How to Pick a Creative Name That Isn’t Crazy – Part 1 of 2

There are more babies given names outside the top 1000 combined than babies given names in the top 10.

If group-think permeated our name culture, about 90% of babies would have a top 10 name, and parents-to-be would ask permission of friends and family before bestowing a name on their off-spring. Sounds boring at best and frustrating at worst – right?

Only a few centuries ago, this was the reality. Today people laugh at George Foreman naming all of his sons George . But a few centuries ago, families with everyone named John or Mary weren’t uncommon.

John, Mary and Elizabeth got their many nicknames out of necessity. Somehow there had to be a way to differentiate members of the family. There could be three sisters in a family, all named Mary. The oldest was called Mary, the middle was called Molly, and the youngest was called Polly.

Nicknames are still popular today, at least in the U.S., but needing them to differentiate between siblings is almost unheard of. The numbers suggest an increasingly more diverse naming pool. In 2010, fewer than 10% of boys and girls were given top 10 names compared to nearly 30% of boys and over 15% of girls given a top 10 names 50 years ago.


Even more telling: the relatively large number of babies given names outside the top 1000. In 2010, 21% of boys and 33% of girls (or a third of newborn girls) were given names outside the top 1000. Collectively there are more babies given names outside the top 1000 than names in the top 10. This beyond the top 1000 group has gotten bigger for both boys and girls through the years. In 2000 the percentages of boys and girls given names outside the top 1000 were 17% and 28% respectively.

While a more diverse name pool can be refreshing, this willingness to experiment does have a downside, namely some children are given impractical names for the sake of uniqueness. In some cases, creative names have gone wild.

When does creativity go too far? The practical, non-judgmental side of me says any name is OK as long as it is easy to spell and pronounce, but let’s be honest, learning that someone has named their daughter TinkerBell, while not difficult to spell or pronounce, makes me cringe. TinkerBell is simply not a name many people can take seriously.

I asked myself, what makes a name usable? My answer was, well the name must be name-like. Then I asked, what makes a name, name-like? I had to stop going around in circles.

Name-like creative names stand out in a good way. Not all creative names stand out in a good way. Some will cause your child too much grief. Today we are going to discuss which kind of creative names cause more grief than they’re worth, falling into the “too different” end of the spectrum.

There are three types of names considered off-limits:

  1. Names off-limits to all due to an overwhelmingly strong, often negative, association.
  2. Names off-limits to some individuals’ due to circumstances.
  3. Names off-limits to all due to cumbersome spelling and/or pronunciation.

Off-Limits: Names with an Overwhelmingly Strong Association

There are a few names, but they do exist, that our culture considers banned. But I always pause before putting a name on my banned list, and maybe banned is too strong a word, since names can be un-banned as the culture changes. The following names are still considered banned in modern times.

The Banned List:

  • Adolph – negative connotations
  • Oprah – association is too strong
  • Madonna – association is too strong
  • Kermit – association is too strong
  • Lolita – negative connotations
  • Rumpelstiltskin (and other names like it) – storybook connection takes away any serious credibility*
  • Xerox (and other names like it) – commercial connection takes away any serious credibility*

* Some credibility killers, such as commercial and fictional associations can be diluted with other name-like qualities. A perfect example would be Moxie. While Moxie happens to be a soft drink brand, it is also very similar to Molly, which is considered a modern classic, and has a positive meaning, making it a good name candidate. But with Rumpelstiltskin and Xerox, there are no other name-like qualities.

Sometimes negative connotations and even stereotypes and associations lessen over time. One example is Delilah. Despite sounding beautiful, parents avoided Delilah for centuries since she was such a horrible character in the Bible. By 2010 parents disregarded the horrible Biblical character and named 1,655 babies Delilah anyway, ranking the name at #187.

Benedict is another name that has been historically banned, at least in the U.S., due to being synonymous with “traitor.” However, Benedict, as another way to Ben, has the potential to overcome its baggage.

These examples aside, if in doubt about a name feel free to contact us and we will weigh-in and share your dilemma with our readers.

Off-Limits: Names Unusable to Certain Individuals

Some names are unusable in a personal sense, meaning most people can use the name but it’s off-limits under certain circumstances. Most of the time, these names simply clash with the last name in a very big way.

This is very unfortunate, but a fact of life.

Examples of names off-limits to certain people:

  • Silvia with the last name Silva.
  • Oscar with the last name Mayer.

Off-limits: Names with Cumbersome Spellings and/or Pronunciations

Some names are too cumbersome to bear. Few can spell them or pronounce them. Sometimes these names are completely made-up, such as Jaliceah, which I just made up. Jaliceah looks pretty, but how do you say it? I haven’t a clue.

But most of the time these names are common names with the spellings altered to make them different. J’s are replaced with G’s and vice-versa. H’s are added where H never were before, and other letters are indiscriminately replaced, added or subtracted resulting in names that are very hard to read.

Some examples are Genipher (Jennifer) and Ahliveah (Olivia). With these names practicality has taken a backseat to creativity, leaving the child with a burden of a name. What’s worse is these names are only different on paper. In day-to-day conversations Ahliveah and Olivia both respond to ah-LIV-ee-ah.

But again, sometimes as the culture changes, formerly unpronounceable or difficult to spell names become familiar to the public.

One example is Siobhan, an Irish form of a Norman French variant of Jeanne. Until recently, few American’s could pronounce Siobhan (shi-VAWN), but as more parents become more adventurous with names, Siobhan’s pronunciation could become common knowledge.

And if you are thinking Siobhan at least has a history, making it worthy of public knowledge, consider Jaxson, the modern variant spelling of Jackson.

The origins of Jaxson are unclear, but Jaxson most likely began as a few people taking it upon themselves to switch the CK with an X. Jaxson became commonplace by piggybacking off of Jackson, and has become no less accepted than Sara as an alternative to Sarah or Elisabeth as an alternative to Elizabeth.

These examples are exceptions. Being a pioneer with exotic names and variant spellings is very risky. You can find a pioneering name that stands out in a good way.

How do you find these names?

In a couple of weeks, we will discuss how to find a creative name that won’t saddle your child with unnecessary baggage.

FYI – I’m planning to share some insights once the 2011 name stats become available from the U.S. Social Security Administration, which is supposed to happen today. The 2011 insights will go live before Part 2 of this series. Stay tuned.

Readers: When picking a baby’s name, how far are you willing to push the envelope? Multiple answers are allowed.

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  1. My son has a super common name (James), but that was a compromise name. I had repeatedly dreamed his name was Gideon while I was pregnant, despite my favorite name going to pregnancy being Theo.

    I’ve always said that my goal is for a name I pick to be familiar, but you can’t name ten people you know with that name. Maybe two or three over your lifetime, but not a bazillion, and not a “huh, that’s a name?” sort of reaction. I don’t mind the “whoa, super dusty!” reaction, but most of those have been crossed off because my husband hates the vast majority of those sort of names.

    I’m sure that Pookie is a girl, but we haven’t had that ultrasound yet. I’m also sure her name is Fiona, even though we had decided on Daphne going into this pregnancy. If I’m wrong, we’re kind of hosed. We can’t agree worth crud! I’m thinking Ezra, Rhys, or Walter. I know they’re decently rising stars, but they’re not eyebrow-raising weird either. He’s thinking William again, which I vetoed last time, because husband insists on calling him Billy. o_O

    All of that babbling aside, I appreciate the people who are more adventurous with their names. Would I use Fable or Drummer? Heck no! Do I love hearing them on someone else’s kid? Heck yes!

    • Theo and Gideon are great names. I would love to see a little Walter. I didn’t realize Walter was going up.

      My husband and I couldn’t agree either! He kept killing all of my names! One of my favorite boy names that I never considered because I don’t like it with my last name is Hugh. I just love it since it seems so classic, but hasn’t been very popular for decades. I think it would go well with James too. I know you didn’t ask for suggestions – but there you go 🙂

      I know a Billy in my daughter’s preschool, and its surprising on this generation of kids. Most Williams are either Will, Liam or just William now.

      • Hee! I love Hugh, and Hugo even more than Hugh, but our last name is Huff, so yeah… dang.

        As for Walter, it’s been hovering around the 375 mark in popularity, but is slowly trickling down. However, I’m concerned it’s going to get fashionable, what with shows like the Finder and Fringe having very likeable and quirky main characters named Walter. Especially The Finder, with that Walter being very cute 😉 I feel a little silly being concerned about it, especially with a James, but there you go. I also really want to use my maiden name for a middle name for a second boy, and my maiden name is Calder. Walter Calder Huff just flat-out doesn’t work! So it would be back to the drawing board for middle names, and we don’t have a ton of boys on my side to name people after. My dad hates his names, and they’re clunky and don’t carry a lot of heft, where our girl middle name and my son’s middle name are both family names that go back three or more generations.

        And I just can’t do Billy. I know it’s quirky and fun, but it’s up there with Timmy and Johnny and Jimmy in this so iconic, it’s not a real kid sort of way. He also threw Steve out there. Steve. In my mind, this group of guys are badly aging mobsters. I just can’t picture saying to someone, “these are my sons, Jamey and Steve” without collapsing into giggles.

        Ugh! Please be a girl, Pookie! Just for mama’s sanity!

        • Too bad about Hugh. I also find Hugh hard to pair with middle names. There’s something about the one syllable that you think would make it easy to pair with a long name, but for some reason just comes off as awkward. Maybe the H ending blends into too many names. I would love to see it on a boy though. It has trended up slightly.

          I know what you mean by Billy. Being unexpected isn’t always good. I don’t really like it either. Bill is even worse.

          • Yes! There’s a Bob at Jamey’s school, and I always do a double take when I hear it. It’s just so out of place and weird. I think it’s not quite fusty enough to be cool just yet, especially with the almost generic feel of that whole set of names. Billy, Bobby, etc. I think we all have an Uncle Bob, and Uncle Jimmy, an Uncle Bill, etc. I wouldn’t mind William, but I feel like Will Huff sounds like a future tense verb. I adore Liam as a nickname, but huz despises it. We barely agreed on James, and huz barely tolerates Jamey as a nickname. His whole family almost exclusively calls him James. I’m pretty much the only person he sees on a daily basis that calls him Jamey, so I was extra thrilled when he started self identifying as Jamey right before preschool and asked to be Jamey at school. My family calls him Jamey too, but they’re out of state and don’t see him all the time, where my in-laws provide daycare for us. At least they’re on board with Fiona! They’re not liking any of our boy names, but I don’t particularly like my MIL’s naming sense anyways. Even as a mom, she was about 10-15 years behind the curve.

  2. I love the name Rivers for a boy 🙂 I also like Skylen but people said that sounds too girly???

  3. I like Rivers for a boy!

  4. Haleigh Coon says:

    My daughter will be 7 in December and when I was pregnant with her I wanted something so different. I wanted a unique name but something that was catchy and also unheard of. I took the name Bexley and added and R and changed they “ey” to i and there I had it! Brexli !!! And so that’s what I named her and it couldn’t fit her any better!!! So even when you’re looking for that unique name, remember you can always make one!


  1. […] top 1000 list represents only 73%, of babies. The top 1000 is a lot less representative of girls. Only 66% got top 1000 names last […]

  2. […] couple of weeks ago, we discussed which types of creative names are simply “too different” meaning names that are impractical to the point of being a burden. That doesn’t mean a […]

  3. […] other no-fail classics, Benjamin is too ubiquitous for some, and Benedict has baggage (I predict Benedict’s baggage will soon fade). In fact, Benedict spent much time in the top 1000 as recently as 1968 but never ranked higher […]

  4. […] to a sibling name pattern is one way to cut through the myriad of choices available today. However, this benefit is minimized once a family exceeds the typical two to three children. Older […]

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