Name Help: Nature 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!

Ellie writes:

My husband and I are expecting our first child in July, and we could use some help with names.

We love to hike and camp and pretty much be outside in the wilderness. I love the idea of choosing a name that reflects our shared passion. (We met on a whitewater rafting trip in college.) My husband likes the idea, but worries that our kid’s name will be too hippie, or just too weird.

I feel like I’m hearing lots of kids with names like this right now, but I’m not sure how to pick one that seems like a normal name.

We’d like the middle names to be Eleanor if it’s a girl (my name, but I’m named for my grandmother, and I’d like to honor her) and Anthony (for his dad) if it’s a boy. We might also consider Robinson, a family name, for either, but I wonder if the Robin part is too much with a nature name?

Last name is one syllable and pretty common. Think Gable and Kent.

Suggestions, please?

Read on for my response, and please leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.

Dear Ellie –

Congratulations on your new baby!

I do think you’re right – nature names have gone mainstream. The same choices that would’ve felt flower child in 1970 are perfectly familiar fifty years later.

But I hear what your husband is saying, too. Some names feel like a subtle nod to a shared passion. Others feel like they’re an attempt to brand the baby. Finding the right level is a very personal decision, one that only you and your husband can make.

There are a few good places to start:

  • Word names that rank in the current US Top 250 or so. The more often people hear a name, the less it reads out-there, and the more it’s like Rose. Sure, it’s a flower. But we’re so used to hearing it as a name that we don’t think twice.
  • Familiar names with meanings tied to the natural world. These might be too subtle for you – or exactly the right balance.
  • Surname names that sound outdoorsy, but not necessarily so. A handful of surnames derive from outdoorsy jobs from another age; like the second category, they’re a little more subtle than the word names.

Now, on to the list. I’m going to mix all three categories together.


August – A traditional masculine choice with a big meaning, but also a relaxed, summery vibe.

Forrest – Forrest was once a name for someone who lived near a royal forest, or worked as a groundskeeper at one. Today it feels traditional, but undeniably outdoorsy.

Kai – Kai means sea in Hawaiian, which makes it very much a nature name. But because it’s not a word name, it’s a little more subtle. And it sounds modern, too – Kai first charted in the boys’ Top 1000 in 1979.

Parker – A surname name, like Forrest, for someone employed as a gamekeeper. Today it feels preppy and polished, but also brings to mind all things green and growing.

River – This is the textbook definition of a name that could’ve felt super flower-child not so long ago. Today? It’s a solid Top 200 favorite for boys. (And gaining in use for girls, too.)

Rowan – Like River, Rowan is climbing for both boys and girls. (As of 2018, it’s more popular for boys.) While this is a tree name, it’s not quite as familiar as Oak or Elm. Another bonus? It’s also an Irish surname, so Rowan is a little more under-the-radar than, say, Cedar or Moss.

Silas – A New Testament name, Silas comes from the Latin name Silvanus, from sylvan – the woods.

Wilder – Like Parker and Forrest, it’s a surname name that connotes the wilderness.


Aurora – A goddess, but also the personification of the dawn, Aurora sounds like a name. Another bonus? The Northern Lights, also known as the Aurora Borealis, lend this name a certain drama.

Ember – Amber was a hit in the 80s, but it’s fiery Ember that feels like the right choice for a girl who will grow up around the campfire.

Hazel – A vintage name with modern appeal, Hazel is a color and a tree name, too.

Ivy – Short and simple, Ivy connotes achievement – think of the Ivy League – but also the outdoors.

Juniper – Juniper has more history of use that you might guess, and, like River, it feels mainstream in 2020. (And this one is just fun to say!)

Magnolia – A long, elaborate nature name, Magnolia brings to mind the American South. It’s the state flower of Louisiana.

Stella – From the Latin word for star, Stella is perfect if you love the night sky. It’s also common enough that no one would hear it as hippie.

Willow – A pretty name, currently in the US Top 100 for girls. That makes it plenty mainstream – even though it would’ve been surprising even twenty years ago.

My favorites are Rowan for a boy and Juniper for a girl. Rowan Anthony is great … but Juniper Eleanor isn’t quite as strong. Would you consider Juniper Ella, Juniper Elle, or Juniper Lenore? And, of course, Juniper Robinson is great, too.

Readers, what would you suggest as mainstream nature names?

Name Help: Nature 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. I gave my son’s pretty nature-y names that aren’t too 2020. My eldest is Leo (lion) and that’s in the top 100 right now. My middle is Stone, which is a common surname name (Think along the lines of Taylor, Parker, Quinn, etc.). My daughter has not been named yet but I’m leaning towards Opal or Hazel. Also nature-y without being River/Rain/Sunflower/Meadow…. On second thought… LOVE the name Meadow.

  2. I like Ivy Eleanor too! I also think Linden may be perfect for you, completely familiar but nature vibe and different enough.

    Another option is something traditional with an outdoorsy nickname. Like Barret, nn Bear or Katherine nn Wren. Barret Anthony, aka Bear Anthony or Katherine Robinson nn Wren Robinson, may get you to where you both feel comfortable.

  3. Something like Miles could work as a subtle connection, especially if you like hiking.

    I was also going to suggest Clifford. Clifford Anthony is cute and rugged, but perhaps not with your surname.
    Although, I quite like the alliteration.

    As an aside, there was a girl a few years ahead of me in high school in the mid-nineties named Lily. Someone told me her parents were hippies and I remember thinking they’d have to be! How things have changed!! At least if you’re looking for a nature name your choices are much wider now..

    Alĺ the best!

  4. Ivy is great of course,. I like Linden and Callum. And Barret (nn Bear) or Katherine (nn Wren) if you want something traditional with a woodsy nn.

  5. For a girl I adore Ivy Eleanor and quite like Rowan Eleanor. Ainsley Eleanor, Sylvie Eleanor, and Daphne Eleanor are great too. For a boy. Forrest Anthony is my favorite.