That’s not counting names inspired by Broadway musicals or operas. Carmen might have you humming “March of the Toreadors.” And there’s more than one way to sing out Eliza.
Musician names, too, offer countless possibilities, from retro, even names from the past like Otis Redding or Django Reinhardt. More recent favorites include swaggering moderns like Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix; unexpected choices inspired by Stevie Nicks and Miley Cyrus. Some span both categories: think Billie Holiday and Billie Eilish.
It’s curious why some first catch on, but in other cases, surnames are preferred. Elvis Presley remains a legend, but it’s mostly his last name that parents prefer.
And powerful patrons of music, from the ancient god Apollo to the Saint Cecilia, appeal to many parents, too.
But how about musical terms? They’re word names borrowed from music. Some are immediately familiar; others, more obscure – unless, of course, you’re a musician.
In which case, this list might be even more perfect.
Many of these would make great first names, but if some seem a little too bold, there’s always the middle spot – a great place for a surprising, meaningful choice.
MUSICAL BABY NAMES
An Italian term indicating that a piece should be played slowly, Adagio fits with o-ending names for boys so in favor. It’s been used in small numbers in recent years.
Yes, there’s the allergy medication. But before Allegra was the brand name for fexofenadine, it was used for women. Lord Byron’s daughter answered to Allegra. So did American ballerina Allegra Kent. And it makes the musical baby names list because allegro means to play at a fast tempo.
Alta has history as a girl’s given name, so why not Alto? It means high in Latin.
In Italian, arco means bow – which could put it on this list. But in music, “arco” means to resume playing in the usual way with your bow, usually after playing pizzicato – plucking. No one is naming their kids Arco, but in our age of Arlo and Leo and other ends with ‘o’ names for boys, it isn’t unthinkable.
An aria usually comes from opera, and that should make it high art. But the small screen hits Pretty Little Liars and Game of Thrones have made Aria – and Arya- smash hits in recent years, propelling this musical name from #957 in 2000 to the Top 20 by 2017.
Musical instruments can make great names. Friendly, laid-back Banjo is one possibility. Australian actor Rachel Griffiths named her son Banjo back in 2003. It’s a reference to Andrew “Banjo” Patterson, a late nineteenth century poet. Today we know him best as the author of “Waltzing Matilda.”
Bella ranks far higher than Belle, and Bell is seldom heard. But it’s the straight-up musical option, a name that sings.
With Matteo and Leo and Milo everywhere, could the spirited Brio work? It’s another tempo term – to play “con brio” is to play with vigor and spirit. It’s a name that sparkles with vivacity.
Cadence initially rose is use, likely because it resembled the chart-topping Kaitlyn. Then an almost-unknown January Jones played Cadence Flaherty in 2003’s American Wedding, and the spark was lit. This twenty-first century phenomenon peaked in 2007, and is now falling, along with Kadence and Kaydence. But it still fits with musical baby names.
Calliope is the muse of epic poetry, a possible goddess name in the key of Penelope. It means “beautiful voice.” The muse gave her name to a steam-powered organ, one that originally used train whistles. They’re loud, and associated with the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the age of steamboats and traveling circuses. Now most of us probably hear calliope-like music on carousels. The name entered the US Top 1000 in 2016.
In Greek myth, Calypso is a sea nymph, a daughter of Atlas. Homer gives her a starring role in his Odyssey, keeping the hero Odysseus prisoner until Zeus insists she set him free. Musically speaking, Calypso is a type of Afro-Caribbean music, with roots in West African and French traditions. Trinidad and Tobago is considered the musical style’s home, and Harry Belafonte is its best known performer – though “Day-O” is a traditional Jamaican folk song, and not calypso. As a girl’s name, it has a certain enchanting quality.
In our post-Glee and Pitch Perfect world, nearly everyone recognizes the term a cappella – to sing without instrumental accompaniment. But a cappella originally means “in the manner of the chapel,” as religious music was usually performed by vocalists only. It’s an interesting sound, but maybe a stretch as a name.
A midcentury mainstay, Carol is typically considered a form of Charles – both feminine and masculine. But it’s also another word for a joyful song – most often a Christmas carol.
It looks like a creative twist on Celeste, but a celesta is a sort of small piano, also called a bell-piano. While the instrument isn’t familiar, it’s heard in pieces like Tchaikovsky’s “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
Speaking of songs, this word refers to the kind of poem set to music favored by medieval troubadours. It literally translates to “song” in France.
Like several musical baby names on this list, Choir isn’t actually used as a given name. And yet, it’s an intriguing sound, particularly in our age of Piper and Carter. Fun fact: choir started out as an architectural term for the part of the church where the chorus stood, but has long referred to the singers themselves.
An actor named Chord Overstreet spent a few seasons on Glee – what could be more perfect? And yes, it is his real name. (His sister is Harmony!) Chord fits with short names for boys, like Gage and Luke. A chord is simply a set of three or more notes, and the term comes from accord – agreement, harmony, so it’s an overall appealing meaning.
Clarion is musical, virtuous, and completely unexpected – but surprisingly wearable, too. Take classic Claire, then add trumpets. Clarion is originally a term for a trumpet, used from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance. It comes from a happy coincidence of sound-alike Latin words – clario, trumpet, and clarus – clear. A clarion call is a request for action. It’s a daring possibility, but one that fits with Faith, Truly, and Felicity.
Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had an almost truly unique name – until her accomplishments prompted other parents to name their daughters Condoleezza, too. Condi’s parents crafted it from the Italian term con dolcezza, to play with sweetness. It brings to mind names like Dulcie and Dulcinea.
Part-high fashion, part-confection, musically Dolce means sweet. How does one play with sweetness? It implies a light, delicate touch. It’s a recognizable Italian word, though Dulcie is more popular as a given name in the US.
An occupational surname for a musician, this name brings to mind “The Little Drummer Boy” of Christmas, too.
A color name borrowed from a type of hardwood, Ebony makes this list because of piano keys. While white is traditionally made with ivory, black keys often come from ebony wood. The phrase “ebony and ivory” suggests diversity and inclusion; or so say Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder.
A fife is a pipe – as in specific wooden instrument, similar to a piccolo. They’re familiar in military bands, like Fife and Drum Corps.
And a Fifer is one who plays a fife. It’s also spelled Pfeiffer and Pfeifer.
Grace notes are ornamentations – notes that appear in compositions, but are optional. Sometimes the phrase “grace note” is used to refer to a pause.
Harmony does double duty as a virtue name – it comes from a Greek word meaning agreement. But Harmony definitely works as a musical name, bringing to mind images of barbershop quartets and the like. Along with Willow and Xander, the name got a boost from a character in late 90s hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
We think of Harper as a literary name, and there’s no question that To Kill a Mockingbird inspired the name’s success. But a Harper is, traditionally, one who plays a harp – an important instrument in medieval music and still in use today.
The other half of Ebony, as in piano keys.
It’s a fascinating word. Jazz means vital, but it doesn’t need a definition beyond the music itself. Jazz suggests creativity, energy, cool. While it’s rare as a given name, it’s broadly familiar as a nickname for Jasmine – or Jazlyn or Jaziel.
They open locks, they explain maps, and they crack codes. But a key is also found on a piano, and it’s a part of music theory, too. Most of the uses share similar origins – keys open or explain something else. It’s almost a modern virtue name, one with musical ties, too.
Lyra is a new favorite for our daughters, rising as a baby girl name following Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra is also the name of a constellation, shaped like the lyre of Orpheus. The issue with Lyre is that it sounds like, well, liar. But it might work as a middle name, and possibly a gender-neutral name, too.
Back in 1994, a young Jada Pinkett wore the name in Jason’s Lyric. In 1995, Lyric debuted in the US Top 1000 at #633. The slow and steady climb of this name suggests Lyric will be with us for years to come. Since debuting for our daughters, it’s been used in growing numbers for our sons, too.
In music, a madrigal is a vocal piece, a form that flourished five hundred years or so back. Of course, it’s also the surname of the magical family at the heart of the animated musical Encanto.
Mandolin looks quite a bit like Madelyn. That makes the musical instrument seem more name-like – but also potentially far more confusing. The stringed instrument, similar to a lute, was first developed in eighteenth century Italy.
It’s a month, it’s an active verb, and it’s a piece of music, too – one that suggests March’s martial roots. Originally performed by military musicians to keep the troops moving, marches often have a patriotic feel. Think John Philip Sousa, but also Chopin and Wagner.
It’s a little bit like Hadley. Medley does occur as a surname, sometimes referring to a clearing, and sometimes with other origins. In musical terms, a medley is created from a few overlapping pieces of music.
From a Greek word meaning song, Melisma refers to a group of notes sung over a single syllable. Think of the way we sing “Gloria” in the Christmas carol “Angels We Have Heard on High.” It’s also known as a vocal run. Melisma might not be a commonly known term outside of choirs, but it sounds like an intriguing update to former favorite Melissa.
Melody first charted in the US Top 1000 all the way back in 1942, making it the grandma of all musical names. Back in 1963, Melody was the name given to the drummer in Josie and the Pussycats. The comic became a cartoon in 1970, and has been rebooted more than once, meaning that the animated blonde girl in a catsuit might be many modern parents’ first thought. But that hasn’t hurt this pretty, musical choice.
Minuet refers to a type of music, as well as the accompanying dance. It’s easy to imagine the spelling Minuette appealing, too.
A handful of children have been named Music in recent years. With straight-up literary names like Poem and Fable seeing some use, Music has just as much potential.
Octavia is having a moment. Octave is the French masculine form of Octavius, but it’s also a musical term.
Like Harper, this name doesn’t instantly bring to mind music – unless it is the opening credits for Orange is the New Black, the HBO series that sent this name climbing the charts. Piper started out as an occupational name for one who played the pipes.
There are many aspects to Reed – surname, nature name. But it makes the musical list because a reed is an essential part of a saxophone, clarinet, or other woodwind – the thin piece of wood that vibrates. Reeds were once made from, well, reeds – hence the name.
An elaborate and lovely name, Rhapsody brings to mind word names like Serenity. Once a literary term for an epic work, by the nineteenth century it applied almost exclusively to music. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodies are well known, and make this a dramatic possibility for a name.
Similar to cadence or tempo, rhythm is a specific placement of sounds in time. You can feel it. You can have it. And the R in R&B stands for Rhythm. (The B is Blues.) So it’s a musical word, but one that’s surprisingly hard to pin down.
A riff is a refrain, repeated in music. (Think of famous guitar riffs.) It can also mean to improvise.
Roll is out, but Rock? It’s right up there with Rocco and Stone.
Like Rhapsody, it’s a dramatic, gorgeous sound that’s just on the right side of name-like. It originally referred to a song performed after dark in the open air – think of a suitor serenading his beloved underneath a window. But it eventually became a more general way to talk about singing, as well as the music meant to accompany such a performance.
Actor Rosamund Pike has a son named Solo. (His younger brother is Atom.) And, of course, a solo is something you sing. And drink from. But for our purposes today, it’s all about the music.
It’s the surname of critical Doctor Who character River Song, and a common surname in Korean and Chinese. There’s something intriguing about this one – like the season Spring, it feels a little awkward to wear, but tremendously appealing at the same time.
The term refers to a piece of instrumental music. Okay, there’s also a Hyundai. But sound-wise, Sonata feels like a cousin to Sienna.
A term used in both poetry and music composition, a stanza is a section of a song that is repeated; part of a song’s structure. That’s a little obscure, and yet we do recognize this as a literary and musical term, so it might make a surprising possibility.
Another occupational name, a Strummer played an instrument, like a guitar. Legendary frontman for The Clash, Joe Strummer, puts this name in the company of David Bowie and John Lennon, too.
In Latin, symphonia refers to a unison of sounds. The symphony is the composition; a symphony orchestra is the body of musicians capable of performing these works. There’s also The Supremes’ 1965 smash hit song “I Hear a Symphony” – which makes this a musical name with a built-in sing-along.
Toccata describes a fast-moving piece of music, and there’s something about the sound that jumps, too. These pieces take significant skill to master. And while Toccata doesn’t sound particularly name-like, it’s not a total stretch, either.
When it comes to musical baby names, some of them are familiar, like Cadence and Harmony. Lots of them are a stretch, like Toccato or Stanza. Verse is both – at the same time. Verse is the main section of the song, where the story is told. It’s a short, bold kind of choice – and one that is very occasionally heard, usually for boys. It might also make an intriguing middle name option.
You wouldn’t name your baby cello, but the slightly-larger-than-a-violin-sized instrument has a different origin than the given name. As a name, Viola is a cousin to Violet, made literary by Shakespeare in his play Twelfth Night. Viola hasn’t cracked the US Top 1000 since the 1970s, but it was a Top 100 staple in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Would you consider any of these musical baby names? Are there any others that should be on this list?
Originally published on September 12, 2014, this post was revised and re-published on June 30, 2022 and again on November 30, 2023.