Word Names for Babies: What’s in a word?

For several years now, word names have been singled out as being at the extreme edge of cool—we may have been guilty of pushing that edge ourselves at times.  But I’m starting to wonder if it’s time to pull back a little, and put the brakes on.  Celebrities have tried to outdo each other to sometimes eye-rolling effect in the effort to find a ‘unique’, attention-grabbing word name : I’m not naming names but I might mention a few words like zeppelin and pirate and peanut.

Of course there are word names and there are word names and probably the most acceptable and appealing are the centuries-old Virtue names created by the early and most zealous Pilgrims to display their righteous religiosity.  Though  such excessive male phrase-names as Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith and Fly-fornication are long gone, the simpler girl virtue names have not only survived but some are now downright trendy: Grace, Hope, Faith, and, more recently, Felicity, True and Honor.

Other worthy examples include:











And a couple  for the boys: BRAVERY, JUSTICE.

Nature names are in a category unto themselves;  having started as botanical or zoological designations, some—particularly flower names, such as Rose, Daisy, Lily, Iris et al– have been accepted as people names for more than a century, and the same is true of gem names like Ruby and Pearl, herbs like Rosemary (seen more as the combination of two popular names) and Sage, birds like Robin (long a diminutive of Robert).  And one-time hippy-imaged names such as Sky, River, Rain, Lake and Ocean are rapidly becoming mainstream.  It’s when nature example that have rarely or never been used as names before suddenly pop up that some eyebrows may be raised…eg Puma, Sparrow, Bear, Fire.

Another group that could prove problematic is the bad-boy names whose parents  seem to be setting a roguish agenda, names like Rebel, Bandit, and, yes, Rogue.  Not to mention such unexpected choices as Million, Midnight, Zeppelin, Pilot

But there is also a contingent of recent word names that have a gentler, more poetic image, and which seem to now be gaining more widespread acceptance, especially as middle names, including:










So what do you think of the word name trend?  Take our poll and tell us your thoughts.

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22 Responses to “Word Names for Babies: What’s in a word?”

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Abby Says:

November 15th, 2009 at 10:24 pm

One of my favorite bloggers, Rebecca of Girls Gone Child, has a daughter named Fable Luella. My initial reaction was surprise, but it has really grown on me.

Vera Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 1:52 am

Abby, I was thinking of Fable too, Fable and Archer are awesome names, I also really like Mercy but I won’t ever use it now that madonna has. 🙁

phaedra Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 8:46 am

I dig the virtue names, but not the newer/more distinctive word names. Even Willow feels too newfangled to me. Guess I’m old-fashioned like that.

JLyn Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 9:25 am

I met a young woman named Chosen recently. I thought it was a very interesting name, but I’m too traditional to ever choose something like it.

Nephele Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 9:49 am

I’m quite fond of word names when they come in the form of the name of a flower — especially words for different flowers taken from other languages. But these flowery names work better for girls than for boys.

Nameberryite Unicorngal has compiled an amazing list of “botanical names” that could double as names for babies too, and she is continually adding to her list. Have a peek for a treat!

JustADad Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 10:23 am

I really dislike some of the recent word names and think they would be a millstone around the neck for a kid or a grown-up once past the initial baby cuteness. No one should take naming advice from George Costanza on Seinfeld. (He was the one who said he’d name a kid Seven.) There’s creative, and then there’s a “I don’t care that this name could be a burden for my kid”.

Karen Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 11:06 am

I tend to dislike word names across the board. Some flowers are ok, while I don’t think they are all names just because some are. I think an obvious virtue stamped on a person by the name they were given is also – not terrible, per se, but may be difficult to live up to. Puritan virtue naming tends to be quite strict and sounds strict – old-fashioned puritanical society is not something that agrees with me, so I don’t find the tradition of such a good thing. It’s quaint in a bad way for me. A few other nature names, like River or Lake seem on the ok side to me. I used to love this category a lot more. I don’t see Sky or Ocean as too harmful, but it can probably get out of hand. Geological meanings are probably my favorite names even out of the word-name category, so it stands to reason I’d be slightly more forgiving of this sub-category.

This recently came up in the All About Nameberry forum – where someone pointed out that some of the Italian names aren’t names in Italy. It is one thing to have an Italian name, and quite another to find one has unwittingly chosen a word from another language as a name. It might sound nice, but the difference to some people is important. If a name becomes established in the US after someone took a foreign language word as a name, but that is not a name in any country except the US, to me, that’s an American name or derived from American practices, and not the same as having an authentic Italian (to stick with the example) name.

One of my favorite things about names is that they are mostly obscured or archaic meanings, and exist word-like in the language but have their own category. A name can mean something without having to advertise itself, a quality the bearer does not have to be compared to. The meaning can be a mystery to discover, the name covers a short phrase of imagery without spelling it out for people. You don’t have to name your daughter “Precious” to tell her how you feel about her, etc. It’s also my opinion, a lot of word names don’t sound as nice in English! Some words conjure a lovely imagery, but down to it, do not sound as lovely as a word.

So I voted that this is ok for some people but not for me, rather than the option for “ridiculous”. It is not ridiculous, but I think it can get too trendy – how special is it if someone has a neat story how they got their name when after some time, their name just blends into the trend of so many people doing it, but of course, that just lends to the establishment of these words as names. Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Word names have been used in other languages for centuries, since the advent of Christianity, Western Society has been using word names from Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Margaret for example is from an old word in Greek for pearl.

Annabelle Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 12:47 pm

I love the “garden” names. Iris, Lily, Ivy, and Daisy are some of my personal favorites… Now to sell my husband on them.

Madi Says:

November 16th, 2009 at 8:24 pm

I’ve always loved Story and Rain 🙂

lyndsayjenness Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 3:27 am

I love Fable. It’s one I probably wouldn’t actually use when it really comes down to it, but I do like to toy around with it. I would use it as a middle name, though.

Claire Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 9:50 am

I named one of my daughters “Crimson”, so not only would I use one, I already have 🙂 She has a very, very, very common last name so I wanted her to be able to stand out from the herd a bit. Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Claire, Crimson is an awesome name!

redridinghood Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 6:21 pm

I like some of the old fashioned names like Hope and Prudence and Faith – i.e. abstract nouns. However, let’s not get precious about what is a word name and what is not, or where do you stop? (Rachel – ewe, Kennedy – ugly head etc!) Also, not only flower names, but also all the gemstones – Pearl, Ruby, Coral etc. These have all been pinched from our lexicon of “word names”, haven’t they?

I love colour names too (adjective names now!) – Crimson, Scarlet, Violet, Mauve.


Lucy Says:

November 17th, 2009 at 6:36 pm

I actually like Light, Brilliance, and Minnow, though I wouldn’t use them. I actually have a huge blog post with a giant list of names like these, click on the link below:

twinkle Says:

November 19th, 2009 at 7:23 pm

A lot of names we don’t identify as word names are, though – we will be naming the siblings we are adopting Ambrosia and Jasper, coincidentally both word names (the food of the gods and a gemstone, respectively).

cay Says:

February 3rd, 2010 at 6:20 pm

My favorite name is a word, too! MERCURY!

Kelsey Says:

February 15th, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Have seen one blogger with a daughter named Fauna. I also like Winter and other nature-related words.

braveangel2 Says:

May 19th, 2010 at 3:52 pm

I tend to think hippie when I hear word names. I like them as middle names well enough, and of course – common word names have to start somewhere I suppose.

Sylvr Says:

June 10th, 2010 at 7:40 pm

I’d never be brave enough to use wordnames, but my favourites (aside from the usual flower culprits) are Saturn and Idea.

Making Things Up: A woman with a husband, four kids, and the occasional witty anecdote Says:

August 12th, 2010 at 5:37 am

[…] round of the Great Baby Name Debate of 2010, I pointed out that the Puritans sometimes went with hyphenated phrase-names, like Fight-the-Good-Fight-of-Faith, or Fly-Fornication. (I wasn’t advocating for such a […]

Jen Says:

November 30th, 2010 at 3:13 am


I couldn’t agree with you more. Funny anecdote relating to the whole ‘foreign-words-as-names.’ It’s important, if you’re going to do this, that you know what the word means!
My father is Brazilian, and he knew a man who took a business to Brazil. He heard a beautiful word he liked a lot. Janella. When he got home, he and his wife named their daughter Janella, because it sounded pretty and it was Portuguese. Well Janella means ‘window’ in Portuguese, and everyone in Brazil that he knew had a pretty good laugh about it.

But then a sobering thought hit me. In this latest ‘words as names’ trend, someone might actually name their daughter Window, and think it some lovely metaphor about how she’s a window into heaven or something. Meanwhile the rest of us simply press our faces against real windows, searching for wherever our sanity has gone.

I am okay with some word names that have been word names for a long time. Ruby, Grace, Rose, etc. I am not at all in love of the more recent choices. Bandit? Really? Fire?

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