Sweet Spot Baby Names: Fitting in and standing out
Obviously, everyone has their own definition of what a perfect name is, but for Pam and me, as expressed in our books, it has always been distilled into the phrase fitting in/standing out.
Located in the sweet spot between the hundreds of names that are epidemically popular–common enough for their distinctive images to be diluted–and those that are too unusual, too extreme– is a kind of golden triangle of lightly used names that have meaning, history, depth, and appeal, yet won’t provoke any raised eyebrows, names that will allow your child to both fit in with her peers and stand out among them.
Many such names are to be found in the lower half of the popularity list; the examples below, drawn from the names that rank between 500 and 1000, are our selection of names which we think fit into that special sweet spot. We’d love to hear if you agree or disagree–and what names you would add.
So what names would you add?
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
on December 13th, 2012 at 12:36 am
LOVE LOVE Beatrice and Cataline, I also like Laurel and Eve. I’m fond of Geraldine because it was my Aunts name and Adele as well since it’s my sister’s mn. From the boys list I like Rex because I know two who are both great associations.
I would add Josephine and Ambrose.
I don’t really get the appeal of Irene mainly because it’s somewhat common here.
on December 13th, 2012 at 12:38 am
I LOVE this list! The only one I might disagree with is Bryn. Yes, that spelling for girls isn’t often used, but its cousin Brynn is ranked at #190 and moved up almost 100 spots last year…
I do wonder how many of these will be ranked much higher in the next few years. Two-three years ago, Aria and Mila were down in the 500s; some like Cora have leapt 80 spaces in a year. I don’t think Geraldine or Asa will leave the “sweet spot,” but I am curious to see what will 🙂
on December 13th, 2012 at 1:41 am
on December 13th, 2012 at 1:53 am
I love Dahlia! From the boys I love Rory. I might add Colette, Sienna, for girls, and Ronan for boys. Great list, though I’m not a fan of Lilith or fletcher.
on December 13th, 2012 at 5:22 am
Wow!! I must say that I’ve never disagreed more with a list on Nameberry!! I’m trying to get my head around it…
Perhaps it’s because i’m Australian, but I’m really struggling to appreciate the number of ‘surname names’ on the list, especially for boys – Bowen, Crosby, Darwin, Edison, Gibson, Hayes, Jensen, Lennon, Lennox, Sullivan, Turner, Wilson et al. I also see some of these, such as Darwin, having huge teasing potential – it would definitely raise eyebrows for me!!
I’m not a fan of the supposedly unisex names on the girl’s list (which are definitely not seen as unisex over here) – Blake and Rory. I really struggle to see either of these names as girl’s names.
I am not sure what Mercedes is doing there either. Regardless of its origins, the vast majority of people these days would associate it with the car brand, so it falls into the very unappealing category of ‘brand names as first names’ for me. And names like Patience and Dixie are, like Darwin, ripe for teasing.
Sloane, while I can see the appeal, will forever be associated with the British Sloane Rangers of the 1980s to me, and I imagine that association would be strong for many people in the UK, Europe and Australia.
Gwyneth, Harlow and Moses (and now Adele to an extent) are so strongly associated with very famous celebrities that while they all have their own appeal, I don’t think they belong on this particular list. And while I love the name Bruno myself, I doubt that many other do, and a lot of people would associate the name now with Sasha Baron Cohen…
And although I’m not a fan of Clay, Clinton, Conrad, Duncan, Keenan, Nash and Roland myself, yet can see why others might like them, I also find it difficult to see any of them as having wide appeal, so don’t feel that any of them belong on this list either!
Names that I DO love from these lists (and that I think would be mostly viewed favourably by others) include:
Lucian (one of my favourite names, but I know lots of people who dislike it because of how close it sounds to Lucifer!)
Is it just because I’m viewing this list through Australian eyes, or do others have the same issues that I do with the inclusion of some of these names?!
on December 13th, 2012 at 7:01 am
I chose both of my girls’ names because they are just left of the sweet spot- Liesl and Margot 🙂
on December 13th, 2012 at 7:31 am
zara-b, a lot of it just may be because your australian! Idk the trends there, but in America surname names are the in thing. Mason, Carson, Addison, etc are more popular.
I do think Darwin would raise eyebrows. I love it myself, but my mother would have a heart attack being so is fervently into creationism and such. The association would kill her lol. I can see Dixie getting teased, though not horribly bad on Patience. Its like Faith or Hope really.
I’m personally not a fan of the unisex names on the list, but they are just too unisex for me personally (ie Blake).
However, in all, I love most the other names! Elsa, Edith, Wilson, Theo, Lucian… etc 🙂
on December 13th, 2012 at 8:47 am
Many of my favorite girls names are on that list! As for boys…..meh. little surprised at Duncan being that far into the top 1000. I know several young Duncans! I thought it was much more popular.
on December 13th, 2012 at 10:15 am
I think the list is pretty accurate! Some have one famous association attached to them that make them a little less desirable for some people: Gwyneth (Paltrow), Esme (Twilight), Darwin (Charles), Harlow (Nicole Ritchie). It’s not that these are good or bad associations necessarily, but that they may seem too strong for some parents. It’s different from a name with 100s of associations (Jack, Mary, Victoria) than just one.
Loving Catalina, Livia, Celia, Laurel, and Sylvia for girls; Conrad, Hayes, Lennox, and Quincy for boys.
on December 13th, 2012 at 11:27 am
Interesting list. Some of these I WOULD raise an eyebrow at. I thought it would be interesting to make a list of which of these names I have met in real life (on people of all ages):
Adrienne ~ I think I went to camp with a girl with this name?
Bree ~ my boss’s 20-year-old stepdaughter
Bryn ~ a girl in my college linguistics class
Catalina ~ a fellow counselor at a camp with a lot of international counselors (she was from South America)
Edith ~ a co-worker’s 3-year-old
Frances ~ 30-something neighbor, known as “Fran” or “Frannie”
Francesca ~ 20-something from an Italian family (also has a brother named Francesco!)
Gloria ~ my own beloved grandmother!
Greta ~ my mother’s best friend from high school AND a darling friend of mine from college
Irene ~ my other beloved grandmother! (and her mother before her… consequently, I still can’t quite shake the “old lady” image of this name, but I’m trying!)
Laurel ~ a friend of a friend–always jealous of this name!
Libby ~ a girl I went to high school with (real name Elisabeth); also always jealous of this one
Maia ~ former boss had a little girl named Maya
Mara ~ college friend
Martha ~ known a few old ladies named Martha, and one 20-year-old!
Meredith ~ a teacher and a classmate in high school
Pearl ~ best friend’s great-aunt
Rosa ~ when I lived in California for third-grade, I had a friend named Rosa
Sylvia ~ college professor (Japanese last name)
Virginia ~ my grandmother Irene’s older sister
Amos ~ my great-great-grandfather (okay, so I never actually met him in person!) AND my roommate’s brother-in-law (Korean last name)
Byron ~ 30-something friend; find this name very distinctive
Conrad ~ stepmother’s brother, so around age 50
Duncan ~ went to college with a guy named Duncan, always thought this was a cool name
Frederick ~ boyfriend’s grandfather
Hugh ~ friend’s father
Lewis ~ high school classmate
Ray ~ 60-something
Ross ~ 20-something
Interestingly, most of the people on this list seem to be of the older set, proving that the reason these names might “fit in but stand out” today is because of the whole four-generation rule phenomenon. Funny that both my grandmothers’ names are on here! Certainly wouldn’t have ever thought of a baby with their names a decade ago…. (Still a little weird, to be honest!)
on December 13th, 2012 at 12:22 pm
Love the girls list – I had a daughter in July and named her Edith – we call her both Edie and Edith and people do remember her. Can’t find that many complementary boys names – our surname ends ‘son’ so all the surname sounding names are out which is a shame as I’m a fan!
on December 13th, 2012 at 12:44 pm
I would add three names that I think fit the description better than many names on this list
Warren: in the 500’s. It fits with current trends like surnames and ending in -en, but it seems different and more timeless than names like Jenson or Bowen, which don’t sound like names to me
Antonia- This name should be getting more use, it fits many trends. This is roman name that ends in -a and recently dropped off the top 1000; it’s the name of any future daughter i may have
Calista- a close second to Antonia for me is Calista. It is perfect and on trend because it is a cute name derived from a roman name, ends in -a and it recently dropped off the top 1000
Alexia Mae Said
on December 13th, 2012 at 12:55 pm
I feel like my son’s name, Judah, is a sweet spot name.
on December 13th, 2012 at 3:53 pm
I would add…
on December 13th, 2012 at 3:57 pm
I think some of the names you have selected do not fit in a sweet spot and in fact raise eyebrows. Such as Thaddeus and Ingrid which are still names you find people laughing at. Yes, my young nephew refuses to tell people his middle name because he is embarrassed that it is Thaddeus and he was laughed at in class.
But other than a few names here and there, you picked decent names people know, but that you don’t hear every day (yet), and that would not get you teased.
on December 13th, 2012 at 3:58 pm
I like most of the girls names – others are too “old” for my taste. Most of the boys names fall into the “too old” category for me too.
Harlow (on my list)
Matilda (a great-aunt, with great stories)
Lucian (my bff’s little boy, nn Luc)
Miller (family name)
Rex (love – vetoed by everyone)
Sullivan (friend’s son, nn Sully)
Few of these would work with our last name though.
on December 13th, 2012 at 4:37 pm
Zara-b: I’m fond of Bruno as well, but doubt I will ever be able to use it.
on December 13th, 2012 at 5:27 pm
Glad to see my name on this list!
on December 13th, 2012 at 5:29 pm
There are some wonderful names on this list (my faves are below). I don’t understand some posters who say they would never consider any names in the top 500 or even the top 1,000. I think today’s parents put too much pressure on themselves on finding that “unique” name and that emphasis distorts their perception of what names are truly popular.
on December 13th, 2012 at 9:09 pm
I think the names listed above are some great names but I have never seen any one with my son’s name i think it is unique in every way his name is Sky’Angelo it is all one word.
on December 13th, 2012 at 9:15 pm
I didn’t like a lot of these names, too many surnames on the boys list, feel like nameberry was a bit off on this list.
Love – Beatrix (utterly love this and it’s sister Beatrix), Juniper (a name I never thought i’d like so much), Matilda(also really like tilda as a nn),Sylvia.
Hate – Annabel (can only think of the cartoon cow), Bree (it just reminds me of cheese, a yummy one but not a name for me.), Adrienne, Blake, Bryn, Celia, Clarissa (can’t but think of that tv show),Dahlia(I always think of that woman who was beheaded),Dixie, Elsa, Esme,Felicity, Frances,Geraldine, Gloria, Greta, Harlow, Hattie, Irene, Libby, Lilith, Maeve, Mara, Marina, Mercedes, Meredith (this feels so tacky), Natalya,Patience, Pearl, Renata, Rory, Rosemary, Samara, Simone, Sloane, Tabitha, Tess, Willa.
Like – Adele (I like it, but too popular feeling.)Catalina (prefere the classic Caitlyn or Catherine),Edith, Eve, Francesca, Gwyneth (prefer Guinevere), Helena,Ingrid(this has grown on me a bit though), Laurel, Liv, Livia, Maia, Martha, Nova (this almost made it to the love list),Paloma. Rosa (I much prefer Rosette),Vera and Virginia (these also very nearly made it to the love list, they have an elegant vintage feel to them)
Love – Amos, Arlo, Byron, Cassius,Darwin,Lennox, Raphael, Samson, Thaddeus, Theo.
Like – Flynn,Frederick (here purely because I like Freddie, Harry, Hugh, Lucian.
Hate – Asa, Bowen, Bruno, Callum, Clay, Clinron, Conrad,Crosby,Cyrus,Duncan, Edison, Finley, Fletcher, Gibson, Hayes, Jefferson, Jenson, Keenan, Lennon, Lewis, Lionel,
Miller, Moses, Nash, Quincy, Ray, Rex, Roland, Rory, Ross, Soren, Sullivan, Tobias, Turner,Van, Wilson, Winston.
on December 13th, 2012 at 10:25 pm
I like a lot of these names! And they are in the “sweet spot.” I am not that much of a fan of surname names for boys either but I do not mind Winston, Van, Sullivan. I really love Tobias and Asa!! Cassius…so many from the lists I love.
Names I would exclude are Adele (reminds me too much of the singer), Clarissa (sounds too 80’s-90’s trendy to me, like Carissa/Marissa), Dixie (I’m sorry, but Dixie? Really?), Geraldine (ew, somes just shouldn’t come back), Hattie and Libby (these are nick names), Livia (looks made up), Virginia (I would never name my child anything which contains the word Virgin..), and Tess, which is a dog’s name.
Names I would add:
1. Instead of the made up Livia, Olive is a uncommon, charming alternative to Olivia.
2. Charlize (fits the Alice/Elise trend as well as the Charlotte trend)
7. Talia or Thalia
9. Cara –really not that popular but classy!
1. Peter —not that popular but well heard of.
2. Mackenzie –I’d love to see this on more boys.
on December 13th, 2012 at 10:45 pm
I would not call this list a “sweet spot” list. Several of the names are simply alternative spellings to a more popular name and several I just don’t like.
Don’t Like – Adele, Adrienne, Beatrice, Blake, Bree, Catalina, Clarissa, Claudia, Dixie, Edith, Elsa, Esme, Felicity, Frances, Geraldine, Gloria, Greta, Ingrid, Irene, Lilith, Maeve, Mara, Martha, Mercedes, Nova, Paloma, Patience, Pearl, Renata, Rory, Rosa, Rosemary, Simone, Sloane, Sylvia, Virginia
Alternative Spelling of a More Popular Name -Annabel, Bryn, Libby(nickname for Elizabeth), Liv and Livia(nicknames for Olivia), Maia, Natalya
Like – Celia, Dahlia, Eve, Francesca, Gwyneth, Harlow, Hattie, Helena,Juniper, Laurel, Marina, Matilda, Meredith, Samara, Tabitha, Tess, Vera, Willa
Names I would add – Brylee, Kenley, Lainey/Laynie, McKinley, Nola,Renna, Tia, Zofia
I like more on the boys’ list…
Like – Amos, Asa, Bowen, Byron, Callum, Crosby, Gibson, Hayes, Jensen, Lennon, Lennox, Nash, Rex, Roland, Ross, Thaddeus, Wilson, Winston
Don’t Like = Arlo, Bruno, Clinton, Conrad, Cyrus, Darwin, Duncan, Edison, Finley, Fletcher, Flynn, Frederick, Harry, Hugh, Jefferson, Keenan, Lewis, Lionel, Lucian, Miller, Moses, Quincy, Raphael, Ray, Rory,Samson, Soren, Sullivan, Tobias, Turner, Van
Alternative Spelling or Nickname of a more popular name – Clay, Theo
on December 13th, 2012 at 11:49 pm
Tabitha is at the top of our girls list. It really does hit the sweet spot: familiar enough to not sound weird, yet weird enough to not sound boring. It’s also got a kind of a quirky, retro-witchy vibe without being all tortured and “look at my Wiccan name.”
on December 15th, 2012 at 11:33 am
We have a 1-yr-old Conrad and the response in real life is pretty similar to the comments here–people either love it or hate it. So many of the boys’ names were on our list! Amos, Arlo, Bruno, Clay(ton), Cassius, Frederick, Lewis/Louis, Rex, Samson, Sullivan (nn Van), Tobias. I would add Harvey, Solomon, Theron, Franklin
on December 17th, 2012 at 12:40 pm
Taking a cue from @mermuse
Adele: my middle name
Adrienne: 20-something friend
Blake: 20-something male classmate
Bryn: 20-something classmate
Clarissa: SO’s aunt
Edith: SO’s grandmother
Eve: my great-grandmother
Frances: my grandmother
Gloria: great aunt
Gwyneth: 20-something classmate
Ingrid: early 30’s wife of my mom’s cousin
Laurel: I know at least two in mid to late 30’s
Maeve: 20-something classmate
Marina: 20-something classmate
Meredith: late 20’s, woman from my church
Natalya: friend’s older sister (late 20’s?)
Rory: 20-something classmate
Rosemary: my grandpa’s sister
Samara: 20-something classmate
Sylvia: a girl I used to baby sit, she’s maybe 14 now
Tabitha: 20-something classmate
Bruno: friend’s older brother (late 20’s?)
Clay: young college professor
Conrad: 20-something friend of a friend
Finley: name of a baby born in August
Ray: I know a Raymond and a Ramon who both go by Ray early 20’s
It seems like a lot of the people I know with these names are close to my age, so they seem to be out of place on this list.
on December 18th, 2012 at 2:06 am
I made a long list of real-life names that have had good receptions but are relatively uncommon in these parts, but word press somehow wouldn’t post it.
Anyway, I think this list is hit and miss. Some names seem right on but others are derivatives of popular names (Livia is really no different than Olivia) and quite a lot of names that would definitely raise eyebrows (Geraldine?)!
on December 18th, 2012 at 4:07 pm
All righty here’s my list of names from the top 1000 that aren’t included in your list and I think would probably work as sweet-spot names.
They aren’t my taste necessarily, but most of them wouldn’t warrant more than a blink, let alone an eyebrow.
Well, I am stretching it more for boys than girls since the general populace tends to be much more conservative on boy names. (My son’s name is in the 300s but still got a lot of eyebrows. People will be people!)
There were easily twice as many girls names in the top 1000 that seemed to qualify, but I kept the lists equal anyway.
I actually know women and girls with the vast majority of the names on the girls’ list below, and maybe 1/4 of the boys list.
Annika – 506
Annalise – 555
Brenna – 510
Charity – 852
Ellen – 699
Halle/Hallie – 616/602
Haven – 570
Joy – 507
Kaia – 605
Kirsten/Kiersten – 850/882
Laney – 523
Lilia – 859
Luciana – 565
Mina – 809
Noemi – 685
River – 913
Selah – 579
Shannon – 706
Shiloh – 625
Sonia – 770
Tabitha – 676
Tara – 877
Thalia – 990
Anders – 950
Beckham – 655
Benson – 719
Bodhi – 937
Brett – 508
Bridger – 959
Brogan – 777
Callen/Callan – 593/885
Cedric – 751
Channing – 672
Davin – 679
Deacon – 662
Donte – 945
Gunnar – 502, although the -er spelling is in the 300s
Killian – 756
Matthias – 774
Rhett – 563
Rohan – 575
Seamus – 840
Tatum – 726
Quinton – 531
Wade – 549
Warren – 501
Zeke – 971
on December 28th, 2012 at 10:01 am
I would add Blair and Lydia, but mostly because I love them!
on January 31st, 2013 at 1:51 am
This describes my feeling on Laurel, Meredith, Felicity, Adrienne, Francesca, Ingrid, and Paloma perfectly 🙂
on January 31st, 2013 at 1:53 am
For boys, Asa, Callum, Hugh, Lucian, Sorren, Sullivan, Ross, and Jensen fit the description for me.
sweet spot baby namesBaby Name Blog – Nameberry Said
on March 17th, 2013 at 11:06 pm
[…] the Nameberry 9 this week, Abby Sandel of Appellation Mountain finds a group of sweet spot baby names–names that sound modern and new, but are still based in […]
on June 22nd, 2013 at 12:44 am
Felicity, Nova, Maeve, Laurel, Pearl, Mara, Gloria, Francesca, Renata, Simone, Tabitha, Celia, Claudia, Gwyneth, Vera, and Rosemary are really wonderful on the girls list. On the boys list, I really like Soren (this will be my first son’s name), Amos, Byron, Callum, Cassius, Winston, Wilson, Tobias, Sullivan, Raphael, Quincy, Jensen, Jefferson, Hugh, Frederick, Edison, Duncan, and Cyrus… but I think Malcolm, Anders, Lars, Lance, Dermot, Orion, and Cormac should be on this list, too.
on August 1st, 2019 at 8:45 am
Helena (name of the protagonist in a book I am writing)
Jensen (my grandnephew’s name although spelt ‘Jenson’)
Theo (the name of my celebrity crush’s youngest son)
I would add Loretta, Veronica, Christine, Bernard and Kenneth to the mix.
leave a reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.