Underrated Names, Part Deux

In a recent blog, one half of the Nameberry partnership suggested ten neglected names–five for girls and five for boys– names that aren’t receiving the attention or popularity they deserve. Now here are ten more from the other half–names that have been consistent favorites of mine, but which have never really caught fire despite our recommendations. (I should add that two of the names on the first list–Barnaby and Dinah–have been enduring loves of mine as well–in fact Dinah was the runner up to Chloe when I was naming my daughter.)

So, from the Land of Lost Opportunities:

AMITY.  Unlike her solid, serious, one-syllable virtue-name cousins Hope, Grace and Faith, Amity has a lacy delicacy as well the wonderful meaning of friendship.  And yet it has not appeared in the Top 1000 in 150 years.  The same is true of the similarly neglected VERITY, which also has the attraction of a trendy V-beginning and the meaning of truth.

DUNCAN. This handsome Scottish name has always been near the top of my boy favorites list, for its combination of sophistication and bounce. It has literary cred from Shakespeare (Macbeth) to James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans). Though it hasn’t been completely neglected –it reached as high as 377 in the late 90s heyday of D-names like Dylan, Dustin and Dalton–it’s never been fully appreciated. Could Dunkin’ Donuts be to blame?

GENEVA. Believe it or not, this was quite a common name a century ago, in the very low one hundreds in the first two decades of the 20th century. Being one of the original place names, with the long-popular Gen-Jen beginning (and logical nickname), it’s surprising that it hasn’t been picked up on in the modern age.

JANE. Whatever happened to Baby Jane?  Once ubiquitous, it has virtually disappeared, and while the names of several of Jane Austen heroines have succeeded, her own name has not. I’ve never thought Jane was plain, seeing it as much more vibrant than cousins Joan and Jean. It makes a  sweet, old-fashioned middle name too–moving away from dated Mary Jane to cooler combinations like Ethan Hawke’s Clementine Jane.

LARS. One of a number of appealing Scandinavian names that have never made their mark in this country, Lars is strong, straightforward, friendly, and a touch exotic–a perfect choice for someone seeking a distinctive no-nickname name or a namesake for a Grandpa Lawrence. (And for those who like the en/-an-ending trend, there are also SOREN, KELLEN, and STELLAN.)

LIONEL. Not quite as obviously leontine as Leo or Leon (of which it’s a French diminutive), Lionel has a lot of multi-dimensional cred, as a Knight of the Round Table, and in the jazz and TV-character worlds. Runner-up: the Welsh LLEWELYN, if only for its cool double-L nicknames–Llew, Lleu and Llelo.

MIRABEL, MIRABELLE. The perfect alternative for those tiring of the mega-popular Isabel and Annabel and Miranda, this is another choice that has never reached the Top 1000, despite its feminine charm and accessibility. It can also be considered a nature name, as mirabelle is the name of a variety of sweet yellow plum. Italian version MIRABELLA is another winner.

POLLY. Why Molly and not Polly?  I’ve never understood the enduring  popularity of the one and the neglect of the other, both being vintage rhyming nicknames for Mary. The disparity might be accounted for by the childlike, innocent, pigtailed, Pollyannaish (and maybe avian) image of Polly, a name which has hardly been heard since the 70s, (except maybe for Mattel’s Polly Pocket dolls), having peaked on the charts in 1881!  I say it’s time for a revival.

REMY. A French name that’s not as effete as Anatole or Antoine. Au contraire. Remy–meaning someone from the city of Rheims and sometimes associated with the Cajun cadences of New Orleans– is lively and charming, with just a pungent whiff of cognac.  Kids will relate it to the plucky rat chef hero of Ratatouille.

ZEBEDEE. A distinctive Biblical name with zip as well as gravitas, belonging to the fisherman who was father to two of the twelve disciples, James and John. Other pluses: the cool initial Z and the cool nickname Zeb.

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30 Responses to “Underrated Names, Part Deux”

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MePregnant Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 3:00 am

UNDERRATED NAMES, PART DEUX – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry…

Whatever happened to Baby Jane? Once ubiquitous, it has virtually disappeared, and while the names of several of Jane Austen heroines have succeeded, her own name has not. I’ve never thought Jane was plain, seeing it as much more ……

SophieGray Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 5:33 am

Jane and Remy are definitely my favourites here. I love Jane for reasons I can’t figure out – I just do! And, whilst I probably wouldn’t use Remy personally, I’d be charmed to hear him on another’s little boy. He just sounds so suave and bouyant at the same time! As for Polly, I agree! Molly is a top 100 pick down here, and yet Polly never charts. Saying them, I think Polly sounds more grown up than Molly anyway; the latter of whom I feel will sound childish once the bearer hits 25.

I do teach a Peggy though, on similar lines!

Nephele Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 7:23 am

While I agree that “Geneva” is a pretty name, I have a stronger preference for the similar-sounding “Ginevra.”

The name “Ginevra” can represent either the actual Italian name for the city of Geneva, or the Italian form of the Arthurian name “Guinevere.”

Malia Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 8:41 am

I like Amity and Mirabella. I’m surprised Mirabella isn’t as popular as names like Madison or Madeline… Also, I must say that although I’m not much of a fan of Jane, I absolutely adore the name Janey (ala, Bruce Springsteen’s song) and it’s probably our No. 1 pick at this point.

Lola Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 8:52 am

Remy’s our #2 boys name! Sounds awesome with my existing kids, works in English & in French (like the other kids) and is just so handome and debonair with the surname, He’s a winner for us! My oldest was very nearly Leon, but the Uncle he was names for was simply Leo, hence Leo for him. Llewellyn is very cool in English, I just wish I could say the Welsh double L sound! He figures in second middle for me.
Zebedee has long been a favoite for his sound alone. His zip and sass charm me. He’s a bit too much with my surname but would sound fabulous with a simpler one!
Jane was my Mom’s middle name and shows up on my lists because of Her.
Polly is lovely, I’m related to one (she’s a cousin) but my mouth doesn’t really like ‘P’ sounds. ‘PH’ is fine, but ‘P’ alone bugs me. Case in point, the two ‘P’ names I love are actully “PH’ names: Philippa & Phineas.
Amity’s my favorite virtue name and the related Horror flicks just make it that much more appealing! Also, I agree with Nephele, Genevra is my preference too. Feels softer and reminds me less of instant coffee.

GtLawGirl Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 10:14 am

At least 3 of these names are on my list of favorites – I love Jane but can’t use it as a first name since my sister’s in-laws used it (it would be ridiculous for my nephew Jack to have two cousins Jane) – I definitely have Polly and Lionel on my list of usable names though – just unusual enough that they are unlikely to run into many other little Pollys and Lionels, but mainstream enough that people will know it. And both precious on a little one, but still good on an adult.

tikicatt Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 11:58 am

Love this list. My middle name is Jane which goes quite well with my first as a good southern holler out the screen door – SaraJane get down off that roof!

There is a heavy Scandinavian influence in the family so Lars and Olaf, Kaj and Per are well represented in the extended family. Duncan and Lionel – whowee! Luv’em.

Mirabella – now why has that not caught on? The uber it name Bella without being with the pack of Isabellas. New moms should take note!

Teri Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

I have a few guesses as to why some of these names have not caught on:

Amity – the Amityville Horror movies
Geneva – London is currently the new “it name” for place names (I could see it catching on next though)
Jane – is this currently a popular middle name? (Though I love it as a first)
Polly – parrot associations
Lars – sounds too foreign to American audiences
Lionel – Lionel Ritchie and it may be perceived as too ethnic for some parents
Remy – sounds like a name that could potentially turn unisex and be “stolen” by the girls. (But isn’t this a nickname for Jeremy?). Also, the alcohol association
Zebedee – just to strange for current Western tastes.

Of course all it takes is a few parents to get the ball rolling and use these names and they could certainly come into fashion.

Erin Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Love Jane, Geneva, Mirabelle and Amity (although it does have the Amityville association, I predict that will fade with the next namers — the up-and-coming 20somethings.

I also predict that Remy will go girl, so I’d never use it. Llewelyn?? Really?? With that “lyn” ending I’d never saddle a boy with it.

I’m still campaigning for Walter to be added to this list!

lyndsayjenness Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 1:28 pm

I love all of these! I never thought of Amity before, but it would be lovely in the middle. I’d love to use Jane, but my husband unfortunately thinks it’s too plain. Polly is so cute, I’d use it as a nickname for Appoline. I just put Lionel on my list a few days ago, so cute. And Duncan is cool, but he doesn’t have a nickname, which is a shame. I think Dunkin’ Donuts is to blame for his lack of popularity, because I’ve mentioned the name to people before and they’re said “Like Dunkin’ Donuts?” Mirabelle is the name of Fancy Nancy’s doll, maybe that will help her rise? And lastly Zebedee, such a cool sound, but a little too out there. I think it’d be a cool middle name, and a great name for a dog!

Jules Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 5:21 pm

My daughters name is Geneva, and I had Amity on my list, both of them are beautiful names! 🙂

rachelmarie Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 6:11 pm

I don’t like:
Duncan (Dunkin’ Donuts!)
Lars (Kid I know)
Polly (wants a cracker!)
Zebedee (Too zippy for my taste)

I love Jane and Remy, although I much prefer Remy for a girl! In fact, it’s been my favorite girl’s name for over a year, and my list is constantly changing.
On that note, will you please add Remy as a girl’s name on the site? 🙂 Thank you

Rosamund Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 8:04 pm

I really like Amity from this list. It’s that little bit different and very pretty. I’ve recently discovered the name Clarity for a girl. I love the meaning. It’s similar in sound to the name Charity and also Clara of Clare could be used as nick names. Another girl’s name along these lines that I love is Liberty, Libby for short.

Jill Says:

May 15th, 2009 at 9:17 pm

I LOVE Mirabel/Mirabelle and Jane! 🙂

NJ Says:

May 16th, 2009 at 12:10 am

i know 4-5 girls named Remy in my high school and no boys.

CountryLizB Says:

May 16th, 2009 at 1:13 am

I like Clarity and Liberty, too.

Jane Says:

May 16th, 2009 at 3:21 am

Hello! My name is Jane, and although I didn’t care for it as a child ( I wanted a really popular name like Melissa or Andrea), I have grown to love my name…it is strong, feminine, and kind of regal and dignified, not to mention quite uncommon these days!
I would definately consider this name for a little one if it wasn’t my own. I just really think people shouldn’t be afraid of this name, it truly is a very nice, strong and yes pretty name. Thanks for hearing my rant, lol.
Jane.

Andrea Says:

May 16th, 2009 at 8:13 am

I doubt Amity is going to be in use any time soon because of the Amityville Horror. Dinah still has a slave name stereotype attached to it. Lionel is likely associated with Lionel Ritchie and may be considered a name mainly in use for blacks of an older generation. Remy seems to be the sort of name that’s going to be used more for girls than for boys when it’s used at all. Polly does make me think of “Polly Wanna Cracker” and of the irritatingly cheerful Pollyanna. I think it’s a name people might eventually start using again, though, as it seems to be fairly stylish in England. Give it another 10 years. Duncan is definitely suffering because of Dunkin’ Donuts. Lars is a very Scandinavian name that is probably not going to be in use by anyone who’s not Scandinavian, though I have seen a few of them here and there. I remember a magazine called Mirabella for older women. I would imagine other people also remember that association. Mirabel probably has more of a chance, though probably more with Hispanics. I actually think only the Belle names that were in use 100 years ago are likely to be really popular — Annabel, Annabella, Isabel, Isabella, maybe Arabella, though that has kind of a snobbish rich girl association for me. And Zebedee sounds a little hickish to get too popular.

Andrea Says:

May 16th, 2009 at 8:15 am

Oh, and Jane does appear to have increased in popularity when you look at the most recent Social Security stats. I like the name even though I went to school with a Jane I really disliked, whose twin sister was Joan. There was another Jane who graduated from school here last year whose twin sister is Anne.

frustrated Says:

May 16th, 2009 at 8:17 am

I find this site quite infuriating at times! There are people who come here just to find out what everyone else is naming their children or recommending so that they can pick one out that no one else has. Finally, I found a name that fit all my criteria – an “unknown” name, beautiful sounding, not being promoted too heavily on any of these lists- and now you are broadcasting that name as the next big find! What are the people who just want a rare gem of a name to do!

Alicia Says:

May 17th, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Zebedee, oh, be still my heart.

I LOVE this name!

Stuart Says:

May 30th, 2009 at 5:38 pm

I named my son Zebedee, with a our short sir name and no middle name it’s very distinctive and, I think, cool. Zeb for short and a sister called Arabella we started at both ends of the alphabet and were going to work inwards!

linda Says:

May 30th, 2009 at 6:59 pm

Two great names! I’m wondering if you are in the US–or perhaps the UK–the only Zebedee I’ve know was born in London.

Christy Says:

July 29th, 2009 at 8:10 pm

I love the name Jane. Duncan is at the top of our list for boys although our last name rhymes with Hines and I worry that his name will resemble the cake mix. Amity is cute, but reminds me of the horror movie. Geneva is also a new favorite. Not a fan of Remy. Nice list though!

Raqeul Says:

October 2nd, 2009 at 11:39 am

I have two things to say… Amity might be pretty, but only reminds me of Amity Horror House. And Polly!?!?!?!? The only thing I could think of is Polly want a cracker?

britniisabrat Says:

October 20th, 2009 at 12:26 pm

I love this list I am expecting my 4th and I really want something different. My 2nd sons name is Lars but we spell it with a Z and I cant tell you how many people tell me how much they love his name. I think I just added Amity to my favorite.

LilacaRose Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 8:00 pm

I love Mirabel and Geneva, in fact Geneva was the second choice for my youngest daughter. The only thing that kept me from choosing it was the lack of nickname besides Gen/Genny, which I wasn’t too fond of.

Christine Says:

July 6th, 2010 at 4:09 am

As an older mom and teacher I have seen so many names become too popular. Even worse are those parents who create strange spellings for popular names. I have always found in class that these students seem unhappily saddled with unusual spellings of popular names. Also, some currently popular names are cute but will probably not age well with the child. For example how well will Kaylie fit with some 60 somethings? We chose Geneva Lauren for our daughter. She loves the name as she is not lost among the Maddies, Bellas, etc. My husband loved the name and I liked Lauren as a more common “anchor” middle name. I know that in the past the nickname Neva has been used by others. I like to sometimes call her “Geneva Weva” as an endearment. Her younger brother is Griffin James. I never thought I would use the same first letter for both. I love the fact that the names compliment each other and I think will age well.

H8myname Says:

April 2nd, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Why does everyone love Jane so much? It has no personality at all. Ditto for Jean and Joan; Jane isn’t any better.

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