Unusual Names: Would you pick an obscure name?

Question of the Week:

Would you use an unusual name that, though legitimate, is one that most people wouldn’t have heard before?

For example, Matt Lauer and his Dutch-born wife named their second son Thijs, a name rarely heard outside The Netherlands, with a bewildering-to-most pronunciation (it’s TICE).  Would you use a name of another ethnicity that’s unfamiliar here?

Would you dig back into ancient history for a name that hasn’t been used in centuries, like Gretchen Mol’s Ptolemy (shown) or Cate Blanchett’s Ignatius?

Would you shy away from a name that required a lot of explanation or embrace its individuality?

Which obscure names would you consider and which would you consider too esoteric?

Have you chosen a name that most people haven’t heard before?  Are you happy with your choice?

Subscribe to our newsletter

* indicates required


55 Responses to “Unusual Names: Would you pick an obscure name?”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

CountryLizB Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 1:14 am

On my list of names for girls I have Eurydice and Kilmeny. And on my list of names for boys I have Kemuel. Those are pretty obscure, I think.

Lola Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 7:05 am

Pomeline is on my girls list, Cassius & Apollo are both on my boys list. They’re not obscure to name nerds but to the average person, they are!

Michelle Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 7:47 am

Alas, most of my girl picks for names have come back into vogue. For my son’s name we went far back in the family trees. His name is both ethnic Norwegian and historic.

Angie Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 8:17 am

My daughter’s name is Isla, which is becoming more common, and is very popular in other countries. However, in our area (Iowa/Wisconsin), its pretty rare and so many people can’t seem to wrap their head around the fact that the “s” is silent…we get a lot of Izzla? and Eyesla? C’mon people, really?

xinglongneo Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 8:26 am

I have an unusual/obscure name (for where I live)–both first and last. Apparently, my name is obscure enough that Nameberry had the wrong pronunciation for it until I notified them it was wrong. It’s something I would, in fact, be willing to do. I survived and am prospering (for the most part). Why not give my children names that are obscure?

M Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 8:34 am

I would choose an unusual name as long as most people would be able to pronounce it and it needs to “sound good.” There are a lot of awesome Irish and Welsh names out there that are beautiful to the ear… if you can figure out how to say them at all.

ycw Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 8:44 am

On my list: Hezekiah, Judah, Nehemiah, Obadiah, Silas, Shem; Rhoda (most of my girls’ names aren’t obscure)

Second-tier: Japheth; Abitha, Christiana, Selah, Sarai

I would be willing to use any of these, though I probably wouldn’t make Japheth, Selah, or Sarai first names, more due to pronunciation issues than obscurity.

The only one that’s too out there for me is Mephibosheth. And maybe someday I will use it for a middle name… but probably not. I also probably wouldn’t use Methuselah, more because of a specific image than because of obscurity. But again, could turn up in the middle. Kezziah used to be on my girls’ list, but it’s too close to Hezekiah.

Tara Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 8:51 am

I am using Anouk for a girl. I have loved the name for as long as I can remember. It is not obscure in most of Europe, but to the average person it would be. Being both a European and American citizen, & having lived on both continents, has given me a more international outlook on names, as well as being a name nerd!
I also have a list of middle names I love (for a double middle name), many are not very accessible either: Ottilie, Eulalie, Lark, Elodie, Ines, Manon, Mireille, Cosette, Moreau, Sidonie, Soleil, Quitterie, Thisbe, Tullia etc.

I am using names I love. That is all that matters to me.

bootsy Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 9:04 am

Most of the names i consider my favorites are relatively unusual or obscure. Not because I’m purposely looking for a ‘unique’ name, they just happen to have a look or sound I find attractive. So yea, if I ever had a baby I wouldn’t hesitate to use one of my choices just because other people might think it was weird. However, I would avoid something that was especially challenging for most english speakers to pronounce, (like Thijs) and of course, no matter what kind of name you want it should seem accessible as something your child will be saddled with for the rest of his/her life.

mermuse Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 9:10 am

YEP! I can’t wait. My daughter will have a name most people (maybe even some berries) have never heard! Love it!

Boys, though, are going to be less obscure. I think a girl would like an obscure name to set her apart more than a boy. Since girls’ names have more variety in general, might as well go all the way!

jaime Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 9:41 am

I live in a pretty tame area as far as baby names go…out of the kids I know in my circle of friends there are two Madisons, three Emmas, Sophia, Olivia, Mia and Noah. The only child I know with a name outside the top twenty is….McKenna. An obscure name would be tougher to pull off here than elsewhere I think, and for that reason I’d probably avoid it…

abcdef Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 10:19 am

I love so-called “obscure” names! That’s kind of my style, actually. My children will definitely have extremely rare and unheard of names.
These aren’t necessarily my favorites, but just some I like:

Concordia, Abilene, Chantilly, Torrance, Zafira, Socorro, Nautica, Montserrat, Kalidas, Idony, Galadriel, Asphodel, Felka, Forsythia, Dagmar, Vesna
Deveraux, Zephyr, Arcadian, Njord, D’Artagnan, Rutger, Viggo, Upton, Yorick, Oxford, Brannigan, Collis, Abraxas

willaisie Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 11:15 am

The problem with obscure names is that the good ones don’t tend to remain obscure. That being said, I definitely tend to lean toward names that make others cringe. Not on purpose, I guess I just have odd taste in names. My current front runners are Agatha and Neville. My youngest, Wilhelmina, is two and I have relatives who still implore me to call her by her middle name instead.

Other Carolyn Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 11:28 am

I would consider a name that is difficult to pronounce on reading in my country if it was part of my ethnic heritage or the father’s heritage. I’d feel a bit weird about using something that was very obscure, hard to pronounce, and not a part of my culture at all. But I had an unusual name for my decade and when I’d think about what else I’d like to be called, it was always something *more* obscure, not less, so I think any child of mine could handle it.

I have discovered a love for long, obscure names that have the potential for reasonably common nicknames. I don’t use nicknames personally, but it’s nice for a meeker child to have the option. Eg. A friend of my SIL named her baby Anastasia — which is beautiful, but which can easily be shortened to Ana if it turns out to be too much.

*person* Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 11:30 am

Unusual names are essential! I am so sick of the Rachels and Mathews and Jacobs and Ashleys and Sophies (Sophia is acceptable), no offence to the Rachels and Jacobs (and all the rest) of the world.
Ottilie, Indigo, Vincent, Ozzie (OK that one’s not that weird), Ivory, Sailor, Ismay, Isbay, Venice, Livingston, Villiam, Lisander, Ottilo, Millicent, Xenobia, Morag, Elmo, Vittorio, Scorpio, Imogen, Ingrid, Ibsen

I have more normal favourites, though,
Oliver, Victoria, Taylor,
That’s it.

Kristin Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 12:04 pm

My oldest son’s name is Cashel – definitely get a lot of “wow, I’ve never heard that before!” Son #2 is due in three weeks, and we’ve got another fairly unusual name picked for him. I think the trick to make unusual names wearable is to try and keep them fairly easy to spell and pronounce, and we also pair them with very normal family middle names so they have a fall-back option.

tavn Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I’d be more prone to use those kinds of names a middle names, for the sake of my child. Thijs is an awesome name, but I’d go for a more American spelling, so my son wouldn’t have to always pronounce his name for people or correct their spelling. I like a lot of traditionally Gaelic/Irish names…


…but, like I said, they’d only be MN choices.

NameJunkie Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I dont agree with giving a child a completely obscure name, I like a bit of individuality with a name but completely obscure is cruel in my opinion!
I have an unusual enough name (which I wont post for privacy reasons!) when I started school I used to get a lot of teachers not understanding my name and kids teasing me about it. (And you cant say its the era I grew up in because I`m 19!)
I`m not saying I dont love some obscure names but you have to think of a kid growing up with them. I dont even mind them if the child can make a nickname or something from them
I dont mean to be critical for anyone who wants to call their kid an unusual name, to each their own! I`m not saying your child is going to be teased but for me I`d stick to obscure names in films/tv/books =D

Ruth Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I like names that aren’t very popular but are also not really obscure. I really love old names, maybe I’ve been inspired by my name! 🙂 I like some obscure names but I probably wouldn’t use them, or maybe I would use a couple in the middle. Some of the obscure names I like are:
Alvena (I wouldn’t mind using this one n the middle)
Artemisia (wouldn’t use it)
Astrape (maybe in the middle)
Persephone (not obscure among name nerds)
Viona (not really obscure but uncommon)

Peregrine (wouldn’t mind using this one)
Oberon (wouldn’t use it because of the image)
Titus (wouldn’t mind using this one either)

Ellen Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I love the name Mordecai for a boy. I can’t imagine what our families (who think the name Walter is too crazy) would say, so I doubt I’ll ever actually have a little Mordecai.

Leslie Owen Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 12:55 pm

My father’s name was Wadsworth (as was his father’s, all the way back to Longfellow)so I know firsthand what it’s like for someone with an unusual name. Although, growing up in New England, Wadsworth is not that unusual. I think, were I to have another son, I would use Wrestling, which was my ancestor William Brewster’s third son’s name (after Jonathan and Love).

As for an unusual ethnic name, I’ve always wanted to use Solveig for a daughter, which was the name of my great-aunt in Norway. She was called Soli, which is adorable.

Laura Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 1:07 pm

We did walk away from a few names we loved because they just seemed like too much effort to explain. Jacinth and Tanaquil are the ones I remember most fondly.

spotlightstarlit Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 1:29 pm

My girls names are the epitome of obscure, but my boy names are a little more tame… for the most part.

Names that have been heard is the exact thing I’m trying to avoid.

Blessings <3

Claire Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Every time I think about using unusual names, I think about three girls I went to school with (unrelated). Elora, Daphyn, and Olga — all three went by their middles. They seemed embarrassed to even have their real names brought up. If your kid grows up to be teased or just plain doesn’t like the name, all the justification in the world won’t help.

ycw Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Forsythia and Jacinth are lovely.

Mary Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I love obscure names, but I do try to have more tame or easy to pronounce names in my lists for kids. I know people who constantly have to correct people on their name pronounciation or spelling, so Im going to go with names that are unusual for now, but heard of. Well, that’s my plan anyway.

agirlinred Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 5:26 pm

I usually lean towards names that are at least in the top 1000, but a few of my favorites bounce around just below #1000.

pixiewoo Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 5:51 pm

The child needs to be cool and have confidence to pull of wearing an obscure name, otherwise it can backfire.

leah_9 Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Im a name lover so of corse I love those untouched gems that no one else is using. However, I dont think I could bestow them on my child. As cool as I think they are, I know they wouldnt fit me, and if I wouldnt like the name for myself why would I give it to my child? For me traditional fns paired with spunky mns is probably the way to go. That way if I do have a super outgoing or creative child they will have a unique and eye catching mn to use.

Bridgette Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 7:14 pm

We named our son Angus. It’s not obscure–everyone’s heard of it thanks to the Angus beef craze–but we get lots of raised eyebrows b/c it’s so underused as a name. Plus everyone assumes we love AC/DC (not even close to why we chose the name). I still LOVE the name, I’m just surprised by ppl’s reactions to an uncommon name. Maybe it will sound different to ppl when he’s no longer an infant.

Carla Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I am a kindergarten teacher and a mother of four girls and a grandmom and honestly people, you need to get over this need to name your kid an “unusual” “unique” “obscure” “WEIRD” name. Get over yourselves….you and your child are not that special and you are not doing your kid any favors or making them “special” by giving them strange names. You are only making them weirdos, misfits, and outcasts in the classroom unless you are sending your kid to an ultra exclusive private school where he/she will still be ridiculed because their name is not a family name just a pretentious wanna be name. Believe me, the teachers will have a field day with your child’s “unusual”name and a great laugh in the faculty lounge.

Eliza Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Wow, as a former teacher myself – that’s really harsh, yo. Seriously? The teachers will have a field day? The only names we ever commented on were the SUPER strange/oddly spelled – things like Tyranny, Toiyoka (pronounced like the car brand but with a K) and so on – never names that were actual names, just obscure or foreign. And even if a teacher remarks on a name in the faculty lounge, so what? Who cares? They don’t have to live with the kid’s name for more than a year. You’ll be saying your kid’s name on a daily basis for the rest of your life – if you like it, that’s what matters. Period.

That being said, I’m an obscure name fan myself. I love historical and/or cultural names like Adlai, Ebenezer, Obadiah, Melisande, Magnolia, so on. And I think that, as a child gets older, they can be really glad their parent gave them a name with history and weight behind it.

Elle Says:

July 6th, 2011 at 10:54 pm

I love all different kinds of name but I’m not opposed to choosing something obscure. My favorite girl names hasn’t been in the top 1000 for at least 11 years. I don’t think it is unheard of but at the moment people aren’t really using it.

My current favorites are…
Adah, Aine, Antonia, Blythe, Caroline, Carys, Eliza, Felicity, Finola, Fiona, Gwyneth, Josephine, Junia, Lena, Linnea, Lydian, Millicent, Neve, Nora, Phoebe, Ravenna

Achilles, Alastair, Bryant, Dashiell, Declan, Gannon, Gareth, Ivan, Jude, Julius, Lachlan, Rafferty, Sullivan, Thaddeus, Theo, Theron

anniebee Says:

July 7th, 2011 at 12:30 am

I think it really depends on the type of name and the degree of obscurity.

I’m cool with historical names, nature names, old-fashioned names. I basically want a decent amount of people to recognize the name/word even if it’s not a conventional name. Some of my guilty pleasure names are Winter, Hawthorne, Zinnia and Pandora. I think all of these are intuitively spelled and simple enough to pronounce. Would I use them? I probably don’t have the figurative juevos, but we’ll see.

I don’t see names like some of the above poster’s – Jude, Nora or Caroline particularly obscure, though others may view them as such.

On the other hand, some names that I keep seeing on this site like Tamsin and Circe make my skin crawl. Perhaps someone else might see my Hawthorne and Pandora and think the same, which is why I’d probably steer clear for the sake of my kid. The more obscure, the harder it is for others to warm to it.

Payton Says:

July 7th, 2011 at 10:18 am

Sharaya is pretty different. It means god be with you, and it was also an Amy Grant song. I believe she spelled it Sharayah

On Our Reading List | giggle GAB Says:

July 8th, 2011 at 9:55 am

[…] Nameberry bloggers and naming experts Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz ask would you pick an obscure name? […]

KatieB Says:

July 8th, 2011 at 11:55 am

Some of my favorite names are unusual, out-of-fashion and sometimes unheard of. However I prefer names that are short (one or two syllables), simple and easy to pronounce in english. Thijs would be a big NO for me.

*person* Says:

July 9th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

While I love weird names (Ok, pretty muck weird everything), sometimes there are REASONS names are obscure, you know?
Such as:


Wilis (I know a boy named that, sad isn’t it?)


Just make sure the name isn’t badly-associated-with, generally-disgust-inducing, or Renesme, or Nevaeh.

KatieB Says:

July 9th, 2011 at 6:12 pm

@*person* – Am I missing something…why is Wilis “sad”?

Jessica Says:

July 10th, 2011 at 10:16 am

I don’t think Thijs is a weird choice at all. It’s really not that shocking that a Dutch mother would give her son a Dutch name. I don’t know how common the name is in the Netherlands, but given that I already knew of the Danish variant Theis I doubt it’s that obscure. It’s just the standard immigrant dilemma at work: do you give your child a name that relates to their heritage or one that will make it easier to assimilate?

On the other hand, if you give your child a name from a completely unrelated culture they’re going to end up having to explain not only how their name is pronounced, but also that they’re actually not French / Japanese / whatever even though their name strongly suggests they are. That could easily come across as pretentious and in certain cases even appropriative.

iris1973 Says:

July 11th, 2011 at 11:16 am

I think it’s appropriate for a parent to name a child after their heritage or lineage. I get annoyed when I see comments that say things like “UGH, why would you name anyone THAT” in response to an outdated name…my first thought is always, well, maybe that was Grandpa’s name, or someone equally important to the family. Who are we to judge? And why do we need that explanation for it to be “all right” with us? It’s really no one’s business except the family’s.

iris1973 Says:

July 11th, 2011 at 11:17 am

anniebee, Tamsin is very popular in the UK; not obscure at all.

anniebee Says:

July 13th, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Well, I guess that makes sense then. I’ve never heard of the name until I came to nameberry.

Laurie Says:

July 15th, 2011 at 10:47 pm

We did- We used a name that is popular in Russia but not heard of here. I am happy with the decision (my son is now 5), although I was not sure about our choice initially.

I prefer an obscure name from another culture versus made-up or creative spellings.

madamecoco Says:

July 21st, 2011 at 7:10 pm

On my not so common list:
Clementine, Sybilla (I like Sybil too, but when I say it aloud I always hear Bibil..and laugh!, Isolde, Hermione, Ophelia, Heathcliff, Dante and D’artagan.

I would definately use an unusual or vintage name as I have a dislike of using something over used – as long as it can be pronounced without much difficulty and doesn’t have any negative associations (adolf) or deliberately embarassing (I once heard of a child called Rodent – the parents mistakenly thought it was the English translation for the name Rodentur!)

Brindy Says:

July 27th, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I think obscure names are cool and unique. As for me, I have an obscure name, Brindy, that pretty much no one has heard before. That’s because my parents mis-read Brandy and ended up liking the outcome. They named me after a typo… but I don’t mind. It makes a great story!
PS…. I’d also like to point out… no, my name has no meaning that I know of because I’ve never found it on any baby name site or book or… anywhere! I hope I’ll find it someday!

Lucky*Clover Says:

July 30th, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I find obscure names interesting and always wonder what the story behind the name is when I meet someone with a unique name. I’m not sure that I’d be brave enough to use one though because it’s such a fine line between a cool/unique name and a weird/unique name. Oprah has a very unique name that sets her apart from others and has obviously been an asset. However, the little boy I know named Wrecker might find his name to be a huge burden, though his parents chose it because it was “so unique”. If I ever did use an unusual name, it would be after really considering if I would want that to be my name to carry throughtout my life and not just if it was “so unique”.

Anydaynow Says:

August 6th, 2011 at 12:28 am

I find it fascinating, but plainly obvious, that obscure names in one country or area can be common in others and that perceptions of what is “obscure” can change so much too. I know quite a lot of boys called Angus but know it’s uncommon in other places. I love it and, if my surname didn’t start with S, would be calling my son due in a week just that. I think the trick in choosing unusual names is actually thinking it though to adulthood. Imagine going to the bank or to see a lawyer and meeting a Galadriel or Nexus who are looking after your money or legal matters.

In saying that, I work with children so lots of beautiful names have different connotations for me. Not always bad, sometimes that name just belongs to that child and wouldn’t sound right on mine. So, I do tend to lean towards names that are uncommon but not necessarily strange. My first sons name and the name picked for this son are both uncommon but not made up or unheard of, and both have meaning to us. One to honour(but not identical to) my late father and one to honour two late grandmothers in name and heritage.

For a boy I love Lewis, Angus, Patterson, Miles and Bennett. For girls I like Callie, Eve, Maeve and Halle. For others, these may be really common or really strange but for me, they are just what I want. And really, that’s all that matters.

Daniella K. Says:

August 9th, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Generally I love finding names in songs…. so for my girls I have Lillian Ava and Emma Elise…. this time around we wanted to go even deeper…. and we’ve gone so deep that we can’t find these names on any baby name website, although they are in songs……

Velouria Arienette

Velouria is a Pixies song and Arienette is a Bright Eyes song

henrye Says:

October 14th, 2011 at 11:06 am

Carla, it makes me sad to think that you named your children based on the principle that they weren’t that special. If I had to choose between a name that was boring and a name that had a kindergarten teacher sneering at it on her break, I’d choose a different kindergarten teacher. There’s nothing wrong with being interested in or kindly amused by people’s names, but when you turn it into anything mean spirited or any sort of comment on someone’s worth, that’s a problem with you, not with that child or those parents.

I don’t like Willis, but the only reason I can think of to call it “sad” is the “Whatcha talkin’ ’bout Willis?” thing.

abeezee Says:

December 26th, 2011 at 4:23 pm

We have a Willow in our family, and her brothers have affectionately migrated to the nickname “Willis”. I find it cute.

MollyKat78 Says:

December 29th, 2011 at 2:13 am

my favorite name for years has bee Brishen(Bree-shhh-en) I found it in a name book it said it was a gypsy name that means born during the rain.

MollyKat78 Says:

December 30th, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Well here are some I like..or have known…
Solvieg soul-vay
Trygve is a boy name the rest are girls..

arunciblespoon Says:

January 18th, 2012 at 8:10 pm

I would use a name that had a cultural connection, I actually really like Thijs and got the pronounciation spot on first time I saw it written. I veer more towards names that haven’t been used for a while and arent very popular but still sound good and strong like Ignatius, but don’t lean towards silly like Peaches and Trixibelle. My top girl names are Beatrice and Hermione (H.P is killing it for me, but I think i’ll go for it anyway), both have a great literary connection and aren’t used too often. I really like Clementine too.

HerMajesty Says:

November 17th, 2012 at 5:25 pm

I love the names Hekate, Sparling, Rizpah, and Achilles. If i used Hekate, I would call her Kate or Kitty, and I might use Sparling, but because of bullies(yes, contrary to popular belife, they are still here because I go to school with some) Achilles and Rizpah are out of the question.

leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.