These 15 Familiar Girls' Names are Actually Rare—And Always Have Been

Nov 28th 2018

Familiar names, rare names. The two are opposites. Yet a handful of names manage to hit both contradictory targets, and zero in on the style bullseye at the same time.

I've uncovered 15 examples of girls' names that have flown consistently under the radar. Not only are they rare today, but they've never been popular in the United States. None has ever ranked among America's top 300 girls' names, a bar low enough that even names like Elva and Floy have crossed it. That makes them true individuals, names that your daughter could feel she had full ownership of.

At the same time, each name is pleasingly familiar. Some have famous standard bearers, others have more common name "relatives," and a few are just so simple and classic-sounding that they sound like old friends. That familiarity lends them the warmth of tradition, and should spare them from the spelling and pronunciation headaches that come with most rare names.

Best of all, these names should fit in with contemporary style, even as they stand apart. Their tones vary, from the light touch of Calla to the storybook charm of Clementine, but all have fashion elements that keep them current.

Photo: Getty Images

Calla From the calla lily flower, and because it's so close to the nickname Callie (traditionally short for Caroline)
Blythe From actress Blythe Danner, and Blythe fashion dolls
Paloma From the Spanish word for dove, and from designer Paloma Picasso
Clementine                 "Oh my darlin', oh my darlin'..."
Hollis Because it's been quietly present as a girl's name, boy's name, surname and place name
Rhea From celebrities including actresses Rhea Perlman and and Seehorn, and from the mythological mother of Zeus
Cecily Because it's the antique English form of Cecilia, and from comedian Cecily Strong and actress Cicely Tyson
Adela From the French form Adele, and a global history ranging from a daughter of William the Conqueror to telenovela star Adela Noriega
Petra As a female form of Peter, the name of an ancient stone city in Jordan, and slow but steady usage in multiple languages
Mercy From the common word mercy, and occasional fictional characters
Daria From the MTV animated series Daria
Sylvie As the French form of Sylvia, and an occasional nickname for it
Althea From barrier-breaking tennis champion Althea Gibson
Coralie Because it's popular in French, and hits the same sweet old-fashioned notes as Rosalie
Beatrix From the form Beatrice, "Peter Rabbit" creator Beatrix Potter, and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands





November 28, 2018 11:30 AM

1. Cicely (Tyson) is not actually the same name as Cecily. :)

2. I'm not familiar with Hollis, like at all. Have I been living under a rock or something?

November 28, 2018 12:13 PM

I knew a female Hollis around 20 years ago.

Some friends named their daughter Rhea, who is now around 25.

Even furthur back I met a young girl named Blythe who must be 40 by now.

Althea is the name of a beloved Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter song (Grateful Dead)

It's surprising that as the feminine form of a very common name that Petra is so uncommon.

November 28, 2018 8:03 PM

some classes I know do have name repeats. I was unsurprised to have Henry and Lucy be borne by two of my kids’ classmates... but another classroom (at the private school not attended by my kids) actually is distinguished by having two girls named Paloma!

November 28, 2018 8:49 PM

Althea is also used in a poem called "To Althea, From Prison" by the poet Richard Lovelace. It's one of two of his poems to have women's names in the titles. He's best known for "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars." 

November 28, 2018 11:38 PM

I would love to meet a young Blythe! It's on my list for our next baby! As are Beatrix, Cecily, and Sylvia

November 29, 2018 12:08 PM

@TheOtherHungarian -- while Cicely and Cecily are not the same name, I included both because I think they contribute to each other's familiarity. People tend to conflate the fact, if you do a Google search for "Cecily Tyson" (in quotes), you get 50,000 results!

December 6, 2018 6:09 AM

I like the name Cecily most of all because my name is Cecil. This is a very rare and beautiful name. I think this is a Jewish name, which is associated with the name Caecilia. I met this name only once in my life, it was an employee of papersgram writing company that wrote my term paper. I never met such a name. I will name my daughter like this if I have a daughter.

December 6, 2018 7:49 AM

Most of all for boys I love such rare names : Phoenix, Duke, Dante. For girls I would prefer Kaia, Oriana.


essay dune

January 3, 2019 4:45 AM

Cecily and Blythe are also familiar names from the Anne of Green Gables books.

January 14, 2019 9:11 AM

Petra seems Deutsch for me. I remember a movie "Taxi" and there was a woman Petra, she was from Germany. Maybe it is the reason of such a rare using of this name. And I don't know why, but all these names are very appropriate for hurricane's names, or some paper writing helper tool.