Unique Baby Names—Literally!
by Sophie Kihm
So you’re looking for a unique name for your baby. Some well-meaning friends and colleagues will offer you their picks—maybe Tallulah or Phineas! But no—you want a name that is truly unique, something no one else is using.
Is the search in vain? Are one-of-a-kind baby names a lemon market? Aren’t people rejecting these names for a reason?
Actually, no. There are plenty of baby names that practically nobody is using simply because the mainstream is unaware of their existence. From exotic names from other cultures to unusual word names, it is possible to choose an attractive and stylish name with guaranteed rarity.
Using the data of the most popular names of 2018, I’ve determined the names that are, quite literally, unique. However, the Social Security Administration only tells us the names that are given to five or more babies in a given year, so some of these may have had four instances in 2018, and others none.
UNIQUE GIRL NAMES
Athalie: Athalie is a French name whose wearers are concentrated in the Creole-speaking community in Louisiana. It’s related to Natalie—in fact, Athalie is pronounced like Natalie without the N—which currently ranks at #39 in the US Top 1000. Athalie is the name of 1691 play by Jean Racine.
Cerelia: Feminine and fragrant, Cerelia is a name related to Spring. It comes from Cerealia, the ancient Roman festival that celebrated Ceres, the goddess of agriculture. Cerealia was a week-long event held in April, making Cerelia an extra special name for an April baby.
Elettra: The Latin name Electra had nineteen takers in 2018, but the softer Italian form Elettra had fewer than five. Elettra has bounced in and out of Italy’s Top 200 over the past ten years but seems to be picking up speed at #167. Isabella Rossellini has a daughter named Elettra, and it’s one of her own middle names as well.
Franny: Franny has never cracked the Top 1000, but back in the day it was a preferred nickname for Frances. It has vintage appeal, whether as a nickname for names like Francesca, Frances, or Francine, or on its own. Many associate it with J.D. Salinger’s character Franny Glass, of Franny and Zooey. A more contemporary association is Franny Gallagher, a character on the TV show Shameless.
Fuchsia: Bright pink and very bold, Fuchsia is both a botanical and color name. The flower was named after Leonhart Fuchs, whose last name means “fox.” That makes Fuchsia a great and subtle way to honor people with fox-related names, including Todd and Russell. Sting named his daughter Fuchsia, and Fuchsia Dunlop is an esteemed British chef and food writer.
Isle: Isla has really taken off—in just ten years it went from the Top 700 to the Top 100, and currently ranks at #82. And yet Isle, though very similar, has not benefitted from Isla’s meteoric rise. Isle is the French word for island, which qualifies it as a nature name. We also like Isle as an unexpected middle name.
Kerensa: It’s hard to see why Kerensa—an enchanting name that means ‘love’ in Cornish—is used so infrequently. It’s exotic but accessible, and utterly romantic. It’s related to the Welsh name Cerys, which is a Top 600 name in England. Kerensa can also be spelled Kerenza.
Lotta: Cute and perky, Lotta is a nickname name common in Germany and Scandinavia. It’s frequently a short form of Charlotte or Charlotta, and occasionally Liselotte. Lotta is a unique alternative to Lottie, the Charlotte nickname that American parents haven’t embraced as much as they have Charlie. Your children might recognize Lotta as a character in Lauren Child’s series Charlie and Lola.
Plum: Sweet, purple-hued Plum is an overlooked fruity baby name. How is it that more babies were named Apple, Cherry, and Lemon than this fresh and summery option? Novelist Plum Skyes was actually born Victoria and given the nickname Plum after the Victoria Plum variety. In a similar vein, Prune is also quite darling (and a hit in France), but not a likely option for Americans.
Season: Summer and Autumn, though perfectly nice names, seem to have reached their peaks. And although Winter is a fast-rising up-and-comer, it’s time that parents embrace the more generic Season. It came into use in the 1800s but has always been somewhat of an obscurity. Beyond its obvious nature ties for the bohemian types, Season also makes a good name for the daughter of a cook.
UNIQUE BOY NAMES:
Cassio: Cas– names for boys, such as Cassius, Cassian, and Caspian are rising in popularity in the US and are all in the Nameberry Top 100—often a signal of future national success. Cassio, however, has not gotten the message. It’s the Italian version of Cassius and a Shakespearean name. The Cassio in Othello is a well-mannered, handsome lieutenant.
Conran: Conran is an anglicization of the Irish surname O’Conarain, although it bears more similarity to the German name Conrad. While Conrad has increased in use over the past few years, virtually no babies have been given the name Conran. Possible namesakes are father and son Terence and Jasper Conran, influential British designers.
Drummer: An occupational name with a beat. Lifestyle blogger No Big Dill used it on her one and only son, brother to the equally-well-named Olive, Clover, Pearl, Divine, and Azure. If you prefer the guitar to the drums, you might use Strummer, which was also given to fewer than five babies in 2018. Julia Stiles named her son Strummer in 2017.
Fenno: Fenno was historically a surname until Julia Glass used it as a character name in her novel Three Junes. However, there is some evidence that it was used as a short form for the ancient name Finnr. Fenno-Ugric is a classification of Uralic languages found in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. Fenno’s Paradox, named after political scientist Richard Fenno, states that people dislike the US Congress as a whole but defend their district’s congressmen.
Geordie: A Geordie refers to a person from Northeast England, particularly those from Tyneside, as well as their distinctive accent. The Geordie Shore is the UK’s equivalent to The Jersey Shore, so it’d be a bit like naming your child Jersey, which 170 people did last year. However, Geordie does have history as a given name—it’s an old-fashioned nickname for George.
Grove: Grover is still a bit dusty and Muppet-like, but Grove is streamlined, fresh, and very cool. It’s a nature name, as a grove refers to a group of trees. Parents have been embracing tree names for boys lately, so Grove seems like the logical next step after Ash, Forest, and Oak.
Jaco: Jaco is the Portuguese variation of Jacob, however it is most common in South Africa, where it is the name of several professional golfers and rugby players. Jaco is also a place name of towns in Costa Rica, West Virginia, and an island of East Timor. As far as alternatives to Jacob go, this one is more novel than Jake and more exotic than Coby.
Pim: Mini-name Pim is Dutch in origin and quite popular in the Netherlands. It’s a diminutive of Willem, which would make it a fun and unexpected nickname for William if you want your child to stand out from the Liams and Wills. The spelling Pimm calls to mind a Pimm’s cup—a cocktail made out of a gin liqueur with fruit and herbs.
Yarden: Long-time favorite Jordan derives from the forgotten Yarden, which is also the name of the River Jordan in Hebrew. In Israel it’s a Top 200 name for girls, but is considered to be a unisex name, much like Jordan in the US. Between the river connection and similarity to the word “garden,” Yarden is a delightful subtle nature name.
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on June 26th, 2019 at 7:32 am
Plum is one of my favorite middles.
on June 26th, 2019 at 7:42 am
Wow, I really like Cerelia! Athalie, & Elletra are also super pretty!
on June 26th, 2019 at 9:03 am
Athalie, Kerensa, Plum, and Season are gorgeous! I’m *so* into Plum right now. I’ve actually wondered why I haven’t seen Atalie (aka Natalie-with-no-N) pop up more, but I didn’t realize it had any history as an established name. My spouse and I love the similar Adélie.
From the boy list, I’m digging Drummer and Grove. Jaco is cool, but I have a hangup about Jacob derivatives. I like Cassio, but it just reminds me too much of the Casio electronics brand.
on June 28th, 2019 at 9:24 pm
This is such a fun collection. Cerelia’s a new one for me; reminds me of Cerulea. Love Isle too—it’s been on my own list since I misread Ilse as Isle for the duration of a novel and thought her name was the height of cool.
Kerensa and Athalie are lovely too!
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