Name Help: Familiar but Uncommon Girl NamesName Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.

We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!

M writes:

My partner and I are expecting a daughter in September. We have waited for this child for so long, everything about the experience is blissful.

And then we talk about names, and I feel lost.

My own name is pretty much unique. My parents invented it. It’s long, but even the shorter version I use with friends, work, etc. is so different that it invites comments and looks. Without judgment, I tell you that my name is strange – and my parents intentionally and deliberately made that choice.

As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate their reasons and I don’t dislike my name. But it was a heavy burden for a child. Spelling it, repeating it, explaining it. Still, I never really wanted to be Jessica or Ashley, either, and I think I would have disliked having an ordinary name, too.

I’d like my daughter to enjoy the best parts of both experiences. I want her to have a name that belongs to her alone, but still a name that others have heard of and know how to pronounce and spell.

Can you and your readers help us find some names that are different, but not bizarre? Bonus points if it’s clearly feminine, as my given name is not.

Please read on for my response and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.

Abby replies:

Congratulations on your daughter!

I think parenthood is often like this: we find ourselves revisiting issues from our own childhoods. Not because we’re stuck in the past, but because we want so very much to get it right for our own family and our child’s future.

It’s a lot of pressure!

And yet, I think you’ve done much of the work already. Thinking about your own name first revealed that your daughter’s name should:

  • Not be among the most popular names for children born in this generation.
  • Be generally familiar as a given name.
  • Be clearly feminine.
  • Be easily spelled and pronounced.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

A name like Helen can satisfy those requirements. It’s familiar, easy to spell and pronounce, but relatively uncommon for girls born today. Olivia, the #1 name, was given to over 17,500 girls in 2020 alone. Helen? A mere 718.

And yet, classic Helen ranks within the current US Top 500. (It ranks #424.) Is that too familiar? After growing up with a staggeringly different name, maybe Helen feels too plain?

I’m going to suggest names that avoid the Top 1000 entirely. Most of these names were given to a few dozen girls – at most – in 2020. But I think most of us would recognize them.

A word of caution: the power of popular names is that they’re (usually) instantly recognized. Even a name like Helen can be misheard as Ella – simply because the preschool teacher/soccer coach/neighbor-from-three-doors-down expects a child to be named Ella, rather than Helen.

And, of course, no one has a crystal ball. It’s possible one of these names will take off, and around the time your child is learning to drive, her name will be all over kindergartens.

But I think you can still consider that mission accomplished.



Because the Arcadia region in Greece was long known for its beauty, Arcadia came to mean any particularly lovely spot.


A nature name borrowed from a type of vine, Briony was made famous by the book and movie Atonement. (It was Saoirse Ronan’s breakout role.)


A goddess name from Homer’s Odyssey, Circe is in step with Penelope and Chloe, but just a little different, too.


French and sophisticated, but still accessible for a child, Delphine can refer to many things – Delphi, in the ancient world; the delphinium flower; dolphins.


An Old Testament name, Dinah feels sparky and energetic.


Georgia meets Juliette for this just slightly different name.


Borrowed from Frida Kahlo, this surname is a little like popular Harlow, but far less common.


A lovely flower name, easy to spell, but rare on a child.


Another borrowing from the natural world, an alternative to Meadow.


Literary and poetic, Sonnet sounds like so many popular given names.


An alternative to Nora and Cora, just traditional enough.


Made famous by the legendary dancer Twyla Tharp.

I could go on … and on! So many rare names for girls feel familiar enough to meet the criteria you’ve outlined. The next step is really yours – do the nature names speak to you? Surnames? Something a little on the vintage side?

It’s fine if your answers seem a little all over the place. I like Kahlo as much as Thora … or Helen!

And, of course, if you feel like all of these names seem a little too different, you can always adjust the dial on popularity, and go back to the US Top 1000:  Marceline, Artemis, or Cleo, maybe?

Readers, what familiar but uncommon girl names would you suggest to M.?

Name Help: Familiar but Uncommon Girl Names

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Larissa • Sylvie • Florenza • Zita • Yolanda • Rowena • Arlette • Senna • Solana

  2. My favorite from Abby is Twyla, and I like the suggestions of Zora, Verity, and Dahlia. Some other unusual, easy-to-spell and pronounce names that are recognizable and feminine:


  3. My first thought was Phaedra. I love the meaning “light” and Fay seems accessible enough to overcome any concerns about obscurity.

    My next thought was Esther. But turns out that is at 153 as of last year, so not as obscure as I had thought.

    Cassandra is up there a bit, with Cassie as a more contemporary nickname.

    Then Celia came to mind as well. Very recognizable yet still rare. Cece is of course a default nickname, but not necessary.

  4. It sounds more like you’re looking for a common enough name that is not currently overused? It’s a gamble. I remember when my now 8yo was a baby, meeting new parents who had chosen Isla because it was ‘so different.’ They were all shocked that other people were using it too. We chose a less common name for our second daughter, then our acquaintances used the same name as a nickname for their daughter and so now our mutual friends know two kids with the same name. Just a few anecdotes about the inability to control anyone else’s decisions on naming.

    I think the most important part is for you two to love the name you choose for your daughter. My advice would be to choose a nickname-rich name, so that you can play with nicknames depending on other names in your circle, on your playground, etc. A Margaret nn Pearl or Daisy; a Penelope nn Nell or Lolo. Or choose a name with tons of meaning for you and your partner, because then it is always has a uniquely meaningful connection, no matter who else she meets that wears the same name. Good luck!

  5. My suggestions! Also loved Zinnia, Celeste, Evangeline and many others from above list. Hope this helps!
    Allegra; Azalea
    Calliope; Cassiopeia; Colette; Cornelia; Cordelia; Clementine
    Marigold; Maelle; Magali; Marlowe; Marilla (Mae for short); Millicent
    Ophelia; Oriana

  6. Oh this is my JAM! This is exactly the type of name I was looking for, for my 5 week old daughter. Some of our top names were Catalina, Estelle, Mirabelle, Coraline, and Janelle. I also loved Juliana, Juliette and Colette. My daughter is named ALLEGRA, which we have gotten SO many compliments on and seems to hit the sweet spot of being unique, yet recognizable as a name, not weird, and easy to spell and pronounce and feminine to boot. I love Abby’s suggestions, however I wonder if perhaps they are a little bit too out there for what you are looking for??

  7. So many great suggestions here! I’ll add Jill (surprisingly uncommon), Miranda, Bridget, Audrey, and Celeste.
    One thing I might try in your shoes is to look at name data from decades past, starting four or so back. Names that fell between #20-#100 many years ago might be familiar to modern ears, but are unlikely to be names your daughter would share with classmates.
    One final thought: as a teacher, I’ve met a ton of girls lately with -ana or -ia endings. That could be a way to make an unusual name sound more mainstream (Zinnia, for instance) or it may be something you want to avoid. Either way, it’s nice to know the trends. Have fun choosing! There are so many great possibilities!

  8. I totally identify! I have met only one other Amity in my life, but I know of 2 others. I was born just before the Amityville horror thing and a few people mentioned it over the years, but it died out quickly. I like my unusual name, but named my kids outside of the Top 100, not the Top 1,000.