Making predictions is a risky business. People are never more exposed then when they lay their nickel down and say, ‘x is going to happen at y time, and you can have my nickel if it doesn’t.’ It’s even riskier when someone says that something unusual is going to happen. But you know what? Risk makes life worth living, so today I am going to stake my nickel on 25 names that today would raise eyebrows, but in two years' time might be in the top 10.
Why might ‘odd’ names make a showing in the next couple of years?
Trends tend to act like pendulums, going from one extreme to another. This decade the trend has been on classics, such as the sort of names that crop up in Jane Austen books or spring from the Bible. These names are always around and always familiar. However, with all the older siblings taking up the stand-bys, new moms will have to start hunting the name books for more exotic finds. Few of us want to risk a completely new name on our infants that no one can spell, but we don’t want the poor child to be the ninth kid in class with the same name, either. These lovely names will keep that delicate balance between ‘impossible to use’ and ‘overused.’
Hyacinth as a name screams ‘special girl.’ As an exotic flower that grows in fragrant columns of brilliant blooms, it is familiar to anyone with even a passable green thumb. This makes the name’s spelling and pronunciation easy on relatives. It is also part of a long tradition of flower names for girls, which will make it an easy sell to anyone skittish around unusual names.
However, unlike Rose or Daisy, Hyacinth has no common connotations. The name of the flower comes from a Greek story about a lovely young Spartan who Apollo accidentally killed. The story goes that the blood of the kid became the flower. Before the 19th century, it was actually a unisex name, and was given to saints of both genders. Now it is exclusively for girls, and it could be in the top 10 for girls very soon.
Soraya has three things going for it. As a name meaning ‘jewel,’ it is in a long tradition of girl's names with the connotation of preciousness. It also sounds precious, with the soothing ‘s’ and ‘r’ sounds coming together with an obviously feminine ‘a’ ending.
Most of all, it has history on its side. It is the name of an actual Persian queen and several Persian princesses, and it came to the west when Queen Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari moved to France after she divorced her husband, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and became an actress. A beautiful woman with wit and vitality, she charmed the French so much that they named a rose after her and a songwriter dedicated a song to her. She died in October of 2001, after writing 2 memoirs and before a movie was made on her life. If you want a glamorous namesake for your daughter, you would be hard-pressed to find a better one than Soraya.
For a name that sounds positively martial, Serge can be surprisingly complex. It is a French variant on a Roman family name, Sergius, that meant ‘servant.’ Even more surprisingly, it came to France by the religious route: there were several saints and popes named Serge. A variant, Sergei, also became popular in Russia after they picked up ballet from France. Names can travel some very strange routes.
This name has two distinct advantages: it’s so short and obvious, few will be tempted to give your little boy a nickname (some moms have an aversion to hearing their specially-picked name shortened down or changed) and it is the name of the main character in Chrono Cross. That will make it familiar enough so that no one accidentally misspells your boy’s name.
Picking a masculine name for your baby boy without burdening him with something ridiculous takes a deft hand. Sometimes it takes looking into Latinized names that have a long history, and an excellent example of that is Ludovic. This is a French variant on a Latinized German name, and it comes from the words ‘famous warrior.’ All right, so you have a name that instantly conjures up brave knights on horseback with its meaning. Then there is the fact that it is easy to shorten down to Ludo for everyday use, and, unlike most French names, it is pronounced how it is spelled. It even went through a spate of being in the top 50 names in France back in the 1990s.
You will also be giving your kid a name with a history if you use Ludovic. There was a playwright named Ludovic Halevy, a couple of soccer players named Ludovic, and a Saint Ludovic (Saint Ludovic’s feast day is March 30th, so you can always say you named him for his saint’s day if your son is born then).
If you would like to give your son a patriotic sounding name, you can’t go wrong with Prescott. It is one of those surnames that got picked up as a first name because of the famous name-bearers: William Prescott, the Massachusetts Minuteman and commander on Bunker Hill, and Samuel Prescott, who rode with Paul Revere on his famous ride. It has a rarified air to it, too, that makes it a natural for anyone who wants to give their son a leg up in life from the start.
And this is a 100% English name. It literally means ‘priest’s cottage,’ and is one of the many family names that started out as merely identifying where someone came from. It hasn’t really taken hold in the US as yet, and it is still out of the top 1000 names. However, with the possibility of nicknaming your son Scott or Pres, and the ease of use, it could climb in popularity soon.
Naming your son after the best knight of the Round Table isn’t terribly farfetched. For one thing, there are a number of Percivals in the Harry Potter series, which could make it familiar to several generations. For another thing, the Percy Jackson series is accruing a lot of attention, and many people assume that Percy is short for Percival (it’s actually unrelated. Percy is a Norman place name.). Percival, you will not be surprised to discover, is a French name created by Chrétian de Troyes when he wrote his fan fiction poem about King Arthur. He might have based some of his character and the name on the Welsh hero Peredur, which means ‘hard spear,’ but the current spelling comes from the Old French phrase ‘to pierce the valley’. Peredur was mentioned by Geoffrey of Monmouth when he wrote the original Arthurian Romance, so Chrétian was not totally making things up. Just making things more French.
Personally, I immediately think of Prince Caspian from the Chronicles of Narnia book series when I see this name, but the two names aren’t even remotely related. Crispin was the name of a 3rd-century saint, who was given jurisdiction over shoemakers and was martyred with his twin brother Crispinian (their mom wasn’t very creative) in Gaul. Crispin comes from a Latin surname that means ‘curly-haired’ and was often used as a first name in Medieval England, where Saint Crispin was a much-loved figure. There are a couple of actors with the name who were named after the speech in Shakespeare’s King Henry V speech, where Saint Crispin’s day is mentioned. What is nice about this name is that it can be shortened down to Cris whenever your son doesn’t feel like flaunting his awesome name. When he doesn’t, he has a name that is easy on users.
I feel very secure in picking Aurora as a top name for 2020. It is currently the 66th on the name charts in the United States, for starters. It is familiar from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and is the scientific name for the Northern Lights; it comes from the Roman goddess of the sunrise, whose tears are supposed to be the source of morning dew. Not only this, but it has been a popular name for girls since the 19th century. In fact, it was number 806 on the charts in 1900 and has generally hovered around the middle of the top 100 charts for decades.
And why not? Every little girl born is a new beginning, radiant and promising. Also, if you kind of like the name Rory, but can’t get rid of the feeling that it isn’t a ‘real’ name, you can call your daughter Aurora and use Rory as a nickname.
Ancient Greek names and names based on variants of Greek names straddle that sweet spot of being just exotic enough that your daughter will always be the only one with that name and having a name familiar enough to use every day. This is the case of Zephyrine, the feminine version of the Ancient Greek word for the west wind, Zephyr. It is a mainstay in Europe, where people born on the day belonging to the saint Zephyrinus might get the name. There was a Princess of France named Marie-Zephyrine and a Prince-consort named Amalie Zephyrine of Germany who made the name particularly popular.
The tradition of naming the kid after their saint’s day has a certain appeal: it’s a bit like giving your daughter a virtue name such as Patience or Charity, but you aren’t courting the sort of comparisons that virtue names invite. Plus, if your daughter is born on August 26, Saint Zephyrinius’s feast day, the name is built in.
Sybil is one of those names that the Victorians loved and it really hit its zenith of popularity early in the 20th century but has faded out since. It might have stayed in the top 1000 as a classic if it hadn’t been for the movie and book by that name created in the 1970s, too. It was about a woman with Multiple Personality Syndrome and was later proven to be a hoax, which put a crimp in Sybil’s appeal. (Fun story: the author of the book was going to name it ‘Sophia’ originally, but the publishers vetoed the name because it sounded too ‘Jewish’ to them. This is a lucky break for Sophia, as it is now one of the more popular girl names.)
It’s been decades since the book came out, though, and Sybil should come out of the shadows as a name. It comes from the Greek word for "prophetess", and sounds charmingly old-fashioned and feminine.
The world is becoming increasingly polyglot, and this brings new names to our shores. One of these new names is Saskia, a Dutch name that is popular in Europe. There are a couple of German and Dutch princesses with the name, and Rembrandt’s wife went by that name. It has definitely entered our conscious as well, as American actress Anne Dudek gave her daughter the name and an American soccer player proudly bears it, though it still isn’t very common.
Why is Saskia such a popular name? It is pretty to the ears and easy on the tongue. It probably has little to do with the meaning, as it is another name that merely indicates where the person came from. It means ‘Saxon,’ which was a Germanic tribe that derived its name from their word for knife. None-the-less, it’s a beautiful name that will make any little girl sound like a princess.
If you have some ancestors from Cornwall, you might give the name Piran a try for your little boy. It’s an Irish name that means ‘prayer,’ and it belongs to the patron saint of Cornwall. Fittingly, he was also the patron saint of miners, and he is supposed to have discovered how to smelt tin. The name may be a variant of Ciaran, (Irish words pronounced with a ‘c’ were sometimes pronounced with a ‘p’ in Cornwall) which sounds familiar enough to make a good name for anyone afraid of spending a lot of time explaining the name to others.
Piran has a classic sound to it, and it is user-friendly. It can be spelled Peran, Perrin or Peren, depending on what you prefer, but ‘Piran’ seems the most intuitive spelling, which is hard to come by with Gaelic names.
You know how Hunter was the go-to upper crust boy’s name for a while? It seemed like every private school had at least one or two. Whistler has that same appeal - a verb made into a noun that ends with the pleasant ‘er’ sound. It might never be quite as popular as Hunter was, but it has a good lineage. It was used as a surname by the American artist James Abbott McNeil Whistler, (he is the one who painted Whistler’s Mother) and it joins a long tradition of occupation names. Like many occupation names, it’s English in origin. In fact, it first appeared as the name of an aristocratic family that held a family seat in Somerset. An Osbert Le Whistler held an estate there and was mentioned in 1243. That is a family name with a history.
Fond of Biblical names, but don’t want to pick something too common or obvious? Eleazer may come to your rescue if you have a little boy. It is a variant on Lazarus, which means ‘God is my helper’ or ‘God has helped.’ Fittingly, the original Eleazer was a High Priest and the nephew of Moses. He wasn’t the only one, though: there was an Eleazer Oswald in the Revolutionary War and an Eleazer Ripley who was a US Congressman from Louisiana.
The Biblical Hebrew version has an apostrophe in it (El’azar,) but the modern version drops the punctuation, which makes it an easier name to look up.
Eleazer can reliably be shortened down to Elie, so anyone worried about unfortunate nicknames can rest easy if they pick this name. You can also rest easy if you are worried about your kid having to share the name with anyone else in their class, as it isn’t even in the top 1000 names in the US right now. It will make a comeback though.
Baby girls can be so bird-like. They chirp and warble constantly, and they are as charming as any bird on the branch. Naturally, someone decided that naming a little girl Alouette was fitting. Alouette is the French name for the Skylark, a widespread and well-traveled little brown bird known for a long, clear song. Anyone with a daughter who loves to sing can instantly see the similarities.
It’s a name with literary merit, too. The female protagonist in Les Miserables is nicknamed Alouette when she is a child, it’s a character in the Manga “The King of Braves GaiGoGar” and it features in a French Canadian song for children. (The song describes plucking the feathers from the poor lark for waking someone up, but it sounds charming in the original French. Yeah, it’s Gentile Alouette.).
Another bird name, though this time for boys, Jay is a constant in the top 1000 names. In fact, in 2016, it was 395th in popularity. It was even more popular in 1953 when it was 99th. It has been in the top 300 ever since 1900, and you probably have a few uncles or distant relatives with the name.
You don’t have to necessarily be naming your boy after a bird, either. A lot of boys with this name are named after John Jay, one of the Founding Fathers (actually, his surname was derived from the bird, but names can come from anywhere).
Jay is also a name for anyone wanting something more international for their boy. It is 80th in popularity in Scotland and 102nd in Northern Ireland, for one thing. The name is also present in India, where it is short for Jaya, the Hindi word for ‘victory.’
Aya is also in the truly international category. It is used in Japan as a girl’s name, using the kanji for ‘colorful’ or ‘design.’ It’s popular in Israel as a name for both boys and girls, and many Danish girls have the name as a variant spelling of the popular Aja. It first started showing up in America in 2012, and it has been in the top 1000 names for 3 out of 4 of the years since. In fact, currently, it is #626 on the charts.
This is another name for the parent who hates it when people change the name they gave their kid. There is no way this lovely little name will ever get shortened down or mangled into an easier-to-pronounce version. It’s also easy to spell. You will never spend precious minutes at a desk trying to describe the kid’s name to some official who types by hunting and pecking and can’t remember what you just told them.
In the realm of unusual names, Manu is one of the gems. It is easy to spell and pronounce, and it is just rare enough to never be repeated in your neighborhood. In fact, it is #1674 on the name charts. And it comes from multiple countries, so you can pick your meaning. The boy’s name can be from the Sanskrit word for ‘thinking or wise,’ the Spanish diminutive of Manuel, or a Finnish variant of Magnus. Magnus is a name meaning ‘great,’ (and who doesn’t think their little boy is great?) and the Manu shows up as the title of the Hindi first human and several of his descendants. It can also be a girl’s name, short for Manuela in Germany. It is a truly versatile name, and it is really only popular in the Netherlands.
Garian has a lovely ring to it. The ‘ian’ ending has a beautiful sound, and it has the general feeling of a knight of the Round Table. However, it is actually a place name. It’s a city in Libya, sometimes spelled Garyan or Gharyan, which sits about 50 miles of south of Tripoli. Italy took it in 1912, after the Turko-Italian war. Local folks took it back in 1913, and these days, it is a center for olive-oil processing, flour milling, carpet weaving and pottery making. So why name a boy after this beautiful city? The name is pretty, obviously. You have to admit, naming people after cities is an old tradition. There have always been a bunch of Florence’s, Paris’s, and Chelsea’s sitting around the country. If the name works for you, it doesn’t matter what else has it.
Omari is another very versatile name that can work for both boys and girls. The boy version is a Swahili name that means ‘God the highest.’ The feminine variant of this name is Omara, which is very pretty. It can also be an Arabic name that is derived from the surname al-Omari, which means a descendant of Umar. There have been a few people who used it as a girl’s name as a variant of Omaira, which is Arabic for ‘red.’ Anyone who has seen a newborn infant and its flushed skin can see where that name came from.
Omari is incredibly rare in America. It is #8701 for girls and #452 for boys. It is also relatively new as a name in the US. It first entered the top 1000 for boys here in 1980. It has a nice ring to it, though, so it will probably climb up the charts soon.
Now that the year 2008 is in the past, we are free to look to names that were in the news then and aren’t now. Barack (sometimes spelled Barak) is a good example. It is Swahili for ‘blessing,’ which every parent would say their child is. This makes it a fitting name for all little boys everywhere. It is another name that follows a twisting path, though: it came to Swahili from the Arabic ‘baracka’ and is linked to a Semitic root of Baruch. It is linked to a word meaning ‘lightning,’ too, which is an impressive name.
Why will this become more popular with time, while it is currently not even in the top 1000 most popular names? Never underestimate the power of familiarity. People will recognize the name and feel comfortable with it.
Not surprisingly, our original Founding Father’s surname was as English as a tea garden. It’s a place name, meaning ‘settlement belonging to Wassa’s people.’ If you want to dig a little deeper, Wassa is a feminine Anglo-Saxon name that might come from the name Waosige. If it stems from Waosige, the name translates as ‘hunt victory.’ That makes it a pretty fitting name for a man who led a nascent country to victory. You can, of course, name your boy child George if you want to honor Washington. However, Washington as a first name is, while completely recognizable wherever your son goes, is very unlikely to be someone else’s first name. It has dropped in use as a given name since the beginning of last century.
It is nice as a middle name, though. It gives a nice twist to any first name, and it gives the kid a chance to play around with their name.
If you are interested in astronomy or Greek mythology, you recognize the name Andromeda. It is the universe nearest to us, and it is the Ethiopian princess that Perseus rescued from sacrifice. Naturally, she was made into a constellation as well. You might not know what the name actually means, though. It has nothing to do with being a princess or a galaxy. Andromeda is made of the element ‘aner,’ which means ‘man,’ and the phrase ‘to be mindful of.’ Sometimes it gets translated as ‘advising like a man.’ It is really not relevant to being a constellation, of course, but your daughter probably isn’t aiming for being the universe. The name is beautiful-sounding, and it is spelled the way it sounds, so the kid will have an easy time with it later in life. You can call her Andy as a nickname, too.
You might have heard of Pygmalion if you are a Greek mythology fan and have read about the guy who sculpted a statue, fell in love with it, and then asked Aphrodite to bring it to life. Or you might have heard the name used to describe someone manipulating someone else. What might have fallen through the cracks is the name of the statue that Aphrodite brought to life. Yup, Pygmalion named his statue Galatea, which means ‘white as milk,’ and stems from the fact that it was sculpted from pale ivory. If you want to give your daughter a Greek name but are feeling skittish about naming her after a goddess, Galatea gives you a beautiful chance to stay true to both impulses. This is especially fitting if your family tends to be pale. It’s a goldmine for nickname lovers, too.
Most folks are aware that Leo is derived from the Latin word for ‘lion.’ The Latin base makes it popular just about everywhere that the Roman Empire touched, including Germany and Croatia. It was so popular in Early Christian times that 13 popes took the name. It’s still a widespread name throughout the world, too. It is #13 in England and Wales, #10 in Australia, #1 in Finland, and #30 in Austria. And here in the United States? It was #74 in popularity in 2016. It has been in the top 1000 since 1900, but it has never been in the top 10 for some reason. Well, 2020 may be its moment to rise. It’s short, manly and familiar to even your hopelessly unread mother-in-law. Plus, people who are allergic to nicknames can insist on people using his whole name without causing eye-rolling, but can also be called Lee by anyone who loves nicknames. It’s something for everyone.
Sources: behindthename.com, nameberry.com, ssa.gov