Ask Liann: Unique Baby Names vs. Popular Baby Names

baby name consultant

Hi Liann,

We are expecting baby #3 in January and are stuck, stuck, stuck. We are choosing not to find out the sex of the baby this time, so are looking for both boy and girl names. This exercise has made me marvel at the fact that we managed to successfully name two children together already! Quick backstory on their names:

Meredith Jaymes, age 5 — Meredith was a name we just happened across and both liked. Jaymes is after my dad. Really a very painless decision.

Nolan Curtis, age 2.5 — Nolan is inspired by my favorite book "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn," in which Francie Nolan is the main character. Curtis is after his dad. We had a lot of back and forth before coming back around to our original pick of Nolan.

This time our lists are long and we cannot come to any sort of agreement. Part of our issue is our different taste in names: my criteria for a name is that it be a "real" name but one that is a bit obscure or uncommon. Classic but underused. I'm more willing to take a risk that might raise a few eyebrows, if only to avoid having one of 3 Jacksons or Sophias in a future class of his or her peers. My husband is more mainstream — he tends to like the "top 10" names, and shoots down almost every suggestion I make. A good response from is a, "Hmm. Maybe."

You see the dilemma.

Here are our working lists for the moment. Our last name is Moore, so I prefer more than one syllable; we both have mostly Scandinavian heritage.

Boys

Lincoln — Hubby's favorite. I'm not sold and worry it's too close to Nolan.

Dashiell — He HATED this name last time around, now he claims to like it. The worry we have is botched pronunciation; we say "dash-ull".

Linus — A new addition to the list. Got an "It's OK" from hubby.

Leland — A family name that I LOVE...hubby not so much.

Girls

Felicity — Hubby is not sold

Sarah— His favorite, but I worry it's too mainstream; although the nickname Sally intrigues me.

Kelly — Another hubby pick. Feels a bit 1960s to me, but it's nice enough.

Quinn — Worry is it's too short with our last name.

Elisabeth — Like it for the nickname potentials, top being Libby or Beth.

Catherine — Same as Elisabeth; this was our backup pick for Meredith.

Juliet — Our girl pick for Nolan; it's "OK" for both of us this time.

Gwendolen/Gwendolyn — A new addition, mostly to get us to hubby's favorite nickname, Winnie.

Reeve — My favorite (ala Reeve Lindbergh) but hubby is — surprise! — not onboard.

So, there you have it. Advice and/or suggestions welcome! Thanks!

- Carolyn Moore

Here are Liann's suggestions...

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Hi Carolyn,

Gosh, naming can be so much fun and such a pain in the butt at the same time, can’t it? The good news is you and your husband have been able to find the perfect name two times before, so you know it’s possible. And I have to say that I really love your kids names. Meredith and Nolan are familiar but not everywhere, and they sound so good together.

I want to start with the names on your current list because a few things struck me while I was reading it.

Your boys list is great. I think they all fit into the familiar but uncommon category you’re looking for. And while Lincoln shares similar sounds with Nolan, I don’t think it’s too close if it’s your favorite. Linus and Leland are both nice as well, though I think Linus is a bit more stylish at the moment. But then Leland has the family connection that could outweigh style. My favorite, by far, is Dashiell. It was on my own list for my second son, but it got crossed off because my first son's name starts with a D. I think it’s a fabulous and underused name with the bonus of the super-cool nickname Dash. I worried about the pronunciation also, but I don’t think that should rule it out if it’s your favorite. The correction would be minor, and honestly, someone is bound to mispronounce almost every name at some point. So this falls into my your-love-of-a-name-trumps-the-reasons-not-to-use-it category.

If these still don’t feel quite right, how about:

Casper

Spencer

Davis

Calvin

Emmett

Marcus

Marshall

Philip

Simon

Thaddeus

Wesley

Wilson

Edison

Everett

Harris

Jasper

Arlo

Asher

Benson

Cashel

Archer

Silas

Desmond

Your girl list is definitely more varied. I’ll start off by saying that the one-syllable names paired with your surname immediately made me think of a college. Not one in particular, but Quinnmoore and Reevemoore just sound like college names to me. That may just be me, though, so I’ll be interested to hear if some readers hear that also.

Of the rest, I think Felicity, Juliet and Gwendolyn sound the best with Meredith. Sarah, Elisabeth, Catherine and Kelly seem a little on the safe side, considering your criteria. Though if you plan to use a nickname, Sarah and Elisabeth would work very nicely. Sally is cute and I also really like Sadie as a nickname for Sarah. For Elisabeth I would pick Libby over Beth, but I’d pick Betsey over Libby. There are SO many nicknames for Elisabeth though. (Check out this Nameberry list!)

How do YOU feel about the nickname Winnie? You mentioned it’s your husband’s favorite nickname, but not what you thought. I think Winnie is so sweet and very current, without being trendy. That’s a hard line to walk. If Gwendolyn isn’t doing it for you, my first thought was Winifred. Winnie is the natural nickname and it sounds good with Meredith and Nolan. Oh, what about Winona! Winona Moore is really pretty, and again, Winnie is the natural nickname. Other options are Gwyneth, Guinevere or Edwina, but that might be a bit too out-of-the-box. Or you could go straight for Winnie. Jimmy Fallon and his wife just named their new baby girl Winnie Rose. I’m not sure if that pop-culture reference will help or hurt, but either way, it’s good to know about it.

Here’s a list of some other ideas. I’m really excited about this list, and each name sounded better than the last, so I’m hoping you like one. I’m also including some of the nicknames because you mentioned nicknames a few times in your own list.

Eloise

Penelope (Penny, Poppy)

Audrey/Audra

Genevieve (Genny, Evie, Eve)

Bianca

Helena  (This one has three pronunciations: HEL-e-na (my favorite), hel-AY-na, hel-EE-na.)

Briony

Iris

Camilla (Milly)

Cecily

Colette

Eliza

Georgia

Rosalie

Ophelia

Ramona

Susannah (Hasn’t ranked since 1978!)

Tabitha

Violet

Cecelia (Cece)

Francesca (Frankie)

Verity

Willa

Johanna

Harriet (Hattie)

Jessamine

Luella

Matilda (Tilly)

Greta

Imogen

Coraline

Elinor

It’s hard for me to pick favorites from these lists. I feel like so many of them would pair so nicely with Meredith and Nolan. Seriously, my favorites list would pretty much be a repeat of both lists, so I’m just going to skip it. I really hope this gives you some new ideas and helps to narrow your focus. I’m anxious to hear what you’ll choose! Good luck!

-Liann

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