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Underrated Names, Part Deux

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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.

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Underrated Names

underratedThere 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.

GREGORYGregory 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.

TABITHAForever 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.

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