Unusual Names: 5 Ways to Stay on the Right Side of Weird

Unusual names can be attractive, distinctive, intriguing….until they cross the line to weird.   Parents in search of unusual names often worry about how to stay on the right side of that line.

Here, five ways to choose unusual names that have all the best qualities of the genre and avoid the worst.

1.     Spell them the, uh, normal way.

Okay, let’s say you want to name your child Atticus.  Unusual, yes; weird (at least in today’s terms), no.  But change it up to Attykus and you tip it over the line to weird.

2.     Keep your gender-bending within bounds.

Using an androgynous name like Taylor or Mason, for a boy or a girl, is one way to be distinctive.  You can even push the limits by choosing an all-boy name like Eric, say, as a daughter’s middle name to honor an ancestor, or reclaiming a name such as Sasha for your son.  But using Eric as your daughter’s first name or letting your son’s name veer too far into the feminine camp starts to get weird.

3.     Choose unusual names that have regular old nicknames.

Rosamund might be unusual-in-a-good way, but one of the best things about it is that you can always call your daughter Rosie if, for whatever reason, you think she needs a name option that’s a little less unusual.

4.     Make sure people can pronounce and understand them.

You may be interested in an unusual name that fits your ethnic identity, and that’s great, but if people in the country where you live are going to have endless trouble pronouncing or remembering it, you’ve got a problem.  Xanthipe may be lovely if you live in Athens, but in Athens, Georgia, you’d do better with Cynthia.

5.     Pick names that will last your child a lifetime.

Sure, your friends think Floyd is a cool name, in a retro hip, so far out it’s in kind of way.  But how’s Floyd going to sound when yelled out on the soccer field?  Can Floyd get a blind date?  Even if a three-year-old or a 30-year-old would deem it the best kind of unusual, if a 13-year-old would call it weird, it’s out.

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28 Responses to “Unusual Names: 5 Ways to Stay on the Right Side of Weird”

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BasicSand Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 5:18 am

I’m a big fan of unusual names. One of the challenges I have is with word names. Spices and virtues are acceptable to girls but with boys’ names it seems like it’s safer to go with the classics. Tree names (Birch?), color names (Gray?), and just word names (West?) just seems a bit weird to me. It seems that you can be as daring with middle names but a boys’ first name always seems more traditional.

namefan Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 8:56 am

On the subject of “creative” spellings, here’s one that I encountered awhile back: Lyndsie.

About using a name like Eric as a girl’s middle name to honor someone: In a case like this in which the name has a recognizable feminine form (in this case Erica) why not use that (for either the first or middle name)?

A word name that I’ve been liking lately (could be either gender, but I like it a bit better for a boy) is Lake.

Stella Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 9:19 am

I disagree with your last point. 13 year olds find everything weird. Plus, 13 year olds have horrible taste.

I think it’s essential that unusual names have multiple reference points so a child isn’t locked into being perceived as a certain type of person. Atticus and Sasha are fine, but Ayn lets people know their parents are architectural nitwits.

lena Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 10:21 am

Unless they’re naming their daughter after the brilliant author Ayn Rand.

pdxlibrarian Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 10:47 am

I love your comment, Stella!

SJ Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 1:11 pm

I agree with Stella in that most kids go through a stage when they hate their name if it’s at all unusual, i.e., not one of the Top 5 names in their class, and this often happens during the teenage years. So I don’t think you can necessarily go by what you imagine your future 13-year-old might like.

I suggest parents Google the unusual name they like, especially in combination with a middle or last name, and see what comes up. It might turn up some kind of pop culture or historical connection they never knew about which might influence how they feel about the name. Better to know what the name might remind some people of BEFORE you bestow it on a child, rather than finding out afterward it was the name of someone you find unsavory.

Danni Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I agree that choosing a name that will “last your child a lifetime” is easier said than done, particularly given yesterday’s question about if a child can “cutify” an unseemly name. Before I met small children named Glynn, Hugo, Henry, Edith, and Sylvia, I never could have pictured those names on children. Most people grow into names (and, as already said, few 13-year-olds love their names), and I am sure if you met a 17-year-old Floyd who had a nice personality, you would probably warm up to the name on a young person. I’m not saying that the last bit of advice isn’t sound, I just don’t think it’s one to set in stone.

Also, I want to add that I ADORE the masculine middle names on girls. I know a little darling named Madeleine Michael, and it’s so cute! It has a lot more sass and interest than Madeleine Michelle or Madeleine Michaela. I think it’s the right measure of gender-bending 🙂

Macy Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Well I on the other hand like feminine-like names on boys, always will. I’d rather they have that as their names than butchy truck-driver names. I’d say balancing between daring and traditional is the best way to go – but I’d give my son an unusual or softer name as their first name, and have a more traditional but not overused 2nd name.

namefan Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Macy: I agree with you – I think that a more unusual/softer/unisex first name with a more conventional middle name is a good combo! Some good examples of this using unisex names are Holly Marie Combs’s sons: Finley Arthur, Riley Edward, and Kelley James. My own name is another example as well (remember I’m in the minority gender on here).

Lyndsay Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I have to agree with not really worrying about the tastes of the preteen version of your child’s tastes. I mean my name is Lyndsay, perfectly normal name for my age (there was always at least one other Lindsay in my grade), and when I was young I hated it so much that I was ashamed to say it on the first day of class during introductions. My name probably could have been anything from Electra to Eleanor and I would have hated it just as much. Just saying, kids are picky and there’s no way to know what name they’re going to love or hate. For the most part, I think everyone grows into their name and it just fits them.

namefan Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Another point I just thought of – if you use a unisex first name, I think it’s best to use a middle name that clearly indicates the gender. For example, Rowan Emery is too confusing IMO but something like Rowan Edward or Rowan Elizabeth helps clarify the gender of the person in question.

MrsWoolfSimmons Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I can agree with guidelines 1-4. But when is was 13 I wanted a weird name. I wanted every aspect of me to be interesting and unique.
Guideline 5 seems silly to me.

namefan Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 3:35 pm

A bit of clarification: My most recent comment does not repeat what I said in the other one – what I meant to say is that whether it’s a boy or a girl I think it’s best to clarify the gender with the other name if one is unisex (the comment before that mentions the more offbeat name paired with a more conventional one).

Jls123 Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 5:07 pm

I love unusual names, they’re names I find more interesting than Theodore or Henry or Isabella and Sophia.

Honestly this day and age unusual names are becoming more accepted.

I wouldn’t mind having a kid named Fall instead of Autumn or Xanthe even Dancer.

Kids with unsual names aren’t all weird, it depends on people’s level of weirdness. What Xiamara is to someone is just another Kate to smoeone else.

Blair Says:

December 2nd, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Actually the character Floyd from 30 rock actually made me see it as quirky but not trying too hard, the character is what made it appealing, charming, funny, yaddda yadda another plus for Floyd: future generations will have no idea of the “Floyd the Barber” associations. ; )

Jennie Says:

December 3rd, 2010 at 12:34 am

Um…when I was thirteen I wanted to change my name to Ryan, so…

Actually, it’s funny you mention Xanthippe. I just found this name a few weeks ago and I really like it! Not the best connotation (Socrates’ nagging wife), but it’s definitely distinctive. I do agree, though, that it’s probably culturally out for me.

linelei Says:

December 3rd, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Yeah, who cares what thirteen-year-olds think? If they want to make fun of a name, they will, whether it’s Jebediah or John. When I was 13, I went by Trinity, just to be weird and different.

I’m really not worried about choosing a weird name for my children. Names that are used right now were thought of as weird even 10, 15 years ago. So by the time my kids are teens, people will be used to a plethora of unusual names, and most won’t blink twice at something they’ve never heard before.

Isabel Says:

December 3rd, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Ok. I am 13 and have been told I have extremely classic and good taste in names, so leave room for exceptions, k? Not all teenagers are moody, judgmental fools. Thanks 🙂

pam Says:

December 3rd, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Isabel, you’re right, and let’s be nice everyone, in keeping with the nameberry vibe. Indeed, kids today of whatever age are more accepting of unusual names and many teenagers like having a name that makes them distinctive. But there’s still a line between unusual and weird, and (to use an example talked about in the other comments) giving your daughter an androgynous name like Devon might be unusual but calling her Dexter may very well tip it into weird (and make for more than the usual friction during those tender adolescent years).

It’s all very well to be hard-line about teenage feelings before you’ve had kids, but as a parent raising my third teenager, I am very sensitive to the subject!

Charlotte Says:

December 5th, 2010 at 2:38 am

Funny, when I was thirteen (which was only a couple of years ago) I disliked my name because it was popular. I wanted to be called Aria or Genevieve. Now I like my name, it works and suits me, but I still would prefer something a bit more unusual. And Isabel, exactly. As a teenager I consider myself a moody judgmental fool most of the time, except when it comes to names I try and be a bit more open. Then again, if a Xanthipe came up to me I would internally be questioning the parent that named them that in a western country. Lovely, but difficult.

Isabel Says:

December 6th, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Thanks Pam, I love your blog. Charlotte, I love the names Aria and Genevieve, and Charlotte too 🙂 I wished my name was Celia for a while, but I’m an Isabel at heart. 🙂

But I also understand what a lot of the pp’s were saying- my best friend is planning to call her first daughter after the song Ruby Tuesday by the Rolling Stones. I tried to convince her Ruby was perfectly sufficient…but she thinks Tuesday is much cooler.

Sparkle Says:

January 9th, 2011 at 4:25 pm

My daughter is 11 and she’s the one who recommended this website to me! So I agree with Isabel! And I prefer to go vintage not weird or kre8tiv

Jimmy Says:

March 16th, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Sasha is perfectly fine as a man’s name. I’m almost certain that the origins are masculine, although I could be wrong.

Go to any Slavic country such as Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Bellarus and ask for Sasha, and 999/1000, the person who will appear will, 999/1000, be a man.

Oddly enough, while Sasha is a name in and of itself, almost all Slavic people who go by the name Sasha are named Alexander. I don’t get the nickname relationship, but Sasha is generally a nickname for men named Alexander.

Londinium Says:

March 31st, 2011 at 6:20 pm

Having a unusual name is hard because sometimes people don’t understand why you have it, and how its pronounced. Like my name, Londinium is pronounced LEN dOn ni Yuum is often pronounced LON dini Um. So I often shorten to London so other pepole can understand and dont give me wacky looks like” what were her parents thinking? “

Angela Says:

June 18th, 2011 at 3:24 am

I personally dislike unusual names but I do love ethnic names.

Reeny Says:

August 8th, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I think there is a distinction here about what is classified as a “weird” name, and an ethnic name, or a name that is less common due to its origins in comparison to where and when it is being used. The name is, so to speak, individualistic, and every name depends upon the family’s circumstance and story.

My name, Verena, was my great-grandmother’s name, Verena Emmeline. Growing up I hated my name. Detested it. In fact, it seems like from reading all of these lovely posts that how you feel about your name is similar to how you feel about your hair: whatever we have we may go through a long stage of wishing we had a different one. Then we may accept it. And then, hopefully, we learn to love it. A name comprises its owner’s identity, so it is important to be sensitive about classifying names as “weird”. Rather, “uncommon” is possibly more preferable, speaking from the perspective of someone who was known as “having the weird name” throughout school!

Just as well today’s multicultural world and mass media are inspiring more parents to use these “weird” names, so they may just lose that stigma after all!

KatBev Says:

February 22nd, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I think unusual names can be a wonderful talking point for any child/adult who has been gifted with it, but think that a ‘gift’ not a “curse” is precisely what should be bestowed!
To have the foresight to give your newborn baby a name that will last a lifetime is near-on impossible, as fashions and cultural like and dislikes change quickly. For instance, there are plenty of middle-aged people in the UK with names like Keith and Jean, but I certainly wouldn’t give my child those names as they’re out of fashion, though perfectly normal and acceptable on those middle-aged people.
I love the name Six (I can see it being used on either sex though I like it for a girl) but I realise this is a strange name, especially here in the UK where I think we can be a little more reserved with our baby names. I will persist in trying to convince my partner it’s a good idea though….

BabyNameCrazy95 Says:

June 11th, 2013 at 8:50 am

I love the name Acacia but i think that people might mispronounce it which worry’s me. I also want little Acacia to be a double barrel name with Rae as Rae is a short form of Rachel so hopefully Baby Acacia-Rae won’t get bullied I love the nickname Caysa x

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