63 Traditional Baby Names They Won't See Coming

Jul 1st 2015


When we talk about baby name style choices, we often present it as a philosophical divide: traditional vs. creative. That split may be selling traditional names short. Choosing a name with deep roots doesn't necessarily mean abandoning creativity. In fact, the many cultural threads of our past offer all kinds of surprises, with built-in texture and nuance that newly invented names can't match.

Perhaps it's time for a little rebranding effort. Just look at the produce aisle, where the quirky variety of the past is now celebrated. Next to the identical red spheres of modern tomatoes you'll increasingly find bulbous, multicolored specimens labeled heirlooms. We prize these once-forgotten old varieties for their highly individual flavors.

In that spirit, I present 63 "heirloom names." These names are all impeccably traditional, but far from conventional. For better or worse, they won't look like any other name on the shelf…or rather, in the classroom. Some may even have a little shock value. Their individual, classic-creative flavors are one of a kind.

BOYS     GIRLS
Aeneas     Aleydis
Ambrose     Ambrosia
Azriel     Anouk
Barnabas     Apollonia
Bartholomew                          Axelle
Cadogan     Bathsheba
Caedmon     Calliope
Crawford     Delphia
Ephraim     Ffion
Euclid     Flavia
Falco     Guinevere
Ferdinand     Halcyon
Hopkin     Honora
Horatio     Io
Inigo     Leocadia
Ivor     Lucretia
Jabez     Olympia
Jethro     Oona
Lancelot     Philomena
Lazarus     Rosamond
Lemuel     Severina
Leopold     Sophronia
Nicodemus     Theodosia
Philo     Vesper
Rollo     Winifred
Rudiger     Xanthe
Ruffin     Zenobia
Sinclair      
Tarquin      
Tavish      
Theophilus      
Tycho      
Vitus      
Wolfgang      

 

Comments

1
July 1, 2015 1:01 PM

Wow! Of those 63 names, I have only met people with six of them (Bartholomew, Horatio, Jethro, Lemuel, Bathsheba and Halcyon). I don't know any of the six of them well enough to ask about their names.

2
July 1, 2015 4:39 PM

Well, I know two Tychos (adult and little kid), my rabbi in childhood was Ephraim, and my college academic advisor was Theophilus (and Theophile is not unheard of in Acadiana).  And there is Aeneas Williams from New Orleans who is in the NFL Hall of Fame (he went to Alcee Fortier High School, another oldie but goodie name).  I don't know a Wolfgang (except for the son of Valerie Bertinelli and Eddie Van Halen), but I did know a Wolfram (even cooler).  I don't know a Vitus, but I did know a Remigius.  I never met a Rudiger, but in its Dutch form Rutger, there is the splendid Rutger Hauer and a cashier at my local market.  Galen isn't on your list, but it would fit right in--there were a couple in my high school class.  And if Jethro is on the list, how about Jerah and Mahlon?  I knew people with those lesser used biblcial names.

I knew a Batsheva, the original form of Bathsheba, an Honora (my high school world history teacher and a nasty piece of work), Guinevere (daughter of someone I went to grad school with), Olympia (Snow and Dukakis), Oona Chaplin, Rosamond (a professor when I was in grad school), and Philomena (the film).  I don't know a Flavia, but I do know of a Faustina.  I don't know a Sophronia, but I did know a Seraphia.  Not an Io, but a Hero and a Sappho, also a Pandora....

Lots of underused oldies but goodies out there, no need to come up with some infelicitous concoction....

 

 

3
July 1, 2015 6:42 PM

This list may be the closest to my taste I've yet seen on this blog! Wolfgang is absolutely something I'd use! One of my favorites! I also like Olympia, Inigo (though I'd worry about it being misread as "Indigo"), Rosamund (I do prefer the U), Apollonia, Guinevere, Leopold, and a few others. A good friend of mine named her son Horatio. Pretty fantastic, I think. 

Similar (ish? really what I mean is "also to my taste"):  Ursula, Agatha, Ptolemy, Gaspar.

4
July 1, 2015 9:38 PM

I love this list! So many interesting names I've never considered before.  However, I find it very disappointing I had to look elsewhere for information on  my favorites because baby name wizard had zero information on them (Not even pronunciation!) 

 

5
July 2, 2015 3:26 AM

I knew an Anouk at school and an Axelle at university! Never met a Tarquin but did not a man named Torquil... and another named Wolfram.

I love this list -- and Caedmon would be a fantastic name for parents with literary leanings.

6
July 2, 2015 8:21 AM

My 7 month old daughter is named Winifred!  There are a few other baby Winnies out here (which is what we call her) but we wanted her full name to be something more formal in case she becomes a Supreme Court Justice or something like that.  :)

I also really like Ursula but saddling a kid with the name of a Disney villain is too much, in my book.  And the problem with Calliope, Philomena, and Merope is that most Americans will never pronounce them correctly, which gets annoying fast (although I love those too).

7
July 2, 2015 10:12 AM

I don't think most Americans would have a problem pronouncing Calliope (espeicially if you mention Penelope) but I think most would associate it with circus/carosel music. Personally I hope it takes off and my kids go to school with at least one Callie that is short for Calliope (though for her sake I hope she doesn't marry into our clan--the 'Pee' sound at the end combined with a 'P' sound at the beginning of our last name has taken that family of names off the table for us)

8
July 2, 2015 12:46 PM

Our family doctor's name is Wolfgang. He has a German surname and a single-syllable middle name that's a German short form of John and begins with H, so I assume it's a family name. I've grown accustomed to his name, but I don't think he entirely pulls it off. We live in southwestern Canada.

On the whole, I prefer Wolfram. It's rarer and more unfamiliar, yes, but I think it's much more euphonious and a bit more "namelike" in English.

9
By mk
July 2, 2015 3:39 PM

The only human I have known personally  with a name on the list is Bartholomew. I have met several dogs and cats with names on the list.

I don't think Americans will have a problem with Calliope. It's recognizable and Penelope, Chloe, Zoe and Phoebe are all in use here. Same with Philomena, not sure why that would be an issue.

I've always liked Sophronia ever since I read the Five Little Peppers series.

10
July 3, 2015 10:06 AM

I know or have heard the following while out and about:

2 Caedmons

a Crawford, Ephraim, Horatio, Leopold, Sinclair, and Tavish

2 Guineveres and Halcyons

an Oona and a Xanthe.

11
July 4, 2015 11:52 PM

I love the sound of Io, but not that (depending on the typeface) it can be difficult to decipher on paper. I do know an Ilo (male) though, who seems to be making it through life well enough! 

Do we think the generation being named currently is far enough from Inigo Montoya ("you killed my father, prepare to die.") to have shed that baggage?

Some of the Biblically-rooted male names are interesting. The Prayer of Jabez had a burst of popularity about 15 years ago - books, Bible studies, sermon series. There is a Christian band that was very popular around that time called Caedmon's Call. I wonder if those associations help or hurt those names - or if they're relevant at all for many people!

 

12
July 5, 2015 1:53 AM

I don't think of "The Princess Bride" as baggage, but rather the whole reason people know and like the name! I would assume little Inigo's parents were fans, unless they're Spanish/Latino, where it might just be a nice name they liked. I confess to a couple double takes when I see it written where I look more closely to see if it's Inigo or Indigo, but everything else is pure positive. :-)

13
July 5, 2015 10:05 AM

I was surprised to see my brother's name on the list, having not known people with any of the other names...

Is that Caedmon (a+e), or Cædmon (ash), as with the original Old English poet (and my brother)?

If we're looking at trends in the names, they seem to be historically linked to (relatively) famous people - I'm not sure I would be able to see 'Aeneas', 'Euclid', 'Lancelot' or 'Wolfgang' as anything other than their historical counterparts.

And of course, the girls have a harder time of it because they appear less frequently in memorable parts of history... Far more of a Greek/Roman influence, although I would hesitate to call anyone Lucretia...

14
July 5, 2015 2:54 PM

Shhh, stop telling people about Ambrose. I'm planning on using a different version of it if I have a baby in the next few years. But considering how badly I  got burned by my preteen choice of "Aiden" I'm feeling rather protective lol

15
July 7, 2015 12:59 AM

I know a Ferdinand who goes by Ferd. He's probably in his 70s. It reminds me of the incredibly sweet picture book "The Story of Ferdinand", which was turned into the Disney cartoon short "Ferdinand the Bull." I think it's a lovely name with a cute nickname.

16
July 7, 2015 1:34 PM

The only ones I would even remotely consider would be: Bartholomew, Crawford, Lazarus, Leopold, Sinclair, Wolfgang, Ambrosia, Delphia, Guinevere, Honora, Lucrecia, Winifred. The rest are too weird or complicated for my taste. The ones with the difficult spellling on my list I would only use for a middle name. I think it's unnecessiarily burdonsome to give a child a name that they have to repeatedly spell out and/or pronounce to people. I know it gives me anxiety not knowing how to spell or pronounce a name when I need to address them too. Choosing a name that's best for the child should far and away take presidence over what we, the parent, want. The weird and complicated names we like are better for pets not people.

 

17
July 7, 2015 3:53 PM

Anxiety over not knowing how to spell or pronounce a name is completely understandable.

But remember that a name that looks intimidating at first isn't necessarily more difficult than shorter or even more trendy names. Does that little boy spell his name Jayden, Jaden, Jadon, or something else? How does that little Lena pronounce her name? It could rhyme with Tina or Dana! What about Noe? How many Ls does Alison have? 

I completely agree that prospective parents should keep in mind the well being of their children, well above their own flights of fancy. But it's exactly BECAUSE of this that so many of these names appeal to some of us!

We want our young Aeneas to feel like he can explore the seven seas and found new civilizations; we want our Flavia to stand up to even the trickiest Roman dangers. We want our Horatio to lead gallantly at the helm, and we want our Olympia to feel like she too is good enough to soar as high as the mountains. We want little Vesper to feel peace and contemplation -- or maybe a little excitement if we are inspired by the Bond girl.

These names have stories behind them -- all kinds of characters from history, literature, and music. People who shaped the world! 

Don't for a second think a parent would give one of these names to a baby with a yawn and a "Whatever."  It's not vanity, and it's not intended to trip you up. It's the same thing all parents want: the best for their children, in whatever shape or priority that best becomes. 

18
July 7, 2015 6:13 PM

I feel incredibly sorry for the children of the world named Lancelot and Aeneas. While they may be easy to spell, nobody could evef look past their famous beginnings.

 

Olumpia and Flavia I habe known myself,  and both suited the names well. They're flowery but strong names. 

 

Bartholomew and Crawford scream of bullying - they're just absoluteno" names to me.

 

I have met plenty of male"Axelle" s and think it's better suited to them than a girl these days.

 

Caedmon is reasonable. So is Ruffin.

 

 

19
July 9, 2015 3:10 AM

Thank you Platyfrog! I don't have to type as much thanks to your intelligent and compassionate comment. 

While a lot of these names are harder to spell for native English speakers, telling parents that they shouldn't give loved but unusual and foreign-sounding names to their children gets close to the line. Parents choose names they love for children they love.

After all John doesn't need it's H and Anne doesn't need it's E, and most people manage. Ivor and Oona are pretty,  and good people will try to get the names right when they are applied to actual children.

Most of these names I've only seen on name books, but Ivor Novello and both Oona Chaplins have those pretty names. Ephraim  was the main character on "Everwood" and I do wonder if it will get a boost when those fans start having kids. Dr. Callie Torres on Grey's Anatomy" turned out to be a Calliope.

20
July 12, 2015 4:29 PM

Some really great and unusual names here! Tycho has been a favorite of mine for years! I love the link to astronomer Tycho Brahe, and that it is fun, yet masculine. My sister would have named her baby Jethro if it had been a boy, but instead we have little Sylvia. Honora is another favorite of mine because it belonged to my greatgrandmother and Vesper and Azriel are just super cool.

And one other interesting fact, both Theodosia and Flavia are characters in currently popular book series, so those may be on the rise.

21
July 14, 2015 6:46 PM

I never met a Xanthe but I know an Ianthe. I also know an Ivor and a Winifred.

22
By thegang3452 (not verified)
July 21, 2015 11:57 AM

This list is wacko! I'd never name my chlidren these names.

23
August 10, 2015 2:47 AM

I keep my own list similar to this. It's partly names that I can't believe aren't more popular right now given current trends, and partly names I just think would be really cool to start using. A lot of them are from books, either author names or character names:

Edison

Austen (Boy or girl - Austin is already popular, and this has the benefit of an allusion to everyone's favorite novelist. I honestly don't get why this isn't shooting up the charts.)

Laurel

Alianora

Elbereth (From Lord of the Rings - kind of an unexpected alternative to Elizabeth)

Watson (Elementary my dear)

Juniper

Marx

Blythe

Harker

Brighton

Ranger (How is Hunter popular but Ranger not?)

Svetlana

Caspian

Wharton

Warhol

Querida

Jessamyn

Hannelore

Albany

Antares

Flannery

Marlowe

Jarvis

24
September 5, 2015 11:25 PM

I'm a girl and my name is Olympia Logan (I go by Logan because my mom called me Ollie when I was younger and I hated it.) I've made it through life pretty well and I always got compliments on how pretty my name is from teachers (when they first called roll I would be Olympia.) Overall, I think it was a good name and I would use it if my mom hadn't called me Ollie. 

25
September 16, 2015 10:59 PM

I think these are cool. I don't think amy fit my taste but are some really cool bases for names I'd like! Also, Calliope is a name I only know of because of Grey's Anatomy. As someone with a common name but my sister has an unusual name (Trinidad) I've always wanted unique names for my kids but nothing that people will struggle with. 

26
January 7, 2016 1:18 PM

I always thought Guinvere and Winifred would make great twin girl names. Both formal and almost regal sounding when using yhe full names and both nicknames (Gwennie and Winnie) are adorable.

27
July 5, 2016 8:40 PM

I cringed when I saw Ambrosia on this list!  That's a dessert, made with fruit and coconut, that's very popular here in the South.  (Google ambrosia recipes for details.)  Any child tagged with that name will be subjected to a lifetime of teasing and bad jokes!  It seems to lend itself to rude ethnic jokes as well, unfortunately!

Some of the biblical names, such as Nicodemus and Bathsheba, have negative connotations because of the behavior of their namesakes in the Bible, so I'd say those require a second thought (or more!) as well!

There is a female country singer from Ireland named Philomena Begley, and until I heard of her, I'd never heard the name!  It's pronounced Fill-o-MEE-nah, at least in her case.

I had a neighbor growing up named Bart, and I had known him for a long time before I learned that his name was Bartholomew.  I also know of someone with the last name Bartholomew. 

I had never heard of the name Sophronia until a few years ago when I read a series of murder mysteries by author Vicki Lane.  There was a character in one of them whose name was Sophronia, but was usually referred to as "Miss Fronie."  Unfortunately this character was a very abusive mother to her youngest child!

With this being a year for the Olympics, I could see Olympia becoming popular.  I don't think I'd heard of it as a name until actress Olympia Dukakis (and cousin of then-presidential candidate Michael Dukakis) became known for her movie roles in the 1980's.

A lot of these names can be traced to Greek mythology.  In general, I'd urge all parents-to-be to research not only the literal meanings of names, but also the connotations attached to them, before saddling innocent children with something that will set them up for a lifetime of bullying, insensitive questions, and other difficulties! 

28
January 17, 2017 2:32 PM

'Sophronia' was a favourite name of Charles Dickens and he used it several times for his characters.

29
January 17, 2017 8:45 PM

Just so you know, the Cornish form of Guinevere is… Jennifer. Neither unusual nor classic, but well on her way to joining Shirley and Linda as "old ladies' names".

Faddish today is fusty tomorrow.