There are some names that, even now, after writing so much about the subject, I hear and think, “Wow, that’s a great name. I wonder why people don’t use that one more often?”
Sometimes, the answer is that a name was just too popular too recently for parents to appreciate its intrinsic wonderfulness: the lush Biblical Deborah is one that might fit in this category, though I didn’t include it in my ten examples.
Other times, a name carries an unappealing association for enough people to keep it from becoming popular. And there are a dozen other reasons why a perfectly wonderful name just might not make it big – which can be good news for the parent in search of a name that’s both topnotch and undiscovered.
Here, ten names we think are underrated right now:
BARNABY – This name scores high by virtue of feeling both energetic and classical, a rarity among boys’ names. The medieval English form of an ancient Aramaic name that means “son of the prophet” or “son of encouragement,” Barnabas was given as a surname to a biblical missionary named Joseph.
BRIDGET – The original Brighid was the ancient Irish goddess of poetry, fire, and wisdom, and the name in its many versions has been borne by a host of saints, servants, and one extremely curvaceous French actress. An Irish immigrant maid was commonly called a “Bridget,” an epithet that caused many young women to change their names to something more acceptable, like Bertha. But today, the original Bridget or Brigitte or Brigid or Birgitta is much more appealing.
DINAH – The Old Testament Dinah – pronounced dye-nah – was the daughter of Jacob and Leah whose story was popularized by the novel “The Red Tent.” The beauty of this classical name was obscured by so many similar and more popular versions: Dena and Deena and Diane and Diana. But Dinah, if you can get people to say it properly, remains a relatively undiscovered gem.
GREGORY – Gregory is one of those names that, like Deborah, was so popular in recent decades that parents tend to bypass it now: It peaked in 1962 and remained in the Top 50 through the late 1980s, though now it’s down to number 223. Greek for “vigilant” or “a watchman,” Gregory remains a name that’s both strong and friendly. The highly respectable name of popes and saints, it also carries the earthy short form Greg.
MARGARET – Margaret was so widely used for so long – it remained in the Top 25 from 1880 well into the 1950s – that it came to be seen as one of those quintessential old lady names, but not in a good way. Greek for “pearl,” Margaret has a rich, classic feel and was the name of many queens and saints. Another plus: a raft of great nicknames, from older choices like Peggy, Meg, and Maggie to new spins such as Maisie or Molly. The French Marguerite is very fashionable.
OLYMPIA – Why has Olivia achieved megapopularity while Olympia has languished? The mythological connection might be a negative, or is it something about that “limp” sound? Whatever: It’s a name of champions and the fewer people that realize that, the better it will be for the selective few discerning enough to choose it.
REUBEN – The sandwich connection may be what’s holding back this Old Testament name from catching up with megapopular brothers like Jacob and Benjamin. The stylishness of sister Ruby may give this name a boost. It’s a treasure for adventurous yet classical-minded namers….and it can even work for girls.
ROY – This name that means king has a mid-century cool-guy feel, thanks to Roy Orbison and Roy Rogers. It’s short, it’s simple, yet it stands out: What more could you want from a boy’s name? The next Ray.
TABITHA – Forever Samantha’s daughter on Bewitched, this exotic choice from the New Testament never became as popular as her mother. Like Keziah or Lydia, Tabitha is that rare Biblical girls’ name that remains distinctive yet feels totally appropriate for modern life. The nickname Tabby is cute, but the name really blossoms in its full form.
THOMAS – Thomas is not exactly an underused name, but it is an underrated one. So plain as to fade into the background, Thomas and Tom are masculine names that manage to be at once soft and strong, modern and traditional. Originally used only for priests, Thomas is Aramaic for “twin” and comes attached to many appealing figures, including Thomas Edison and Jefferson, Tom Sawyer and Hanks.
Agree? Have some other ideas? Let us know.
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on May 3rd, 2009 at 10:59 pm
I always that the Lana is an underused name. Everyone likes old Hollywood namesakes Ava and Sophia; why not Lana?
on May 3rd, 2009 at 11:00 pm
Oops, I meant “I always thought that Lana was an underused name.”
on May 3rd, 2009 at 11:09 pm
I named my daughter Bridget, she goes by B mostly. It took me the entire pregnancy and a week after the birth to decide on a name, and now she’s such a bridget, it’s perfect.
on May 4th, 2009 at 12:20 am
UNDERRATED NAMES – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry…
Tags: baby name Barnaby, baby name Bridget, baby name Dinah, baby name Margaret, baby name Reuben, baby name Roy, baby name Tabitha, baby name Thomas, secret baby names, secret names, underrated baby names, underrated names ……
on May 4th, 2009 at 12:28 am
Like Tirzah I also think that old Hollywood provides some names that are often underrated these days. Some more names that could be brought back into fashion from the classic days of Hollywood are:
Merle (Merle Oberon)
Norma (Norma Shearer)
Maureen (Maureen O’Hara)
Myrna (Myrna Loy)
Betty (Betty Grable and Betty Hutton)
Bette (Bette Davis)
Vivien (Vivien Leigh)
Joan (Joan Fontain and Joan Crawford)
Doris (Doris Day)
Mae (Mae West)
on May 4th, 2009 at 2:12 am
I’ve always thought Dinah was a lovely name.
Linus is name I don’t think gets the respect it deserves. I guess it will take a celebrity to name their baby Linus for people to get over the Peanuts association.
Other names that get no respect:
Dorothy – Wizard of Oz isn’t the first thing that comes to my mind
Rose – as a first name instead of a filler middle name Ross – I think it has a great masculine quality to it, I’ve never watched Friends a day in my life, so I don’t think of that show’s association
Howard, Nigel and Neil – I’ve known 3 great, handsome young men with these names. Nameberry calls them dusty, but I guess once you meet someone with these names, it changes your opinions of them.
Tirzah, I think both Lana and Lena are underused, yet so sophisticated.
on May 4th, 2009 at 4:21 am
Duncan has always been high on my list.
on May 4th, 2009 at 6:58 am
Great list! I love Barnaby. And Jenmb, I wouldn’t have been into Howard until I met a Howard nn’d Hoby – and that completely changed my mind.
As for other names that belong on the list, how ’bout Simone? Danielle, Michelle and Nicole have all been chart toppers, but Simone, not so much.
on May 4th, 2009 at 8:21 am
Love these ideas. I’ve got several leftover ones myself. This had got to be another post very soon….
on May 4th, 2009 at 8:43 am
Barnaby & Margaret are favorites of mine, for sure! A few other underrateds that I dig: Helen, Raphael, Francis (the boy version, Frank is cool), Edgar, Marilyn (If Caitlin can be big, why not Marilyn?), Louisa & Sylvie. I’ve been liking Albert recently too. (and I’ll second Abby’s Howard!)
on May 4th, 2009 at 9:52 am
Philip is on my list. He suffers the same fate as Gregory I think. Great names in full, but Phil and Greg are not very appealling these days. Of course, you could be REALLY forward thinking and consider those nicknames retro mid-century chic, like Susan. I’m not ready to do that though! Great post. I love Barnaby and Thomas especially.
on May 4th, 2009 at 9:53 am
Reuben and Tabitha are in my top two names for each gender! I also wholeheartedly agree about Gregory and Margaret. Margaret has such beautiful nicknames and Gregory in its full form (not Greg) is lovely.
on May 4th, 2009 at 10:14 am
Oh, these names are divine 🙂 I have exposure to quite a few of them though, and I agree that most don’t get the recognition they deserve!
Barnaby, whilst not my cup of tea – I’d love to hear more of – he’s just so bouyant and cheery 🙂
Dinah is lovely too, though she reminds me a bit too much of Alice’s cat! I also adore Margaret and Marguerite! The former is my niece’s middle name. DHs cousin also has a little Tabitha, with siblings Anastasia and Max 🙂
And finally– I’m a pre-school aide and I actually teach a Reuben and a Brigitte! I think they’re lovely – Rueben is just cool, really. He sounds British to me for some odd reason, and Bridget is just a subtle, timeless name to me!
Vivien, Linus, Francis and Susan are all pretty cool and very understated, in my opinion!
on May 4th, 2009 at 11:27 am
Love this list all the way until Roy. It is underrated and thereby ripe for someone to pick up – but it just doesn’t have that certain bring it back feel. It is too much like Earl or Dale or Lester for me. Old, odd and hopelessly beyond tepid.
So what are the sibsets for Roy?
on May 4th, 2009 at 11:31 am
Here are some that I find very underrated and I happen to adore: Priscilla, Muriel, Gloria, Dorothy, Francine, Virginia, Margaret and Thomasina. I guess a lot of the mid-century names. Although I find Priscilla and Margaret to be timeless.
on May 4th, 2009 at 12:36 pm
Roy’s sibs would definitely be a stylistically quirky bunch: Vince, Gwen, Pete, Lena, Billie…..probably not Dale, even though it “matches.” If a name were easy to like, it probably would not be underrated.
on May 4th, 2009 at 12:38 pm
I thought of more: Van, Dot, Ike, May.
on May 4th, 2009 at 3:15 pm
I second the return of Dorothy! I would also add Alice, Yvette, Dexter and Bruce.
on May 4th, 2009 at 4:07 pm
I think Walter should be added (or does he already fall into the “trendy” category?). I agree with Dorothy, too! A little Doro or Dot is adorable.
on May 4th, 2009 at 4:36 pm
I love, love, love Tabitha! It reminds me of Tabitha nn Tibby in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants!
Reuben is also a favorite, and so is Margaret, Bridget… and most of the other names on this list!
on May 4th, 2009 at 4:48 pm
Oo I love the name Bruce. It just sounds so masculine to me compared to some of the frilly boy’s names in style nowadays. Marshall is another male name I find has a lot of strength.
I’d also like to see more usage of Drucilla/Drusilla
on May 4th, 2009 at 5:04 pm
I love Dorothy, too, and Dory/Dorie is my favorite nickname. (I think Dorothea, nn Thea, is fantastic, too.)
I think Blythe, Felicity, Hope, Diana, and Willa are all underrated…
Great blog entry! 🙂
Christina Fonseca Said
on May 4th, 2009 at 5:06 pm
Minerva is a lovely and underrated name. It has the cute nickname Minnie too. I can easily picture her as a sister to Dorothy, Tabitha or Olympia.
on May 4th, 2009 at 5:07 pm
Simone definitely isn’t underrated . It seems like half the girls in my school are named Simone, and it actually sounds boring to me now. And I prefer Thomasine to Thomasina.
on May 4th, 2009 at 5:20 pm
I asked about the sibset for Roy because I have a great uncle Roy. His sibset was William, Margaret, Hannah, Henry, Edward, John and Roy? Seriously you get Roy at the end of that?
It has mostly been in my experience that the Roy sibset goes like this:
Earl, Wayne, Dixie, LaDonna and RoyDale or
Lloyd, Helen, Roy and Wayne or
Lester, Roy, Earl, Shirley, Nancy and Billie or
Bubba, Dub, Sissy, Bitty, Bobbie, Wayne and Roy.
I am just asking is Roy and name you intend to use so that you can set up the lovely Van, Dot, Ike, May and Roy?
So for all the straining Hipsters – go for Roy I want to see what you put with it. Oscar, Annabel, Olympia and Roy?
on May 4th, 2009 at 5:30 pm
Or maybe Roy, Earl, Duke….and Princess. I stand by Roy!
on May 4th, 2009 at 7:41 pm
LOL, Tikicatt and Pam. 🙂 For me, Roy is definitely a sibling of Bubba, Buford, Cletus, and Raylene.
on May 4th, 2009 at 10:47 pm
Not to be too nit-picky, but according to the Hebrew spelling in the Hebrew version of the Old Testament, Dinah is pronounced Dee-na, not Dye-nah.
on May 6th, 2009 at 8:16 am
My name is Dorothy, which is unusual for a 27 year old. I was named after my grandmother, and while I went as Dot for a long time and then later D, I introduce myself as Dorothy. It’s a great name, classic in one sense, but uncommon enough that I don’t know any other Dorothy’s my age. I always wonder if it’ll come back in later generations.
on May 6th, 2009 at 1:46 pm
Birgitta, Margaret and Thomas have been on my faves list for a while. Barnaby is an interesting one. Olympia and Tabatha will probably always be low on the popularity list but have a certain appeal nonetheless. I can’t say I’m a fan of the others. Beryl and Margot are two more of my faves that don’t get much love.
on May 7th, 2009 at 12:16 am
I really love the name Philippa. I don’t know if its underrated necessarily, but I definitely don’t hear it a whole lot. I’ve only ever met one Philippa, and she just made the name for me. I think it’s just a really pretty name, feminine, but can still be de-feminized with Phil as a nn for a tomboy, or just in general.
on May 7th, 2009 at 12:18 am
Also, I really love Tabitha. Just wanted to put that out there. The main character in a novel I’m writing named Dinah, too, so obviously I like that one, too.
on May 7th, 2009 at 12:19 am
IS named Dinah. Sorry
on May 9th, 2009 at 1:29 pm
I’m sixteen, and I have two very good friends named Margaret (goes by Margo sometimes) and Bridget. I love their names; they’re unique enough to stand out, yet are definitely modern enough to be cool. Margo and Bridget totally fit their names!
And I also know an Olympia..always thought that was cool, too.
on May 9th, 2009 at 2:15 pm
If you want to know why Lana isn’t popular then read it backwards and you’ll know! I used to love the name until I noticed this. You might not think that it’s a big issue but in elementary school the “getting called by what your name is backwards” thing is quite common.
Please don’t promote Thomas! It has been overused for decades and is definitely not overlooked or underrated. I’m so happy it’s falling as it deserves a good long break, just like Mary. I love the names Mary and Thomas and hope they’ll be okay to use when I have kids and not common.
I always wondered why these weren’t more common:
Ophelia (okay it has negative associations but it’s so close to Olivia).
Georgia (it’s falling)
Emmeline (not even in the top 1000 and so much prettier than Emma)
Homer (forget Homer Simpson, this name is so handsome)
Eve (it’s falling even though Eva and Evangeline are shooting up. Appreciate the simplicity of Eve!)
True (this is so much prettier than Faith)
Drusilla (I think this is really cool plus you could call her Dru)
Tallulah (Lula is such a cool nickname and fits in with current trends)
Belle (much simpler and prettier than Bella)
Paulina and Pauline
Mira and Mila
Linda (yes, it was a 50s name, but hey, it’s pretty)
Miriam and Maryam
Esther and Estella
Oh and I love Deborah! But without the nickname Debbie. It’s so very pretty. I also love Tabitha. I love Dinah and Olympia.
on May 14th, 2009 at 9:30 am
I wish we could bring Margaret back! It’s so regal and lovely, with such fun nicknames like Maggie, Meg, and Maisie.
Also Anne and Jane. Used frequently as middle names but never as first names. They are lovely names, why can’t anyone appreciate that? I think Rose and Marie fall in this category as well.
For what it’s worth: the original Hebrew pronunciation of Dinah is DEE-nah, and it is just as legitimate spelled Dina as Dinah. In fact, on the first page of The Red Tent the character Dinah clarifies that her name is pronounced DEE-nah. I love Dina/Dinah pronounced DEE-nuh, but am ambivalent about the DYE-nah pronunciation.
on June 20th, 2009 at 5:58 pm
Be careful with DYE-nah, rhymes with the word for female genitalia.
I love Dorothy, too, but apparently there is a popular kids show with a dinosaur named Dorothy. So maybe kids will make a different association with that name.
Royal Mirage Said
on July 13th, 2009 at 11:49 am
Charlotte Vera Said
on November 4th, 2009 at 2:02 am
I love Gregory in full, but the nickname Greg inhibits me from ever putting it on my top ten list. Bridget is a name that I’ve loved ever since I was little, although I don’t think I’d ever use it in the first name spot. As for Margaret, well, I love Margaret. Margaret is definitely a top-tenner for me, but sadly, the husband just laughed at the idea. Maybe for daughter number seven. . .
on November 26th, 2009 at 2:22 pm
Tabitha is lovely! There is a Tabitha on my street who goes by Tibby, isn’t that adorable?
on December 4th, 2009 at 5:26 pm
Names i love that are undersued
Ada- its kind of like Ava… so mayeb it will be comeing…
Louisa- I think too many people think that its to old of a name… I think its gorgeous
May- insted of as a filler middle name…
I’ve also always loved Bridget and there were two Bridgets in my class and that was only a year ago…
on March 25th, 2010 at 12:53 pm
I think some of these names have faded because of their nicknames; Debby, Barney, Marge, and Tommy don’t appeal to me at all.
on June 29th, 2010 at 2:04 pm
Ginger – soft old holloywood feel. I love this but never hear it. I think it qualifies as underrated.
on June 14th, 2011 at 6:27 pm
My first name is Lana. I really like it, but my parents chose to call me by my second name instead.
on July 1st, 2013 at 5:03 pm
My dad remarried when I was a kid and my step mum and step sister were both called Dena (den-ah) apparently it’s an old South African name used in their family (being South African a few gens back) short for Yordena (yar-den-ah). So to me, Dena, has always been pronounced as this.
My husband has five sisters, one of them being called Deana (dee-nah) I do like both of these names and hadn’t heard of either until I met them for the first time 🙂
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