How to Find Charming, Uncommon Names for Your Baby

If you’ve decided against selecting a time-tested traditional name for your baby, here are some ideas for finding cool, uncommon names in odd places (like a travel guide, a restaurant menu, a TV commercial or an art museum). Although picking an uncommon moniker for your child increases the risk of winding up with something that creates a “What were you thinking?” or “You must be kidding!” response, you just might discover a name that turns out to be highly memorable and appealing—thus earning you credit for your creativity and daring.

If you’re willing to pick a safe middle name in case Eureka or Ypsilanti are judged a flop as soon as your friends and relatives see the birth announcement, choosing a cool, unique name for your child can be a big plus for both the child and the parents. Your son Hudson and your daughter Monet may be the envy of all their classmates (as well as their classmates’ parents who will want to meet the pair who picked those charming names).

How do you find charming names like that? Follow this three-step procedure:

  1. Look for names in odd places: a world atlas for place names, TV commercials or print ads for brand names, art museums for art names, menus or cookbooks for food names and baby-name books for uncommon forms of common names, bird or flower guides for nature names. (Did you know that 100,000+ Baby Names has more than 600 lists of names to help parents generate cool, off-the-beaten-track ideas?)
  1. Once you’ve come up with a list of names that are worth considering, spend some time thinking about what they would be like to live with (for your child and for you). Try to narrow your choice down to a few “keepers.”Of course, there’s one more step—putting whichever names you like together with your last name (and any middle names you’re considering) to see how they all sound together. Don’t forget to check out the initials too. Some initials are just plain cool, like P.J., J.P., or K.C. Cool initials give your child another great fallback. It’s like having another middle name—without the clunkiness of actually having two middle names.

Now let’s take a look at a variety of potential names to see if we turn up any you’d call “charming.”

Place Names

For Boys: Chad, Frisco, Hudson, Reno, Rio and Santonio

For Girls: China, Georgia, India, Kenya, Siena, and Skye, Virginia

Practical Considerations: Most of these names are recognizable enough to be quite easy to spell and pronounce. Most of them also paint a picture (that is, either charming or memorable—or both). I can imagine a difference of opinion about the “charm factor” for China, India, Kenya, Hudson and Reno. But I doubt many would find Rio, Siena, Santonio or Frisco problematic with regard to charm.

Food and Spice Names

For Girls: Brie, Cinnamon, Ginger, Olivia, Pepper, Saffron and Sage.

For Boys, Herb, Huckleberry, Macintosh, Oliver and Sage

Practical Considerations: Olivia and Oliver are variations of Olive and both make a positive impression and work well as names, as does Brie for girls. Ginger and Pepper both create a “spunky” or “spicy” impression for girls.  Sage is more of a gender-neutral name which can work equally well for either gender. Herb is a rather old-fashioned name and, of course, the “H” isn’t silent. In my opnion, the shorter variations of Huckleberry (Huck) and Macintosh (Mac) work better for boys than the longer versions.

Color Names

For Girls: Amber, Blanche, Cinnamon, Cocoa, Ebony, Ginger, Ivory and Raven

For Boys: Russell, Rusty

Practical considerations: Color names can be a blessing when you’ve put off picking a name until you are cradling  the baby in your arms. Color names can help you describe your child’s most striking physical attributes (such as hair color and complexion) in a name that can break a tie and “seal the deal.” (Notice that several spice names also work as color names.)

Brand Names

For Boys: Chevy, Harley, Levi, Lincoln and Stetson

For Girls: Chanel, Kia, Macy, Mercedes and Sierra

Practical Considerations: Most people are familiar with these brand names, so spelling and pronunciation aren’t likely to cause problems. However, these brands will probably appeal to people on different ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, in different parts of the country, and with different tastes. Chanel, Mercedes and Lincoln are more upscale; Macy appeals to the broad middle; Levi, Stetson and Sierra appeal to folks who may live out west or enjoy country-western music; Chevy is an “All-American” brand and Kia is a zippy brand that appeals to folks with modest bank accounts or with a “green” sensibility.

Ten or twenty years ago, many parents who shopped at Wal-Mart and Target chose Tiffany as a name for their bouncing bundle of joy, perhaps to project a more upscale image. You don’t need a 7-figure income to pick a million-dollar name.

Art Names

For Boys: Calder, Jasper, Hockney, Leonardo, Raphael, Rockwell, Sargent and Stuart

For Girls: Hartley, Mona Lisa, Monet and Stella

Practical Considerations: There’s a risk in choosing an “arty” name that won’t be immediately recognizable to most people. However, many of the names on the list above are familiar to most people. Who has not heard of the Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Monet’s water lilies, Calder’s colorful mobiles, Norman Rockwell’s poignant illustrations for “The Saturday Evening Post” and Georgia O’keeffe’s mesmerizing close-ups of flowers and iconic southwestern images.

Alternate Forms of Common Names

For Boys: Geo (a short form of George), Lucky (a familiar form of Luke), Rafa (a short form of Raphael), Ringo (a Japanese name meaning “apple”)

For Girls: Nita (a short form of Anita and Juanita), Rita (a short form of Marguerite and Margarita), Cielo (a Spanish form of “Heaven”), Colette or Cosette (French forms of Nicole)

Practical Considerations: Most of these names are easy to spell and pronounce. Both French names (Cosette and Collette) make a literary or arty impression. Cielo not only sounds beautiful, it means “Heaven” in Spanish. And Nita is like Rita, a short Spanish form of names ending in “nita” or “rita.” The boys’ names are mainly short forms of names that are more religious, arty or stodgy. Most are informal and fun. Of course, it may be hard to imagine Ringo, Rafa and Lucky as classical composers, Ph.D. candidates or members of a prestigious law firm.

Last Names of Famous People

For Boys: Beckham, Lincoln

For Girls: Anniston, Lennon, Harlow

Practical Considerations: Here’s a way to find charming, uncommon names. I recently added Anniston, Lennon and Harlow to 100,000+ Baby Names when they landed on the top-1,000 girls’ list. Ditto for Beckham when it landed on the top-1,000 boys’ list. Lincoln, of course, is the last name of a famous president which just moved onto the top-100 boys’ list at #95. It’s not exactly “uncommon,” but it’s not too common, yet, to use. Did you notice that Anniston is not exactly spelled the way actress Jennifer Aniston spells her last name? Parents who selected it for their daughters presumably added the extra “n” so Anniston could function as an updated version of Ann, a girls’ name that has been used in English-speaking countries for centuries.

Nature Names

For Boys: Ash, Clay, Cliff, Forrest, Jasper, River, Robin, Sage

For Girls: Gale, Heather, Ivy, Lily, River, Robin, Sage, Stormy, Violet, Willow,

Practical considerations: Here’s another effective way to find charming, uncommon names. In the process of compiling a list of boys’ and girls’ nature names I noticed that this category provides an excellent source of gender-neutral names.

I hope that reading this post motivates you to consider other off-the-beaten-path name categories such as: literary names (e.g., Webster)  sports names (e.g., Kirby)  and celestial names (e.g. Orion).

© 2013 Bruce Lansky, © 2015 Bruce Lansky
All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without proper notice of copyright.

One thought on “How to Find Charming, Uncommon Names for Your Baby

  1. Pingback: The Importance of Anthony Weiner, Lance Armstrong, Britney Spears and the Names of Your High School Classmates | Bruce Lansky Baby Names in the News

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