Unusual Baby Names: Real, rare and invented

Abby Sandel– creator of the wonderful AppellationMountain blog–trawls the web to investigate what unusual names have popped up this week, and found some doozies, from Vash to Pheriby.

 The Week in Review: February 8 – 14, 2011

Happy Valentine’s Day!  It’s tempting to write something about sugary sweet, lace-trimmed appellations for February 14, but Pam and Linda have already covered everything from Valentine to Jetadore.

Instead, thanks to a comment on my blog, I’m thinking about the ugly arguments about baby names of recent coinage.  The tension at Appellation Mountain erupted over a respelling of the rapidly-rising LoreleiLorelei seems like the new Mackenzie, subject to endless variations.  I spotted Laurelea earlier this week, and now a mom mentioned using Laurelie – “anyone have a problem with that?” 

Over at Baby Names Garden, Neil Street summed up H.L. Mencken’s 1919 comments on unusual baby names, just as common in the early 20th century as they are today.  From Hoke to Maybeth, it is a nice reminder that making up new names is, well, nothing new.

Last month, Laura Wattenberg wrote about the frustration parents feel when the name they’ve “invented” is suddenly popping up everywhere.  This week, she followed up with some thoughts on authors’ invented names, from Neil Gaiman’s typo that created Coraline to Anne Rice’s misunderstanding that led to Lestat.

Speaking of names invented by writers, Nancy tallied up the number of baby boys named after Rambo.  It’s more than you might imagine.

Since rumor has it that Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz have chosen Leo as their son’s name, we were treated to a few articles like this one at The Stir, declaring the end of outlandish celeb baby names. The article cited a bunch of recent starbaby birth announcements: Cynthia Nixon and Christine Marinoni’s Max Ellington and Olivia Jane, a daughter for Colin Hanks and Samantha Bryantl.

And yet the article overlooked the birth of Top Chef alum Richard Blais’ daughter Embry Lotus and New Zealand television host Pippa Wetzell’s son Taj.

Other unusual names that caught my eye this week include:

  • Vash, from Nephele’s guest blog on Steampunk names
  • Sovereignty, spotted in a local news story
  • Tressa, from a post at For Real Baby Names
  • Pheriby, a real name from the 1700s, found in plenty of genealogical records, rich with alternate spellings, that had all but disappeared by the 20th century
  • Abilene, a name I wrote about earlier this week with ties to not one, but two, appealing characters from children’s books

If not for unusual names and the freedom to consider them for our children, I’m not sure Nameberry would exist.  Regardless of controversy, something tells me that we’ll keep choosing names from a wider and wider pool of options.

As for whether or not celebrities have given up on unusual names?  With Mariah Carey, Pink, and Ivanka Trump on the list of expectant moms, I can only assume that there will be more newsworthy appellations in our future.

 Thanks for reading!

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28 Responses to “Unusual Baby Names: Real, rare and invented”

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Whit Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 3:27 am

I’m excited about Natalie Portman’s baby. She’s seems so classy and I could see her having a nameberry-esque name. I can definitely see her with a Beatrice or Theodore, or even something like Viola or Leander. Plus her husband is French, so there’s endless possibilities there.

I love little Leo though, it might not be the most exciting celeb baby name, but it’s a great name, and seems like a great match for Cruz and Bardem.

Charlotte Vera Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 4:07 am

Oooh, great blog post! The H.L. Mencken article is fascinating — such interesting names. Also, I love reading about authors inventing names. Somehow an invented name seems to have more credence when it is created by a published author. Perhaps it shouldn’t, but it does. Of course, I’m still not a fan of the awkward Reneesme. . .

Abby@AppMtn Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 10:05 am

Charlotte, that’s the headache, isn’t it? Some of us can make up great names, but then, some of us are William Shakespeare!

I hear it on message boards a lot: “Every name was made up at some point by someone, so why can’t I call my kid Jaelinn?” The answer is, of course, you’re right, and you can. But you might not be as original as, say, Christopher Marlowe or Madame de Stael.

@Whit, you’re right – Natalie Portman’s name seems likely to win rave reviews. Mariah Carey? I’m not so sure …

sadiesadie Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I ran into a boy named Kipton the other day. Also a boy named Shayle was born in my mothers group. Pr. Shale.
I agree that some created names work a la Coraline and some don’t ie Jaymz pr James (and yes I do know a baby Jaymz

Abby@AppMtn Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Wasn’t there a contestant on a reality show called Kipton? Or maybe Kiptyn, even?

Jaymz … wow. I can handle swapping a vowel for a y here and there, but ending a name with a z seems like a move for a sports drink, not a child.

Jennie Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 3:20 pm

So weird. I was at the cemetery the other day and saw a gravestone with Tressa on it. I had never heard of it before, but it makes me wonder seeing it here if it really is invented. I would be interested to see where it came from. It seems to be a form of Theresa/Teresa. What do you think?

christena Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 4:23 pm

i love the name Pheriby. does anyone know where it came from? or what it means?

Macy Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Yes, the guy from the Bachelor was called Kiptyn.

Macy Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Also, there was a guy named Jaymz in the So You Think You Can Dance contest.

Carla Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I love the (m) name, Soames. Also, saw a name that took me aback in the baby’s names section of the local paper….Empress! A lot to live up to!

lemon Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 7:21 pm

There are such high expectations for Natalie Portman’s name choice, wow! I admit, I’m one of the people holding these expectations, but I’m really hoping she chooses something fab. Preferably not a V name – no Violet, Vivienne, or Vida.

I came across an Annjanette today, and I don’t know if the first two syllables are like Anya (Anja) or if it’s literally a blend of Ann and Janette! Weird.

Abby Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 8:24 pm

@Christena – Someone wrote to me about Pheriby. It’s a legit name – appears in genealogical records, mostly from the 1700s – but then it just disappeared. I haven’t got a clue where it came from – yet! It’s cool though, isn’t it?

@Jennie – Nameberry has it as a Cornish name meaning third, given to a third child. But it also sounds like someone saying Teresa fast, too, doesn’t it?

Jess Says:

February 14th, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I went to school with a Mary Tressa. She went by Tressa, though, and she’s in her late 20’s now. People would often call her Tessa and Teresa by mistake, but she always took it in stride.

Linelei Says:

February 16th, 2011 at 1:33 am

I know a Tressa in her 50’s. It wasn’t short for anything.

And please tell me you’re kidding about Lorelei becoming popular! It’s my FNE (favorite name ever)!

tracylyn42 Says:

February 18th, 2011 at 11:52 pm

i grew up with a Tressa… i never thought it was odd or even very unique until now, i guess! then again, i did grow up in a VERY small town where unique names were not so uncommon. i actually graduated from high school with the girl and her husband who named their baby Espen, after ESPN… and yes, that was for real.

Cosette Says:

March 11th, 2011 at 5:29 pm

My parents named me after two characters from Les Mis (my middle name is Eponine.) How’s that for unusual? My friends always called me Coco when I was a kid, but once I graduated middle school I insisted on Cosette.

sadie Says:

March 25th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

i really like the name oakley, its a unisex name but me personally likes it for a boy.

Leslie Owen Says:

March 30th, 2011 at 4:51 am

here in pensacola we probably have more unusual names than anywhere else. as a teacher i have quite a crop. my all-time current favs for weirdo names are La-a (the dash is not silent) and : for Colin Powell.

Anne Says:

April 17th, 2011 at 10:53 pm

I have 4 unique names….my children are Gage, Justice, Ireland and Reese. I also have an Alexandra…LOL. 🙂

Michelle Says:

April 18th, 2011 at 9:16 am

I didn’t think Marquis was very popular it is spelled like the car but when used as a name in my case the S is not silent

yr mom Says:

April 29th, 2011 at 4:09 pm

mariah carey will give her twins hilarious names and natalie portman will name hers something pretentious.

BeeJay Says:

June 28th, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I don’t run in baby-naming circles, but an almost in-law recently named their baby girl Phoenix Eimah (sp of middle name? Pronounced “Emma”). She is absolutely gorgeous but I’m not crazy about the name.

NatJay Says:

August 11th, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I am looking for an unusual girls name. I already have a son who is called Beau and would like something equally unusual for my daughter due in two months.

thetxbelle Says:

February 9th, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I know this thread is old but Coraline was not invented by Neil Gaiman, its a well established French name in use since the ’50s.

TheGriffon Says:

April 4th, 2012 at 3:08 am

Pheriby appears to have originated as a surname. The form would imply that is a locational surname, possibly a variation of Ferriby (mentioned in the Domesday book). Since Ferriby is sited on both banks of the Humber, I assume there was once a ferry uniting the village which gave it its name.

JShores Says:

August 14th, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Actually Coraline was originally Caroline but there was a typo in the first manuscript and the author liked it.

Steampunk Baby Names: Victorian tech – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

September 8th, 2014 at 2:02 am

[…] Baby Names: Real, rare and invented – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry nameberry.com/blog/unusual-baby-names-real-rare-a… […]

justjessi Says:

April 10th, 2015 at 12:59 am

My great great great grandmother’s name was Nicebelle- pronounced “Nicey-bell.” I’ve definitely never seen it anywhere else. Just goes to show that inventing names is not a new thing!

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