Naming a new baby sounds fun, but it’s actually kind of a high-pressure situation. After all, the name you slap on that birth certificate is their name for life (or at least until they’re 18 and can legally change it). If you don’t want to go along with the overwhelming number of Twilight names — which are still going strong, with Jacob #5 for boys and Isabella #4 for girls in 2013 — it can be hard to know where to turn for something that’s distinctive but not, you know, kooky. Case in point, celebrity baby names that sometimes sound like they’ve been drawn from a basket containing slips of paper with either places (Bronx, Morocco, Zuma, Egypt) or random nouns (Bear, Apple, Pilot, Sparrow).
So what’s a parent to do? Well, you don’t need to resort to the ever-popular “just make something up” option (Kazzideee? Tscharly? North?!). There are already plenty of perfectly good names out there that are just waiting to be rediscovered. Take some inspiration from this list of outstanding baby names with vintage provenances.
This pleasingly old-timey boys’ name — which has the same Latin and Greek roots as ambrosia, the immortality-providing nectar of the gods — is just begging for a revival. There’s a Saint Ambrose, but it’s probably most known from the late 19th century author Ambrose Bierce. It doesn’t even rank in the U.S. as a baby name, making it even more ripe for the picking.
This gilded girls’ name is the feminine version of the Roman Aurelius, a name most notably held by the emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius. More recently, Aurelia is the name of the maid character in Love Actually. After not showing up on the charts for decades, this one currently comes in at #833 among American baby names.
While you could use (and pronounce) this unisex name like the spice, the more classic pronunciation is “BAH-zul” — it actually comes from a Greek word meaning “king.” Either pronunciation is lovely though, and this name isn’t even on the radar in the U.S.
Here’s the thing with names: There are always going to be lots of different associations people have with them. In the case of this boys’ name, it might be Anchorman. But sometimes a name is just too wonderful, and you have to get past it. Plus by the time your kid is 20, are people still going to be quoting Ron Burgundy? (Okay, maybe they will be. But Baxter’s still a terrific name.)
This boys’ name (pronounced “BLEZ,” from the French, rather than “BLAZE”) is a classic saint name, and also the first name of the famed French mathematician for whom a unit of pressure, a programming language, and lots more are named. This one just cracks the top 1,000 American boys’ names, at #912.
Though this is commonly a boys’ name (well, insofar as it is common — it’s a pretty rare name), it would also be perfect for a girl. It sounds debonair, but, oh, the nickname possibilities! Carly or Lila, Carl or Lyle… this one is just spoiling for a comeback. Despite having a Twilight provenance, it’s never been in the top 1,000 U.S. baby names.
The female version of this name — Clementine — has revived in popularity, but Clement hasn’t been so fortunate. Yet, that is. This name, from the Latin for merciful or gentle, has been the name of saints, at least one pope, and Clement Moore, the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (aka “The Night Before Christmas”). Plus how terrific is “Clem” as a nickname?
This girls’ name sounds quite modern, but it’s actually very ancient. Often attributed as a shortening of Cleopatra (the Greek “kleos” means “glory”), it’s also one letter off from Clio, who was the Greek muse of history. In the past it’s also gained some traction as a boys’ name, but as of now it’s been unranked among popular U.S. baby names for decades.
Boys’ names with a vaguely literary provenance — no, not just Twilight, think “Atticus” and “Gatsby” — are popular right now. Dashiell remains off the radar though, despite lending itself to the most, well, dashing nickname ever (Dash!). It’s the name of basically one person, author Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, and many more classic detective stories. (If we’re going to get technical too, though he authored books under it, Dashiell was actually his middle name.) Nonetheless, this unusual moniker might be about to blow up.
This is a French version of a Greek name, which though some say is related to “dolphin” is more likely related to “Delphi,” the site of a famed oracle in Greek mythology. It shares this derivation with the flower Delphinium. Why’d it make this list? This obscure name — pretty much last seen in Balzac’s novels — deserves a comeback!
Another literary name, most famously attached to the acclaimed southern author Flannery O’Connor. (Another case where it was technically her middle name.) Though baby names that are Irish last names (or at least sound like them, courtesy of the Cullens of Twilight) are super-popular, somehow Flannery isn’t. Pre-O’Connor, it was actually more common as a boys’ name, but now it’s firmly in the girls’ camp. And how sweet (literally!) of a nickname is Flan?
Thanks to the Pope’s popularity, the name Francis is making a solid comeback. Somehow though, the girls’ version is not — yet anyway (it’s in the top 1,000 baby names for girls, but hardly popular). Meaning, more or less, “French,” it’s the name of people from author Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden) to Kurt Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean Cobain.
Biblical names (think Michael and David) are consistently popular for boys, and Gideon is just beginning to get up there. If you’re looking for a truly classic boys’ name that hasn’t been overdone, look no further.
This boys’ name sounds masculine and rugged, yet sexy (and okay, yes, no one thinks of their baby that way, but remember the name needs to fit for life). It’s derived from the definitely unsexy Welsh name “Gruffudd,” which was a common name among Welsh royals back in the day — well, way back in the day. This name seems like it would be popular, but it’s never charted in the U.S.
You may think of the irascible cartoon cat, but what you should think of is the ultimate swoonworthy romantic hero from Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte created the name for the character, thus dreaming up possibly the best made-up name of all time. Despite awesome nickname possibilities — Cliff or (double swoon!) Heath — this name has not made it into the top 1,000 baby names in the U.S.
Henry has become super-popular for boys, but why not Hugo? Most commonly associated with the French author Victor Hugo (Les Miserable, The Hunchback of Notre Dame), this name was originally a variant of Hugh. An extremely common name overseas, it’s unclear why this moniker — cute on a little boy, manly on an adult — hasn’t caught on here.
Jasper is more commonly a boys’ name, but it would also be terrific for a girl (it’s definitely got plucky and resourceful connotations, like Scout). We often associate it with the gemstone, but it actually comes from Persian (“treasurer”) — it’s sometimes given to one of the three Magi. Of all the names in this list, this is the only one that currently has any traction on the top baby names listings.
The actual origins of this name are unknown, but this name quite the literary pedigree. Lavinia is the last wife of Aeneas in Homer’s Aeneid (a role which was expanded upon in Ursula K. Le Guin’s 2008 novel Lavinia), who also shows up in Dante’s Divine Comedy. There’s also a Lavinia in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Also: The potential nickname Vinnie. Vinnie!
Though this pretty girls’ name sounds Spanish, it’s actually derived from Latin — the feminine form of the Roman name Marcellus, which is a diminutive of Marcus, which is a name that comes from Mars, the Roman god of war. But still Marcella — such a beautiful name, and almost never heard in the United States.
Girls’ names that had gone out of fashion (like Harriet and Penelope) have made strong comebacks, but somehow Millicent hasn’t. And why not? Face it, Milly (or Millie) is a delightful nickname. This name traces its roots back quite far, all the way to the Germanic name “Amalsuintha” (now there’s an old-fashioned name), which combines words that mean “work” and “strength.”
Originally derived from an English last name that started out as a nickname meaning “bear cub” — seriously, how cute is that? And yet this name is most strongly associated with a famed pillar of American cinema, Orson Welles.
So you like the name Owen, but you’d like to be a bit different. Why not give this boys’ name a go? Popular in England but exceedingly rare on this side of the pond, it’s a variant on a medieval German term for wealth or fortune. Though it doesn’t rank in the U.S., this name has a great pedigree with famous folks like soul singer Otis Redding sharing it.
This adorable and old-fashioned boys’ name is just begging to be brought into modern times. Originally derived from an English last name, it’s never cracked the name charts in the U.S.
Depending on the pronunciation, this lovely girls’ name finds its roots in the Middle East or North Africa. As “SID-ra,” it’s an Islamic name referring to what is often translated as the lotus tree, which Muhammad saw when he ascended to the highest level of heaven. Pronounced “SEE-dra,” it’s a Hebrew-derived name meaning order. However you say it, it’s an interesting and unusual moniker.
This lovely name, which has Greek origins, belonged to several Byzantine empresses. Though the male version, Theodore, is in the top 200 of boys’ names, the girls’ version has never been in the top 1,000, despite lending itself to adorable nicknames. Teddy, Dora, … or what about a girl Theo? You’ve got plenty of possibilities.