Classic but Rare Girls Names: Ada, Liza, and Lena

Classic but Rare Girls Names: Ada, Liza, and Lena

Baby naming tip: when others react negatively to your favorite name, don’t despair! Instead pay attention, because it might be a good sign you’ve found an undiscovered gem.

Kelsi writes:

My husband and I are expecting our first daughter, and we are having a hard time pinning down a name. Our son’s name is Reid. What I like about Reid is that it is classic but not common. We have a very long last name so having a shorter name is important to us.

Names we have considered include:

Ivy – our top contender for so long that it seems like it has lost its flair

June – we both like, but are not in love

Liza – but it seems to get bad reactions

Norah – I’m not sold

I am a teacher so most names my husband chooses I can’t get on board with because of student connotations.

Please help us!

The Name Sage replies:

Negative reactions can be a namer’s best friend.

Sounds crazy, right? But think about it. Not so long ago, Hazel and Cora felt hopelessly old-fashioned. Now they’re fast-rising favorites.

The same is true for nearly every name in the current Top 100.

And if they weren’t dismissed as dated, then they were considered too weird. Current favorites Paisley and Piper weren’t on anybody’s shortlist a dozen years ago.

When you’re looking for a traditional name that isn’t too common, those negative reactions can signal that you’re on the right path.

In fact, I wonder if that’s part of why Ivy has lost some of its appeal. On paper, it’s perfection. Ivy is as simple and straightforward as Reid, with a long history of use but without the Top Ten status of other mini names like Ava and Mia. But the number of newborns named Ivy has nearly doubled over the last five years.

In other words, tell someone you’re thinking of Ivy, and odds are good that they’ll love it.

Let’s move slightly farther down the popularity list, looking for names that are traditional but still undiscovered.

Ada – Between all of the Adelyns and Addisons, Addie names can feel overexposed. And yet, Ada remains relatively uncommon. It ranked Number 357 last year, putting it in the company of names like Heidi, Ember, and Felicity. Pioneering mathematician Ada Lovelace makes a worthy namesake.

Delia – Fewer than 200 girls were named Delia last year, which puts this name outside of the current Top 1000. It rhymes with Celia, but feels less expected. In Greek myth, the name was associated with Artemis, and is sometimes heard in poetry. Definitely a sweet, simple, and an undiscovered gem.

Iris – Like Ivy, Iris is a vintage nature name starting with I. In terms of popularity, it falls somewhere north of Ivy – Number 217 versus Number 129 as of 2015. Still, it’s a similar style of name, with the –s ending of traditional names like Alice and Frances.

LenaLiza reminds me of Lena and Norah, too. At Number 272, it’s fairly mainstream and quite current, without being too popular. (Credit to Girls creator Lena Dunham, maybe? Game of Thrones actress Lena Headey is another influence.) While it can be short for lots of longer names, Lena feels complete on its own.

Mary – Can I talk you into Mary? Yes, Mary was the most popular girl’s name for ages. But for a child born in 2017, Mary is strikingly unusual. In many ways, Mary is the perfect compromise: everyone recognizes it, we can all spell and pronounce it, but no one your daughter’s age will actually be named Mary. It’s a surprise and a delight to meet a baby Mary these days.

NellNell combines the straightforward charm of June with some of Norah’s sound. Like Delia, Nell is so rare it doesn’t rank in the current Top 1000. Or spell it Nelle, as in Nelle Harper Lee – who was named after her grandmother, Ellen. Nellie seems stuck as the mean girl of Little House on the Prairie fame, but I’ve also seen Nella, an alternative to Ella, Bella, and Stella.

Thea – Until recently, names with the ‘th’ sound were out of favor. But the popularity of Leo encouraged parents to rediscover Theo. Now feminine form Thea is on the upswing. It’s big in Scandinavia and the UK, but in the US has just entered the Top 500.

Vera – Here’s my favorite. Vera comes from the Russian word for faith, but we tend to associate it with the Latin verus – truth. It was a favorite at the beginning of the twentieth century, which means the name is ready for revival right about now. It reminds me of Liza, but shares Ivy’s v. At Number 312, Vera ranks around the same spot as Reid does today.

I do think you should keep Liza on your list. In fact, the only one I might drop is Norah. Norah without the ‘h’ ranked Number 40 in 2015. If you haven’t taught one yet, you almost certainly will soon. But Ivy, Liza, and June do feel like great sister names for Reid. If the only reason you’ve ruled out Liza is a few negative reactions, I might put that at the top of the list.

But there’s no shortage of names in this category, and I know our readers will have some great suggestions.

Update: She’s here! Welcome Nell James, and thanks to all for their input.