Unique Baby Names: How To Choose One With Substance

Lots of parents-to-be are searching for “unique baby names,” but  when you Google that term, the site that pops up first is, a serviceable but far from unique baby name destination.  Another site that promises to deliver unique baby names offers such ridiculous choices as Gimm and Sinley for a boy and Hemi Skye for a girl.

A better source for names that are distinctive and unusual as opposed to truly one-of-a-kind — what most parents are really looking for when they search for unique baby names — might be an old-fangled one like E.G. Withycombe’s 1945 Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names. This classic guide contains some names with deep historic roots that are rarely used today.  Some of the most intriguing choices, that include many ancient Greek and Latin names for girls and boys, include:


ALETHEA — Greek name that means “truth” was fashionable in the 17th century.

AMBROSIAHeavenly female equivalent of Ambrose.

ANCILLA — Ann meets Priscilla.

AVERIL — Might make fresh spin on Ava.

BRILLIANA — Invented for his daughter by the governor of the Dutch city Brill.

CHRYSOGON — A male saint’s name transferred to the girls.

CLARIMOND — Clara meets Rosamond.

ELUNED — Luminous Welsh name.

EVADNE — Tragic Greek heroine name that may be revived with the craze for all Ev- and Av- names.

GRACILIA — Meaning “slender,” could substitute for the overused Grace.

HAIDEELord Byron used this name in Don Juan.

HERO — The name of three female figures in Greek mythology.

IDONEA — Derived from the name of the goddess of spring.

ISMAY — Found throughout the British isles.

KINBARRA — Old name related to that of a saint named Kyneburg.

LALAGE — Latin name used by Horace.

MELIORA — Romantic old Cornish name of legend.

MERAUD — Cornish name related to the emerald.

ORIEL — There’s an Oriel College at Oxford.

PENTECOST — Old religious day name used for both males and females.

PROTASIA — Ancient saint.

SANCHIA — Spanish name that means “holy” and gave rise to Cynthia.

TACE — Also spelled Tacy and Tacye, closer to the pronunciation, common in the 17th century and used by the Puritans.

TROTH — Old word name.

VESTA — The Roman goddess of fire.

ZILLAH — Hebrew name that means “shade” and is, according to Withycombe, a “favorite gypsy name.”


ARETAS — A dynasty of kings mentioned in the bible.

CYRIACK — Name of an infant martyr sometimes shortened to Cyr.

DIGGORY — A Cornish name that goes back to the medieval romance of Sir Degore.  Cool modern nickname: Digg.

DURAND –Related to the Latin word for “lasting.”

EDRED — Old English king’s name.

ELKANAH — Biblical father of the prophet Samuel.

EUDO — Old German name sometimes spelled Udo.

GERSHOM — A Biblical name that means bell.

GIFFARD — All the rage in the 11th century.

IOLO — A Welsh name that may have sprung from Julius.

JEVON — Welsh relative of Evan.

KENELM — Name of an ancient king and saint.

MANASSES — Biblical name used by the Puritans.

ORIGINAL — Once used for first sons.

OSWIN — Might make an alternative to Owen.

PAGAN — Popular name that died out during the Reformation.

PASCOE –Name used for children born at Easter.

RAYNER — Old German name that inspired several surnames.

SAYER — Also spelled Saer, very popular in medieval England.

SERLE — Norman favorite that means “armor.”

THURSTAN — Danish name that means “Thor‘s stone.”

WYSTAN — From Wigstan, name of an ancient king and saint.

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19 Responses to “Unique Baby Names: How To Choose One With Substance”

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violetsmom Says:

February 4th, 2009 at 1:20 am

When I click on the names you’ve selected here to get a more in depth meaning you have almost nothing good to say about any of them.

Rose Says:

February 4th, 2009 at 3:49 am

My cousin’s best friend from high school (they’re still friends now) is named Oriel. For the longest time though, I thought her name was Oreo, and was very confused. That said, I think it’s a beautiful name.

Also, love Meloria. It sounds like the name of a really pretty flower, no?

Alicia Says:

February 4th, 2009 at 5:08 am

I quite like Evadne and Manasses (however I think the latter would be teased too much, especially if you separate it into two words….)

Kim Says:

February 4th, 2009 at 7:55 am

I just met an Evadne yesterday! Although she spelled it Evaudnee.

pam Says:

February 4th, 2009 at 8:19 am

In response to violetsmom, most names that are this individual do carry some downside, or they wouldn’t be “unique” anymore!

Lola Says:

February 4th, 2009 at 10:59 am

Eluned & Iolo fascinate me. The only one that gives me pause is Elkanah. I read far too much and he’s the really evil dude in John Jakes’ “North & South” And Thurstan’s right out of my childhood! (spelled Thurston Howell the third!) 🙂

Mary Says:

February 4th, 2009 at 2:31 pm

I dunno, a lot of these sound like Twitty Milk Bronx Mowgli to me.

Tirzah Says:

February 4th, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Diggory says Harry Potter fan to me.

I know girl named Ambrosia. She goes by Amber, which take the uniqueness out of it.

Averil reminds me of Avril Lavigne.

I would put Pagan and Pentecost on the bad baby name list.

pam Says:

February 4th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Ha! On Mary’s comment, that’s why everyone claims they want a “unique” name, then ends up naming their babies Keagan and Kaylee like everyone else! Names that are easy to like never stay “unique” for very long.

Esme Says:

February 7th, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Wow, Evadne is a great name! One to add to the list?

Emmy Jo Says:

February 8th, 2009 at 4:12 pm

My favorites from the girls’ list are Alethea (love), Evadne, Hero, and Zillah. I’m saddened that you think of Alethea as “Alicia with a lisp.” I’ve long thought it would be a great alternative to Olivia (very similar sounds) or Sophia (same origin and somewhat related meaning).

I’m surprised to see Clarimond. I came across the name several months ago (spelled Clerimond) in one of the old chapbook romances on my bookshelf, but I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Not sure how usable it is, but I think it’s pretty.

I’m not in love with any from the boys’ list, but I do think Durand and Rayner could be very wearable. One of them is very similar to my maiden name, so it’s one I’ve considered using in the middle slot!

uniquelasvegastravel Says:

February 28th, 2009 at 8:42 pm

Very good article. Normally I wouldn’t comment but this post deserves it.

Boston Girl Says:

May 20th, 2009 at 1:33 pm

I really like Meliora (also like Rose’s spelling variant of Meloria as well; this is a great name to play with). I also had a maternal ancestor four or five generations back named Zillah. And Gracilia is very pretty too.

I like Durand and Rayner out of all the boys’ names. I don’t know how well “Hero” would go over, for either boys or girls. Let’s not forget how cruel kids are on the playground, when the teacher’s back is turned. Children can twist ANY name into something nasty, though, so maybe it’s purely a matter of degree.

Ismay immediately brings to mind Bruce Ismay, of “Titanic” fame. I wonder how many others would get the same association?

What are good unique names for a newborn baby boy? | Baby on Board Blog Says:

July 9th, 2009 at 3:43 pm

[…] UNIQUE BABY NAMES: A New Old Source – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry […]

Callan Says:

July 26th, 2009 at 11:26 pm

My college Shakespeare professor got very huffy over the pronunciation of “Hero” in Kenneth Branagh’s film version of Much Ado About Nothing: he scoffed that it wasn’t HEE-ro (drawled disdainfully), but HAIR-o. I think that does sound prettier and quite appealing as a girl’s name, but would consign the child in question to–at the very least–a lifetime of explanation. But it has another appeal for me as one of Georgette Heyer’s most appealing heroines. Incidentally, Heyer’s books (over 70 of them) also include an Ancilla and a Sancia, as well as lots of other great names to inspire.

Claire Says:

October 5th, 2009 at 6:57 pm

Elkanah is in my top 5 for boys. It is the villain from North and South, but it’s an awesome name with the “Cain” sound without having to use a name with such murderous connotations.

Another name that was very common in my ex-husband’s family in Kentucky was “Reason”. Looking through old census films it seems Reason was used much more than I could have imagined in Kentucky in the 1800’s. I couldn’t find a reason for Reason, but it was downright trendy 🙂 Arminta was another frequent surprise on the girl side.

tibervalleygirl Says:

February 7th, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Just wanted to say that while Ancilla could derive from the combo of Ann and Priscilla, it’s also the Latin word for slave-girl.

ozdust Says:

April 13th, 2012 at 4:48 pm

One of my clients is named Alethea, it’s stunning!

BerryBry Says:

December 26th, 2012 at 7:27 am

Ancilla means slave-girl in Latin! Please don’t use it!

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