4 Surprising Names: The Dictionary

The Surprising Names series continues. This series features surprising names from a different stylish theme each week. Here are the other themes from this series so far:

6 Surprising Names: The Garden Variety
6 Surprising Names: Homespun Nicknames
5 Surprising Names: Jewelry and Gemstones
5 Surprising Baby Names: The Spice Cabinet

Now the focus is vocabulary names from the dictionary. These names have transparent meanings. Their use dates back to the puritans, but they have become fashion-forward in the modern era.

For example, Serenity has steadily climbed the U.S. Social Security chart, entering the top 1000 in 1997, and climbing to the 66th spot in 2011. Faith was at #71. Hope is a little past its peak of #143 in 1999, but holds the respectable #231 spot.

While not ranking nearly as high as Serenity, Faith or Hope, Felicity went up a few places in 2011 to #664 from #765 the year before. And lastly Temperance entered the top 1000 for the first time in 2011.

These names are great choices, but none of them are surprising enough for this list. In order to be included on this list, names not only had to rank outside the top 1000 on the U.S. Social Security list, they had to rank outside the top 1000 on the BabyCenter list. BabyCenter is a large parenting and pregnancy website with their own baby name rankings, which often predict which names will go up on the Social Security list within a year or two.

Ideally these names also got fewer than 1000 search results on nameberry*, an online community of name enthusiasts who are often ahead of the trends. Search results show the number of blog and forum postings on nameberry, which gives some idea of how many times the name has been mentioned on the site.

An example of a name outside both the Social Security and BabyCenter top 1000 that was eliminated because of too many nameberry search results is Verity. Verity is a great pick and one of my top 10, but it’s not surprising enough for this list.

With that said, there was a name that met all the requirements that was eliminated because it lacked appeal: Honesty.

Why was Honesty eliminated from this list, you ask?

Naming your child Honesty might be like the story about brothers named Winner and Loser. If you are not familiar with the tale, Winner was the son who ended up in jail. The story of Winner and Loser is just another urban legend of course.

Regardless, as a personality trait honesty is expected, not remarkable, worthy of becoming a given name. Apparently 198 families disagreed with me last year and named their daughters Honesty.

Now on to the names that were deemed worthy:

Amity – means “friendship” or “good will” and was given to 28 newborn girls in 2011. That number might go up. Amity saw a big leap on BabyCenter, going up from #6392 in 2011 to #1889 in 2012. Amity also got 1325* search results on nameberry. A notable person with the name is Amity Shales, an economic/political writer from New York.

Bliss – Is this name susceptible to teasing? I’m unsure how this name would work in the first spot, but in the middle spot, Bliss is lovely and quirky with a similar meaning to Joy, but more original. In 2011 there were 57 newborn girls named Bliss.

Essence – peaked in the 1990s, but never made it to the top 400. In 2011 Essence was outside the top 1000, given to 242 newborn girls. The word has a few meanings, one being a perfume or scent and another being a fundamental quality. Essence appears to be in decline, but since it never became extremely popular, it still seems surprising a few years past its peak.

Serendipity – is the inspiration name for this week’s theme. Five syllable names are in short supply, and this one has an enchanting meaning: “happy coincidence” or “chance”. This is also the name of a restaurant in New York city and a 2001 romantic comedy starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale.

One drawback to Serendipity is the shortage of nicknames for such a long moniker. There is Seren, which might work since it sounds like a hybrid of Sarah and Soren. But Dipity, as in Dippity Do, the vintage hair gel, is a big no-no. Serendipity might be a guilty pleasure for me. Take part in the poll and let me know if I’m alone.

This is one of the shorter lists in this series, but quality trumps quantity. Finding vocabulary names that are surprising and have the same appeal as Amity, Faith, Felicity, Hope, and Verity was challenging.

Some long-gone names from the Puritans such as Abstinence and Obedience, have an overly moralistic tone, making them difficult to bear in these times. One forgotten Puritan name was a contender: Perseverance. It was eliminated for failing the “playground call out” test, meaning I tried calling out “Perseverance” as if I was calling for my kid at the playground, and felt awkward.

Modern-meaning names like Divine and Precious sound more like character names than baby names, although there were more babies born in recent years with these names than I had imaged. There were 83 baby girls named Divine last year. As for Precious, it was in the top 1000 since the 1970s and peaked in the 1990s. Precious has been in decline and left the top 1000 last year.

When it comes to finding vocabulary names, the right word is crucial. Vocabulary names in the top 1000 got there for having an off-beat charm. Pick the wrong word and the effect is more comical than charming.

Readers: Which surprising name from the dictionary is your favorite?

Photo credit

* These nameberry search result numbers are as of October 15, 2012 and could change at any time.


  1. I love Verity and like Amity and Bliss, though I probably wouldn’t use either. I’ve also been fond of Benevolence “Bonnie” for a while now.

    And what about Sadie as a nickname for Serendipity? Works better than for Sarah I think. Or Ren?

    Some others I’ve seen (mostly in fiction):
    Fortitude “Trudy”
    Wisdom “Dizzy”

  2. I think Perseverance is great as a middle name. I’m sort of a sucker for the Puritan-esque virtue names.

  3. Amity is lovely – it was covered at Baby Name Ponderings as part of Halloween, because of Amityville.

    I can only really imagine Bliss as a middle name, although I’m sure I have only to meet to one single person named Bliss, and suddenly it will seem completely usable.

    Serendipity is a name I would love to see more often, but the nickname Dippy seems almost certain ….

  4. I love Amity, Verity, Bliss, Blythe, Serendipity, and Truth for girls. For boys I love Valor, Honor, Loyal, Peace, and Anchor.
    I have a soft spot for word names (Puritan, botanical, gemstones, ect. )

  5. I always thought a trio of brothers would do well with the names Merritt, Valiant, and Triumph. Big fan of noun names! My favorite ones are more concepts than items (Reverie vs. Azalea)… but they are all delicious!

    • Heather Sanchez says:

      I’m due with a little girl in November and we are naming her Serendipity. I’m a little scared because it’s such a bold name and there are a lot of ways to make fun of it but I know if I am confident in her name she will be too.


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