Why Not, indeed?

Jun 7th 2008

One of the most popular sections of The Baby Name Wizard book is the "Why Not?" list.  To describe it, I'll quote myself:

"The names below are a hodgepodge of different sounds and styles, with only two things in common: they’re perfectly good, and hardly anybody uses them."

I recently sat down to update the list, hoping to find more underused names that could be pleasant surprises.  I've added quite a few, but I've had to delete some too.  Some I simply thought better of, but others have outgrown the category.  In the three years since I wrote the original list, nine of the names have been "discovered."  They're not necessarily common yet, but rising fast enough that they can no longer be considered hidden gems.  So I prepared to discard those names...and then I stopped.  The more I looked at them, the more they started looking like a whole category of their own.  See what you think:



The nine names are all ranked between #200 and #400.  They're traditional but have never been truly popular.  They're on the way up, but still sound interesting.  In short, this is a group of names captured at the brink of popularity, the ultimate fashion peak.

So based on these examples, what are the next hit names?  For girls, the pattern is crystal clear.  Name like Lana, Lena, Lyra and Lydia are good bets to rise.  For boys, look for names balanced equally between first name and surname like Graham, Finley and Pierce.



By Sister Melinda (not verified)
June 7, 2008 11:45 AM

Rowan's tricky for a boy because folks are already using it for daughters--it could be the Taylor of the 2010s.

It's interesting to see Lila, Luna, Lena, Lana, Lyra turning up as likely risers--makes me wonder if they're being read as "fresher" versions of the "Lisa and Lori" names that 30-something US mothers and aunties have in abundance.

By Rachel (not verified)
June 7, 2008 12:14 PM

In the UK Rowan's one of the truly unisex names - I know two boys and two girls named Rowan. Great name.

By Kristy (not verified)
June 7, 2008 12:21 PM

I'm a little sad to see Jude climbing the ladder. We chose the name Judah for our older boy when he was born in early 2005. We liked the meaning and the unusual-though-not-crazy feel of the name, and finding it on your "Why Not?" list was a bonus. I had kind of guessed that Jude would get popular, thanks to Jude Law.
Also, we seriously considered the name Finlay for our second son (so we could call him Fin), but finally settled on Micah, another name that I fear is about to be super-popular.

I'm predicting that the name Sawyer will be huge soon, and maybe Quinn, and what about Grayson?

By Kelly (not verified)
June 7, 2008 12:22 PM

It appears that, at least for now, Rowan is also a "true unisex" name in the US. Since 2003 the name has become more popular each year for both boys and girls, and has remained slightly more popular for boys during that time. Rowan is one of my favorites for a boy, and I think that for those of you who like this name for a boy you should not abandon it for the unisex reason.

By Kelly (not verified)
June 7, 2008 12:31 PM

ETA: I checked the SSA stats, and what I said isn't quite true: Rowan dipped off a little on the girl's side between 2004 and 2005. Nonentheless, I think that Rowan will likely continue to be closely used for both genders for awhile.

By c. Elizabeth (not verified)
June 7, 2008 12:56 PM

I was considering Rowen for my new baby (2 months) if he had been a girl. I like it for a boy, too, but I don't get to name the boys. I hope that it stays unisex, I'm always sad to se a name become "unusable" because of trends.

By maya (not verified)
June 7, 2008 1:39 PM

we've considered asher. we love ash as a nickname. i just can't decide for sure on an unusual name for a boy, though. can't decide which way to go - unusual or traditional. i also like the name grey. i'd use that in a second. my hubby is a harder sell.

have thought about beckett too.

By CN Heidelberg (not verified)
June 7, 2008 1:48 PM

The German name charts might be a good place to look for girls' names. Germans are absolutely crazy about L names for at the moment. Leonie, Lena, Leah, Lara, Lily, Laura, Lina, Lisa, Leni, Leon, Lucas, Luca, Louis....

By Coll (not verified)
June 7, 2008 3:16 PM

I've been tracking Lydia for a few years now, and it's definitely on the upswing. Disappointing. Maybe a generation of little Lyras will be born of of the Dark Materials series (and now movie). But I'm never sure whether it's pronounced Lee-ra or Lie-ra.

By c. Elizabeth (not verified)
June 7, 2008 3:22 PM

Lyra makes me think of Patricia Wrede's Lyra novels. There it was Lie-ra, believe.

Ps. I wish this thing had edit. I mistyped Rowan above, and it jumps out at me when I scroll down.

By Harriet (not verified)
June 7, 2008 3:52 PM

Girls: elsa, adela, leora, eliora, saibh, niamh/neve, arielle/ariella, genevieve, gloria, keturah, aliza, linnea, zella, carrington

By Michelle (not verified)
June 7, 2008 4:08 PM

I love the name Lila. It was also on my short list.

Girl's names that I can see rising: Alana, Lana, Elena, Lina, Elina. Elina's not on the charts yet, but it's only a matter of time. (It's big in Finland, I think). I think Aileen is a pretty name that is far down on the list but fits with the L sound.

Boy's: Kieran. It's got all the right stuff. Not uber popular, but not outlandish. Ends in an N.

By Guest (not verified)
June 7, 2008 4:22 PM

New Baby Alert: Calantha Eloise nn Cala

I'm guessing Cala is pronounced like Calla which I know is popular on this board.

A quick google search tells me Calantha is of Greek origin and means "lovely flower"

I kind of like it. What does everyone else think? I'm curious.

By Jen (not verified)
June 7, 2008 5:22 PM

The audiobooks for Pullman's Dark Materials series said Lie-ra for Lyra (though I realize that's not necessarily an incontrovertible source).

Lyra was on my husband's and my list for a girl ... but we're having a boy.

By Alexis (not verified)
June 7, 2008 5:47 PM

I know a few little Callas. Their mothers all told me they chose it because Lily was so popular and they wanted something that meant the same thing, but was different at the same time.

I have sighted a few Peregrines, Becketts and Emmetts around Melbourne lately. I dont know what these names are doing in the US.

By Moonie (not verified)
June 7, 2008 6:22 PM

I'm sad to see two of my favourite names on your list. Asher and Lila. Here I thought I was the only one who could see their appeal. I guess it proves, yet again, that either great minds think alike, or naming trends are somehow linked with culture.

By mary (not verified)
June 7, 2008 6:36 PM

we had our baby girl six months ago and named her angelina...lia for short as our last name begins with l and i enjoy alliteration....

i enjoy this name abrv. since i didnt make the connection between the actress..and our baby..oops

By B (not verified)
June 7, 2008 7:47 PM

Were the winners of the baby name pool ever announced?

By Kristine (not verified)
June 7, 2008 8:41 PM

I think Fiona is on the cusp of true popularity.

By Valerie (not verified)
June 7, 2008 9:34 PM

I would tend towards the pronunciation of LIE-ra for Lyra, partly because LEE-ra sounds like Italian currency! I almost like it as a name, but think the sound reminds me too much of liar.

By Ash (not verified)
June 8, 2008 12:53 AM

Hmm . . . interesting list.

I actually know (of) a little Asher -- a name I was unfamiliar with until I stumbled onto this board (and fell in love hard and fast). I just realized that there is a nose in front of my face and see that Ash will be a nickname for the little Ashers and Ashtons who will be roaming the playgrounds in the approaching future (as well as the little Ashley's who are already there and outgrowing it). I am just sad that my name is going to be coopted into unisex-status. Never mind that Ashley was a male name first. Also never mind that friends constantly tell me that "Ash" isn't my name because I don't introduce myself as "Ash" in any situation IRL. Everyone calls me Ash if they know me well enough, though (and that standard is actually pretty low in my book), so I still claim it. I'm just feeling sleepy and possessive tonight.

I can't use it because of a family member with that name (and it not being a family member I would want to honor in that way), but I loooove Lydia. I would actually be happy to see little Lydias on the playground (or have them over for playdates and slumber parties, since they will likely be the same age as my future children).

Lyra is too much like both lira and lyre for my liking. Lila/h doesn't seem new to me, because I grew up with one (funny how that affects perception). I know a tween-age Elaine who was clearly born well before her time.

I like traditional-leaning names for boys too much to weigh in on most of the trendy names unless we are discussing actual babies who might have those names. Accordingly, I will leave that analysis to others.

By Phoebe (not verified)
June 8, 2008 1:34 AM

I've always really liked Asher and Lucia- I've met an Asher, never a Lucia. Actually, aprt from Asher (and Luna, sort of) I've never met anyone with these names. They're all too young. I named my dog Luna, so I can't really picture it as a name for a person, but obviously that's not a problem the general public would have.
Lyra from His Dark Materials is pronounced Lie-ra, at least according to Pullman himself (He was the one who narrated the audiobooks). Also, it's implied in the scene with the harpies in Amber Spyglass. It's always sort of bugged me when people say it Lee-ra...I like Lyra, but the name I like the most from those books is Hester. I'd never heard it before, and I adore it.

By Keren (not verified)
June 8, 2008 3:44 AM

Hi Kirsty, we also have a Judah, born 1999! We have two friends with sons called Asher, and another with a Finn. Rowan is one of my favourite names for boys or girls. But Grady doesn't fit at all in that group to my ear.

Laura, would love to know the names that are still on the list that have not been discovered yet. I bet some of them are popular here in the UK.

By Sophia (not verified)
June 8, 2008 6:26 AM

I love His Dark Materials.
I know a two year old Lyra, her mother did pull the name from the books but of course she didn't anticipate the film and possible surge in popularity of Lyra.

My favourite name from the books has to be Serafina.

Names I'd add to why not?



By Marie-Claire (not verified)
June 8, 2008 7:14 AM

Some other 'why not' ideas (not in the SSA top 1000 for at least the last 20 years):



The boys' names are a bit harder - I'm Australian, so all those Scottish names sound nice and normal to me, but perhaps to Americans they're a little too Scottish?

By hyz (not verified)
June 8, 2008 9:56 AM

With Rowan being one of our top 3 boy choices, all this just makes me glad we're having a girl right now, I guess. I don't know how to feel about the direction Rowan is moving, and I'm glad to have at least a few more years (assuming we have another baby in a few years) to watch its trends before making a decision about it. I still love it, and I admit to being a bit baffled as to how it was "discovered", although I'm not surprised that, once it was discovered, it was fairly rapidly picked up, considering that it fits so many of the popular categories these days (ends in n, nature meaning, Celtic connections, soft sound, could sound like a surname, etc.).

I, too, see Lydia popping up on a lot of more mainstream name polls, etc. I think it's a definite riser. I don't quite feel the appeal, myself, but maybe I shouldn't talk, since I do so love Sylvia (which has many comparable traits).

Guest--I love Calantha Eloise. Calantha was on our long list of girls' nature names, but didn't make the short list because I prefer using full names to NNs, and I thought Calantha risked sounding either too stuffy/pretentious or too medical/scientific. I still think it's lovely, though. Eloise is another "also ran" for us--I like it a lot, and think it goes charmingly with some of our other top picks (siblings Ivy and Eloise? for example), but the "S" ending gives me pause b/c of our last name (Eloise Soh risks sounding like Ellowy Soh, or Eloise Oh). Anyway, long story short, I'm a big fan of Calantha Eloise.

I've also heard of a few little Ashers. I love it, but I do think it's already trendy among a certain set (highly educated parents looking for a biblical name that sounds fresh and soft and maybe a bit nature-y--I'd expect brothers Isaiah, Micah, Jonas, etc.).

By Ash (not verified)
June 8, 2008 11:09 AM

Eloise, I believe, is a favorite on this board. I know I resisted it for a long time, preferring Louise and Louisa. Then, several weeks ago, it suddenly popped into my consciousness in a good way and has achieved status of one of my favorite names. I think many of these "why not" names require a little perseverating before they really click and seem to work. Or at least that's how I feel about them.

Lucia is adorable!! Weighter than Lucy, with the same feel. Heck, one could even use Lucy as a nickname if he wanted to.

hyz, I also like Syliva, I think it is adorable and works on girls/women of all ages. How is your name search going?

By Ash (not verified)
June 8, 2008 11:13 AM

P.S. hyz, the little Asher I know has parents who fall into exactly the category you described. He has a new little brother named Stephen.

By Brooke (not verified)
June 8, 2008 11:24 AM

Ooh, I love these kinds of names - they are few and far between!

As far as the boys go, I know several of each name except for Rowan. I only know girls named Rowan. In regards to the girls, I only know of one Lila - but I see it on MANY lists. Lucia I also see on lists, but not IRL. Luna still feels out there to me and don't know any IRL. Perhaps Luna had a little help from Harry Potter?

Next hit names:
Lewis -699
Locke - not listed; irish sounding
Quentin - 377 - but so consistent, never really moves up or down
Killian - not listed, irish

Calla - not listed, wonderful alternative to lily
Beatrix - not listed, unusual, letter X!
Briar - not listed, feels unisex like Harper
Larkin - not listed, unisex feel, cute nn Lark, surname like the recently popular Finley/Finlay

fun topic!

By PPD (not verified)
June 8, 2008 12:00 PM

I know of one Asher. I thought his parents had great taste in names until I found out what they are naming Asher's sister who will be born soon...McKlayne. Maybe it's a family name and has some significance, I hope so! I just wish they decided on a name that went along with hyz's description.

Other new baby alert: Harlie Addison. Ugh.

Guest, I like Calantha Eloise nn Cala. I'm just not sure I would use it.

By Valerie (not verified)
June 8, 2008 12:02 PM

Marie-Claire- Thanks for your list. I particularly like Bryony, Saskia, Dominica, Irina, and a lot of the other girls' names could grow on me. However, the boys' names are nms.I know Lachlan is HUGE in Oz as my sister keeps me posted.
How would one pronounce Dominica- Dom-in-EEK-a or Dom-IN-i-ca? Guess it might depend what your mother tongue is.

I also love Lucia, pronounced -Loo-SEE-a the Hispanic way.

By Leslie (not verified)
June 8, 2008 12:22 PM

Wow, it's wonderful to see all the names being posted! There are lots of fantastic ideas.

As a note on the pronunciation of Lyra, I assume Pullman took the name from the constellation, which is pronounced Lie-rah. I wonder if parents are choosing the name for its literary or its astronomical association? (Or, I suppose for its roots in the word lyre, the musical instrument.) Does anyone who knows little Lyras out there have any idea?

Guest, I think Calantha Eloise nn Cala is lovely!

By Stacy in Spain (not verified)
June 8, 2008 2:30 PM

I love the name Lucia, but it is the number one girls name in Spain right now. When my husband and I have children, I'd like to name them something that "works" in both languages/countries but that is "not too popular" in either. Doubly difficult.

By Harriet (not verified)
June 8, 2008 3:06 PM

Ack...posted before I was ready, sorry.

My girl picks:




I also agree with Luna, Lila/Lilah, Lachlan, Eliza, and Kieran.

By Claire Fraczek (not verified)
June 8, 2008 3:40 PM

I LOVE Jude, Lincoln and Lucia, but dh would probably never go for them. Both Jude and Lucia are off my list b/c they are too close to Julia, my dd. Julia and Lincoln? Maybe. My top female choice right now would be Ivy, which I see was already posted. I believe hyz was gathering feedback about Ivy a few posts back? I've always loved Ivy. Fiona is another winner in my book. I'm sure they are all right around the corner as up-and-comers!

FWIW, I know a Lyla who just turned one.

By hyz (not verified)
June 8, 2008 3:49 PM

thanks for asking about the name saga. We're still tentatively set on Ivy, although I did have a slight crisis of confidence when my MIL was here last weekend and opining that the ivy around our house was overgrown, and ivy has a tendency to do that, and we needed cut it back. I happen to like it that way, thank you very much. Hmph. (Maybe I wouldn't be so indignant if that was her only comment about our home-keeping choices, but she was full of "helpful suggestions" all weekend.) But her slight negative tone about the plant (a concern which I remember Tirzah raising earlier) made me worry that she'd be full of negative thoughts/comments about the name. I love that ivy is a hardy, thriving, vigorous plant. That may make it a bit of a nuisance to some, but I'd rather have a plant like that, and a child like that, than some fussy hothouse flower, or another plant you have to coddle and coax to keep it going. I guess we'll just have to be careful not to allow our Ivy to turn into a pushy little tyrant--but then again, we weren't intending to raise any little Napoleons anyway.

Speaking of strong plants, I was just saying to DH the other day that I wish honeysuckle had a better name (lonicera doesn't do much for me either), because I'd love to name a child after it--another potentially over-vigorous plant. I think the smell of honeysuckle is one of the chief pleasures of summer. Random thought, I guess--DH looked at me like I was a bit nutty.

Anyway, we do have other names still in the running, but the extent to which we're *seriously* considering them shifts day to day, depending on my mood swings, I guess. :)

By hyz (not verified)
June 8, 2008 4:30 PM

Baby watch--On a baby board I visit, the following babies have been born so far this month:

Ivy Evangeline
Fleur Ruth
Clover Wednesday
Elwyn (g)
Jude River
Dylan & Oliver (twin boys)
Brayden Marc

Interesting set, I think, and interesting for me to see two of our top choices represented (Ivy and Fiona--plus Oliver, which isn't really surprising to see), and another from my long list (Clover--this one was on my very long list--I love the imagery, but didn't seriously consider it). There was a time when I would've been disturbed by that, but now I actually find it kind of pleasant to see other people making the same choices. It's not a very mainstream board (as you probably guessed from the names), so it doesn't raise the concerns of massive, widespread popularity that it might otherwise--it's a bit like seeing other people like "my" names on this board.

By Eo (not verified)
June 8, 2008 5:55 PM

Apropos of honeysuckle, hyz, I've sometimes wondered why the botanical name for lilac doesn't get used more-- "Syringa".

Although there are not that many names ending in "-a" that I'm wild about, apart from "Eliza" and a few others, Syringa strikes my fancy, somehow. Probably because of the fugitive "y", and the swinginess...

The "why not" names, to me, have already sounded too trendy, especially Finn and Asher. Not sure how to describe it, but there's a "preciousness" or something about them that bugs me...

By yvette (not verified)
June 8, 2008 5:59 PM

barrington? jaysus.

By Harriet (not verified)
June 8, 2008 6:51 PM

Thought of a few more:


...Actually, I guess most of the names I listed as boys could go either way.


Yvette--What's wrong with Barrington? I don't like the style personally, but I think it fits in with some of today's trends.

By Harriet (not verified)
June 8, 2008 6:59 PM

Oops. Forgot Keziah.

Sorry. :/

By Keren (not verified)
June 8, 2008 7:18 PM

Syringa? Sounds like syringe. End of story.

By Kristine (not verified)
June 8, 2008 7:48 PM

What about "Lilac" as a name? It's a beautiful plant, a beautiful color, has the newly popular "lie" sound, and isn't too common on the one hand or too obscure on the other. The only drawback I can see is that I've heard it pronunced differently in different regions. I say "lie-lock" but my husband says "lie-lack," for instance.

By Susan (not verified)
June 8, 2008 8:06 PM

Yvette- I'm with you about Barrington.
Re Asher- don't you think it would be used by the kind of person (I sound snobby already)who liked the name Ashton because of the Kutcher phenomenon, but want to be yooneek? I'm just sorry the name Ashley was hijacked for girls a while back...As a mother of three boys, I feel those with daughters have so many great names to choose from, while the list of boy's names shrinks weekly. And Murphy for a girl? I can't get my head around that one at all!
In Sydney I have only ever met real life male Rowans (also Rohan). I think Brooke Shields has a girl Rowan??
Love the name Lydia- feminine but not frilly, a good sibling for an Ivy perhaps. And the Pride and Prejudice Lydia had personality. I just can't see Graeme (Graham) taking off here this generation- it was a popular name too recently

By CHW (not verified)
June 8, 2008 8:18 PM

Heard an interesting segment on NPR titled 'Remembering a Tricky Name Change'. I naturally thought of my fellow Naming Enthusiasts and thought you all may enjoy the short story. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91216351

By Brooke (not verified)
June 8, 2008 9:16 PM

Re Ashton and Asher

Susan, I have loved the name Ashton since I read The Far Pavilions - a love story set in 19th century British colonial India. This name was then hijacked by silly Ashton Kutcher and then parents started using Ashton for their little girls. I think of Asher as a safe, Biblical name that would fit most personalities. I doubt that girls will steal Asher because few girls names end in "er"

just some thoughts...

By Eo (not verified)
June 8, 2008 9:24 PM

Except, Keren, that in "Syringa", it's a hard "g", not a "j" sound.

You're probably right that many people would stumble into the "j" pronunciation.

Kristine, I do like "Lilac" as well. I say it like you, but I like both pronunciations. And the heavenly scent of lilacs has to be one of the most romantic... What is the T.S. Eliot line-- something about lilacs mixing memory and desire? I've garbled it but it's quite lovely...

By Amy3 (not verified)
June 8, 2008 9:39 PM

Re: Asher ... This is a name I've had a huge crush on for a long time. I'm pretty sure my husband would never have gone for it, and now it's a moot point since I couldn't very well have Astrid and Asher.

Re: Lyra ... Count this as another pet name for me. Friends have a cat named Lyra (pron. lie-ra). Plus, it sounds a bit too much like it could be a pharmaceutical name for me.

Phoebe -- I discovered Hester via Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter as a high school sophomore. I've had a soft spot for it since then. Such a great name.

By Zoerhenne (not verified)
June 8, 2008 9:52 PM

Some thoughts:
Hyz-Lonicera is pretty you could divide it up like Loni Sara or something although I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing it properly. I say Lye-lack btw.

Clover Wednesday is NMS, sounds like a cow or racehorse or something sorry! And I see "syringe" in Syringa too.

CHW-That was a cute story. It reminded me of something an old boyfriend said-"Do not abbreviate fraternity as frat because you wouldn't call a sorority a sore".LOL

Ashton, Finley, Barrington are all a little too stuffy for my tastes although they are nice names. I would choose Asher over Ashton if those were the only names available. Lydia is definitely on the rise. I am still looking over the girl names with the lowest point in the charts over the last 100 years (which is taking awhile) but I do believe that Audrey and Eleanor are rising as well. I have not attempted the boys names. If anyone is up for the challenge-go for it!

By Miriam (not verified)
June 8, 2008 9:59 PM

Re Honeysuckle, look for the actress Honeysuckle Weeks in Foyle's War which will be back on tv in the US this summer.

As for L- names, I know toddlers named Lela Zoe and Lily. Lily has grown common, but that was the first Lela I have heard of.