With names like Haven, River, and Journey ranking among the 300 most popular names, it seems that parents have adventure in mind. These word names embody excitement and discovery, but also sound elegant enough for a birth certificate.
If you’re a fan of travel- and exploration-inspired names, check out this list of fifteen uncommon choices. These word names work for all kinds of kids, with connections to the natural world, meaningful connotations, and the promise of daring deeds.
Bridge. Strong and handsome Bridge isn’t too far off from current names like Gage or Bryce, but it feels more substantive - as a connection between two points, a bridge represents the unity created when different paths converge. This sense of togetherness is sure to embolden your little one as Bridge experiences all sorts of new places in life.
Story. This exciting name has already moved celebrity parents such as Soleil Moon Frye and Jenna Elfman, both of whom welcomed boys with the name (though Story is not strictly gender-specific). Such a name encourages the wearer to “write their own story,” be it filled with faraway adventures or mindful journeys close to home.
Cedar. Known for its strength and longevity, cedar wood was used to build Solomon’s Temple (according to 1 Kings) and the Sea of Galilee boat, giving this natural material a few religious associations. The name Cedar holds warmth and positivity, with links to travel, music, and even ancient mythology in its illustrious history.
West. Weston and Wesley rank in the top 1000, but inspiring West has yet to join them. Still, this directional choice has symbolized enlightenment, promise, and freedom for all kinds of cultures, from the Buddhists to the Celts to the Judeo-Christians. West feels both friendly and fearless, a word name with energy and hope.
Beacon. For centuries, beacons have been used all over the world to guide travelers in unfamiliar or dangerous territory; they signify guidance through the unknown. In addition to having this beautiful connotation, the name Beacon is similar in sound to Beckett and Brecken, choices already beloved by American audiences.
Taiga. Unusual and intriguing, Taiga is an intrepid option for fans of the uncommon: the name was only given to 10 boys in 2016. From the Yakut language for “untraversable forest,” taiga refers to the ecosystems of the north, filled with coniferous forests and snowy mountains. Taiga feels vast and vivacious, a bold choice for a child setting out to explore their world.
Cove. In contrast to other boisterous choices, Cove is a calmer name that feels peaceful and safe, a haven in an exhilarating journey. Tranquil Cove fits in aurally with names like Cole and Cora, but feels substantial enough to stand out in a crowd.
Echo. While the name comes from a tragic character in Greek mythology - the nymph Echo was cursed by Hera to only repeat the words of others - Echo seems much more compelling in a modern context. As a reflection of sound, echoes represent the continuation of ideas and words over time, giving this pretty name a significant connection to all that’s come before.
Breeze. Bright as a summer’s day, Breeze is a lovely word name with an upbeat personality. As Brianna and its variants begin to decline, Breeze would make a more wild and free alternative. This beautiful choice has already been used in fiction, from a male Marvel hero to a few female literary characters.
Scout. Though Atticus’ acclaim has waxed and waned over the past few years, adorable and dynamic Scout remains an underdog - it’s never ranked in the top 1000. If you’re not attached to the To Kill a Mockingbird namesake, Scout still offers a confident and pioneering energy, which many celebrity parents have admired.
Prairie. This pretty word is French in origin, but was borrowed by English speakers to describe the grasslands of North America; it’s a word filled with history and discovery. Prairie feels vintage, like Sadie or Daisy, yet it’s filled with the sensation of wide open spaces and blue skies above.
Ocean. Elegant Océane has a following in France, but serene Ocean has yet to inspire the anglophone world. It’s an unexpected choice that feels both unchanging and full of life, a name with an abundance of possibilities. Ocean would fit in well with names like Owen, Orion, or Odin, but it’s by no means strictly masculine.
Timber. Another sylvan name, Timber is an attractive choice that appeals to both genders - the name was given to over 50 boys and 50 girls in 2016. The word calls to mind old-fashioned building and classic craftsmanship, a creative connotation that may appeal to artists. Timber’s aural similarities to Timothy or Kimberly will help it cohere on American playgrounds.
Canyon. Sweeping Canyon conjures images of magnificent landscapes and thrilling voyages, a name that would make any adventurer proud. It’s not too distant from Carson or Camden, with more grandeur and gravitas.
Harbor. Derived from the Old English for “shelter” and “protection,” Harbor is a pleasant name with many positive links: there’s the historic sense of trade and human connection; there’s the emotional sense of security, as in “safe harbor”; and there are the many coastal landmarks that make it a meaningful place-name.
Try to think of an American man called Bo. You can probably name a few, like musician Bo Diddley, Oscar-winning screenwriter Bo Goldman, multi-sport athlete Bo Jackson, or fictional Bo Duke of "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Guess what? None of them were actually named Bo. In fact, until "Dukes of Hazzard" debuted in 1979, almost no Americans were named Bo. It was a pure nickname, all rugged, down-home simplicity. In the case of Bo Duke it was a short form of Beauregard, and others used it as short for Robert, but most often, the nickname Bo bore no relation at all to any given name.
Beauregard "Bo" Duke of Dukes of Hazzard
Bo now stands as an emblem of a bygone nickname era. Today, most nicknames are trimmed-down versions of formal names, but it wasn't always that way. From Jack being "short" for John to nicknames like Bear or Duke that you had to earn, the land of nicknames used to be a much more flexible and creative realm.
To illustrate the change, I've collected every famous male Bo I can find find who was born in the U.S. through 1978. If you already knew the legal first name of even one of them, that's one more than me. Let them be a reminder that nicknames aren't just thumbnail views of full names, they're whatever we make of them.
NAME THAT BO:
Robert "Bo" Belinsky: Major league baseball pitcher
Harold "Bo" Bice: musician and American Idol contestant
Armenter Chatmon "Bo Carter": early blues musician
Robert "Bo" Cornell: NFL football player
Baudilio "Bo" Díaz: Major league baseball player
Ellas McDaniel "Bo Diddley": influential R&B/rock&roll musician
Richard "Bo" Dietl: police detective/media commentator
Robert "Bo" Goldman: screenwriter (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Melvin and Howard)
William "Bo" Hopkins: film actor (The Wild Bunch, American Graffiti, Midnight Express)
Vincent "Bo" Jackson: athlete named as an All-Star in both baseball and football
Gregory "Bo" Kimble: NBA basketball player
Charles "Bo" Outlaw: NBA basketball player
Mark "Bo" Pelini: college football coach
Marquis "Bo" Porter: Major league baseball manager
Robert "Bo" Rein: college football coach
William "Bo" Ryan: college basketball coach
Glenn "Bo" Schembechler: college football coach
Robert "Bo" Welch: film production designer (Thor, Men in Black, Edward Scissorhands)
Many expectant parents today find themselves in the same conundrum, looking for a name that is elegant - like Alexander, Sebastian, or Theodore - but uncommon, with the latter criterion being particularly difficult to fill. After all, these handsome names certainly merit their popularity. Are there similar names that exude a sophisticated air but aren't quite so high on the charts?
The answer to that is a resounding yes - these fifteen names have strong histories, beloved namesakes, or intriguing etymologies, while remaining outside the top 1000 for boys. Resolute and poignant, these attractive picks come from all kinds of naming traditions, and each embodies a dashing style that all kinds of namers can appreciate.
Image: Cressida Studio/shutterstock
Ambrose. From the Greek for “immortal,” Ambrose came into more frequent use after adorning a few Catholic saints and Christian leaders of the early church. Its form balances friendliness and nobility, working well for all kinds of personalities. Ambrose fits well as an alternative to Anthony or Abraham, and its Welsh variant Emrys is another intriguing option.
Dashiell. Detective novelist Dashiell Hammett introduced this beautiful surname choice to American audiences beginning in the 1920’s; it was his middle name and an Anglicization of his mother’s maiden name, de Chiel. Today, more than a few celebrity parents have embraced this sweet name - and its link to cool nickname Dash doesn’t hurt, either.
Casimir. Intrepid Casimir has clothed Polish kings and saints, and comes from name elements meaning “destroyer of peace.” With such a powerful background, it’s a wonder that the name hasn’t ranked on the popularity charts since 1942. While Casimir’s long form has a wonderful regal sound, short forms Cas or Caz make the name more playground-friendly.
Lysander. Melodic and memorable, Lysander has roots in Greek history, Shakespearean comedies - and even Harry Potter. It’s aurally similar to Alexander and Andrew, with a more romantic and adventurous feeling. Though this free-spirited choice has made a literary impact, it’s never been given to more than 43 American boys in any year.
Beauregard. An attractive Southern choice, Beauregard is another surname that moved into the first name spot at the end of the nineteenth century. It’s an uncommon route to two common short names - Beau and Bo - with the lovely meaning of “beautiful look.” Beauregard is also especially dear in the pop culture world, with characters in television, film, and literature bearing the name.
Thelonious. Though this stylish choice has long been associated with jazz musician Thelonious Monk (himself a junior, and later giving the name to his own son), other parents in the United States have been using the name since at least 1960. It’s a daring yet awe-inspiring choice, lending itself to nicknames Theo or Lonnie (if Thelonious proves too intense for day-to-day usage). While the original spelling is Thelonius, the variant form has been more commonly worn in America over the past few decades.
Clement. Charming Clement is another religious choice - chosen by fourteen popes - but has a more soft and serene sound. Namesakes abound throughout history, from writers to politicians to athletes, and the name is particularly popular in francophone countries. Clement is similar in tone to Clayton or Emmett, with feminine variants Clementine and Clemence gaining notice.
Wolfgang. Eyebrows may raise, but hear me out - bold and boisterous Wolfgang was given to 117 boys last year, the most in US historical records. It vibes well with other animal choices like Fox and Bear, but has more gravitas in its connections to Mozart and Goethe. If you want a name that’s sure to make an impression, Wolfgang may be the way to go.
Devereux. Derived from a French surname, Devereux is a rare choice with a sophisticated edge. The 1952 film Lone Star, starring Clark Gable as Devereaux Burke, inspired a few parents of boys born that year, and the name has been used sporadically since. With such a darling devilish sound, Devereux (or a spelling variant) is bound to appeal to fans of the fearless.
Percival. This noble name was created by French poet Chrétien de Troyes in the twelfth century for his poem about one of King Arthur’s knights, but has fallen out of fashion along with soundalike name Percy. Could this heroic choice make a comeback? Its inclusion in the Harry Potter books, as well as the increasing trend towards unusual names, make Percival’s return a possibility.
Bartholomew. The name of one of the Twelve Apostles of Christ and a few subsequent saints, Bartholomew has a long history of use in Christian families. Short form Bart is well-known for its Simpsons connections, but the nicknames Barry and Tolly are other alternatives. Dignified and meaningful, Bartholomew is one Biblical choice beyond compare.
Sylvester. From Latin for “of the forest,” Sylvester is the most historically popular choice on this list. However, links to one cartoon character and another film star have pigeonholed this gorgeous name a bit. Today, Sylvester could be spruced up by the nickname Silver - but the long form still holds enough style and substance to be used on its own.
Ferdinand. A traditional name in a few European royal families, Ferdinand has a mix of eccentricity and elegance in its personality. The most famous Ferdinands to modern ears would be Magellan, the first European explorer to circle the globe, and the fictional bull, who prefers flowers to fights. Whether your little one is an adventurer or a dreamer (or both), Ferdinand could fit him well.
Valentine. This debonair name comes from Latin for “strong and healthy,” an especially auspicious meaning. In the United States, it’s bound to be connected to the romantic holiday, but that link hasn’t hurt the popularity of variations Valentin or Valentina. The retro nickname Val adds some flair, but vibrant Valentine already shines brightly.
Absalom. While Scandinavian variant Axel has been getting quite a bit of attention, the original Hebrew form Absalom is still underused. Found in the Old Testament as one of the sons of King David, engaging Absalom has also been used for characters in Chaucer, Faulkner, and Paton’s writings. Similar in style to Abel or Solomon, Absalom may appeal to parents who want a subtle religious choice.