Category: secret names
Every so often, we nominate a list of names that most visitors to Nameberry aren’t using….but should be.
But this time, we thought we’d turn the question back to you. What are your favorite undiscovered baby names, the names that are off most people’s radar but that you believe deserve more widespread use?
Let’s dig deep, beyond berry favorites like Beatrice and Imogen and Jasper. What are the truly obscure names — ancient or exotic, newly-minted or dust-covered — that you think are most worth sharing with your fellow berries?
Today’s guest blogger ALANA ODEGARD describes the joys and unique challenges of naming a baby in Iceland.
When I first came to Iceland from Canada nearly six years ago, little did I know that it would be here, on this little island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, where I would not only meet the man who would become my husband, but that I would give birth to my first child.
Life is full of surprises, as they say, and I couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out.
With my due date just around the corner, my husband and I are as prepared as any new parents can hope to be. We’ve taken the prenatal courses, set up the change table, the crib, the stroller, and have a drawer full of diapers at the ready.
So, what else do we need? Well, aside from the baby, of course, it would seem we need a name.
Naming your child may sound straightforward enough, but as it turns out, what should be simple tends to get complicated when one person is Icelandic and the other is, well, not.
Although I am pleased to say that my experience of being pregnant in a foreign land has been a positive one, certain restrictions, regulations, committees, ceremonies and language barriers have made choosing a name quite the eventful task.
Being from Canada, it’s not unheard of for parents to have chosen and announced the name of their baby months before it’s born. In the cases where the parents decide to keep the name to themselves until after birth, the name is among the very first bits of information that is passed along to friends and family.
But in Iceland, things are done quite differently. Generally a baby’s name is not revealed until its official naming ceremony (often accompanied by a baptism). Legally, parents have up to six months to name their baby and it’s not uncommon for a child to be “nameless” for this period of time.
Of course the parents may call their baby by its first name if they have chosen one, but it’s kept a secret from other people. Everyone including grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, best friends, and even siblings must wait until the naming ceremony to find out the little one’s name.
So, what do you call a baby with no name? Up until the naming ceremony babies are often referred to as drengir (boy), stúlka (girl), and elskan (an affectionate term like “honey” or “sweetheart”). The baby may also be called by its last name which is determined according to the Old Norse naming system. For example, if the father’s first name is “Gunnar”, the child’s last name would either be Gunnarsson or Gunnarsdóttir depending on if it is a boy or a girl (the suffix “son” (son) is used if it is a boy and “dóttir” (daughter) if it is a girl).
There are some names that, even now, after writing so much about the subject, I hear and think, “Wow, that’s a great name. I wonder why people don’t use that one more often?”
Sometimes, the answer is that a name was just too popular too recently for parents to appreciate its intrinsic wonderfulness: the lush Biblical Deborah is one that might fit in this category, though I didn’t include it in my ten examples.
Other times, a name carries an unappealing association for enough people to keep it from becoming popular. And there are a dozen other reasons why a perfectly wonderful name just might not make it big – which can be good news for the parent in search of a name that’s both topnotch and undiscovered.
Here, ten names we think are underrated right now:
BARNABY – This name scores high by virtue of feeling both energetic and classical, a rarity among boys’ names. The medieval English form of an ancient Aramaic name that means “son of the prophet” or “son of encouragement,” Barnabas was given as a surname to a biblical missionary named Joseph.
BRIDGET – The original Brighid was the ancient Irish goddess of poetry, fire, and wisdom, and the name in its many versions has been borne by a host of saints, servants, and one extremely curvaceous French actress. An Irish immigrant maid was commonly called a “Bridget,” an epithet that caused many young women to change their names to something more acceptable, like Bertha. But today, the original Bridget or Brigitte or Brigid or Birgitta is much more appealing.
DINAH – The Old Testament Dinah – pronounced dye-nah – was the daughter of Jacob and Leah whose story was popularized by the novel “The Red Tent.” The beauty of this classical name was obscured by so many similar and more popular versions: Dena and Deena and Diane and Diana. But Dinah, if you can get people to say it properly, remains a relatively undiscovered gem.
GREGORY – Gregory is one of those names that, like Deborah, was so popular in recent decades that parents tend to bypass it now: It peaked in 1962 and remained in the Top 50 through the late 1980s, though now it’s down to number 223. Greek for “vigilant” or “a watchman,” Gregory remains a name that’s both strong and friendly. The highly respectable name of popes and saints, it also carries the earthy short form Greg.
MARGARET – Margaret was so widely used for so long – it remained in the Top 25 from 1880 well into the 1950s – that it came to be seen as one of those quintessential old lady names, but not in a good way. Greek for “pearl,” Margaret has a rich, classic feel and was the name of many queens and saints. Another plus: a raft of great nicknames, from older choices like Peggy, Meg, and Maggie to new spins such as Maisie or Molly. The French Marguerite is very fashionable.
OLYMPIA – Why has Olivia achieved megapopularity while Olympia has languished? The mythological connection might be a negative, or is it something about that “limp” sound? Whatever: It’s a name of champions and the fewer people that realize that, the better it will be for the selective few discerning enough to choose it.
REUBEN – The sandwich connection may be what’s holding back this Old Testament name from catching up with megapopular brothers like Jacob and Benjamin. The stylishness of sister Ruby may give this name a boost. It’s a treasure for adventurous yet classical-minded namers….and it can even work for girls.
ROY – This name that means king has a mid-century cool-guy feel, thanks to Roy Orbison and Roy Rogers. It’s short, it’s simple, yet it stands out: What more could you want from a boy’s name? The next Ray.
TABITHA – Forever Samantha’s daughter on Bewitched, this exotic choice from the New Testament never became as popular as her mother. Like Keziah or Lydia, Tabitha is that rare Biblical girls’ name that remains distinctive yet feels totally appropriate for modern life. The nickname Tabby is cute, but the name really blossoms in its full form.
THOMAS – Thomas is not exactly an underused name, but it is an underrated one. So plain as to fade into the background, Thomas and Tom are masculine names that manage to be at once soft and strong, modern and traditional. Originally used only for priests, Thomas is Aramaic for “twin” and comes attached to many appealing figures, including Thomas Edison and Jefferson, Tom Sawyer and Hanks.
Agree? Have some other ideas? Let us know.
Every so often, we hear from a desperate baby-namer who demands to see our list of secret names. You know, the names so wonderful, so special, that we don’t share them with anyone else.
I love the image of a top-secret name roster locked away like The DaVinci Code. I imagine such a list within a golden box, encrusted with jewels, hidden deep within the vault of a majestic bank in some exotic city. Once a year, Linda and I take it out and survey it, making sure all the names on it still really are secret and unique enough to keep literally under armed guard.
But if there were such a list, and we did leak it to a truly tormented name seeker, who then used one of these superlative names, the name would not be secret anymore. In fact, if it were that amazing, everybody else would immediately start to use it, and soon it would be run-of-the-mill.
Obviously, there’s no list of secret names. But nameberry has plenty of choices in its database hidden in plain sight, waiting to be discovered. We’re turning up new ones ourselves all the time.
So here, today’s Top Ten Secret, not-so-secret baby names you may not have come upon in your own explorations but that are definitely worth considering:
For girls —
For boys —
Anybody else discover some great secret names among the more than 50,000 on nameberry? Want to share?