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Underrated Names, Part Deux

zebedee

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.

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Tutti-Frutti Names: Fruitful Baby Names

fruit baby names

When the latest unusual starbaby name hit the headlines last week–extreme adventurer Bear Grylls’ son Huckleberry–maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised.  After all, a previous celebrity couple, Kimberly Williams and Brad Paisley had named their son William Huckleberry, and are known to call him Huck.  But with people still commenting on Apple, maybe it’s time to look at the whole category of  fruit names.

APPLE.  Unlike some other starbabies, Apple Martin has not inspired many namesakes, probably because of all the ridicule it received and despite mom Gwyneth Paltrow’s defensive statement that “apples are so sweet and they’re wholesome and it’s biblical..I just thought it sounded so lovely and clean.”  In fact, since Apple‘s godfather Simon Pegg was quoted as saying she’d be using her middle name when she starts school, we don’t see much chance of it ever catching on.

BANANAEven less likely.  Japanese novelist Mahoko Yoshimoto adopted the pseudonym of Banana because she considered it “cute and purposely andgrogynous”–which it is–but for pen name purposes only.

BERRY. Has long been used as a unisex name, reaching a high of #435 in 1909 and staying in the Top 1000 till 1971, having  two famous namesakes–Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. and Berry Berenson (born Berinthia), photographer/actress and widow of Tony Perkins who died tragically on 9/11.  It’s a choice that just might come back as a green name which is less elaborate than the other berry names.

CHERRY.  Another fruit name that’s had some popularity before it  disappeared in the 70s, along with Merry, Kerry, Sherri and Terry–possibly because of its embarassment potential for a teenage girl.  Don‘t see this one coming back.

CLEMENTINE.  Partly because you wouldn’t immediately tag it as a fruit name, Clementine is a real winner, which could return to popularity for the first time in over a century, helped by its usage by celebs Claudia Schiffer and Ethan Hawke.  Pronounced with either a teen or tyne ending, it has historical ties to Mrs. Winston Churchill, is feminine, stylish and substantive ,and has long since shed its clunky ‘Oh my darlin’ image.

HUCKLEBERRY.  Has two main obstacles—the close association with Huckleberry Finn and with the cartoonish Huckleberry Hound.  Mark Twain told an interviewer that he picked it to describe “a boy of lower extraction”  Huck is a pretty cool nickname though.

LEMON.  You wouldn’t guess it now, but Lemon was once a fairly well used male name–as in the legendary blues singer Blind Lemon Jefferson, and it still has some potential as a unisex name.  When Alex Baldwin’s character on 30 Rock calls Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon by her last name, it makes it sound like a very plausible first.  LIME might be a middle name possibility.

MANGO. Bizarre Chris Kattan SNL character.  Let’s leave it there.  Papaya and Kiwi too.

PEACHES.  Old-time chorus-girly nickname name revived by rocker Bob Geldof for his daughter Peaches Honeyblossom Michelle Charlotte Angel Vanessa, who has been adament in her resentment of it, saying “My weird name has haunted me all my life.”  Let that be a lesson.

PLUM.  A lot prettier and more usable than Peaches, associated with British-born writer Plum Sykes, whose birth name was actually Victoria–the nickname arising from the species  known as the Victoria Plum.

STRAWBERRY.  This cousin of Huckleberry is another rarity, given to the granddaughter of writer William Saroyan, who says grew up in a community of kids named Shelter, Wonder and Raspberry, and with a sister named Cream.  After changing her name briefly, she came to see the advantages of its uniqueness.

And how do we feel about fruit names?  Well, we did call our site Nameberry!

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Celebrity Baby Names: 2008′s best & worst

baby name Clementine

First for the good news.  Here are the starbaby names which we consider to have found the right combination of originality, charm and substance this year:

CLEMENTINEEthan Hawke & Ryan Shawhughes

Full name Clementine Jane Hawke projects the image of a sweet but strong, prim but pretty heroine of a Victorian novel, and brings to mind the song lyric ‘Oh my darlin’ (never mind that her shoes were #9).  It was previously the starbaby selection of Cybill Shepherd and Claudia Schiffer.

HONORJessica Alba & Cash Warren

We applaud this choice that moves beyond the more common Puritan Virtue names like Grace, Hope, and Faith to one that projects an even more righteous image, but has rarely been heard in this country.  An honorable decision.

KNOX & VIVIENNEAngelina Jolie & Brad Pitt

The award for best twin names of the year goes to the always inventive but never quite over-the-top serial baby namers, the Jolie-Pitts.  Knox continued their tradition of boys’ names ending in ‘X’ (as in Maddox and Pax), and also has family connections to Brad‘s grandfather, as does Vivienne‘s middle name, Marcheline, that of Angelina‘s mother.  Runner-up twin names: Coldplay drummer Will Champion’s lively Juno & Rex.

LOTUSRain Pryor

In the name garden overgrown with Roses and Lillies, Violets and Daisies, it seems fitting that the granddaughter of the late iconoclastic comedian Richard Pryor would have a more exotic flower name.  With its languorous feel, the lotus holds intriguing significance in several cultures.

SUNDAYNicole Kidman & Keith Urban

An unusual but sunny day-of-the-week name, inspired by an Australian artist’s patron named Sunday Reed, it’s in tune with other current calendar names like January, May, June and August, as well as the seasonal Winter and Summer.  Some people did think it strange that Sunday was born on a Monday.

And now for what we judge to be this year’s losers:

BRONX MOWGLI —Ashlee Simpson & Pete Wentz

Poor little Bronx got nothing but Bronx cheers when his name was released, especially as paired with the name of the Disneyfied Jungle Book boy.  If his parents thought this New York borough name would catch on the way Brooklyn has, they’re in for a big disappointment.

BUSTERMichele Hicks & Jonny Lee Miller

Is he a bulldog?  Is he a prizefighter?  No, he’s a baby, whose rambunctuous name will not do much to encourage his sensitive side.  An example of the alarming trend towards giving doggy names (Lucky, Princess) to babies.

KADENCE CLOVER —Tony Hawk

It could just as well be Cadence Klover, within the paradigm of using the initial letters C and K interchangeably, leading to regrettable innovations like Kasey, Kassidy, Karolyn and Kaleb.  Fortunately, the trend seems to be waning.

MAXXScott Hamilton

Taking Max–which already means “the greatest”–to the max.  INXS, we’d say.

PEANUT—Ingo Rademacher

The General Hospital star explained that this had been the nickname they used “when he was in mommy.”  OK, good luck explaining that to him when he’s six feet tall and applying to Princeton.

We’d love to hear your nominations for the best and worst celebrity choices of the year, and won’t be surprised if you have very different opinions.  Let’s hear from you lovers of Harlow and defenders of Kadence!

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