It can take the entire nine months to come up with the perfect baby name, and sometimes longer - some newborns go unnamed for days or weeks after they make their debut.
Once the right name is discovered and the birth announcement makes its rounds, it can be more than a little disheartening to have family members ask whether baby Alexander will be called Alex, or whether little Margaret will be known as Maggie, especially if the parents are particularly attached to the name. While some parents love the idea of a nickname, others would prefer that their thoughtfully chosen name stand on its own and be used in all circumstances (until one day little Alexander grows up and asserts his independence by calling himself, to everyone’s surprise, not Alex but Xander).
Of course, it’s impossible to predict whether a child will one day earn a strange nickname completely unrelated to what’s listed on his or her birth certificate - take Bing Crosby, for example, whose real name was Harry, or the singer Sting, who was born Gordon - but choosing a name that doesn’t easily lend itself to a short form can increase its potential for staying put throughout a child’s life. And while many of these un-nicknameable options seem short, they are not necessarily so depending on the combinations of sounds which simply don't allow for much variation or abbreviation.
For parents searching for just such a name, this list includes 25 that are not only highly unlikely to inspire nicknames, but are quite extraordinary in their own right.
French in origin, Fleur translates to “flower.” It’s an old French name and, although it’s quite a literal name for French-speaking areas, it’s a feminine, evocative choice in the English-speaking world. Being short and softly pronounced, it has no obvious nickname.
It might be difficult to say or spell for those with no knowledge or background in French, but as far as foreign names go, it’s hardly the most difficult for the North American tongue.
There are not many famous Fleurs, but the name does appear in the Harry Potter series with the character Fleur Delacour (“flower of the court”). In the Harry Potter films, this role was played by French actress Clémence Poésy.
Fleur is pretty without being sickly sweet or too girly - this name would suit an adult just as well as a chubby newborn baby. An equally lovely yet more popular variant is Flora, which would also be difficult to shorten.
Neve is the Anglicized spelling of the Irish name Niamh, and it’s more popular in North America in this form, for obvious reasons. Although the spelling has been simplified, Neve is still often mispronounced; because it derives from the Irish Niamh, it should be vocalized as neev, but due to the way the actress Neve Campbell pronounces her name, it is often changed to nehv (Neve Campbell’s name is not from the Irish Niamh - Neve was her Dutch-born mother’s maiden name).
Whichever way parents choose to say or spell this name, if they bestow it upon their daughter, they can weave fantastical bedtime stories of the divine beings who inspired it since the Irish original is derived from the ancient word, “goddess.”
Niamh sits in the top 50 in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but the modernized Neve is relatively unused.
The Welsh name Cerys, pronounced KEHr-iss, means “love,” making it a beautiful and meaningful choice for a daughter. Unlike many names that don’t have nicknames, it contains two syllables; but friends and family would be unlikely to shorten this lyrical name to something like “Care,” which doesn’t trip off the tongue, or “Cary,” which is too close to the full version and is a name in itself.
Cerys is a staple on the list of top 100 baby names in Wales (it was number 82 in 2015), as is the variant Carys, which ranked higher than Cerys in 2015. Despite it's popularity in Wales, it’s ripe for the picking in America having never appeared on the list of top 1,000 names.
The actress Catherine Zeta Jones, who was born and grew up in Swansea, Wales, named her daughter (with the actor Michael Douglas) Carys in 2003.
It’s unlikely acquaintances would shorten this gem to “Thor,” making it a top pick for this list. With a root like that, it won’t come as a shock that Thora means “thunder goddess,” but the 'a' at the end of this name softens it, giving it modern appeal. Again, unsurprisingly, it is Norse in origin, as is the thunder god Thor.
The actress Thora Birch, who starred in the film American Beauty, among others, has brought the name into the minds of North Americans. It has historically ranked in the top 1,000 names in the US particularly toward the end of the 1800s (names from this time period and just after have been hugely popular in the past five years, another reason Thora feels especially fresh for revival).
Vada will be familiar to children of the Eighties - the coming-of-age movie My Girl, starring Anna Chlumsky as tomboy Vada and Macaulay Culkin as her best friend Thomas J, was released in 1991 - it historically ranked on name lists at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, and peaked in popularity in 1912 at number 370. By the 1950s, it had largely fallen out of fashion, but in recent years it has been increasing in popularity, although still going relatively unused.
Vada is Germanic in origin and means “famous ruler” making it a powerful name, and one that could almost be unisex - although in the English-speaking world it has always been used for girls. A spelling variant is Veda, but the original spelling is much more popular. Despite its history, Vada feels modern and fresh and would fit easily with children born today.
It’s Logan with a twist - Lorcan is, you guessed it, of Irish origin. It means “little and fierce,” so it could be a good choice for a Leo (born between July 23 and August 22) or a preemie who has already fought and won some pretty major battles by the time he’s named. It’s a nice alternative to Liam (which, incidentally, also has no nickname), and is an Irish name that has skyrocketed to the top of baby name lists. It was number 2 in the USA last year.
Lorcán Ua Tuathail is the patron saint of Dublin; he was an Archbishop of the city during the Norman invasion of Ireland. (Bizarrely, his heart was preserved in Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral until 2012 when it was stolen during a spate of thefts of religious artefacts in the country.)
Lorcan Scamander is a minor character in the Harry Potter series.
There perhaps isn’t a more ideal name for a small chubby human than Orson because it means “bear cub,” and a nursery decked out in a teddy bear theme would be a fitting choice for a new baby Orson. The meaning of this Latin and English name gives it a particular sweetness while the name itself has gravitas and heft.
With 'o' names right on point these days (Oliver and Owen being two beloved ones, and the female option Octavia on the rise), Orson could be a little-used choice that nevertheless fits seamlessly into the mix. It also has the added bonus of bringing to mind actor and writer Orson Welles who used his middle name instead of his more common first name George, and wrote, directed and starred in 1941’s Citizen Kane, a movie that is heralded as one of the greatest films to ever be made.
Piers is of Greek origin, and made its way to the English-speaking world via the Normans. It was common in the Middle Ages and later transformed into Peter. Because of this, choosing Piers for your little boy could be a contemporary way to honor a grandfather or father named Peter. The name can also be spelled Pearce or Pierce (which has been popularized by the 007 actor Pierce Brosnan), both surname derivatives of the original Piers.
Piers means “rock,” and its terse, one-syllable pronunciation certainly gives it a sturdy feel. With the import of British journalist and television personality Piers Morgan to the US, the name is getting more attention of late and could become a more common choice, although currently it has never ranked in the top 1,000 names in America.
Parents will also find the name on the main character of a Middle English poem by William Langland, Piers Plowman.
This short and sweet Scandinavian name was worn by Leif Erikson, the 11th-century Icelandic explorer who sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to become the first European to set foot in North America. It means “heir, or descendant,” and certainly any boy wearing this name could relish in inheriting some of the traits of its most famous bearer (not to mention a toddler-sized Leif Erikson Halloween costume would be pretty spectacular, too).
While often pronounced “leaf,” giving it more than a hint of a hippy feel, it is actually pronounced layf, at least historically. This pronunciation conundrum has given way to the spelling variation of Laif, to make it more phonetic, and other variations include Lief (although surely this was some poor parent misspelling the name on the birth certificate after learning the unreliable rule “i before e except after c”), and the somewhat frillier Leiffe.
Another famous Leif would be Leif Garrett, an Eighties actor who appeared in The Outsiders.
Although this Welsh name means “small,” it’s anything but insignificant. Vaughan (pronounced vawn) is recognizable without being common due to the fact that it doubles as a surname (for example jazz singer Sarah Vaughan and actor Vince Vaughn).
In 1949, its other spelling, Vaughn, peaked in popularity in the USA at number 349, so while it has been around for a century, it's not overused and therefore feels unique. It is most often used for boys, but Vaughan would suit a girl just as well, and is a nice alternative to other more overused boys-turned-girls names, like Rowan.
Vaughan could be a good contender for parents looking at Sean (or Shawn) - another, more common, un-nicknameable name - which is still well used in its homeland, Ireland, but for which, in the USA, usage has largely dwindled as a generation of Seans begin to have their own children.
A Claire will always have her name expressed in its entirety. This classic Victorian name is one that appears all over literature and television, but despite widespread appeal doesn’t feel overused. French in origin, it can be spelled without the 'e' or without the 'i,' with the latter being the English version of the name. Claire is a popular middle name choice but holds its own in the front spot, as many agree - the name has appeared in the US top 50 names for the past three years running.
The name has countless variations including Clara, Italian Chiara, Clarice and Clarissa, all of which are lovely but can’t compare to the simple clarity and poise of the original.
Famous Claires include actresses Claire Danes (Homeland) and Claire Foy, who is the star of one of Netflix’s breakout shows, The Crown.
Meaning “divinely beautiful,” this Scandinavian showstopper is one on the rise, having entered the top 1,000 in the past few years. It appears in the top 25 names in its native Sweden where it's pronounced AH-stree. Parents are choosing to pronounce it either this way or the more phonetic AST-rid, but either way it’s a striking name with no obvious or cutesy ways to shorten it. With the rise of Asher and Aster for boys, Astrid is sure to become a popular choice for their female counterparts in the next few years.
The -id ending brings to mind the word “orchid,” a most rare and beautiful flower - this name is equally so in North America - and there is a long line of Astrids in the Scandinavian royal families, dating back to the 10th century.
A famous Astrid is the author of a childhood favourite, Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren (who is Swedish - no surprise there); and the teenage protagonist in Janet Fitch’s best-selling novel White Oleander is also named Astrid.
This Italian name is pronounced KO-see-mah or KO-zee-mah, and carries the meaning “order and beauty,” in reference to the order and beauty of the cosmos, or universe. This name might therefore appeal to parents with a deep interest in astronomy (or perhaps even astrology). Interestingly, there is an asteroid called 644 Cosima that currently orbits our sun.
The name is high on name lists in its native Italy, as well as in Germany and Greece, and could be on the rise in the English-speaking world if celebrity parents have anything to do with it; film director Sofia Coppola, model Claudia Schiffer, and television chef Nigella Lawson all chose it for their daughters. It is still, however, underused, and does not yet appear in the top 1,000 names in the US.
Cosima’s male counterpart, Cosimo, is an equally luminous choice for intrepid parents looking for something unique.
The actress Margot Robbie of The Wolf of Wall Street has brought this name back into the spotlight recently. But other well-known Margots include Royal Ballet dancer Margot Fonteyn and the fictional Margot Tenenbaum, played by Gwyneth Paltrow in the 2001 Wes Anderson film, who has become something of a style icon.
Arguably originally a nickname itself, as the name started out as a pet form of the French Marguerite and the English Margaret, Margot (or Margo) has for years been a name in its own right, and broke into the US top 1,000 in 2013, climbing to the 745th spot in 2014.
Although Ben Affleck’s character in Gone Girl shortens his sister Margo’s name to “Go,” it’s hardly a pet form with traction, and will unlikely spark a trend as the full name Margot is too lovely to reduce to a two-letter verb.
Shakespeare’s heroine Portia in The Merchant of Venice is beautiful, gracious, and exceedingly intelligent. This is a much more fitting image than that implied by its etymological meaning, “pig, or hog,” which is derived from the Latin “porcus, porca.”
Objectionable meaning aside, Portia is an evocative, romantic name that fits with the current uptick in old-fashioned names. Just be sure not to choose the car-inspired spelling of Porsche or Porscha; the car may be upmarket, but a name derived of the brand is decidedly not.
Famous Portias include the well-known actress Portia de Rossi, who changed her name from Amanda Rogers when she began her acting and modelling career, and former Jamaican prime minister Portia Simpson-Miller. Shakespeare also clearly had a penchant for the name since he also bestowed it on Brutus’ wife in the tragic play Julius Caesar.
Felix might be a felicitous choice for parents with Catholic roots - three popes and countless saints have borne the name. But this charming name transcends any religious ties and has become a well-liked option due to its meaning, “happy and fortunate,” and its similarities to uber popular ‘x’ names like Max and Xavier.
While Felix fell from favor in the middle and end of the last century due to the popularity of the cartoon feline Felix the Cat, the name has happily shaken these associations. Today’s generation of new parents will only vaguely remember seeing the character on television, if at all.
Felix has remained in the top 500 names in the US for some time, and currently sits at number 262. While high on the list, it’s unlikely that there will be a high concentration of Felixes in any one school catchment, so it’s a win-win, being a familiar-sounding name with a unique feel.
A Welsh favourite meaning “ardour,” Rhys also ranks highly in England, Ireland and Scotland. It’s not difficult to see why so many are passionate about this name; from the unusual combination of letters to the soft sigh as it's articulated, Rhys is a stylish name with substance. It entered the US charts in the mid-2000s and shows no sign of falling off.
Alternate, more phonetic spellings are Reece and Reese, the latter of which is most often used for girls in homage to the actress Reese Witherspoon. But the traditional Welsh iteration gives the name a particular depth and gravitas.
The actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers may have popularized the name States-side during his run in The Tudors. Another Welsh-born actor bearing the name is Rhys Ifans. This is another name that has jumped the gender line and is being used for girls as well as boys.
This quintessentially German name is one that lends itself spectacularly to parents who considered Oscar but rejected it as being too popular. Otto means “wealthy,” and parents choosing this name feel rich indeed for its distinguished history: Otto the Great was emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and the name has a long history of being used within the German and Austrian royal families. Anne Frank’s doting father was also an Otto.
Despite its illustrious past, Otto fell out of fashion after World War II, as did many German names (Adolf is one that will probably never recover), but thankfully its charm and singularity is winning parents over all around the globe and it is climbing the charts once again.
Young Otto and his little friends will enjoy this name due to its easy spelling and upon the discovery that it is a palindrome.
This Latin occupational name, which means “gatekeeper,” is in the vein of surnames like Parker and Walker, making it a viable and fresh option for parents who prefer the sturdy sound of these two-syllable choices.
This name showed up on the top 1,000 US baby names after a 40-year hiatus in 1999, and has been climbing the charts ever since. In 2014, it sat at number 368. It's most often used for boys, but has been known to make the jump to girls’ name lists as well.
With porter being a type of beer, parents choosing this name will get the inevitable “You named your child after your favourite drink” joke, but that’s really no hardship to bear for such an exceptional moniker - and it will give parents an excuse to have a pint every year on their son’s birthday.
A grown-up Jude might come to be plagued by friends and colleagues greeting him with a rendition of The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ after a few drinks, but on the bright side, at least it’s not ‘Cotton Eye Joe.’ In all seriousness, ‘Hey Jude’ is an emotionally uplifting song, and parts of it would make a lyrical lullaby for baby Jude in his early years.
The name Jude is Latin, meaning “praised,” and is used for girls as well as boys - although for the former, it's usually a short form of Judith or Judy. For boys, Jude is a name in its own right, similar in style to Luke but not as common. It also has religious tones as it is also the name of a saint and is derived from Judah or Judas.
The most known famous person with this name is British actor Jude Law, whose first name is actually David.
A Hebrew and Arabic form of the biblical Sarah, Zara (pronounced ZAH-rah) has a cutting-edge, exotic feel due to it starting with a ‘z.’ Since its debut on the US name charts in the mid-2000s, it has been rising steadily and now sits within the top 500 names. With the expansion of the clothing store called Zara ensuring the name will never be mispronounced, it will also have the downside of meaning most Zaras will see their names emblazoned upon buildings and shopping malls.
Still, this name, meaning “flower” or “blossom,” has a certain allure and was bestowed upon Zara Tindall (née Phillips), the granddaughter of the Queen of England who is also a world-class equestrian, winning a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Alternative, but equally compelling versions of this name are Zarah, Zahra, and the slight variation Zahara, which was chosen by Angelina and Brad Pitt for their eldest daughter.
Celeste is a Latin name meaning “heavenly,” and it's a much more evocative option for parents wanting a divine name without choosing from the more obvious Angel names on offer (Angelica, Angelina, or, most obviously, just plain Angel). It could also be a good option for parents considering Cosima, which also appears on this list, for its somewhat similar ethereal meaning.
Children of the Eighties and Nineties might have pleasant associations with Queen Celeste, the childhood sweetheart and later wife of cartoon elephant King Babar, but the name has been on the US top 1,000 list since the 1800s, and peaked in the Nineties at number 286. Most recently it landed at number 466 in 2014.
Celeste could also be a good replacement for parents looking at Stella, as it has similar sounds but not yet as much usage.
May is often relegated to the middle position or used in combination with another name (May-Lynn) but it is high time it took the number one spot. This old-fashioned, gentle-sounding name was once a short form of Margaret and Mary, but now is mostly associated with being a month name in the vein of June and April. Because of this, it conjures images of fresh flowers and soft daylight, and parents choosing this name are sure to have a sunny disposition to pass on to their little girl.
The alternate spelling, Mae, shakes the month connection somewhat and gives the name an antique feel. Famous Maes include Mae West, the 1930s screen siren, and Mae Whitman, who was part of the ensemble cast of the TV show Parenthood.
Nice alternatives for parents who want something with a little more weight are Mia and Maeve.
What seems like a sweet, boyish name actually has significant heft and clout being of Latin and Old German origin, and means “soldier” or “merciful.” In the sixth century BC Milo of Croton was a Greek wrestler who won the Olympics six times. This muscled historical Milo has been depicted in sculptures and paintings through the ages, as well as appearing in literature.
All this power and glory shines a new light on Milo, and the name has been rising in popularity since the 1990s. In 2014, it sat at number 311, still not quite reaching the heights of Miles (or Myles), its more often used cousin (which sits just outside the top 100 US names). While it might be ascending the charts in North America, it is much less likely to do the same in Australia, where a popular brand of malt drink also bears this name.
Pronounced bo and often misspelled that way, the French Beau translates to “handsome.” Maybe an obvious choice for a beautiful boy, it’s no different to the many equivalent Belle names for girls (Isabelle, Annabelle, Mirabelle, and so on), and is arguably more enigmatic with its bounty of vowels.
Something about this name suggests a dashing, somewhat old-fashioned hero, and many a parent has surely been charmed into choosing this name for their little boy - or little girl, in fact, the name has been appearing on girls’ name lists (albeit rarely, what with the French masculine ending) since 2003.
In literature, Gone with the Wind’s Melanie Wilkes named her son Beau, and from the realm of pop culture, Spice Girl Emma Bunton also bestowed the name on her son.