend started out life as Nayvadius Wilburn, though he recently changed his surname to Cash.  But at the couple’s baby shower, the blue and white cake read “Baby Wilburn.”  Will they bring back Future’s first surname as their baby boy’s first name?  I have my doubts, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear clunky-cool Wilburn on a little boy in, say, Park Slope.

Harriet – Speaking of being clunky-cool, how about Harriet?  Trailblazing children’s book Harriet the Spy is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.  That’s right – fifty years of aspiring writer/neighborhood sleuth Harriet M. Welsch.  On numbers alone, Harriet qualifies as an oddity.  She’s been out of the US Top 1000 for more than four decades.  But nickname Hattie is hot, and –et ending names like Juliet and Violet are on the rise.  Could Harriet be the new Hazel?

Hugo Marvin – Thanks to Jennie, a.k.a. British American, for spotting this birth announcement.  The crafter-blogger-fabric designer behind Made by Rae is now mom to three.  Son Elliot and daughter Clementine are joined by new baby Hugo Marvin.  The crafty Michigan mama has such great taste in names that I rather hope she has three more kids!

Carl Leo Basketball Wives’ Evelyn Lozada and baseball player Carl Crawford have welcomed their first child together, son Carl LeoCrawford is an outfielder with the LA Dodgers.  The inspiration for their son’s name is all about daddy – not only will the father and son share first name Carl, but Leo is dad’s astrological sign.  While I love the idea, the two names run together: Carleo.  Which reminds me of Carlito, little Carlos … which is sort of the vibe they were going for anyway.

Mars Ilah – If Carleo could be smooshed into one name, Mars Ilah is begging to be combined.  Comedian Blake Anderson – you might know him from Comedy Central’s Workaholics – and wife Rachael Finley are new parents to daughter Mars Ilah.  The Roman god of war seems like a strange namesake, but add a ‘y’ and Marsy resembles Marcie, Mercy, maybe even Maisie – all wearable, even sweetly vintage, girls’ names.  Singer Erykah Badu is also mom to a girl called Mars, and yet I have a hard time seeing this one as the next Eloise.  Though for boys, he could be the new Atlas.

Delphine – Let’s end with a mystery!  Nancy explored Delphine this week, a name that had a good run in the 1920s, and again in the 1950s.  Her use doesn’t track with any single fictional character, song or notable person by the name.  Of course, -ine has been a stylish ending for girls’ names over the years, from Geraldine and Maxine to Nadine and Angeline.  If you’re crushed that Josephine is so popular, could Delphine be a substitute?  With a subtle tie to dolphins and a long history of use, Delphine could be a surprising choice that will raise eyebrows – but in a good way.

Which names have surprised you by becoming far more popular than you would have guessed?  Do you rule out names if they’re too unusual – even if they appeal to you for other reasons?

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