Nameberry’s List of 100 Cool, Unusual Names Should Come with a Warning

In the last few weeks Babble released a list of 20 “cool and “unusual” names which had been selected by Nameberry.  I responded by pointing out that more than half of the names were silly, impractical, or unpopular for excellent reasons (which calling them “cool” didn’t magically eliminate). I think it’s extremely difficult to find any cool names that were selected for ten or less girls last year. But I didn’t publish a list of 100 “cool, unusual names” that were used on ten or less girls last year. Nameberrry did, in an article written by Pamela Redmond Satran.

I don’t see the point of these articles. Most of the names on their list seem to be unpopular for one or more very good reasons (which I will demonstrate below).  But Nameberry keeps publishing lists of supposedly cool names, so it must be working for them. I’ll single out twelve of the names from Nameberry’s latest list to demonstrate that referring to flawed names as cool doesn’t make them cool. I think you’ll agree that many of these names should be printed with a caveat: “Warning: These Names Are Unpopular for Good Reasons. They May  Cause Your Daughter Embarrassment, Teasing, Poor Self-Image or Frustration.”

Afra: If parents don’t keep Afra’s hair cut extremely short, she’s likely to be called Afro.

Blue: New York is my favorite city but it doesn’t work as a name for children. Blue is my favorite color, but it doesn’t work as a name for children, either. Why? Because blue has a strong association with “the blues” also known as “feeling blue” and “depression.” Why give your daughter a name that will be a “downer” every day of her life?

Carola: How should this name be pronounced: car-OH-la? carol-ah? or carol-ay (like Dallas Maverick shooting guard Monta, pronounced MON-tay, Ellis)? It’s a name that invites mispronunciation.

Clementina: I suppose Clementine was too “popular” (because it was used by more than ten people) so they looked for an old-fashioned name that was even less “popular,” and they found one. Clementina is the diminuitive form of Clementine, so it’s appropriate either for use when Clementine is very young or if Clementine grows to womanhood and is less than 5 feet tall in her stocking feet.

Domino: This name calls to mind Domino’s pizza and one of my all-time favorite R&B recording artists, Fats Domino. Neither association will be much of a plus for your daughter.

Ginevra: This Italian name was the name Leonardo da Vinci chose for one of his paintings (“Ginevra de Benci”) However, it has rarely been used anywhere but in in Italy since then (except as the name of a young socialite F. Scott Fitzgerald met in college–Ginevra King). The name looks and sounds like a misspelling of Geneva.

Hebe: This is a very unfortunate choice, because hebe is pejorative term for Jews (like kike). How on earth did this name get past Satran?

Hero: Hero doesn’t sound like the name of a human being. Actually, it’s a literary term that refers to the protagonist in a work of fiction. And, the word, hero, also refers to a submarine sandwich (a long roll of French or Italian bread filled with a variety of cold cuts, meat balls, lasagna or hundreds of other possible fillings). No matter what the filling is, a hero sandwich does not provide either a feminine image or a healthy, nutritious image for your daughter. In fact, it brings childhood obesity to mind. If you like that idea, you could also name your daughter Sugary Softdrink (your last name goes here).

Kitty: It doesn’t take much imagination to picture friends and enemies calling her, “Meow! Here….Kitty, Kitty!” It’s hard to take someone named Kitty seriously. (You wouldn’t name your child Puppy, or Froggy, would you?)

Leda: In Greek mythology, Zeus took the form of a Swan and raped Leda. Now there’s a noble, inspiring image for your daughter to keep in mind every day of her life. (How could Satran have “picked” this name for inclusion on a list of “cool” names?)

Maelys: This Welsh name is particularly hard to spell and pronounce. What’s the point of including a name that will present annoying practical problems for your little girl every day of her life?

Timea: Here’s another puzzler: How do you pronounce this name: TIM-ee-yah? tim-MEE-ya?  timmy-AH? or TIME-ah? Any way you pronounce it, no one will know what the heck you are talking about.

I could go on; there are so many awful names on the list. The people at Nameberry seem to spend a huge amount of time scrounging through the “garbage dump” of worn-out, discarded, unpopular names looking for diamonds in the rough. If they said: “Here are some unpopular names that haven’t been used for years. Take a look, maybe you’ll get some fresh ideas.” Knowing the names are tainted, you might want to consider making some changes:

-If you like the idea of picking a color name, switch from Blue to Violet.

-If you think Kitty is too juvenile (or likely to cause teasing) switch to Catalina.

-If you think Maelys is too difficult to spell, change it to May, or Maya.

But if you believe Nameberry when they call the names “cool and unusual” you may make the mistake of giving your daughter a name that ten or less people in the U.S. find appealing enough to use.

By calling these discarded, outmoded, unpopular names “cool,” Nameberry is doing their readers a huge disservice. They are practicing a form of alchemy. (You may recall that alchemists claimed to have a secret process for turning base metals into gold and silver.)

Here’s Nameberry’s process: They sort through more than 10,000 names that were given to 10 or less girls last year. Pamela Redmond Satran picks 100 names she likes best and features them in an article in which she describes them as “cool and unusual” Then, as if by magic, 100 of the most unwanted names have been transformed into “cool names.” And the reason I call this a “disservice” is that so many of the names will be unpleasant for your daughter to live with for the reasons listed above.

I suspect Nameberry is one of the most successful sources of baby name punditry in the U.S. Just a few weeks ago I praised an article written by Nameberry’s Linda Rosencrantz, which brilliantly traced the evolution of nicknames from John to Jack and from Margaret to Peg. What a wonderful service to expectant parents!

However I don’t think that calling unpopular, unused, and unwanted names “cool” is a wonderful service to anyone (and it may eventually damage Nameberry’s credibility). I have provided you with a link to Pamela Redmond Satran’s complete article so you can look at all 100 names used by less than 10 people last year and contemplate how many of the rarely-used names would be a pleasure for your daughter to use and how many are likely to impress your friends. (FYI,  Nameberry defines a “cool name” as one that will impress your friends.)

Calling unwanted names “cool” doesn’t make them “cool.” But it may trick some Nameberry fans into giving them to their daughters. Unfortunately those fans are most likely to figure out they were tricked after they announce the names, when their friends say, “Really?” or “You must be kidding!”

Last week I wrote: “Has Nameberry Lost It’s Cool?” It has been one of my most popular recent articles. Now, I’m not the only person who wonders whether Nameberry knows the difference between awful, unwanted names and cool names.

One thought on “Nameberry’s List of 100 Cool, Unusual Names Should Come with a Warning

  1. Pingback: Dear Bruce: You Said Carola Might Be Hard to Pronounce; I Agree. | Bruce Lansky Baby Names in the News

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