Unusual Baby Names: A search for the unique

Southern, vintage, word names ... this mom wants something truly different!

a Name Sage post by: Abby View all Name Sage posts

They’re looking for a bold name for baby number two! Can you help brainstorm unusual baby names–word names or vintage gems that are seldom heard in real life – but still sound like names? 

Nikki writes:

My daughter will be 2 years old when this baby is born in late October.

Her name is Arliss Lorraine. I have a great aunt named Arlys but never really met her … that was random! I got the name from the little boy in Old Yeller. I knew that was THE name when I saw the movie as a child. It is unisex and we didn’t find out the sex of the baby so it was perfect. Lorraine is a family name on both sides, but honestly, I just like it – it’s a bonus that people thought it was in honor of them!

Our second child is another delivery surprise.

If it is a boy, I love word names, but my husband has said NO to a lot of them – Thief, Sweep, Season, month names. The middle name for a boy will be David.

For a boy, we’re considering Sterling – but is it too ritzy? We also like Revere, as in Paul Revere. But it doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

Roane is a family name on my side. It’s pronounced row – ane, like Jane or rain. It was my late grandfather’s name, but I think it would work for a boy or a girl.

If it is a girl, we like Maple, Mabel, Ardelle – another family name, but just like Arliss, not really naming her after anyone, and Mora Gene, a Southern double name. (We live in the South.) Another middle name option is Story.

Rudolph is our last name. Yup, like the reindeer.

I’m drawn to A, M, and S names. Marlowe and Sloane were both on the list at one point. I like water names, but I don’t love Lake, and River is too popular.

Having a name that no else has is a big thing for me. I’m not a huge fan of nicknames.

I love that I have a story about naming Arliss, and I’m kind of sad that I don’t have that for this one!

The Name Sage replies:

I think you’ve hit on the problem of finding a truly unusual name. When someone else suggests it, that often means that the name is already in use – and maybe not rare enough for your liking!

I do think Arliss hits exactly the right note, and most of the other names you’re considering feel like they’re also extremely rare, but not completely unknown.

Let’s look at girl names first. Ardelle is either perfectly matched with Arliss, or maybe a little too close. Maple and Mora Gene both sound like they meet your criteria. Mabel is darling, but is just outside of the US Top 500. That’s not super popular, but it is much more common than Arliss.

I wonder if you might like:

Alifair – Another A name, this time an obscure choice that seems to have survived mostly in Southern families over the years.

EveningYou mentioned liking word names. I think Evening is among the most surprising and rare of possibilities, but still perfectly wearable.

Rialta Rialta sounds like a name, but it is scarcely in use. Instead, it seems to be from an Italian word meaning deep brook. Or maybe it’s based on the Rialto in Venice. Either way, Rialta is a romantic-sounding rarity.

Meridian – Meridian is a geographical term, but it has seen some use as a given name. Alice Walker used it for a female character in her novel Meridian, so that’s probably why I think of it as feminine, but this could work well for a son, too.

Sonnet – You mentioned Story as a middle name, so I wonder if Sonnet might appeal as a first? It’s a literary word name that still sounds like it could be a given name.

I like Rialta and Alifair best with Arliss, if only because the more obvious word names strike me as more modern than vintage Arliss.

Now, let’s talk about boys. I like Sterling, but can I admit that I love Revere? It makes for a virtue name with a modern vibe. Thanks to Paul Revere, it’s an Americana choice, too. It could shorten to Reeve or maybe even Vere. I can’t think of a single reason not to use this name!

If I cannot convince you, maybe you’d like:

Wells – It’s almost a water-inspired name. Wells isn’t quite as rare as Revere, but it’s much less common than Sterling, which is currently ranked around Number 500 in the US.

Caspian – Most people probably think of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series when they hear Caspian, but it’s also a large body of water separating Europe and Asia.

Beacon Beacon is surprising at first, and yet it fits right in with all of those two-syllable, ends-in-n names for boys. Mason, Ethan, Logan, Beacon.

Hawthorne Maple makes me think of Hawthorne. The plant is spelled hawthorn – no ‘e’ at the end – but writer Nathaniel Hawthorne makes the ‘e’ spelling familiar.

Laramie Jacques LaRamie was one of the first Europeans to explore the territory we now know as Wyoming. Laramie is named in his honor. It’s Western rather than Southern, and yet, with a distinctive sound and very limited use as a given name, I think it might fit.

For boys, I think it is tough to top Revere. From my list, I’d put Hawthorne second. It shares the same nature name vibe as so many of your choices, and it is thoroughly unexpected.

Lastly, let’s look at Roane for a minute. I want to declare this the perfect name for a son. Except. Rowan currently ranks in the boys’ Top 250, and isn’t far behind for girls. Other Ro– boy names in the Top 1000 include Roman (Number 102), Ronan (Number 335), and Rohan (Number 667). Because that sound is so dominant, I have a hard time pronouncing Roane as your family does.

Given the likelihood that you’d have an uphill battle explaining the pronunciation to others, Roane might work better in the middle spot. Rialta Roane, maybe?

Readers, I know you’ll have some great suggestions for Nikki and her family! What would you name a brother or sister for Arliss Lorraine?

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About the author


Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio. For a chance to have your questions answered, contact Abby at
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41 Responses to “Unusual Baby Names: A search for the unique”

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lesliemarion Says:

September 20th, 2016 at 10:57 pm

You have some great name ideas!

I love Sterling madly and think Sterling David Rudolph is lovely. Unusual without being strange.

Like Abby, I also really love Revere. Revere Rudolph —- sounds like an architect or a Southern writer! And I agree that Vere is a cool nn.

Roan Rudolph too, though I strongly prefer it for a male and without the e.

Both Maple and Mabel are favorites, though I find it hard to get on board with Story.

I love a lot of watery names: Cove, Harbor, Anchor, Moor, Piers, Loch, Sea, Ocean, Pacific, Tide, to name some.

Other unusual names to consider: Harvest, Glenwood, Winter, Solstice, Early, Morning, Afternoon, Elder, Bishop, Quincy.

Have fun!

lesliemarion Says:

September 20th, 2016 at 11:00 pm

I forgot to say this baby is seriously darling!

megank4 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 1:55 am

Revere?! Sure, on its own, but not combined with Rudolf.
to regard with respect tinged with awe; venerate Rudolf?!

jo1654 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 2:50 am

For boys I really like Caspian as a suggestion. From your list I think Sterling or Revere are excellent! With Rudolph I think sterling is gets my vote.

For girls, I love the Evening suggestion. It reminds me of Golden and Kindred. From your list I like Mabel

jo1654 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 2:52 am

Oh what about yardley?

Nooshi Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 5:45 am

Apfel, Araluen, Destry, Ayers, Reyer, Noonan, Maes, Ruskin, Tierney, Oakley, Madrigal, Rivera, Madigan, Catcher, Tamerlane, O’Brien, Becker, Laguna, Tibeldie, Marsden, Marston, Adler, Manzo, Roma, Bellamy, Romilly, Romany, Jessamy, Rowe, Royer, Mayer / Meyer, Miller, Milas, Booker, Mercer, Merce, Sander, Rocca, Rocha, Sanders, Sanderson, Sayer, Thayer, Quiller, Quincy, Seren, Shepherd, Sorrell, Sala, Saller, Sanna, Segers, Slane, Smith, Raneri, Ravenna, Renny, Abia / Abiah, Adami, Allegro, Alscher, Amsel, Andela, Aquila, Araby, Arc, Crescent.

MGK Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 6:34 am

Some great choices here. I like Sterling Rudolph best.
Might I suggest Merit?
Love the meaning – and I know the name spelled Meritt/Merritt is more common, but spelled as Merit – the quality of having great worth – is cool to me. I think it could work for a boy or girl.
Exciting options ! looking forward to hearing the choice!

Kjh446 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 6:36 am

I love the name you chose for your daughter!

Out of the names on your list I prefer Sterling and Ardelle although it is very similar to Arliss.

For a boy maybe: Shepherd, Rowan, Rain, Langley, Stellan, August, Beau, Magnus, Alfred, Soren, Arbor.

For a girl maybe: Arwen, Sylvia, Arbor, Langley, Estelle, Eden, Maren, Malora, Giada, Mireille, Mirabelle

Good luck!

jessiemay Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 7:16 am

Some ideas off the top of my head (I too am enamoured with rare names!):

Girl: Imrie, Vesper, Hero, Reverie, Garnet, Diem, Odetta, Briar, Zipporah, Meadow, Alinta, Aspen, Merrit, Apolline, Phaedra.

Boy: Brahms, Viggo, Escher, Calloway, Cove, Thatcher, Olavi, Woodrow, Evander, Orrin, Zealand, Boston, Guthrie, Abram, Voltaire.

kristingracesmith Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 7:43 am

for a girl the name Grier would be my top suggestion 🙂

Kjh446 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 7:43 am

Oh! What about Clover for a girl? Or maybe Amada or Althea? I like Armour for a boy

boyandgirl Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 8:06 am

I like Ardelle with Arliss.

Waverly123 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 8:33 am

What about Carlisle for a boy (prn. car-lyle)? Arliss and Carlyle sound exactly right to me!

Readingclaygirl Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 9:39 am

I like Sterling David for a boy and Mora Gene for a girl. Jean would be more feminine though. Mora sounds very close to Maura which is slightly more popular. Meara (also spelt Mira) is a similar and less popular choice. It also means pool or lake, so it’s also a water name.

aliciamae_ Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 9:47 am

They also might like Dune, Forest, or Cassius for a boy!

cmariac Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 9:52 am

Sterling is my favorite choice off the boy names; I agree with pps that Revere Rudolph is a bit too heavy with the R’s.
For girls I would like to make a suggestion:
you like ‘M’ names and water-related names, what about Marin?
Looking at it’s popularity, it’s not on the radar for USA at all! Reminds me of your other girl name Mabel and Maple.

Suzannah Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 10:34 am

A very Southern name for a girl, but not overused, is Lanier. And even though it ends in “r” it flows with Rudolph. Goes nicely with Arliss too.

tfzolghadr Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 10:43 am

Sterling is great! Revere would be great, but Revere Rudolph honestly does not go. It slurs and sounds a bit like growling. For wordy names…
Equinox- Knox


LoveBugsMama Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 11:24 am

What a fun Name Sage post this week! Love all the unusual names. I’m googly-eyed over Mora Gene. I love Southern names and this just hits the spot. Arliss and Mora Gene make an amazing sibset! Can’t wait to hear what Baby Rudolph is named.

Michiedoll Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Another commenter mentioned Starling and I think Starling Mora Rudolph would be stunning for a girl. I also agree with the Name Sage on Alifair; sounds lovely with Arliss.

I don’t love Revere, but I love the suggestion of Vere as a nickname, except you don’t like nicknames. I also think this might be a lovely, unusual choice for a girl. Revere Mora Rudolph or Revere Alifair Rudolph (except those initials may be of concern; R.A.R.)?

for a boy: What about Everly David? It was originally a boy’s name before Channing Tatum and his wife used it, but is on the radar for girl’s now that they have. I also like Chauncey David, but it doesn’t meet any of your criteria. It sounds similar to Sterling to me.

mamalovesnames0237 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Why hasn’t anyone pointed out that Thief is a terrible name for a child! I realize she said her husband said no to that one, but I just couldn’t get past that. Even if you like the sound of the word, can you imagine what it would be like for a child to have that name. They don’t stay babies, they grow up and have to live with the name.

bjoy Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 12:39 pm

A lovely, rare water name for a girl is Bay. Bay Rudolph is sooo pretty.

Sweetchariot Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 1:07 pm

I’ll suggest Sky(e) for a boy or a girl since I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet. Skye Ardelle Rudolph or Skye David Rudolph sound great to me. I know an adult man named Skye and it wears well.

Abeltrotter Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 2:04 pm

What about Delta? It’s southern, rare, and a water name! It’s my favorite name but my husband thinks it’s too unusual (which might make it perfect for you!)

maddiepie Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 2:37 pm

I like Evening.

Nooshi Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 3:41 pm

Oh, also maybe Dree or Teal? I think both sound lovely for a sibling of either gender for Arliss.

Orchid_Lover Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 4:01 pm


kpearl8 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 4:35 pm

Evening, Alifair, and Revere are all so intriguing! Love this list, can’t wait to find out what you end up choosing!

Nooshi Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 4:43 pm

Pevensie, Basilie, Valo, Lalo.

thorn144 Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 5:40 pm

Poet, Noble, Merit, Morning, Wednesday, Remington, Lark, Wren, Briar, Calla, Seven, Chancellor

NaomiAurora Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 5:46 pm

I love Skye and Revere, but I agree, Revere doesn’t go with your last name. I love Brook for a boy, or Marina or Delta for a girl 🙂

clairels Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 7:05 pm

@mamalovesnames0237 I thought she had to be joking when she mentioned Thief. Sweep might be even worse. Thankfully she’s considering some more socially acceptable options.

Nimwey Says:

September 21st, 2016 at 10:04 pm

There are some lovely suggestions here, but since picking an unusual name is based on very individual taste, I don’t feel like pointing out the ones I like is really necessary. So I’ll just add a few more to the mix:

Atara / Atarah
Calista / Callista
Conradine (feminine form of Conrad, “brave counsel”)
Idonea / Idony
Inez / Ines
Leona / Leonie
Raina / Raine
Signe / Signy

Artemas / Art
Athan / Athanasius
Conrad / Konrad
Kayetan / Kay (German form of historic Caitanus/Gaetano)
Ludwig / Lutz
Sixten (Swedish form of old Norse Sigsteinn, “victory stone”)
Thurston / Torsten
Zachariah / Zakaria

AddieandEva Says:

September 22nd, 2016 at 4:33 pm

Since you mentioned the connection you feel to your daughters name, and the story behind it, I wonder if there is a favorite movie, book, song, artist or poem that could serve as inspiration for a name for baby #2?

Beyond main characters, maybe there is a place, street name, store/restaurant name, body of water or a beloved family member mentioned that will speak to you?

Here are some suggestions that may give you some inspiration!! Best of luck!!

Marina (from the sea, Latin)
Mavis (songbird, French)
Vale (nature/geographical word name)
Gilda (covered in gold, English)

Valor (word name, honor/bravery)
Wade (at the river crossing, English)
Boone (a blessing, English)
Apollo (Greek mythology)

Beck (one living beside a small stream)
Cypress (botanical name, though could have nickname potential with Cy)

emilypcs Says:

September 23rd, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Please do not name your child Thief.

TiffanyS Says:

September 23rd, 2016 at 7:40 pm

Great suggestions by pps! Also, Abby suggested Beacon for the boys, which reminded me of a word name you might like:


It’s unusual, but usable because of the popular Beck beginning and the “n” at the end. It’s a word name, and, uncommonly, a verb. And it reminds me a little of Dickon from The Secret Garden.

Breckin (nature name)
Brenton (strong/hill)
Baron (male, title of nobility)
Byron (like the poet)
Bartlett (like the pear, similar to Beckett, Everett, Bartholomew)

mickie86 Says:

September 24th, 2016 at 2:06 pm

Like the name Sage I Love Revere!

Some other suggestions from me….


mallowd Says:

September 26th, 2016 at 12:19 am

My late grandma’s name is Arlys and I’ve never heard it elsewhere! Arlys Arlene actually:) Love this list! Based off what you mentioned, Nameberry and other suggestions, some I like best for a girl are Alifair, Evening (some of these word names might sound more strange with your last name), Sonnet, Story (as a first or middle), Avalon, Mira, Mireille (not with Roane), Meadow, Yardley, Maeve, Mavis, Apolline (doesn’t really fit with what you mentioned, but I like it!), Reverie (adore this name, and would be a spin on Revere). Teal could be a cool middle alternative. For boys I like Revere (unlike a lot of people I think it sounds fun with your last name), Caspian, Cove (cool but not sure about it with David), Wells, Hawthorne, Thatcher, & Wade.

Good luck and let us know what you choose!

TiffanyS Says:

September 27th, 2016 at 9:15 pm

I thought of a couple of others:


Lief sounds like Thief, and you could spell it Leaf for a more seasonal theme.

Jocelyn can work for either sex. A boy could go by Joss.

Steele is a legitimate name. I’ve heard it for girls, but I don’t see why a boy couldn’t use it. It’s a word name, unusual, and has the long E sound like Thief and Sweep. It also sounds like steal, like what a thief does.

kashed22 Says:

September 28th, 2017 at 8:53 am

I love birch trees and I recently met a man named Birch. I like it even more after seeing it on a person. It doesn’t hurt that he was also very handsome, lol. It works a both as a nature and surname.

nickliovich Says:

February 21st, 2018 at 3:41 pm

Forgot to update everyone!

I had a successful home birth. We had the pool set up on our screened in porch and there is a brick fireplace on the porch as well. The fire was roaring and it was incredible. Epic. I didn’t feel like any of the names we had fit the baby or the birth. It took a week to decide on something as nothing we originally had fit.

I held the baby ten full minutes before I looked to see that he was a he.


Thank you for all y’alls suggestions. Saving some of these names for future. 😉

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