Too Cool? Not Cool Enough? Finding the Baby Name Sweet Spot

We made waves recently by writing a piece for The Daily Beast about Hipster Names.  Almost universally, the cry went up: Oh no! I’ve given my baby a hipster name!  “I have a one-year-old named Matilda,” one mom wrote.  “I hate you.”

Ooops, sorry.  We love the name Matilda.  Really!  We’re just a little confused about why hipster has become such a dirty word.

Or not.  I mean, we do get it, in a way.  There’s something sneering, something dismissive about branding someone or something “hipster.”  It connotes the feeling that someone (or something) is trying too hard to be cool, which of course is the definition of uncool.

On the other hand, what are you supposed to do: be deliberately uncool?  Call your kid Jennifer, or Jean, or something that thumbs its nose at the entire planet of style?

Would not caring about style lead you to transcendentally cool names?  Or thoroughly uncool ones?

Insert deep sigh here.

The real question on many parents’ minds: How do you choose a name that’s genuinely stylish and interesting but that’s neither too hipsterish or too uncool?

Let’s play (and for you Message Board fans, this would make a great Name Game):

Hipster: OSCAR

Uncool: ORIN



Too cool: EVA

Uncool: EILEEN



Hipster: ATTICUS

Uncool: JULIUS




Uncool: APRIL



Too cool: LENNON

Uncool: STARR



When it comes to calling the sweet spot, we’re not always that sure of ourselves either — or in agreement.  (After I posted this, Linda emailed me, Estelle?  Really???) We’d love to hear your ideas on which names hit the sweet spot, and why.

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20 Responses to “Too Cool? Not Cool Enough? Finding the Baby Name Sweet Spot”

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Emmy Jo Says:

November 25th, 2008 at 6:23 pm

I’m still trying to get my head around exactly what constitutes a “hipster” name. I’ll agree that there are some baby names that seem to be trying too hard. I recently met, on separate occasions, two little girls named Moira and Cecilia. While I adore both names, there was something unappealing about the way their mothers introduced them. The mother may have only said, “This is Cecilia,” but you could tell she was thinking, “Wasn’t I cool to pick such a stylish, original baby name?”

I’ll agree with you on Oscar and Atticus. But Estelle? Definitely more hipster (or possibly even uncool) than sweet. I love Julius — it sounds just right to me, but I’d imagine someone who didn’t like it would find it more hipster-pretentious than uncool. And Monday and Rock? Those are trying way too hard.

When it comes down to it, our impressions of style are intensely personal. I’m considering a couple of the no-no’s from your article. Miles is more Pilgrim than jazz great to me, so it seems like an underused historical gem. And I recently found out my great-grandmother (who I never met and had only heard referred to by her last name) was named Leta, so I’ve added that to my list as well.

You really can’t fault parents for wanting to find that one great undiscovered name that no one else is using but will still sound current and in-style, can you? I can’t.

pam Says:

November 25th, 2008 at 6:34 pm

No, I certainly can’t fault them, except that undiscovered names no one else is using are almost by definition NOT current and in-style, and when you try to find a name that does both (or is that all three, or four?), you often end with what might be thought of as a hipster name.

Tikicatt Says:

November 25th, 2008 at 7:33 pm

Hipster: Edwin
Uncool: Egan
Sweet: Edgar, Edward, Edmund

Hipster: Autry
Uncool: Earl, Shane
Sweet: Destry, Roger(s), Rowdy

Hipster: Prescott
Uncool: Paine
Sweet: Philip, Peter, Patrick

Hipster: Graydon, Gus, Gustave
Uncool: Gawain
Sweet: George, Gilbert, Gary

Hipster: Mathilda
Uncool: Myrtle, Mildred, Minerva, Madge
Sweet: Margaret, Mannon, Mary, Millicent, Megan

This is fun!

pam Says:

November 25th, 2008 at 9:28 pm

This is great! Though Mildred and Minerva seem to be crossing to the hipster side (crazy as that may seem). And Gary is sweet? That’s revolutionary!

Ellipses « Pigtails Flying Says:

November 25th, 2008 at 11:05 pm

[…] funniest things about baby names, which I secretly revel in: when people discover that their child shares a name with a dog from the neighborhood. (My bitch is named Matilda.) Anyway. Have I made you laugh, or pissed you […]

weekly linkage « McGraw Family Says:

November 26th, 2008 at 11:39 am

[…] a cool baby name is tough. I’d like to think we did ok but only time will […]

Tikicatt Says:

November 26th, 2008 at 12:21 pm

Mildred and Minerva crossing, that is crazy! You want to name your child with Dread in their name? And Minerva is so old sounding. My grandmother was Ethel, her sisters Evelyn and Verda. There is this adorable picture of them in dark dresses and high button shoes and bobbed haircuts with straight bangs and ribbons on the top of the heads. I look at that picture of these adorable little girls and think – you named this one Ethel? Now there is the ultimate name of trying too hard to be hipster!

Millie is cute and Millicent wonderful, but in this generation would they just end up as Miley instead of Millie? Not to mention once you start work your email ends up Mildred.Smith – when you have always gone by Millie. IT departments never ask first!

Tikicatt Says:

November 26th, 2008 at 12:25 pm

Whoops, hit submit too soon….. Pam – Gary IS revolutionary! Cute for the little guy and an all around good name for an adult. Have seen two little Gary’s lately, it is a great re-tread!

Sonny Says:

November 26th, 2008 at 5:52 pm


Going by relative popularity ranking, Ethel, Evelyn and Verda are the 1920’s equivalent of Ashley, Natalie and Kaylin. Not so hipster when you think of it that way!

Andrea Says:

November 30th, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Destry and Rowdy sweet? The laugh out loud factor should usually be avoided if you’re talking about a “sweet” or “just right” stylish name. I’d class a hipster name as self-consciously stylish, a name that screams “Look at me!” even while the parents are putting on an air of being completely above caring what others think of them, of being far more intelligent, intellectual, in the know, whatever, than the great unwashed. Trendy is just trendy. It’s a name that often sounds like all the other names that are in style and is spelled strangely. Both styles are obnoxious and you kind of know it when you see it.

Andrea Says:

November 30th, 2008 at 8:59 pm

Oh, and I’d add that a name like Jean or Anne, Irene or Helen seems anything but uncool. They’re simple and classic without that hipster vibe, can belong to someone from any race or religion, are neither strongly liked nor strongly disliked and are not overused. They’re names for ladies and are instantly worthy of respect. Anne can be Lady Anne or Princess Anne or Judge Anne or President Anne or Dr. Anne. So can Irene or Helen or Jean and similar sounding names.

tiffanie Says:

December 5th, 2008 at 11:35 am

i read that article – i don’t think being a hipster is a bad thing. but i fear that names that i think are cool, and actually are deemed “cool,” may be too cool for the average person who isn’t familiar with trends in the naming world. that 60-year-old lady down the street isn’t going to know that “Gus” is “sweet,” she’s going to think i named my kid after a dog.

Melissa Says:

December 9th, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Isn’t it funny how different names conjure different (and strong!) images for people? I used to teach in France and had several lovely students named Estelle, so for me it’s a sweet, pretty, young name; my husband nearly had a heart attack. For him, “Estelle” is a chain-smoking, wise-cracking Jersey granny who haunts the bingo parlors!

automotive floor jacks Says:

March 14th, 2009 at 9:01 am

I must say, I can not agree with you in 100%, but it’s just my IMHO, which could be very wrong.
p.s. You have an awesome template . Where have you got it from?

How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

April 15th, 2009 at 12:48 pm

My fellow on Facebook shared this link with me and I’m not dissapointed at all that I came to your blog.

redriding Says:

August 20th, 2009 at 6:54 pm

Just came across this (late as usual). Very thought-provoking.



Mr J Says:

May 7th, 2010 at 1:20 pm

@ Melissa
My little girl is named estelle. It’s an homage to the chain smoking jersey grannies of yesteryear as well as to the future of cute little elementary students of tomorrow. It’s a great name who’s time has come to return. Though I think estella may have a little more broad appeal.

Tori Says:

August 10th, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Sweet: I’m sweet with O’Brien the rest of the names aren’t my style


Too cool: EVA this name is gorgeous


Hipster: ATTICUS the rest are horrendous yes I’m beginning to become hippy


Uncool: APRIL this is cute


Too cool: LENNON similar to a favourite of mine Leonard

After reading the article and much thought I don’t think being a hippy is bad so what parents try to think of interesting names to name there child isn’t that better than everyone having the same name. I like the hippy vintage classics I think there gorgeous. Interesting blog once again

izzy Says:

April 2nd, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Julius is uncool? Cool! It’s my top choice for boys(:

anna.bliss Says:

January 4th, 2013 at 11:25 am

My daughters name is June and I definitely think of it as sweet. Along with may other “hipster” and “uncool” names on here. We all perceive names differently and we shouldn’t judge someone for “trying to be cool” because maybe they aren’t. Maybe they just like the name. Or…maybe they are cool! ha 🙂

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