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Unusual Baby Names: A search for the unique

September 20, 2016 Abby Sandel

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?

Abby Berry Juice default profile image

About the author

Abby

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 namesage@nameberry.com.
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