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In a recent blog, one half of the Nameberry partnership suggested ten neglected names–five for girls and five for boys– names that aren’t receiving the attention or popularity they deserve. Now here are ten more from the other half–names that have been consistent favorites of mine, but which have never really caught fire despite our recommendations. (I should add that two of the names on the first list–Barnaby and Dinah–have been enduring loves of mine as well–in fact Dinah was the runner up to Chloe when I was naming my daughter.)
So, from the Land of Lost Opportunities:
AMITY. Unlike her solid, serious, one-syllable virtue-name cousins Hope, Grace and Faith, Amity has a lacy delicacy as well the wonderful meaning of friendship. And yet it has not appeared in the Top 1000 in 150 years. The same is true of the similarly neglected VERITY, which also has the attraction of a trendy V-beginning and the meaning of truth.
DUNCAN. This handsome Scottish name has always been near the top of my boy favorites list, for its combination of sophistication and bounce. It has literary cred from Shakespeare (Macbeth) to James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans). Though it hasn’t been completely neglected –it reached as high as 377 in the late 90s heyday of D-names like Dylan, Dustin and Dalton–it’s never been fully appreciated. Could Dunkin’ Donuts be to blame?
GENEVA. Believe it or not, this was quite a common name a century ago, in the very low one hundreds in the first two decades of the 20th century. Being one of the original place names, with the long-popular Gen-Jen beginning (and logical nickname), it’s surprising that it hasn’t been picked up on in the modern age.
JANE. Whatever happened to Baby Jane? Once ubiquitous, it has virtually disappeared, and while the names of several of Jane Austen heroines have succeeded, her own name has not. I’ve never thought Jane was plain, seeing it as much more vibrant than cousins Joan and Jean. It makes a sweet, old-fashioned middle name too–moving away from dated Mary Jane to cooler combinations like Ethan Hawke’s Clementine Jane.
LARS. One of a number of appealing Scandinavian names that have never made their mark in this country, Lars is strong, straightforward, friendly, and a touch exotic–a perfect choice for someone seeking a distinctive no-nickname name or a namesake for a Grandpa Lawrence. (And for those who like the en/-an-ending trend, there are also SOREN, KELLEN, and STELLAN.)
LIONEL. Not quite as obviously leontine as Leo or Leon (of which it’s a French diminutive), Lionel has a lot of multi-dimensional cred, as a Knight of the Round Table, and in the jazz and TV-character worlds. Runner-up: the Welsh LLEWELYN, if only for its cool double-L nicknames–Llew, Lleu and Llelo.
MIRABEL, MIRABELLE. The perfect alternative for those tiring of the mega-popular Isabel and Annabel and Miranda, this is another choice that has never reached the Top 1000, despite its feminine charm and accessibility. It can also be considered a nature name, as mirabelle is the name of a variety of sweet yellow plum. Italian version MIRABELLA is another winner.
POLLY. Why Molly and not Polly? I’ve never understood the enduring popularity of the one and the neglect of the other, both being vintage rhyming nicknames for Mary. The disparity might be accounted for by the childlike, innocent, pigtailed, Pollyannaish (and maybe avian) image of Polly, a name which has hardly been heard since the 70s, (except maybe for Mattel’s Polly Pocket dolls), having peaked on the charts in 1881! I say it’s time for a revival.
REMY. A French name that’s not as effete as Anatole or Antoine. Au contraire. Remy–meaning someone from the city of Rheims and sometimes associated with the Cajun cadences of New Orleans– is lively and charming, with just a pungent whiff of cognac. Kids will relate it to the plucky rat chef hero of Ratatouille.
ZEBEDEE. A distinctive Biblical name with zip as well as gravitas, belonging to the fisherman who was father to two of the twelve disciples, James and John. Other pluses: the cool initial Z and the cool nickname Zeb.
If you’re a fan of cool nickname names, you’ll find Russian baby names a treasure trove of possibilities. Some of them have already entered the American mainstream–Sasha and Mischa (both unisex), Talia, Katya–but there are many more Russian baby names that are less familiar but equally appealing, as are some of the full names.
Russian nomenclature in general is quite unique, in that each person has three personal names: a Christian name, a middle patronymic taken from the father’s given name, and a surname that reflects gender, so that a son of Ivan would have the last name Ivanovich, while a daughter would use Ivanovna. At birth, a child is given a formal name known as a “passport name,” but usually is called through childhood by his or her pet name. It is at the age of 16 that a person begins to be addressed by the formal first name and patronymic, so that, for example, Piotr‘s daughter Olenka would overnight become Olga Petrovna. The nickname often survives well into adulthood though–as in the case of Misha Baryshnikov, for example.
The list of Russian baby names below follows the name with its most common pet forms–many of which have an abundance of wintry charm.
While I’ve come to prefer Pamela to Susie, I’m still fascinated by all the variations of that early beloved name. Susannah is one of my very favorites, for example, undoubtedly inspired by my early love of Susie. If I had six daughters, I’d certainly name one of them Susannah.
Alas, I had only one daughter, and a husband who didn’t like the name Susannah – upon hearing it, he could never resist breaking into a chorus of Oh Susannah! Which, obviously, is one of the few big downsides of this otherwise beautiful name.
The original version of the name is Shoshana, Hebrew for ‘lily.’ Appearing in both the Old and the New Testaments, the name wasn’t common until the seventeenth century, when it was sometimes found in the archaic forms Susanney and Shusan or Shusanna.
Over the centuries and throughout the Western World, the name has moved in and out of fashion in so many different forms that they might comprise a chapter of a name dictionary all by themselves. The major variations include:
SUSANNAH and SUSANNA – What’s the difference between these two versions of the same name? The ‘h’ ending makes the first more properly Hebrew, and is the spelling used for the Old Testament figure falsely accused of adultery. Susanna, usually the Italian, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, and Dutch version of the name, appears in the New Testament and as the name of two virgin martyrs. SUSANA is the usual Spanish spelling. Susannah feels more old-fashioned but also more complete, relating to such currently fashionable names as Hannah and Mariah. No form of Susannah has been in the Top 1000 for nearly ten years, though they all hold some style currency.
SUSAN – The abbreviated English Susan became the most popular version of the name in the 18th century, fell out of style in the 19th, and then came back in such a major way in the mid 20th century that it feels too much like a mom or a grandma name to be used for a baby now. It was in the Top 10 from the mid-1940s through the mid-1960s and in the Top 100 from the 1930s well into the 1980s – a full fifty years!
SUZANNE – The French form of the name enjoyed some popularity during Susan’s heyday but now has nosedived right out of the Top 1000. The German and Scandinavian spelling is usually SUSANNE. A pretty enough name, but with the more fashionable and more authentic Susannah or Susanna equally distinctive, why not choose one of those instead?
SANNE – The Dutch short form of Susanne has become a star in that country, ranking in the Top 10 for several years now. While some Americans have by now heard of the name, few have yet used it. SANNA is a related name used in Scandinavia; ZANNA is also found.
ZSUZSANNA – The Hungarian version of Susannah, pronounced ZHOO-zhawn-a, is attracting some notice as the name of the wife of a Canadian politician and writer. ZSUZSA and the more famous ZSAZSA are short forms. Most Eastern European forms of Susan are spelled with a Z, including the Czech ZUZANA and the Polish ZUZANNA. One of the most familiar and most winning versions: ZUZU, the name of the little girl in “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
SUE – Used so often as a short form, as a middle name, and in conjunction with other names such as SUE-ELLEN and SUE-ANNE that it’s come to become almost a non-name, blending into the background without a strong identity of its own.
SUSIE – My ideal childhood name feels terminally girlish now, and most bobby-soxed Susies have long ago shortened their name to Sue or reverted to the original Susan or Suzanne. Such appellations as Susie Homemaker and Susie Q have further driven the name out of consideration. SUSI and SUZI have a similarly long time to mark before they have any chance for a comeback, though the antique SUKIE or SUKEY feels a tad fresher.
My family and I love nothing more than to visit as many National Parks as we can. We’ve been to twenty-six of them, from Acadia in Maine to the Everglades in Florida to Haleakala and Hawaiian Volcanoes. It’s amazing that we didn’t name our children after one–we were only thinking of classic names then (we did name our son Peter, which comes from the Greek Petros, meaning stone, as in Yellowstone)–because they are such a treasure trove of possibilities. Not only the parks themselves but the waterfalls, mountains and beaches within them have distinctive names. The passion I feel for National Parks is captured so perfectly by the artful names given to these places. Who, for example, can say Shenandoah without crossing into the past, into less complicated times?
So here is a list of National Park-related names:
ALBERTA (falls–Rocky Mountain)
ANSEL (park photographer Ansel Adams)
ARCHER, ARCHIE (Arches)
ASH (mountain–Sequoia and Kings Canyon)
CARMEN (mountain range–Big Bend)
CRUZ (bay–Virgin Islands)
ELENA (canyon–Big Bend)
ELIAS (Wrangell-St. Elias)
EMERALD (ridge–Mt. Rainier)
ISIS (temple–Grand Canyon)
JASPER (forest–Petrified Forest)
JOSHUA (Joshua Tree)
JUNIPER (canyon–Big Bend)
KENAI (Kenai Fjords)
KING (Kings Canyon)
KOBUK (Kobuk Valley)
LASSEN (Lassen Volcanic)
MESA (Mesa Verde)
MUIR (naturalist John Muir who helped save Yosemite)
QUINCY (mountain–Gates of the Arctic)
ROYALE (Isle Royale)
SHASTA (mountain near Lassen Volcanic)
SMOKY (Great Smoky Mountains)
VERDE (Mesa Verde)
TIRZAH (peak–Mt. Rainier)
SUSAN CHESNEY, a graduate of Art Center College of Design, was the president of a graphics company for twelve years. She lives near Pasadena, California with her husband Kent, daughter Laura (son Peter lives nearby), dog Roxanne Louise and cat Moses Malone.
Having a baby in New York City is different from having one anywhere else, and that includes choosing a name.
The most popular New York baby names are a departure from the popular names in the rest of the country, for one thing. Daniel tops the boys’ chart for the very first time in the 2007 New York City name popularity statistics, with Jayden rising to number two. Sorry, Mayor Bloomberg, but Michael has now fallen from the top spot to number 3 for the first time in 50 years. Isabella and Sophia tied for number one for girls, unseating Ashley and Emily.
Other names that are higher on the New York popularity list than they are in the rest of the country include, for girls: Rachel, Chloe, Angelina, and Esther, and for boys, Justin, Sebastian, and David.
The reason? The diverse ethnic population accounts for much of the unique mix of New York baby names. One of the few locales that breaks down name popularity by ethnicity, names high on the list for Hispanic babies born in New York City include Angel, Luis, and Jose for boys; Mia, Angelina, and Sofia for girls.
African-American parents differed from those of other ethnic backgrounds in favoring names of black celebrities. Jada, Imani and Aaliyah were high on the girls’ popularity list, while Elijah and Isaiah were popular for boys.
The Asian popularity list featured some counterintuitive ethnic favorites. The number one name for Asian baby boys is Ryan, for example, with Kevin, Vincent, and Ivan also ranking high. For girls, Tiffany, Fiona, and Winnie, a name that doesn’t even break the national top 1000, are popular.
And then there are names on the New York City list popular among Hasidic Jewish parents that are virtually unheard of elsewhere in the country: Malky, Raizy, and Shira for girls; Moishe, Chaim, and Menacham for boys. Plus ethnic choices such as Fatoumata, Xin, Tatiana, and Mohamed that reflect New York’s special mix.
But New York wouldn’t truly be New York without a range of sophisticated names as well. Names favored by New York parents and found here more often than in other parts of the country include such refined choices as Sebastian, Julian, and Henry for boys, and Alexandra, Charlotte, and Alice for girls. Maximus and Giuliana (yes, Giuliana) have an only-in-New York quality, though Rudy was not to be found.
Of course, beyond the most popular list, there are names that are trendy in hip New York that are still rarely heard in most parts of the country. Oscar, Ruby, Atticus, and Isla may be bordering on overexposed in Tribeca and Park Slope, but might still be radical choices west of the Hudson River.
Chelsea is one New York neighborhood name that does show up on the popularity list, just outside the Top 100. New York parents — or fans of the city — in search of more original local choices might want to consult the list of New York baby names based on the city neighborhoods.