Unusual Baby Names: Phaedra, Phoenix and Penna

Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel targets a wide range of names for this week’s Nameberry 9, from the outrageous (if fictitious) Conquistador to the sweet floral Violet.

 It was a week for outrageous baby names. 

Steve Martin joked that his new baby girl is named Conquistador.

Then Peaches Honeyblossom Geldof welcomed a baby boy named Phaedra, a little brother for Astala.  The only one in the family with a buttoned-down name is Peaches’ rocker husband, Thomas Cohen. 

For better and for worse, there will always be outlandish stand-out baby names, the headline-grabbing, eye-popping choices like Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii.

But this was also the week to consider the new standards.  They’re on trend, and in some cases, they’re catching on quickly.  As we talked about names likely to replace the current Top Ten, let’s take a look at the baby name news, and nine choices that can all be described as modern favorites and new standards:

Harley – When Iron Man 3 hits the big screen next week, the superhero will have a ten year old sidekick called Harley.  It’s a surname worn by William S. Harley, as in HarleyDavidson.  The storied motorcycle manufacturer has inspired parents of boys and girls since the 1990s, but he’s never really caught on.  If the movie is a success, could Harley be the new Riley?

VioletPoppy Montgomery has four sisters with equally botanical names: Rosie, Daisy, Lily, and Marigold.  Now she has a daughter to continue the theme.  Poppy and boyfriend Shawn Stanford recently welcomed Violet Grace, a little sister for Jackson.  Violet is a bloom, a hue, and a modern staple that we’re hearing more and more.

Dashiell – He’s a literary name with energetic short form Dash, chosen by Georgina Chapman and Harvey Weinstein for their new baby boy.  Dashiell joins sister India Pearl, and half-sisters Emma, Lily, and Ruth.  Dad confirmed that his name was inspired by Dashiell Hammett.  It’s a rarity on the rise, perfectly in step with 2013 choices for boys.

EverlyDo you read Young House Love?  Not only do they have an adorable daughter called Clara, they often feature rooms designed by families with nicely named children.  This visit to Everly Harper’s nursery impressed – not only for the stylish décor, but for her on-trend appellation.  I suspect we’ll see her debut in the US Top 1000 shortly.

Jack – Speaking of rankings, he’s the #1 name in Australia and New Zealand.  Once used as an affectionate form of John, today Jack stands on his own.  But despite his popularity elsewhere in the English-speaking world, Jack has faltered in the US, peaking at #34 in 2005 and falling slightly since then.  Even if he doesn’t reach the US Top Ten, he’s a modern staple for boys.

PennaIan Ziering and wife Erin have a new daughter named Penna Mae, a little sister for Mia Loren.  Like big sis, Penna’s first initial was inspired by one of Ian’s parents – dad Paul.  Penna is a rarer than rare, once the abbreviation for Pennsylvania, but almost never heard as a given name.  And yet she fits on this list, thanks to her similarity to the white hot Penelope, as well as choices like Pippa, Stella, and Gemma.

Kingsley – We’ve heard more of the regal Kingsley in recent years, probably boosted by the Harry Potter hero.  But there’s also Gwen Stefani’s Kingston and a long tradition of borrowing aristocratic titles like Earl for children’s names.  Think of Donald Trump’s Barron or Bill and Giuliana Rancic’s Edward Duke.

Phoenix – Australian fashion designer Jessie White welcomed a son named Phoenix, a little brother for Bowie.  Phoenix has gone from daring and different to a solidly established choice for a son – and sometimes a daughter, too.  Like Kingsley, he’s probably been boosted by Harry Potter and his Order of the Phoenix.

Juliette – Let’s end with another literary staple, the name of the lovestruck teenager Juliet from Shakespeare’s most famous romance.  Both the –et and –ette spellings are on the rise in recent years.  She’s less expected than the classic Julia, but still a familiar name.  Ren interviewed a mom who went with Juliette Elena for her daughter, truly a stunning combination.

Which names would you consider modern staples?  Are there any names that you would add to this list?

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23 Responses to “Unusual Baby Names: Phaedra, Phoenix and Penna”

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Arlina Says:

April 28th, 2013 at 11:35 pm

No matter how much I try to like it, Phaedra sounds like the name of a disease to me.

augusta_lee Says:

April 28th, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Not at all crazy about Penna; I think of the pasta. I wish they’d gone with Quilla, a name I’d love to hear more of. Dashiell is fabulous, however, and I’m swooning over the idea of a botanical sibset! Mine would be Marigold, Iris, Juniper, Violet, and Hazel.

sarahmezz Says:

April 28th, 2013 at 11:58 pm

I love Everly (especially Everly Harper), but I’m not crazy about the meaning – “wild boar in woodland clearing”! Although, that wouldn’t really put me off the name, which has just been added to my list! Of the other names listed, I love Violet, Dashiell, Jack (yes, very popular in Oz!), Kingsley and Juliette. Less crazy about Phaedra (I agree, sounds like a disease), Harley, Penna and Phoenix.

sarahmezz Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 12:00 am

Forgot to add, I love the idea of botanical sibsets, too! However, gorgeous as they are, I think they’re a little too tacky to actually work in real life. Poppy’s parents were braver than me!

LilAuburn13 Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 12:28 am

I’ve never liked Phaedra on a girl, and especially not on a boy. Jack is one of the most boring names I’ve ever heard. Penna and Dashiell are refreshing though. I hadn’t heard of Penna before the other day, and it’s pretty cute. I never used to like Juliette, but after Stephanie had her daughter, I completely fell in love with the name. She’s such a little cutie!

liviajoan Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 12:53 am

Penna is too close to the Spanish slang for penis.

maddiejadore Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 1:39 am

I love the botanical sibset idea! I would have a Hollie and a Hazel.

WaltzingMoreThanMatilda Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 4:07 am

Harley is already Top 100 in the UK, and is just outside the Top 100 and climbing here.

I don’t see any reason why the US can’t catch up with this British trend.

Sorry I just don’t “get” Penna – it’s like it’s missing a syllable, or they stuck their finger in the phone book at random to get it.

Bridie Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 5:18 am

I can’t believe that Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii made it all the way to the US! I used to live pretty close to this girl but I didn’t realise the infamy of her name had spread so far.
Dashiell is so cute; I think of Dashiell Hammett, and yes, the nickname is just too cute. Not a huge fan of Penna but I love the combo Mia Loren. Kinda has the elegance and glamour of Sophia Loren.

skizzo Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 7:20 am

I think Kingsley is very elegant, noble souding.

Phoenix has always been one of my favorite boy names, I just love it.

Juliette is very pretty, feminine, and just darling.

Phaedra looks and sounds very over the top to me, do not like.

Harley is very masculine sounding, so if it does get a boost, I hope its for boys. Its top100 for boys in the UK too, let’s hope the US follows…

Jack is just a terrible name, nickname, whatever you want to use it as. Its just bad, and worse, its overused. To “jack off” means to masturbate, so it can cause a lot of teasing potential. Its just an ugly name that’ll bring no identity to your kid.

Everly is a fine unisex name, I don’t mind it at all. However I doubt it’ll ever become too popular, there are better Ev- choices around.

ejs82 Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 8:49 am

I believe Jack is actually closer to the top 10 in the US than you think. There’s absolutely no way to track it, but if you combine all the little Jacks with all the little Johns and Jacksons (and Jaxons and Jaxsons) that go by Jack it would be close.

Mclevine Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 11:34 am

I agree Phaedra on a boy is unusual but Violet for a girl…no.
@liviajoan: even in this form Penna is too close to this word IMO.
However, there are some lovely names. I just adore Phoenix. Kingsley is interesting, but I prefer Kingston, which is a bit more masculine but equally trendy(too bad, I like the name).
I see Juliet and Violet as charming vintage names, but I can’t make myself love them. Dashiell is not something heard everyday, I am not sure about it but nn Dash is adorable. Harley is fine, but the Harley-Davidson association questions this.

lucy101 Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 3:23 pm


Jennai Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Penna?! “Penner” in German means “tramp”, “hobo”, or “jerk”.
Let’s hope parents who choose that name won’t move to a German speaking country.

Abby Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 6:16 pm

@ejs82 – An excellent point!

@Bridie – Not sure how well Talula D.t.H.F.H is known in the US, but she made waves in name nerd circles …

Gretel Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 7:09 pm

I agree with Mclevine that Juliet (for some reason I really prefer the anglicized spelling form to the French) and Violet are charmingly vintage, which is usually my cup of tea, but I don’t adore them even though I’m glad to see them rising in the ranks.

While some people are clearly having a negative knee-jerk reactions to Penna and Phaedra, but I think they’re the kind of names where if you had a lovable face to match them to, you’d probably warm to them. That’s happened to me with tons of monikers, especially if the names already have a history to them like Phaedra (I’m not as familiar with the etymology of Penna). The more I repeat them to myself, the more normal they start to sound.

Not a big fan of the aristocratic title names, but I do prefer Kingsley to Kingston. The surname name Kinsey has a similar sound to that, though, and sounds a little less stiff IMO.

And as egj82 said, according to the 2011 SSA list of the most popular baby names, the number of babies named either Jack or Jackson pretty much equals the number named Jacob (the #1 for boys) at about 20,000, and that’s not including the Jaxons/Jaxsons/Johns. And while Jack’s stock is down, Jackson is at #23 and rising. So we’re still going to be hearing Jack quite a bit on the playground for the foreseeable future.

arunciblespoon Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 8:36 pm

For me Penna will always be a type of pasta, add a couple of siblings called Olive and Pepper and you have a meal.

EmilyVA Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 9:10 pm

I don’t like Penna either.
However I love the name Juliette Elena and her mother Anastasiaruby/Stephanie! With all the namenerds one this site, I am surprised no one mentioned that her mom is a name enthusiast with her own youtube channel!
Anyway I don’t love any of the other names on this post particularly.

Let_it_grow Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I love Violet and was considering it before I found out that my little one will be a boy … but that was before I heard that 3 (three!) babies recently born among my friends/acquaintances are named Violet.
I adore Phaedra – there’s a Phaedra in my extended family, but she’s a girl – hard to imagine that name on a boy.

sarahmezz Says:

April 29th, 2013 at 10:59 pm

So, do we have any idea what Steve Martin’s daughter’s actual name is…?

GrecianErn Says:

April 30th, 2013 at 11:57 am

I’m not a huge fan of most of these names…
Penna sounds made up. But it’s easy to say and spell, so that’s something, right?
Phaedra is a name from a series of books that I’ve read, Greek inspired – for a female. So it always seems female to me.

I like Violet and Juliet. Violet is too popular, and Juliet was… not my choice for a strong female role model, she’s slightly behind Ophelia. 😉

I love Dashiell, but in a world of toddlers, the reaction is, “After The Incredibles?” Um, no, but my son thinks having a brother named Dash is awesome. (But what if he was a slow runner?)

And my husband likes Everly. I’m not a huge fan. But it’s growing.

tori101 Says:

April 30th, 2013 at 5:47 pm

It’s an interesting post, and it’s true that unique baby names are always going to be around and some are going to be shocking…

From these I like:
Violet – really elegant sweet choice.
Dashiell – I like this spunky choice. I think Dashiell has a lot of character and a great nickname with ‘Dash’.
Everly – Strangely this is growing on me a lot, I think Everly sounds intriguing a cute middle name for Vivienne.
Jack -living in the UK this is not considered unique their are so many Jack’s around it’s crazy. I know so may I’ve lost count.
Juliette – I love this poetic choice. I’m a major Romeo & Juliet fan the play, the romance the the connotations surrounding it. This includes the name. Dislike this spelling.

LunaCross Says:

May 19th, 2014 at 2:51 pm

Penne is a pasta, and if you do Penna, Olive and Pepper you have a meal. But Penna and Dick, well, insults. In America, a guy’s private part is a peens (or however it’s spelled.) I might use Violet, Poppy and Juliette. Jack is kind-of tied to Jack Bauer for me, and Everly isn’t so bad, so I might use that, Jack too, as well as Dashiell.

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