Our exploration of the varied and unique regions of the United States has also been an exploration in names. To follow up from previous posts about the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest, today we’ll be turning to the Midwestern heartland. A region defined by diversity and community, the Midwest offers some lovely names based on geography, geology, and history that may inspire you.
As always, please comment with your own thoughts and suggestions for names sparked by the American Midwest!
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Prairie. This rare nature name comes from the French for "grassland," but the sound of Prairie is pure Americana. It’s been used for girls since 1973, but has never become popular - only six baby girls named Prairie were born last year. It evokes feelings of wide open spaces and exploration, but fits in with style sisters Maisie and Sadie. Other similar options include Meadow and Lea.
Robin. One might think that Robin isn’t so much mid-western as mid-century - it peaked for boys in the 1950’s and for girls in the 1960’s. But this gender-neutral name has gained traction for boys again, probably due to its status as an animal name and as a style sibling for Ruben, Corbin, or Rowan. Both Michigan and Wisconsin count the robin as their state bird, and the feathered namesake has long been considered a symbol of spring.
Granger. Long defined by its agriculture, the Midwest is one of the most productive farming regions in the country. Why not consider Granger as a quirky, complementary option for boys? Granger is not only agricultural but literary, being the last name of Hermione in the Harry Potter series. It’s akin to other popular occupational names, like Parker or Walker, but maintains an air of permanence, not passing fancy.
Violet. This retro name has taken the charts by storm; currently, Violet is at #50, the highest it’s been since the early 1900’s. But its classic sound and floral vibe make it more than just a flash in the pan. The state flower of both Illinois and Wisconsin, the violet flower can be found all over the middle of the country. The flower is also associated with faithfulness - not a bad connection for a baby Violet!
Willa. Thanks to similar-sounding William and Willow, Willa has shot up the US top 1000 to its current place at #481. It’s fresh and vintage, feminine and strong, with quite a few real and fictional namesakes. Much of its usage is thanks to Midwestern author Willa Cather, whose Great Plains trilogy offered a romantic view of frontier life to American readers. Some rare names found in Cather’s books include Emil, Ivar, Amedee, Signa, and Antonia.
Lawrence. An enduring masculine choice in the English-speaking world, Lawrence has its roots in ancient Rome and connections to the natural world. Cities called Lawrence exist across the Midwest, each named after a different Mr. Lawrence (first names of these men include John, James, and Amos). Lawrence has been on the decline in recent years as more and more names have entered baby books, but it hasn’t lost its refinement and respectability.
Galena. The city of Galena, Kansas was named after the mineral found in the area - indeed, the Midwest region is one of the largest galena mining regions in the United States. The name also has history as a Greek moniker meaning "calm." Galena fits in with fashionable Alina, Adelina, and Selena, but with a prodigious European twist.
Hawthorn. Another botanical name with a rich history, Hawthorn is an unexpected but unparalleled choice. The hawthorn is the state flower of Missouri, designated as such by Sarah Lucille Turner, one of the first women to serve in the Missouri House of Representatives. In Celtic mythology, the hawthorn represents balance, and Hawthorn itself offers a middle ground between the agrarian world and established English surnames.
Dakota. While Dakota has only been in the US top 1000 since the mid-1980’s, it has become a timeless unisex name. The name Dakota is sprinkled all across the Midwest, from states to towns to rock formations, and originally comes from a Sioux word meaning "friend." While Dakota is far from rare, it’s still a pleasant name with an open, friendly feeling.
Lincoln. Beloved president Abraham Lincoln had quite the Midwestern pedigree: he was born in Kentucky, raised in Indiana, and elected in Illinois before heading to the White House. Today, Lincoln is the second most popular presidential name (surpassed only by Jackson). Lincoln is classic, accessible, and wholly American - an inspirational choice.
Cedar. Now the name of multiple towns and rivers, Cedar originally referred to the red cedar trees growing in the Midwest region. Though it’s never been popular as a name, it has many positive qualities to recommend itself: it fits in with other tree names like Willow and Hazel, it sounds stylistically like contemporary favorites Connor and Sawyer, and it’s often mentioned in the Bible as a desirable material and meaningful plant. Erez, the Hebrew translation, is also used as a first name in Israel.
Wright. Three of the most influential Midwest natives have been Wrights: aviators Orville and Wilbur, and architect Frank Lloyd. The surname actually ranked as a first name from the late 1880s through the early 1900s, but has fallen into uncommon use - only thirteen baby Wrights were born last year. However, the name has a positive and tenacious vibe, the kind of pluck that might spark your own little one’s creativity.
Classic doesn't have to mean boring. In fact, a well-chosen name can make "classic" feel like the freshest style in town. Today we're on the hunt for Quirky Classics for girls, traditional names with a splash of personality that places them a step to the side of the mainstream.
The Quirky Classics are creative with a sense of fun, but not over-cutesy or ostentatious. They're free spirits, yet grounded. They feel totally individual even when -- like Eloise or Olive -- they're climbing the popularity charts.
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The quirkiness takes different forms. Many of the names, like Glynis and Ione, have unusual sounds, spellings or rhythms. Some, like Clementine and Hermione, have cultural associations that set them apart. Others, like Gretel and Adelaide, feel rooted to another time or place. But all strike a neat balance between creativity and tradition.
|THE QUIRKY CLASSICS|
Names like Maverick, Cannon, and Hunter have begun dominating the top 1000, revealing a trend towards the energetic. These masculine monikers have aural similarities - hard R’s, B’s, K’s, and G’s sound more aggressive - as well as related meanings. If just hearing a word makes you think of adventurous activity, the word probably has become a given name for a couple of bouncing baby boys! Here are some names outside the popular rankings that sound positively strapping.
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Beck. Musician Beck Hansen helped bring this name to national attention over the past twenty years; the five-time Grammy-winning artist has a name that seems at once boyish and creative. Beck is also a rare word name that means “brook” or “stream”, if you’re looking for a nature connection. The name fits in with popular names like Luke, Jack, and Blake - single-syllable names that pack a lot of punch! If you’re still not convinced, try the long form Beckett with Beck as a nickname. But Beck has enough personality to stand on its own, too.
Brando. With Lennon, Hendrix, and now Bowie on the rise, perhaps it’s time to shift the focus from musicians to actors. Brando honors twentieth-century star Marlon Brando, famous for his manly roles in On the Waterfront, The Wild One, and The Godfather, of course. He was also an activist for various social causes, and had his share of controversial opinions. Still, if you want a name with gravitas and grit, Brando might fit the bill. The o-ending and similarities to Brandon and Brantley help it fit in on the playground, too.
Breaker. Athlete Michael Phelps is no stranger to making waves, and naming his son Boomer kept those waves rolling. Active verb names like Gunner, Tucker, and Ryder are also on the rise - why not Breaker? It’s playful, peppy, and pleasant; rowdy without being unruly. This word name is associated with all sorts of scientific ideas: circuitry, radio technology, ocean waves, to begin with. It will definitely raise some eyebrows, but any little Breaker is bound to confound expectations, anyway!
Cormac. With a friendly Irish sound and uncommon usage in the United States, Cormac might be just right for your "wee lad". The name has never ranked in the top 1000, but it’s fairly popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Cormac has a few literary connections, too: award-winning novelist Cormac McCarthy is known for writing The Road and No Country for Old Men, and even the Harry Potter books include a character called Cormac McLaggen. Cormac also works well as an alternative to Connor or Corey, and offers the adorable nickname Mac.
Keir. Short and sweet, Keir is another Irish name that can work for all backgrounds and personalities. It’s pronounced “keer”, and means “black” in Gaelic. Many know this name via its popular diminutives, Kieran or Keira, but the original form is strong and will age well with its wearer. Keir ranked briefly in the UK and Ireland, but it was given to only twenty-one boys in the United States in 2015. Dear little Keir could be right up your alley if you want a name that’s classic, substantial, and accessible.
Ranger. Along with verb names, occupational names have been trending upwards for a while: Tyler, Mason, and Parker are absolutely iconic. Now that unusual names are also on the rise, why not combine the two? Intrepid boys’ name Ranger fits the bill and then some. It’s familiar and cowboyish; this name calls to mind the Lone Ranger (and admittedly Walker, Texas Ranger). It’s got credibility with kids via Power Rangers and Ranger Rick; really, Ranger is just about everywhere but the top 1000. But don’t let the pop culture connections deter you - your baby Ranger will have his very own kind of courage.
Rogue. Love braggadocio names like Messiah, King, or Rebel? Then Rogue is perfect for you! Known by many as a (female) X-Men superhero, the name is about to get a lot more science fiction publicity with the release of the upcoming Star Wars installment, Rogue One. Plenty of celebrities have used the name for both daughters and sons - thirty-three girls and twenty-five boys were named Rogue in 2015. This name is roguishly handsome and fun, a perfect choice for a rambunctious little one.
Roscoe. This name probably has more historical precedent than any other name on this list: Roscoe ranked on the top 1000 for about 100 years, from 1880-1978. It’s highest point was at #117 in 1888. A few fictional hayseed characters with the name aided its decline in popularity, but today, Roscoe is beginning to rise again. It’s got a vintage vibe combined with a certain machismo, and it’s close enough to classics Oscar and Ross to feel recognizable. With all its positive traits, Roscoe’s dated reputation will soon be a thing of the past.
Slade. What could be more devilish than the name of a DC comics assassin? Slade hits every action-hero name note: monosyllabic and slightly dangerous, but still somehow familiar. Indeed, it did appear in the top 1000 briefly (between 2007 and 2010), but Slade has not yet made its mark. Meaning “from the valley”, the name really isn’t quite so theatrical in origin. Next to names like Blade or Rage (both used last year), it isn’t even that violent. But Slade shows off a level of mischief that neither Cade or Zade can muster.
Ziggy. It wouldn’t be a true boys’ name list without at least two David Bowie mentions! As Bowie begins to rocket up the name charts, alter-ego monikers like Ziggy are sure to follow. The name has even more musical integrity via rocker Ziggy Marley (son of Bob, and born David Nesta), whose nickname is now his stage name. Ziggy was originally a nickname for German classics like Sigmund and Siegfried, from the Old German word sigu, meaning “victory”. But the nickname has become an established given name - forty-four Ziggy’s were born in the United States last year.