Uncommon Baby Names vs. Unusual Baby Names

Uncommon Baby Names vs. Unusual Baby Names

Let’s tackle some terms sometimes used interchangeably throughout the baby name sphere. We have come to the time of the “uncommon” baby name. Expectant parents often seek that “uncommon” name as if it were the Holy Grail.

A few expectant parents will use “uncommon” and “unusual” interchangeably when referring to baby names, but I will not. I differentiate between the uncommon and unusual baby name. I find the uncommon baby name that most parents seek (and eventually many parents find until the name is no longer uncommon) the least intriguing, so I will tackle that term first.

The Uncommon Baby Name

The uncommon baby name is dictated by usage statistics, primarily US Social Security rankings with one being the most common, etc. What ranking should a name have before it falls into uncommon territory? The answer depends on who you ask. Some parents say a name must be outside the Top 1000, others say outside the Top 200 or 100 or 50 or 25 or 10.

Compounding the problem are regional differences. For example, Elijah ranks 18 for the entire US (for 2010), yet is the number one boy name in Indiana. Wyatt ranks 57 in the US, but is number one in Montana.

I calculated the cumulative percentage of babies given names in certain benchmarks within the top 1000 for 2010. I arbitrarily decided uncommon territory was hit after roughly 50% of babies were represented. Based on the data charted below, the 50% mark was hit roughly at the Top 150 for boys and the Top 350 for girls:

Boys Girls
Top 10 8.37% 8.04%
Top 25 18.28% 14.12%
Top 50 29.96% 21.49%
Top 100 43.78% 31.13%
Top 150 51.57% 37.53%
Top 200 56.90% 42.05%
Top 300 63.74% 48.65%
Top 350 66.11% 51.17%
Top 1000 78.70% 66.76%

My methodology comprises of statistics and opinion. I simply decided once I got close to 50% of babies, I hit a reasonable benchmark for the basis of this discussion.

Based on these criteria, Jane, ranking at 385 and given to 0.04% of baby girls in 2010, is an uncommon name. “But what about plain Jane?” some may ask, “I though Jane was common.” Jane may sound common, but in actual usage she is anything but.

What, then, constitutes an unusual name?

The Unusual Baby Name

An unusual name, in my book, is one that does not sound or look like anything else. The name may or may not follow current trends, may or may not be common, but the sound and look is all it’s own.

Naomi, ranking at 98, given to 0.16% of baby girls in 2010 is not uncommon in actual usage, but has a unique quality, not found in many other Western names. Naomi ends in mi.

To back my claim, I searched Think Baby Names, a site that has a neat little feature allowing one to search names by suffixes. According to Think Baby Names, there are 30 names ending in -mi.

Thirty may sound like a lot, but is less than half of the 72 names beginning with mi- and way less than the 187 names ending in -ella. I eliminated many of these 30 names ending in -mi because they were either originally nicknames (e.g. Mimi for Mary and Miriam, Cami for Camilla or Camille) or variant spellings of names ending in y (e.g. Remi for Remy).

What is left? Demi, Kami, Lakshmi and Maemi, all names considered unusual by most Americans, with the exception of Demi due to Demi Moore. Surprisingly, perhaps because of Demi Moore, Demi, while familiar, happens to be uncommon, ranking at 842 and given to 0.02% of 2010 baby girls. The other names are of non-Western origin. Kami and Maemi are Japanese in origin, and Lakshmi is Hindi and Sanskrit.

What does this tell us? Many parents seek that uncommon name for their baby, only to become disappointed, due to the quick currents of fashion when their uncommon name has become quite common.

One way to avoid this disappointment is to select a name for sentimental reasons that has more than just fashion appeal. Another way is to knowingly select a common name with eyes wide open, knowing the name has more appeal than its uncommonness.

One often overlooked way of assessing a name’s appeal is to find one with a unique sound or look not found in many other names, a quality that makes the name special. For Naomi that special quality happens to be the -mi ending.

photo credit


  1. It just seems very hard to predict what will become popular. For example, I wanted to name my daughter Phillippa, shortening it to Pippa as a nickname. This was back in 2010. My husband vetoed it. A year later, Kate Middleton’s sister hits the scene, and I’d not be surprised if it became more popular. So perhaps I dodged a bullet. Still, I’m looking for an obscure but not horrible-sounding name for our second daughter, on the way now, and finding so many names that weren’t common even a few years ago, but spreading like wildfire.


  1. […] Naomi, Bianca’s sound is unique and timeless. Even if she does ever hit the top 50, she will have few copy cat names (e.g. Ava has Eva and Ada, […]

Speak Your Mind