Unusual Baby Names: How To Tell the Good from the Not So Much

Unusual baby names are becoming more and more, well, common these days. A mere one percent of babies are named Emma or Jacob, the most popular names, and only about ten percent are given one of the Top Ten names.  Compare that to a hundred years ago, when FIVE percent of babies were given the most popular names John or Mary, and 30 percent of boys and 20 percent of girls received one of the Top Ten Names.  For the first time, less than half of all babies get one of the Top 50 names.

And it’s not only American parents who are choosing unusual baby names.  Chinese parents, seeking individuality in a country with 1.3 billion people sharing only 129 surnames, are turning to unconventional combinations of letters, numbers and symbols for their children’s names.  One couple wanted to name their baby 1A while others use the @ symbol, pronounced “aita” and meaning “love him” in Chinese.

Many European countries restrict the pool of possible names, though many parents are testing the centuries-old boundaries.  But Belgium, with no such laws, over half of children receive such unique names as Testimony, Cherub, and Edelweiss.

If you’re considering giving your baby an unusual name, your biggest question may be: How will an unusual name affect my child for better and worse throughout his or her life?

Having an unusual name associated with low socio-economic status – one that contains such markers as apostrophes, little-used consonants such as z or q, and invented spellings – can have an actual negative effect on a child’s performance in school, according to Florida State psychologist David Figlio.  “Teachers tend to treat children differently depending on their names, and these same patterns apparently translate into large differences in test scores,” said Figlio, who found that children with conventional names such as David or Drew performed better on tests than their own siblings named Damarcus or Da’Quan.

When you control for poorer or less educated parents,  most modern studies find that children with unusual names do as well as others in school and with peers.  The probability of an unusual name having a positive effect on a child’s development is as large as that of it having a negative effect, says Martin Ford, a developmental psychologist at George Mason University who authored one such study.

The authors of Bad Baby Names claim that the bearers of such monikers as Ima Muskrat and Happy Day were less distressed by their names than they were proud of standing out in the crowd – though that may be truer for Happy than for Ima.

Your associations with your own name can influence what you do with your life, affecting where you live, which career you choose, even whom you fall in love with, according to psychologist Brett PelhamPelham found that dentists are named Dennis more often than are, say, bond traders, and that people named Georgia are more likely to become geologists, move to Atlanta, and marry men named George than they are to make choices less connected with their names.

People who like themselves and their names tend to be attracted to other people, places, and things connected with their names, says Pelham, who named his own son Lincoln because people associate that name with compassion and caring.  The disadvantage of a very unusual or unique name, according to Pelham: No cultural associations, or ones that it’s more difficult to anticipate and control.

If, after weighing the evidence, you’re still interested in choosing an unusual name for your child, start by searching through the nameberry master list of unusual baby names.   Some intriguing examples from the thousands of selections include:


































































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18 Responses to “Unusual Baby Names: How To Tell the Good from the Not So Much”

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SilentOne Says:

October 26th, 2009 at 3:45 am

I haven’t looked very closely at the list yet, but one name jumped out at me. I always thought Lyle was a masculine name.

LyndsayJenness Says:

October 26th, 2009 at 3:57 am

This was super interesting! I loved all the stats and am curious where I can find more.

I know a guy named Damek, when I first met him I thought it was weird, but it really grew on me. It wears well and I think he likes his name.

namefan Says:

October 26th, 2009 at 9:48 am

Here’s why Lyle is on the girl’s list: That is one of the “geezer names” that Pam and Linda but very few of the rest of us like for a girl.

http://names4real.wordpress.com/ Says:

October 26th, 2009 at 10:01 am

I go through birth announcements for my blog names4real.wordpress.com and I see a lot of unusual names for kids like Tapestry (girl), Sunlyn (girl), Prosperity (girl), Purchased (girl), Chant (boy) and Moxy (boy) and tons more.

I love Malu, Haven, Gable, Quade, Thane (I’ve met a girl named Thayne and I have adored her name ever since for either a boy or a girl), but I don’t think I’d ever use them.

I don’t think Brennan is considered unusual though.

Great blog.

Dearest Says:

October 26th, 2009 at 10:11 am

Ceres and Corisande are lovely for girls!
Eben, Lander, Lazarus and Rune are great names as well

Haven for a boy is unique, but it’s on the list as number 631 for girls. Brennan is number 263 for boys but nowhere on the girls list… Calling them unique for both boys and girls isn’t the best way to put it maybe?

Ira and Junot (Juno/Juneau more likely) would be for girls, North and Thane are high on my list for boys… ^^

ACD Says:

October 26th, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Ceres is a less than desirable town in California, and just can’t see that as a name of a sweet baby girl. This town was also the hometown to Chandra Levy and Gary Condit (remember that scandal/investigation?).

http://legitbabenames.wordpress.com/ Says:

October 26th, 2009 at 4:12 pm

Most of my favorites are considered “unusual” I like them because either for their meaning, history, sound and origin versus their uniqueness. Jacinta has always been a favorite of mine due to a saint that I like and I think the sound is very pretty, I also adore the French version of Jacinthe.

disa_lan Says:

October 26th, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Great blog! I was just thinking about Rune the other day. I think it would make a great middle name.
Brennan is pretty popular in my area but so is Brandon, Brendan and Brayden.
Names I like from this blog – Ira, North Raleigh/Raley, Deryn/Aderyn.

Kate Says:

October 30th, 2009 at 6:28 pm

I’m Irish, so it’s very funny for me to see Oisin on a list of unusual baby names, because that is such a normal name in Ireland.

bipolarclown Says:

October 31st, 2009 at 12:32 pm

While most of the listed names aren’t something I’d think of for a person, I think Pom, Panya, Malu and Nuri sound pretty cute. Maybe more for pets or characters though.

A Belgian: Says:

December 6th, 2009 at 4:30 am

I’m sorry but what you write about Belgian names is absolutely incorrect. True, we are not limited to a list, but people stick to the (for us) traditional names. The names you write are compeletely not done (I never heard about them). > 50%? Never.

Pamela Redmond Satran Says:

December 6th, 2009 at 9:25 am

We didn’t mean to say that over half of Belgian children receive the unusual names on this list, just that some Belgian children receive non-traditional names.

luvbnmom Says:

March 8th, 2010 at 11:14 am

Our son is Bi-racial we wanted a unique name suitable for both sides of his heritage. We have chosen the name “Haven Alexander” .

Baby Name of the Day: Gannon « Appellation Mountain Says:

February 22nd, 2011 at 4:56 pm

[…] between preppy surname picks like Brooks and aggressively masculine choices in the key of Slade.  Nameberry included Gannon on their list of “good” unusual baby names, in the company of choices like Eben, Lander, and […]

You dont know me Says:

March 9th, 2012 at 9:20 pm

[…] In class this week, we discussed what makes a bad parent. We read an article that outlined seven things that parents do that they believe are good for their kid, but end poorly instead. One of the things was naming you child a unique name. The article stated that parents believe this will make their kid stand out and be noticed. That it will actually help them in life. The reality of the situation was quite different though. It actually makes the child an outcast, makes them feel different. The article said that it is actually a fact that children with normal names, ie: John, Joseph, Michael, turn out better and more successful than children with unusual names. I do not believe that this is correct however. One of my best friends is named Ryan, and is a girl. She is an amazing artist who is actually being recognized for her artwork. She has an unusual name, yet she is more successful than most people i know. The following link is an article that i found about unique names: http://nameberry.com/blog/unusual-baby-names-whats-good-and-bad […]

R_J Says:

May 24th, 2012 at 8:41 am

So, parents who are uneducated or poor receive a scolding for Demarcus, but middle-class and above can name their child Tancredo and it’s the “acceptable” type of unusual.


kungfualex Says:

October 5th, 2012 at 9:17 pm

I know a Vadim, but he’s Russian so it may just be unusual for the U.S. Also I live in Raleigh–I think it would to be awkward to use while I’m still living here, but I might use it if I moved away. I could easily see couples that met at NCSU using the name.

LisaK83 Says:

March 27th, 2016 at 9:12 am

Completely wrong about Belgium. Names DO get rejected if they’re considered too “out there”. I know one couple who had to change the spelling of their little boy’s name because their crazy spelling had been rejected. So yes, we do have boundaries, thank Goodness.

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