9 Ways to Choose an Unusual Baby Name


By Abby Sandel

There’s more than one way to choose an unusual name.

Classics like William and Elizabeth are evergreen. And who doesn’t love Ava and Mason?

But if you think you’d like something different – maybe even dramatically different – for your child’s name, it can be tough to know where to start.

Here’s a road map with nine different paths to choose an unusual baby name. Celebrities are fond of each one of these strategies, but they’re not exclusive to Hollywood. Anyone can use these same approaches.

The best part? You can go as far as you like. Every idea on this list can help you find a name that’s just slightly outside the mainstream, or something that’s completely unexpected. Whether you’re looking for a first or a middle name, there’s sure to be something here to inspire.

Let’s take a look at the types of unusual names chosen by Liv Tyler, Eric Church, MarkPaul Gosselaar – and lots of not-so-famous parents, too.

Find a place name – Country music’s Eric Church welcomed a new son named Tennessee. Sound familiar? It’s the same name Reese Witherspoon chose for her son back in 2012. Place names can be personally meaningful. A bonus? Even when they’re very rare as given names, they’re likely to be instantly familiar, and easy to say and spell. Other favorites in this category are Alicia Keys’ son, Egypt, and Jeremy Renner’s daughter, Ava Berlin.

Choose a surname Eric Church’s son is Tennessee Hawkins. Surname names are widely accepted as given names today. Chances are good that a name from your family tree or personal history might work well as a child’s name. Zoe Saldana also went this route, naming one of her twin boys Bowie.

Pick a nature name – From the gentle to the wild, interesting nature names are everywhere. Eric Church has announced that Tennessee Hawkins will answer to the fierce Hawk. Last year, Savannah Guthrie chose the poetic Vale for her daughter. While names like River, Violet, and Willow gone mainstream, there are always new possibilities to consider.

Embrace a spiritual name – Countless children have been named after Biblical figures and saints, but there’s a new kind of twenty-first century spiritual name. On Valentine’s Day, Baltimore Raven Justin Forsett and wife Michelle welcomed his their first, son Zion. Lauryn Hill also has a son named Zion, as does NBA player Dwayne Wade. Other names in this category include Bodhi, chosen by Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green last year, and Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban’s youngest, Faith Margaret.

Respell a name – Warning: this can be a VERY controversial approach to creative naming! Saved by the Bell alum MarkPaul Gosselaar and wife Catriona McGinn welcomed daughter Lachlyn Hope last week, a little sister for Dekker Edward. MarkPaul is also father to Ava and Michael from a previous marriage. Respelling isn’t for everyone – and you can go too far – but there are some interesting possibilities, like Isobel for Isabelle or Elisabeth for Elizabeth.

Import a name – Lachlyn started out as the Scottish Lachlan, a name seldom heard in the US. It’s also spelled Lochlan. Both the Loch– and Lach- spellings debuted in the US Top 1000 for boys in 2013. If you’re looking for a Scottish heritage choice, this name remains an import worth consideration. Scottish names are stylish in 2015, but there are culture-spanning possibilities to consider from every language.

Choose a virtue name – Lachlyn Gosselaar’s middle name, Hope, has a long history of use and has never left the US Top 1000. But plenty of virtue names are far more rare, like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s Pax, or Emile Hirsch’s Valor.

Choose an occupational name – Liv Tyler has finally revealed the name she and Dave Gardner chose for their first son together: Sailor Gene. Sailor joins Liv’s son, Milo, and Dave’s son, Gray. Occupational names like Taylor have peaked, but there are new ones on the rise, like Archer and Walker. Not all of them end with r, either – think of Clark, Abbott, and Smith.

Steal one back from the girls – This might be my favorite trend for 2015. Sailor – thanks to Sailor Moon and Christie Brinkley’s daughter – is generally considered a feminine name in the US. But Liv boldly chose it for her son. Earlier this year, Shakira and Gerard Pique chose Sasha for a boy, as did Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky in 2014. There are plenty of names ready to be reclaimed by the boys.

What’s your favorite way to come up with an unusual baby name? Would you use any of these approaches to choose a child’s first or middle name?

About the Author

Abby Sandel

Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at

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