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?

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11 Responses to “9 Ways to Choose an Unusual Baby Name”

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AldabellaxWulfe Says:

February 23rd, 2015 at 7:51 am

Place names, Surnames, Nature names and Spiritual names come in two forms – the subtle and the not. Dorian and Sidonia (place names), Bellamy (surname), Oceanus and Ambrosia (nature names), Aloysius and Honoria (saint names) are or have all been on my list due to their subtlety in that, they area place names and they are surnames etc., but unless you’ve done the research, most can’t tell just by looking at them. To the untrained eye, they are simply elegant names, and that is the appeal that I covet when it comes to names. So, understandably, Ireland and Alaska (placed names), Ryker and Paxton (surnames), Meadow and Cricket (nature names) as well as Zion and Bodhi (spiritual names) just don’t cut it based on the fact that they are SO obvious, and not in a tasteful way, in my honest opinion.

Virtue names – with the odd exception of Patience – just aren’t my thing. And Occupational names have never grasped my attention based on the fact that I like my names to have meaning; either a literal one or a personal one. And since the likes of Baker, Fisher, Sailor and Tanner are all self-explanatory jobs, I just don’t see the appeal and likely never will.

Respelling names and Imported names I consider to be one of the same since the only respelling I will accept is on an international level, e.g. – Oskar and Isobel instead of Oscar and Isabelle. I think international names/spellings are cool, fresh, interesting and cultured. Misspelling names is an entirely different box of frogs and, in my opinion, it’s a shameful trend which (thankfully) seems to be rather self-contained in America for the time being. The likes of Aliviya and Mhykynzee are cheap, low-class and all around shameful, and there is no excuse for it, or rather, them.

Steal one back from the girls… hell yes. If girls today can pick up the likes of Elliot, Dylan and Ryan, names that have no feminine phonetics, no feminine history or etymology and are still popular amongst boys, then I see absolutely no reason why unisex names that have ‘gone to the girls’ can’t be taken back for the boys – Evelyn, I am looking at you!

In direct answer to your question:
My favourite way to come up with an unusual baby name is to search through history. Nowadays people tend to think that historical names only come in three forms, the (boring) timeless classics like James and Ava, the (old people) outdated choices like Eugene and Norma or the (in my opinion cool) ugly frumps like Nimrod and Gertrude. But there is SO MUCH MORE than that!

Look deep enough and you’ll find choices such as Plumeria and Anastasius – names that haven’t see the light of day in decades, if not centuries, and will knock your socks off in terms of innovation and splendor. And those are the types of names that I love. 🙂

BluebirdBlossom Says:

February 23rd, 2015 at 8:09 am

I would love to see Avery reclaimed by the boys!

GoodHope Says:

February 23rd, 2015 at 10:19 am

Since picking an unusual name is not important to me, I don’t have a favorite method of doing so. My LEAST favorite way, on the other hand, is changing the spelling. In opting for Elisabeth or Isobel (or even Alyzabeth or Izzabell), parents aren’t choosing unusual names–just unusual spellings. In my mind, there’s a huge difference.

skizzo Says:

February 23rd, 2015 at 11:44 am

Love those nature names, word names, place names and spiritual names. These are right up my alley. River, Bodhi, Sailor, Tennesse, Bowie, Zion, some great names here.

Tara Wood Says:

February 23rd, 2015 at 12:22 pm

Great piece! Loads of valuable information. I love your writing, Abby!


Jennai Says:

February 23rd, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Um, in Germany Elisabeth is the NORMAL spelling.

epowell Says:

February 23rd, 2015 at 2:08 pm

I agree with Jennai, I don’t think Elisabeth or Isobel are considered different spellings because they are cultural. Depends on where you live on what is considered normal. I think both spellings are lovely and considered “right”

Really good read 🙂

indiefendi2 Says:

February 23rd, 2015 at 2:21 pm

Sailor sounds more like a boy name to me anyway. But people say the same for Baylor which I think is all girl.

Ashleigh315 Says:

February 24th, 2015 at 1:57 am

“The likes of Aliviya and Mhykynzee are cheap, low-class and all around shameful, and there is no excuse for it, or rather, them.”

I feel bad for you – that you care so much about what other people name their children and clearly have nothing better to do than troll around the internet and put people down. My name is “misspelled” and amongst all the other Ashley’s of the 90s I’ve always loved my name. It also had significant meaning to my mom. I can also reassure you that I am anything but cheap, low-class, or shameful and at the very least I know I’m a nicer person than you!

AldabellaxWulfe Says:

February 24th, 2015 at 3:42 pm

@Ashleigh315 – I said that the NAMES exhibited those undesirable qualities; not the people forced to bear them. Do try to pay attention next time. Also, I’m sorry if you think that my rejection of illiteracy makes me a ‘bad person’. No offense intended, but you sound like a child throwing a tantrum because you don’t agree with someone else’s opinion. Maybe you should grow up a little and realise that it’s not about how ‘nice’ you think you are (seriously; are you five?), but it’s about a lot of different people expressing a lot of different opinions. If you can’t handle those opinions – or at the very least ignore them -, then I suggest you take yourself off the internet and go live under a rock. Good day to you; “nice person”.

omama Says:

February 24th, 2015 at 4:48 pm

I’m with @BluebirdBlossom!! Great boys names have been going to the girls for generations! I would have named my first boy Avery 5 years ago except that the name was already well into transitioning. I do not care for most boys names on girls and have had to resort to using surnames for my boys to avoid what are now considered unisex names.

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