Maybe not in every case. With the right sound, we’ll forget that Mallory and Caleb are somewhat lacking in this category. As for surname names, well – Taylor and Tucker and Sawyer aren’t actually professional aspirations for our children, and no one seems too troubled over the literal translations of Mackenzie or Madison.
And yet, names with stand-out meanings are popular nowadays. Grace would have been at home in an earlier era, but you’ll hear her on many a modern playground. Faith, Felicity, Hope … a handful of names just right for Plymouth Rock are also considered stylish in 2012.
But what about the new crop of meaningful monikers? Were there any Puritans named Serenity? Could be. But here’s guessing that Nevaeh, Genesis, Destiny, and Trinity were unknown.
We need a new category: modern virtues. Meaningful words that could be names, and in some cases are already catching on. A few of these fall into the names-we-love-to-hate category, but many of them are surprisingly appealing.
If you’re after a great meaning and seeking an unusual name, here are some to consider.
Modern Virtue Names Already in the US Top 1000
Many of these feel unusual, but when you actually look at the Top 1000, a surprisingly large number of meaning-rich names are following Grace up the rankings.
Chance – #218 for boys. Old school virtue required the bearer to do something – to be Thankful or exhibit Patience. Chance isn’t a virtue in the conventional sense, but the idea of fortune – presumably, good fortune – seems rich with meaning.
Harmony – #224 for girls. She crosses categories, with musical and mythological associations, too. But when I hear Harmony, I tend to think of agreement.
Abel – #237 for boys. This one is a little bit of a cheat. Abel comes from a Hebrew word meaning breath, but I’m always struck by his similarity to the word able, as in capable.
Journey – #372 for girls. There’s something 80s pop-rock band about this name, but also something spiritual. It’s also sometimes heard for boys.
Phoenix – #388 for boys; #645 for girls. It’s a colorful bird known for going up in flames, then being reborn from its own ashes. Crazy inspiration for a baby name? Maybe, but the idea of rebirth is an appealing one, if not exactly a virtue. The acting family has helped propel Phoenix into the mainstream, and the stylish letter x hasn’t hurt.
Sage – #461 for girls; #836 for boys. Literally means wise, and also brings to mind The Seven Sages of Greece – a septet of ancient philosophers.
Sincere – #643 for boys. It would come as no surprise to meet a Sincere in early America, but you’re actually more likely to run into one nowadays. Over 350 boys received the name in 2011 alone.
Patience – #843 for girls. Like Sincere, Patience has some history. A pair of sisters named Patience and Prudence toured as a singing act in the 1950s.
Modern Virtue Names: New Possibilities
Anchor – An anchor holds you down, which can be a bad thing – but easily works as a modern virtue, with the idea of a steady, settled presence.
Bliss - If Joy and Felicity are names, why not Bliss? Ellen Page played Bliss Cavendar in 2009 roller derby flick Whip It.
Blithe – Slightly more subtle than Bliss, and often respelled Blythe, this is an archaic term meaning mild, cheerful, friendly. Very wearable – so much that the y-spelling appeared embroidered on an apron in the most recent Pottery Barn Kids catalog, the epitome of mainstream.
Brave – Blogger Rubyellen of Cakies gave this name to a girl, but it would well for either gender.
Bravery – Take Avery, add a B, and you’ll have the name that actor Benjamin Bratt used in the middle spot for his son, Matteo Bravery. It’s an unexpected word choice and a great sound, but what do you do when your kiddo Bravery tells you he’s afraid of the monsters in his closet?
Bright – A cousin to the many names, from Claire to Lux that signify light, Bright is also a cousin to Sage. Brighton gives it a place name spin, and helps the name fit in with the oh-so-many, two-syllable, ends-in-n choices for boys.
Clemency – An unassailable virtue, Clemency feels more modern than Mercy, less expected than Clementine.
Constancy – Constance is a long favorite, heard in many languages over the centuries. Constancy has an old-fashioned feel, but is actually a surprisingly modern possibility. Like Clemency, she fits in with all of those three-syllable, ends-in-y or -ie choices for girls.
Justice – Spelled Justus, it was worn by several early saints and actually ranks in the Top 1000. But Justice is the more obviously virtue name approach, one part superhero and three parts meaning. Justin is either the dad, or that guy in the boy band. Justine still has some possibility for girls.
Glory – There are signs that Gloria could make a comeback as a hip, edgy choice, thanks in part to Maggie Gyllenhaal’s daughter. But Glory is an all-out religious choice. It has me whistling that Sunday School song about Noah … “rise and shine and give God the glory, glory …” Far more wearable than Nevaeh, she’s an upbeat choice.
Harbor – Harbors keep ships safe from storms. It’s a synonym for refuge, and also an ends-with-r choice that works well for a son.
Harvest - Bounty is a brand of paper towels, and a place where a Mutiny takes place. But Harvest implies abundance. It isn’t an old school virtue, but it is a positive meaning.
Haven - A choice very much in the spotlight thanks to Jessica Alba, Haven is a close cousin to Harbor. Haven’s similarity to Ava and Aiden makes it even more wearable.
Honor – Haven’s big sis wears a name that feels like a modern virtue, but has some history. Honora and Honoria can be found over the centuries, especially the latter. Honoria was in use in the fifth century AD, and later in the literary works of Charles Dickens and P.G. Wodehouse. The straight-up word name Honor feels daringly modern.
Loyal – Undeniably a virtue, and an attractive sound, too.
Meridian – A word name with literary roots and an appealing sound.
Merit – Merit comes from the Latin meritus - deserving. Merritt is an unrelated surname. And Merit is a Scandinavian short form of Margaret. It makes this a wearable virtue for boys, but also a possibility for girls.
Noble – A few of these feel like they should belong to early twentieth century entrepreneurs. That’s probably because names like Noble had a good run in the past. Back in 1901, he was the 310th most popular name for boys born in the US.
North – As in true north, an important concept in navigation, and something of a poetic reference for a child’s name, too.
Prosper - A little bit Puritan, a little bit Vulcan, but overall an attractive sound.
Revere – Something of an Americana choice, thanks to Paul Revere. As a virtue, I thought of “admire” as a synonym. But that’s not exactly right – respect might be the better choice. Still, I think it works in this category.
Shelter - Along with Harbor and Haven, a name that conjures up protection.
Sterling – Originally an Old English word for little star, Sterling is also a term for British currency, and a synonym for excellence.
Temperance - An old school virtue with a very current feel, thanks to the ever so brilliant Dr. Temperance Brennan on television’s Bones.
True – True and Blue both feel like very of-the-moment middle name picks. Short-lived TV series Tru Calling featured a heroine called Tru. Meg Ryan used it for her daughter Daisy’s middle, while Forest Whitaker is dad to True Isabella Summer.
Truly – Beyond noun names, there are always adverbs. Nearly two dozen girls received this name in 2011. The Sister Wives mega-family welcomed a baby girl called Truely during the series’ first season in 2010.
Zen – The name for a branch of Buddhism, ultimately derived from a Sanskrit word referring to a meditative state. But in American parlance, Zen means relaxed, calm. More than 60 boys were called Zen in 2011.
Zenith – In astronomical terms, the zenith is the highest point a celestial object reaches in the sky. It’s also a synonym for peak, which makes it something of a modern virtue name. Comic strip Cathy included a baby named Zenith.
What do you think of modern virtue names? Are there any that you would consider? What other names should be on this list?