5 Surprising Baby Names: The Spice Cabinet

For the fourth installment of the Surprising Names series, we go from the jewelry box last week to the kitchen spice cabinet this week. In case you missed the other parts in this series: the first week we toured the garden for botanical names and the second week, we investigated homespun nickname names.

Finding the perfect seasoning blend for this recipe was challenging. The goal was to find names that not only ranked outside the top 1000 on the 2011 U.S. Social Security list, but also seem under the radar on name forums and blogs.

To find out which names seemed under the radar on name forums and blogs, I didn’t check every name forum and blog, because that would be impractical. I consulted one big name blog, nameberry, and I checked the name’s rankings on a huge online parenting and pregnancy site, BabyCenter, which has its own rankings for top baby names.

On nameberry, I searched each name to see how many results were listed in their database each time the name appeared on their forum and blog. On BabyCenter I checked the name’s rank on their list. If a name is ranked higher on BabyCenter than the Social Security list, often its rank will go up on the Social Security list the following year.

Ideally, a name must be outside the top 1000 on the U.S. Social Security list, get fewer than 1000 search results on nameberry, and rank outside the top 1000 on BabyCenter’s list.

The big challenge was finding spice and herb names that were both surprising and appealing. Therefore I widened the “surprise” filter to include some names that might seem less surprising to name fanatics (some of these got more than a 1000 search results on nameberry), but are still surprising because we aren’t hearing them as often as we should considering their style.

Here are some contenders that didn’t make the cut:

Anise – This makes me sad, but sounding like a part of the anatomy dampens this name’s potential. Otherwise, this flowering plant, native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia sounds pretty, like a hybrid of Denise (#603), and Anneliese, (outside the top 1000, but would probably rank if all the various spellings were combined).

Cinnamon and Paprika – are difficult to take seriously. These are the names of Mr. Salt and Mrs. Pepper’s children on the toddler TV show, Blues Clues.

Cayenne – never appeared on the Social Security top 1000 list, but still seems dated. This is probably because Cayenne has a 1980s/1990s feel, being so similar to Cheyenne, one of the names featured on our list of Uniquely American Names that peaked in the 1990s. There were 18 girls named Cayenne last year.

Sage – is past-peak, reaching its highest ranks for boys and girls almost 10 years ago, and last year ranking at #462 on girls and #834 on boys.  Sage is not surprising enough for this list.

Here are the five winners chosen for their unexpected flavor.

Basil – is derived from the Greek basileus, which means “king.” The herb is derived from the same word. Basil also has Arabic origins, meaning “brave, valiant”, and a happens to be a the name of a few Saints. As a baby name, Basil was at its peak in the upper 300s to lower 400s for the first three decades of the 20th century. Basil has been absent from the top 1000 since 1973. In 2011 there were 44 boys and 7 girls named Basil. Exotic forms such as Vasil (Bulgarian and Hungarian) and Vassily (Russian) are also fresh possibilities.

Cassia – also called Chinese Cinnamon, is from the bark of an evergreen shrub. Cassia is also the feminine form of Cassius (#876), a Roman family name and the name of several saints. A lively name with roots (literally and figuratively), Cassia is a lot less popular than it should be. Surprisingly there were only 33 girls named Cassia last year.

Clove – While the similar Clover is still not in the top 1000, it is making inroads, getting lots of attention on nameberry. If more parents begin to consider Clover for their daughters, why not Clove? Clove might also work on boys being not too far removed from Clive, which is surprisingly outside the top 1000 as well. For the moment, however, parents aren’t considering Clove for boys or girls. There were fewer than 5, if any, babies named Clove last year.

Pepper – Full disclosure, Pepper is the name of my cat. The name isn’t reserved for pets though. Sounding so much like breakout hit, Piper (#110), Pepper could appeal to parents with modern tastes. Last year there were 116 girls named Pepper.

Saffron – This high-end spice, which comes from the Saffron Crocus flower, is the name of a British actress Saffron Burrows, and a character on a BBC sitcom, Absolutely Fabulous. There were only 27 girls named Saffron last year, but we may start to hear Saffron more often. The name saw a huge jump on BabyCenter. On BabyCenter, Saffron went from #3862 in 2011 to #1486 (so far) in 2012.

It took some experimentation, but I hope this spice blend provides the right blend of sweet and savory, and maybe one of them is right for your baby.

Readers: Which surprising spice cabinet name is your favorite?

Photo credit


  1. Basil is surprisingly appealing to me. I find Cassia to be more Roman than spice…

  2. Wasn’t Pepper one of the orphans in Annie?

  3. I knew of a girl named Thyme growing up and I thought that was just the coolest thing. I can’t say that I care much for the name now, though. I also find Basil to be strangely appealing.

    • Basil has grown on me. At first I thought the name was strange, and then I saw it in the credits for a movie. A lot of names seem nice in theory but end up seeming odd on a real person. Basil seems to have the opposite effect for me, it works better in real-life than imagined.

  4. My DD 10yo is a Saffron. Funny thing is that there is a woman who works in the international film industry with the same name and the same surname. Another strange point for such a rare name is that in our Carribean social group in Australia my daughter is one of two with the same first name.

  5. I love the name Cassia. I also like it as Cassiane.


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